Strap in motherfucker. In order to appreciate Primary Colours, the sophomore effort from former UK horror punks the Horrors, folks might be better off blissfully unaware of the band’s previous output. See, pretty much everything appealing about the band’s debut, Strange House, is gone. Primary Colours drops garage rock posturing in favor of `80s underground -- Psychedelic Furs, Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie & the Banshees paint the album’s spectrum. The lyrics are accordingly less shock-centric and more gothic. Since comparing Primary Colours and Strange House is an apples/oranges debate, I’m willing to take a mature, moderate stance on the record.
Primary Colours is the best fucking album of 2009 so far.
Guitarist Joshua Third pulls out some of the sweetest tricks this side of Kevin Shields. The gap between his swirling leads and orchestral strings, like on “I Only Think of You,” is barely there, creating an intriguing blend. Bassist Spider Webb lays down thick, dirty dirges. The former keyboardist switched places with Tomethy Furse, and the switch is mutually beneficial. Furse further enhances Third’s aura, updating the Horrors’ keyboard usage from “discordantly tinny” to “murky and sexy.” Vocalist Faris Badwan holds it down with his Ian Curtis baritone. And as for drummer Coffin Joe, well, he bangs the drums hard and has a sweet stage name.
At a lean 10 tracks, the record never gets dull. The front half comes loaded with dissonance and aggression. Sure, lead-off track “Mirror’s Image” starts off all ambient and techno-minimalist, but it’s just a big ol’ setup for some dance-pocalypse. It kicks into discordant gear about 90 seconds in, continuing through “Three Decades” and “Who Can Say.” The post-punk angst gets dialed up on “Who Can Say” during the bridge. Over a half-time beat replete with tambourine, Badwan sums up dumping his chick with “And when I told her I didn’t love her anymore / she cried / And when I told her her kisses were not like before / she cried / And when I told her another girl had caught my eye / she cried / And then I kissed her, with a kiss that could only mean goodbye." He says it with this perfectly detached, moody, British tone that turns the song into the inverse “Just Like Honey.”
The second half loses some frenetic swagger in favor of even more churning atmosphere. “Scarlett Fields” and especially “I Only Think of You” have an excellent comedown effect. Not that the record ever gets flaccid; these songs aren’t exactly ballads. Besides, track 8, “I Can’t Control Myself” forces the tension back into play. While the record has an excellent give-'n-take flow, it feels almost as if the first nine tracks are building towards “Sea Within a Sea,” an eight-minute piece that explores every nook and/or cranny Primary Colours built up during the previous 37. It’s epic and spacey and boasts a pretty neat keyboard trick near the end.
This is how I wish Interpol sounded. Primary Colours slinks through assorted cool poses, dark without being morbid, sullen without being depressing. I know music elitism means only liking a band’s earlier works and whatever, but now is the time to hop on the Horrors bandwagon. As for the old freaks and weirdos, the sounds aren’t psychotic anymore, but that’s just part of the artistic growth.