For any band coming back with a new, mature direction on their sophomore effort, there’s a term – ‘doing a Horrors’ – that will get the point across pretty succinctly. It signals that you’re a serious band now. That a line has been drawn in the sand and that we do not speak of the previous record in anything louder than a half-whispered mumble, like a dirty little secret. People will understand and compliment your vastly more progressive new sound, but secretly they’ll be a little sad because, if the record in question is anything like The Horrors’ goth-tacular 2007 debut ‘Strange House’, they’ll know there were all kinds of kicks to be had before you grew up.
Much like Blur’s baggy debut ‘Leisure’ or Radiohead’s patchy ‘Pablo Honey’ before it, ‘Strange House”s legacy is as something of a misstep. 10 years after its release, now its authors have become Mercury-nominated sonic warriors, providing infinite goodies for the muso wank bank with every motorik step. It’s hard to even think of them as the same band that once popped up on an episode of The Mighty Boosh where Noel Fielding was trying to shrink his legs to fit into a pair of pencil thin skinny jeans.
Back then, however, The Horrors mk I gleefully revelled in the cartoonish nature of the world they’d created: from the alter-ego names they previously touted (Faris Rotter, Spider Webb et al) to the jet black, hairsprayed-to-snapping-point styles that became an early follicle trademark. Somewhere above Whitechapel, there’s a hole in the ozone layer made purely from Tresemmé.
Somewhere above Whitechapel, there’s a hole in the ozone layer made purely from Tresemmé.
You could immediately pick a Horrors fan out from a crowd in seconds: polka dot shirts; pointy, buckled boots; those sprayed on, drainpipe jeans. But while the early cult of Faris and co. was undeniably partly about this tribal group image, it was also about ‘Strange House’: the twitchy, tetchy manifesto that soundtracked it.
From the serial killer-namechecking ‘Jack The Ripper’ to ‘Gloves” climactic line about “hacking away at a sea of appendages”, ‘Strange House’ was as unsubtle an ode to the darker underbelly of life as the visuals that accompanied it. Early single ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ flipped the punk rocker of The Ramones’ previous offering and turned her into a cold, hard bitch. ‘Excellent Choice’ features a monotone, spoken word monologue about a man driven to suicide. ‘Death At The Chapel’ is about a string of murders. There’s little light to be found among the album’s lyrical concerns, but – much like Scream or any number of overblown slasher films – it’s done in such a cartoony way that there’s no real danger to be found. Musically, meanwhile, it’s a romp of spiralling organs, fuzzy guitars and howling, unhinged vocals, like The Cramps turned up to 11.
Of course it wasn’t to last, and by 2009’s ‘Primary Colours’ the group had reinvented themselves as the critically acclaimed outfit they are now, never to play the album’s wares live again. You sense they’d become frustrated with all the ‘style over substance’ jibes they’d accrued, but ‘Strange House’ always had substance in its style. Even if that substance was neon red, fake Halloween blood.
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