CAROLINE | CD DL LP
After three years of golden slumber and suave side-projects, canny five-man pop collective The Horrors awaken in their communal club-house, rub the kohl out of their eyes and ask themselves that burning question: what next? Their answer is a lusty, decisive “The future!”, but when you’re gifted with an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop and immaculate taste, the plethora of potential routes can leave one a little spoilt for choice. Their magpie eyes scanning wildly, they junk the dusty garage gear that launched their career and redraw their Year Zero as 1979, specifically the point where Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army fired up their synthesizers and aimed Are ‘Friends’ Electric? at an unsuspecting singles chart.
There are synthesizers all over V, The Horrors’ fifth full-length, but the group aren’t just copping Numan’s icy throb (though the album’s excellent opener Hologram is definitely the sincerest form of flattery). Greedily drawing inspiration from decades of imagined futurism, Vlooks towards the early ’80s dawn of synth-pop, the writhing squelch of Björk’sArmy Of Me (another inspired filch woven into Hologram), the brash kinetics of electroclash, even the infernal throb and wub of EDM.
But, as ever with The Horrors, the catalogue of their inspirations is never as important as what they do with them, and for much of V, it’s in the service of grand, windswept melancholia, heart-wracked and slaked with ennui. Even its bolder, brawnier moments – like Machine, a dirty, sexy dancefloor banger that should make indie clubs infinitely more appealing – are possessed of a darkness, an in-the-shadow-of-the-bomb hedonism/nihilism dichotomy that seems apt in this dystopia of Trump and Brexit; if you’ve no hope then there’s no harm in an apocalyptic hangover. World Below’s overdriven modern-world blues is all rubbery low-end judder and shiny surfaces, collapsing into a thrilling – nay, inviting – self-destructive noiseout.
It’s the ‘ballads’, for want of a better term, that provide V’s definitive highlights, Faris Badwan’s world-weary croon evoking the lived-in textures of the young Scott Walkeror Efterklang’s Casper Clausen. Weighed Down is stunning, a seven-minute epic of complex longing, Badwan singing, “Don’t let love bring you down”, over a production that takes the slithering, eerie disquiet of Roxy Music’s Avalon and sets it to wall-shaking beats. The closer, Something To Remember Me By is another triumph, a soupçon of Once In A Lifetime to its restless synth bustle, a little of New Order’s lightness of touch leavening its bruised romanticism.
The track has a widescreen poignancy perfect for movie soundtracks, and there’s a clarity, an ambition and a confidence to V that suggests the album might drag The Horrors from cultish concern to genuine pop star crossover. More to the point, The Horrors’ alchemical sticky-fingered raid through the ’80s closet delivers some of the most thrilling, most substantial pop you’ll hear all year.