The general consensus on The Horror's new album, Primary Colours, appears to be along the lines of, "actually quite good – no, seriously." I find myself surprised to agree with it.
Many were ready to write off The Horrors as something of a joke, or had already done so, since they landed in a hail of hype and hairdos in 2007, complete with silly names, zealous styling and cartoonish, gothic garage-rock. Things have taken a turn for the studious lately, with a record that sounds like a primer for serious art-rock from the last few decades: a dose of krautrock here, some shoegaze there, spiky guitars and jagged synths, lashings of new wave and post-punk, all jammed together in the blender. You wouldn't call their new sound strikingly new, but there are some good tunes in the mix.
The band's first song, "Mirror's Image", is a fine, moody start which sets the tone for the show. Rumbling bass and synth lines chime nicely with cascading guitars and lead singer Faris Badwan's deep bass. The vocals here, and throughout, seem a bit too low down in the mix, though, often drowned out by the wail of the sound.
Some have expressed disappointment that The Horrors have ditched the rock'n'roll fun of before to display their credentials as "serious artists". The live show is certainly a more sober affair; the band largely remain stationary, with only Badwan (previously known as Faris Rotter, or is it the other way around?) occasionally throwing some shapes or raising an arm aloft.
Mainly, Badwan lolls around the stage nonchalantly, a picture of studied gothic cool, dressed in tight dark trousers, a black leather biker jacket, and underneath, an oversized black T-shirt. Occasionally he picks up a stage light and shines it on the crowd, but that is about as dramatic as it gets. The band are keen to accentuate the new direction – the set is comprised of eight songs from the new album played consecutively, with only three older songs appearing at the end of the night, tossed out in a swift encore.
At times, though, the set seems like merely a collection of art-rock influences. The druggy drones of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized ring out a little too clearly in the repetitive guitar and organ chugging of "I Can't Control Myself", eerily reminiscent of the latter band's song, "Come Together", while some efforts in the middle of The Horrors' set blur into a noisy marriage of shoegaze and new wave. Occasionally you can't help but feel that the whole thing might exist in quotation marks – whether this is conscious or not is unclear.
However, when the songs are good, as they frequently are here, it hardly matters. The NME was quick to mention Primary Colours in the same breath as Psychocandy and Loveless, which seems a little heady, but there is much to admire in the new material. "Three Decades" barrels along excellently, with Badwan performing some little twirls to match the speedy waves of music.
But they are at their best on "Sea Within a Sea", the first single from the new record, a song that instantly highlighted their new intent with epic krautrock rhythms. Calling to mind Can's "Oh Yeah", it is at once stately and skin-tight. Performed on stage with the same valour as it is on record, the song manages to go well beyond pastiche to be a fine, haunting pop song on its own.
The band conclude the main part of the show on this high point and judging by the pitch of some of the fans screams as they leave the stage, it would seem that many in the audience were in the teenage bracket; people who probably care less about the back catalogues of German experimental bands of the 1970s than the music reviewers hanging near the back.