Release Date: May 5, 2009
Record label: Beggars XL
The decade is ending and Lux Interior has passed on. The surplus of Nuggets-imitations and Joy Division wannabes are being phased out by a league of lo-fi noise-poppers whose two-minute melodies cater to our ever decreasing and less than challenged attention spans. It’s a somewhat welcoming shift, as I figured the post-punk revival was over. But, I was wrong.
The surprise appearance of The Horrors' new single, 'Sea Within a Sea', has come as quite a shock to the vast majority who dismissed the band during their initial hype-fuelled rise. Where screaming excess and over the top clobber once held sway, the single’s video reveals a group of sombre aesthetes brooding over their instruments as they coolly erect an epic, eight minute wall of sound that slaps a motorik pulse onto the early 4AD catalogue, before slowly immersing it into a bubbling pool of kosmiche noise. All this from a band who, until recently, were more famous for their tight trousers and haircuts than anything heard on their freakbeat inspired debut.
They live! Left for dead after a hype overdose two years ago, Southend's ghost-train garage-rockers have risen again with a second album so daring and accomplished that one is tempted to credit their new producer, Portishead's Geoff Barrow, with Svengaliesque powers of mind control. Even at their most ordinary, they now sound like the Psychedelic Furs featuring Kevin Shields, which is no bad thing. But the biggest surprise, given their prior commitment to brevity, is how fully they inhabit the longer songs.
I come from the same small town as the Horrors. It’s a rundown seaside outpost in the south east of England, full of petty violence and hatred. The kind of place that will suck all the dreams out of you unless you find a way to escape. Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday” video was shot there, and never has there been a more grimly appropriate interface between song and location.
Hype works both ways: Just as it encourages the overestimation of underdeveloped bands, it can also result in the knee-jerk dismissal of any upstart act with the (mis)fortune of being plastered on the cover of NME before the debut EP's even been recorded. Of course, East London quintet the Horrors didn't do themselves any favors by presenting themselves in a conceptual wrapping that seemingly had all the staying power of last night's mascara, mining a well-tapped vein of ghoulish American garage-rock, prancing around in cartoonishly goth get-ups, and putting on sloppy, self-sabotaging 15-minute sets, all for the amusement of their celebrity guest list. But the band's media-saturated ascent distracted from the fact that the Horrors had actually done their homework: Their 2006 debut EP featured covers of two Joe Meek-produced, Pebbles-approved classics and on the subsequent tour, the band's pre-show PA mix included tracks by the Seeds, the Cramps, and Gun Club.
Several other songs are nearly as exciting, even -- or maybe especially -- when they keep some of the pop structures from the Horrors' previous incarnation. The excellent "Three Decades" sounds a little like a song from Strange House being played underwater, with busy drums the only constant as everything else billows and blows around them. "Who Can Say" pays homage to the band's enduring Joe Meek fetish with "Telstar"-like synth tones, and to their fondness for '60s pop in general with a spoken word bridge that puts the lyrics from Jay & the Americans' "She Cried" to a Phil Spector-inspired boom-boom-boom-crash! beat.
Back in 2006, when they stormed the scene, the Horrors seemed more like the goth-rock version of Spinal Tap than an actual band. Decked-out in black drainpipes, with a guitarist named Joshua von Grimm and a cover of Screaming Lord Sutch’s “Jack the Ripper”, the Horrors managed to alienate as many fans as they won over. Their 2007 debut, Strange House, was a mix of rowdy, Stooges-style punk and gothic ambiance, but it ultimately fell flat; perhaps because it all seemed like one big joke.