the-horrors-luminous

Of all the haircut bands that filled the hype-vacuum left by new-rave’s implosion at the end of 2006, you’d have got long odds on those five weirdos from Southend being the ones still making relevant music nearly a decade on. After all, the Horrors were initially a flash of outsider bravado – the ultimate A&R man’s folly – using their blunt eyeliners and hastily signed major-label contracts to deflect suspicions that they couldn’t really play or write songs. Perhaps the most cartoonish of all their peers, with their Halloween hair, cheaply punned stage names and guest appearances on The Mighty Boosh, the Horrors were so clearly, delightfully, learning on the job that their music almost became of secondary interest to their plight: a reality-TV style fascination grew up around how long this gang of oddballs were going to get away with it for.

In that context, then, it’s quite the achievement that eight years and four albums later ‘Luminous’ is their first true dud. Where their previous albums have documented the state of their instincts at the time – ‘Strange House’’s graveyard hysterics, ‘Primary Colours’’s teutonic magnificence and ‘Skying’’s high-buffed swagger – ‘Luminous’ is the prosaic sound of the Horrors using their heads rather than their hearts, playing safe with a collection of songs that only recall older, better ones, and a sound palette that aspires towards ‘Loveless’, but comes out closer to ‘Leisure’. Indeed, Blur’s patchy debut is invoked here not just in ‘Luminous’’ shonky welding of break beats to guitar-pedal acrobatics but also in the almost comically bland, faux-hippie lyrics. While sure, not all great pop needs to achieve a Nick Cave level of literary dexterity, the sound of Faris Badwan singing endlessly about seeing the bright sun and feeling the cold wind hardly inspires hope.

That said, ‘Luminous’ does sporadically find its own voice. ‘Change Your Mind’ is a wonderfully strange, yearning ballad, its serpentine melody, lyrical ambiguity and waltz-time lilt offering welcome respite from the surrounding meat-and-potatoes 4/4 bludgeon. Equally, for all its bluster, ‘Chasing Shadows’ strides down the album’s opening minutes with gleeful malevolence, all pregnant pauses and huge guitars. More of this contrast and ‘Luminous’ would be as pleasingly odd as its predecessors. As it is, though, the running order feels interchangeable and, while most of the songs are perfectly competent in their own right, they make for a boorish whole.

‘Luminous’ is not a bad record – there’s nothing here as hubristically mediocre as Beady Eye, say, or as tragically deluded as Kasabian’s thin rabble-rousing. But given the Horror’s ascent from sideshow curio to genuinely confounding musicians in the last eight years, its nods towards those lager-rock, post-Oasis touchstones is a shame: having earned the right to do what they like after three artistically intriguing records, they’re exercising it to make the safest music of their careers. Whether that’s out of laziness, boredom, block, complacency or straight-up fear is unknowable. It does, however, mark out ‘Luminous’ as less another bold statement, and more of a distress signal: whatever, or whoever, sprinkled the magic on the Horrors up to now needs to make a comeback.

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