Talk about a UK band that formed in the noughties and invariably you have to mention The Libertines. Carl Barât and Pete Doherty’s musical juggernaut spearheaded the garage rock revival in the UK, inspiring everyone from Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner to The Horrors’ Faris Badwan to take a shot at the dream. But let’s call a spade a spade: The Libertines were not an amazing band. They were good, they had some fantastic tracks – but both albums were patchy, ragged and frayed, in more places than just at the edges. Their elevation to indie-rock demigods says more about the state of the UK music scene in the early noughties than it does of the band’s strengths. The Libertines did do something great for the UK music scene though: their implosion, undignified as it was – in a cloudburst of smack and crack dust – reforged the UK’s musical landscape, birthing a big bang of indie bands to rush in and fill the gaping void they had left. The Libs: an unspectacular band made possible by the new century, who thereafter made the new century possible…
Some of those bands, like Arctic Monkeys, arrived seemingly fully formed, with talent streaming from every pore. Others followed a less explosive ascent to greatness. Enter The Horrors. Their first album, 2007’s Strange House, was a reasonable, ultimately unspectacular affair. I remember a friend’s response when I asked her what she thought of The Horrors, back in 2007: “Faris Badwan! He’s hot, but desperately in need of a good wash and a good feed…” That throwaway, superficial – albeit funny comment – encapsulated to me what The Horrors were back in 2007: all style, no substance. Frontman Faris Badwan and his band of goth-punk soldiers were apparently destined to be more famous for their cheekbones, so sharp they could rip open a portal to another dimension, rather than any enduring musical ability.
Not so. The Horrors proved the hordes wrong. In an age of instant aural fixes, when so many rock ‘n’ roll bands are touted as instant musical messiahs when they barely have material to pull together one decent EP, they’ve steadily honed their craft over time. Luminous, their fourth LP, is the pinnacle of their labour, their best album yet – refining the synth-streaked dream-pop formula they mined on third LP Skying in spectacular, widescreen, cinematic fashion.
Fittingly, for an album with a title so heavily indebted to the stratosphere and the stars, Luminous twists its gaze firmly towards the heavens from the opener – staring wide-eyed at the sun and refusing to blink. The album flickers into life slowly, like a universe beginning: a bubbling maelstrom of synths, before it explodes into life like a supernova at the three-minute mark.
Track three, and album highlight, “So Now You Know”, is the most complete, glorious pop song that The Horrors have ever produced. Its hellishly catchy, devastatingly simple chorus – an unadorned, repeated refrain of “So now you know/ Turn away…” overlays a churning lightning-storm of lasergun synths and funk-fuelled bass guitar licks. The swirling, fist-pumping, cathartic energy that the chorus screams seems, at first, at odds with its narrative, until you hear the lead-singer plaintively sing “Ready to forget the loss/ Never let the good things go…”
Badwan has never been the strongest singer, but he’s at his best yet onLuminous: changing his delivery to suit the music and instrumentation – stretched, high, and wraithlike on opener “Chasing Shadows”; slow, drawn-out and world-weary on “So Now You Know”.
Midway point “I See You” is the next milestone. The main body of the track is beautiful: subtly anthemic, punchy, melodic; but it’s the three minute finish that makes it spectacular. Make no mistake about it: if you have a soul, you will not want the swirling, gradually escalating outro to end. And there are other moments of brilliance too: in a year when every band and his Alsatian are embracing electronica and psychedelia in some capacity, few have nailed it as successfully as The Horrors do on “Sleepwalk”.
But Luminous isn’t a masterpiece – with the exception of “I See You”, it’s sometimes slavish in its adherence to formula, it’s musically derivative (like some gorgeous, unholy love child from a sordid affair between My Bloody Valentine, Simple Minds, and Suede) and underwhelming at times (“Falling Star” being its most lackluster moment). For the most part, though, it’s a bloody great collection of songs. The Horrors do have a masterpiece inside them, and with each release it’s bubbling closer to the surface. Luminous is not it.
What would my female friend make of The Horrors now, so many years later, in 2014? She probably still wants to douse Faris Badwan in bleach, scrub him clean with a brillo pad and force-feed him a few McDonalds extra-value meals. But it would only be after spending a week listening to their exceptional fourth LP – probably daily – on repeat. The Horrors, in the most dignified possible manner, have spat in the face of every self-righteous doubter who assumed they were just a bunch of pretty, stylish college drop-outs masquerading as a rock band – myself included. And I fucking love them for that… B