Album Review – The Horrors – ‘Skying’

Photo by Neil Krug

No one can ever accuse Southend-on-Sea’s The Horrors of having a limited taste in music. From even a short listen to their back catalogue you can easily imagine spending an entire day merrily fingering through their record collections, running your fingers carefully across the countless dust jackets and almost tasting the nostalgia. You know for sure you’d see a few Sonic Youth albums lying around, and no doubt, given the direction of their newest album, a damn sight more Simple Minds than you’d thought had survived this long.

For better or for worse, ‘Skying’ is a change from The Horrors’ last LP, ‘Primary Colours’. That album was all 60s colour spray and grandiose art-rock; a lot of thought had gone into it, and not just into their carefully crafted neo-goth aesthetic. It was an album which shouldn’t have been good, given the forgettable racket that was their first attempt ‘Strange House’. What it turned out to be was a spectacular reinvention for a band that almost packed themselves into a niche corner full of pompous guitar squealing straight out the gate.

With ‘Skying’, the band have managed to pull off something spectacular for such a young group. They’ve taken all the parts that worked well on ‘Primary Colours’, added a fair helping of 80s pop shine and made an album that can be admired from any number of different possible fronts. All this, without ever once picking up the phone and demanding the help of a producer from their record label. With this self-assured work they’ve hit all the right notes: ‘I Can See Through You’ alternates rapidly between quirky synth and guitar squall, the disparate and foreboding verses cleverly juxtaposed with a chorus which is, vitally, easy to sing along to if you wish. ‘Endless Blue’ has a lush, chilled-out melody playing throughout the first half, interspersed expertly with some electronic… noise. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere until it suddenly kicks into gear; the guitars rush into the foreground and singer Faris Badwan bursts out of nowhere.

Something even more impressive than the rest of the songs put together however is ‘Still Life’, a song which has not only proved to be a modest radio hit (something quite impressive for what is essentially an art-rock band), but something which appeals to everyone, a true pop masterpiece. The slow and pensive chorus will surely get you staring into space and wondering about the state of your life, while simultaneously tapping your foot along to the beat. This song is thoughtful, just like you’d expect, but the craftsmanship that’s gone into it is superb, something you simply wouldn’t expect from a band like The Horrors in the past.

The subtle metamorphosis that the band have managed to achieve from ‘Primary Colours’, the obvious but somehow not cynical pop touches, are truly astounding considering that they haven’t sold any of their artistic cred in the process. If you are an inveterate fan of the art-rock scene or are someone who liked what you’d heard of My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain in the past but were too put off by all the preposterously try-hard bullshit to actually part with your money, then this album is for you. This is an album that all at once can make you dance and sing but also give you pause for thought. If you were wondering if this album will become a classic, then the answer is no. But it doesn’t really need to be; it’s happy with its flaws and so should you be, because then you can appreciate this wonderful album for what it is, and for what it achieves by itself.

The Horrors
11th July 2011