In hindsight, the distance between The Horrors’ garage scuzz debut, ‘Strange House’, and its succeeding shock-of-the-century, ‘Primary Colours’, wasn’t all that great. How sophisticated the band had become by their second album stunned us all, but they always had a ‘Loveless’ in them – ‘A Trains Roars’, from the first album, suggested it sonically, and those haircuts forever belonged to a bold wall-of-sound band. ‘Skying’ is set to surprise once again, and this time the sense of wonderment, although more nuanced, is likely to stick.

To reduce it to a sound-bite, if ‘Primary Colours’ was the band’s take on My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Neu!, ‘Skying’ is them giving Echo & The Bunnymen, James (on the second half of ‘You Said’, especially) and Simple Minds a lick of neo-gothic paint. We’ve had their punk and shoegaze records; now we have their proto-Brit Pop one, and it couldn’t have been better named.

Everything on ‘Skying’ soars like Spiritualized without the smack, and to the centrepiece of Faris Badwan’s new voice, which is almost unrecognisably smooth; delicate and tuneful where it once growled, to such an extent that you’d be forgiven in thinking that one of the other band members must have given lead vocals a go on the opening ‘Changing The Rain’. The utterly forlorn ‘You Said’ confirms that it is actually Faris, while boasting trumpeted orchestration and backing vocals for the first time. It retains the pace rather than quickens it, though, and if you don’t like down-to-mid-tempo, dream-like, baggy pop songs, there’s little more than ‘I Can See Through You’ and the glam-Bowie-esque ‘Endless Blue’ here that leaps out of line. And so we’re back to an album that certainly has less bite than the vivacious ‘Primary Colours’ did.

‘Albums with bite’ are often instantly gratifying affairs with little staying power, though. ‘Skying’ is a slow grower. It feels like the band’s most commercial album yet, but there’s no standout singles or would-be hits. There’s a couple of needless songs, sure (the closing ‘Oceans Burning’ tries and fails to recreate the epic power of ‘Sea Within A Sea’; ‘Wild Eyed’ completely and instantly outstays its welcome on the basis of being so bland), but if there’s one thing The Horrors have excelled in it’s quiet confidence. They just don’t do desperation, and a track like ‘Moving Further Away’ (if you thought the band had already emulated Neu!’s organic kraut rock to a tee, think again) is the kind of assured move that makes ‘Skying’ an eventual triumph.

Between ‘Strange House’ and ‘Primary Colours’, The Horrors grew up, from teenagers to young adults. It was very exciting, and yes, that thrill has naturally waned somewhat with this third record. But one track – ‘Monica Gems’, featuring Bret Anderson-like wails and twisted distortion from Joshua Third, which is sadly missed elsewhere – suggests that the next Horrors album could surpass all others. It’ll certainly surprise us again, we’re sure.

By Danny Canter

More from
« Previous Album
Next Album »