The Horrors - Primary Colours
“It just wasn't...because he was dead. He looked like him, but it just wasn't, because he was dead” - Delia Derbyshire, Dreams, No4.Sea.
To paraphrase the hyperbole for Aronofsky's The Wrestler, “you are about to witness the resurrection of...The Horrors”. Seriously. Forget yesterday, it's buried. Today is all there is and today The Horrors sound...alive!
After their debut Strange House was pelted with rotten fruit and chased out of town like Frankenstein's Monster, many believed The Horrors belonged dead. But no, Faris Badwan's creeps took to the hills, licked their wounds and waited. There was unfinished business. Wisely calling on Portishead's Geoff Barrow to sneak them past security, they are back. It's like the late Lux Interior leading Blake's pirates from Carpenter's The Fog, rolling into Antonio Bay looking for their treasure.
Primary Colours will freak you out for two reasons. The first is it doesn't sound like The Horrors, occasionally Portishead's Third, but not really. The other reason - and crucially - is not only is it a staggering comeback but it's also a contender for album of the year. Now that's scary.
Listening to Primary Colours took me back to misspent youthful summer evenings at funfairs and circuses. It's thrilling, violent, glamorous, scruffy, romantic, eery, seedy, damaged, depressing and bewitching. But it belongs to the night, the moors, the darkness. In the daytime it loses much of it's beguiling sorcery - you notice the puppets' strings, the exotic dancers have double chins and the magicians are middle-aged alcoholics called Dave. But in the underworld of the night, it conjures the spirit of the Ghost Train, the Hall of Mirrors, Waltzers, the smell of oil, facepaint, perfume, sex and candy floating in the midnight air. It's classic rock mythology - last gang in town, nothing to lose, always on the run.
Musically Primary Colours really digs up Dog Man Star-era Suede. If they had Crowley's curse and continued surfing that tsunami of Performance debauchery, squalor-painted-silver, the full Dionysian decadence. Badwan's vocals continually slip into the young Brett Anderson's rasping squeal like a fevered whirling dervish or some snot-nosed Dickensian urchin hoodwinking you whilst stealing your wallet. It's impossible to hear opener Mirror's Image and not picture Brett whipping his arse with a microphone whilst several hundred rabid fans, high on Suskind's Perfume, try to tear him limb from limb. Ditto, New Ice Age - We Are The Pigs for our Swine Flu generation – feverishly tick-ticking spasmodic convulsions in the mud, spitting into blood, “...the agony!..ice will make a swooping kill and ice will spit it out”.
The exhilarating carnival rush flows across Primary Colours. Do You Remember echoes the headspinnin' cave trippin' of Storm In Heaven-era Verve, whilst the distorted eastern riff of Scarlet Fields unwinds like a sinister Stone Roses if they'd smacked down Spike Island for a spike of skag.
It's by no means all grimly fiendish though. Who Can Say is the best sleaze sister biker single of 2009. It's a Reanimator vs. Ronnettes monster mash and waves its freak flag like it's signalling the Merrick Military to storm the palace. The title track meanwhile secretly weds Psychedelic Furs' scorched romance to Clint Boon's ballroom Wurlitzer and sneaks in a double-time pick-up drumbeat you could theoretically dance to. Yes, it's a shiny, skippy pop song...albeit seen from a distance and dressed in black, infront of a black screen, at night.
Lyrically Primary Colours bleeds towards the guiding lighthouse of the great tragic romantics. It's full of piercing imagery - ”Through a frosted stopwatch, time is ticking”, “where the shadows burst in flames”, this strange house is littered with fires, nights, oceans. Primary Colours could soundtrack Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther or decorate Edgar Allan Poe's sickly home of tuberculosis, alcoholism and hallucinations, “Walk on in the night...better you let her memory die”.
As consistent as it is, there are two soaring highlights. The dying bride of I Only Think Of You is a jaw-dropping, seven-minute funeral march towards the crypt. It's Velvet Underground's Heroin given a mortician's makeover and a thriftstore ballgown with the grim reaper polishing his scythe like a violin. “Don't go, 'cos you know I will follow”. It's such a beautiful fade, like Vincent Price melting into his House of Wax or Cagney's maniacal laughter through the flames of White Heat, “I descend through the fire, I will carry you home”. Top of the world, Ma.
“The path we share is one of danger and of fear until the end”. Step up! The grande finale! Sea Within A Sea. It's The Big Top; as epic as The Doors' The End, Stone Roses' I Am The Resurrection or The Stones' Sympathy for The Devil. A ridiculously ambitious slow burn to a full-on firework finale and the sort of song you can mentally live inside for, ooh, weeks. Its journey to the Earth's core takes you from The Cure-style nodding-Dog grooves down Kraftwerk Autobahn before emerging into some bizarro kaleidoscopic landscape where once you've stopped jumping around screaming “Until! The! End!!”, the only thing you'll be wondering is “how the f*ck did that happen?”. Buy the ticket, take the ride. But just as the afterglow fades and the creature descends beneath the black lagoon, you just make out what looks like.. no, can't be...but...it is!...a smile.