Thursday 18 January 2018

No Horror show: nothing scary about these rockers

Here's a scary thought: The Horrors might be the last great rock band of their era. Not scary because there's anything objectionable about the British group, whose sound is a compelling mix of the divine and the moody.

The Horrors
The Horrors
Peaches Geldof
Faris Badwan
Ed Power

Ed Power

Here's a scary thought: The Horrors might be the last great rock band of their era. Not scary because there's anything objectionable about the British group, whose sound is a compelling mix of the divine and the moody.

What's distressing is that they have so few rivals – bands standing for something outside the four walls of their own schtick, bands that speak to you beyond the level of mere entertainment. Look around. Who else is there? Coldplay? Bombay Bicycle Club? Kaiser Chiefs?

"We've been together 10 years and what is striking is the number of groups that have come and gone in that period," says Horrors singer Faris Badwan. "It's insane – every year there's a big new guitar band. And then they disappear. It's so weird – these are people who are claiming that, all their lives, this is what they wanted to do. And suddenly they're gone. Whether it's a mix of bad luck or bad judgment is hard to tell. It's interesting how many fade away."

The Horrors, in contrast, are going nowhere. They've released their fourth album, a woozy, artfully discombobulated piece called Luminous. At its best it sounds like early electro producer Giorgio Moroder hooking up with Joy Division as Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor tinkers in the background. In its blearier moments it is still better than anything on alternative radio – or, at least, what passes for alternative radio in Ireland (where 15-year-old Rolling Stones tribute act Jet are considered edgy).

That The Horrors have endured is doubly remarkable considering the joke they seemed at the outset of their career. Five well-to-do Home Counties natives (they met at plummy Rugby grammar school), with their Rocky Horror Show dress sense and trashily unlistenable early singles, in the beginning they resembled a skit carried too far. Inevitably Badwan, the son of a prominent neurosurgeon, adopted a clunky stage name ('Faris Rotter') while the band became briefly infamous for their confrontational live shows (at Dublin's Ambassador, the frontman 'playfully' thwacked a photographer with his mic lead). When Badwan started dating Peaches Geldof soon afterwards their comedy status appeared confirmed.

But they grew up quickly and, by their self-titled second LP in 2009, had morphed into something complex and even mysterious. Badwan, especially, had matured – a result, perhaps, of the painful exposure he endured during his relationship with Geldof.

"It's so weird, when you know somebody pretty well, when you know them as a person rather than as a celebrity," he told me, several months after the couple had split. "You don't see them in the way they are perceived by a lot of other people. Mostly I never thought about it – if I found myself in that situation again, I still wouldn't think about it."

One of the reasons The Horrors were initially misunderstood – assumed to be an undergraduate joke rather than a real band – was because their first label, a major, didn't comprehend what it was dealing with. Sometimes Badwan looks back at early press shots and shudders. He can appreciate why people took one glance at the group's painted-on pouts and Edward Scissorhands quiffs and assumed they were just the latest faux provocateurs rolling off a record company production line, a boy band for teenage goths.

"I wasn't happy with ... some of the photographers we worked with. They made the band look cleaner than it was – we came together very naturally. Maybe in the pictures it came across as if we had been put together some how."

There's a whiff of outsiderdom in The Horrors' music, which sometimes seems to fold in on itself, emanating fugues of claustrophobia and paranoia. Badwan isn't inclined to mull over the reasons for this but will allow that his unusual childhood may have influenced the sort of person he grew up to be. Until his teenage years he spent much of each year in Palestine, from where his father's people had fled an Israeli crackdown (the family knew they had to leave the day a tank drove through their house). One week he would be hanging around his dreary home town in Kent, the next playing soccer with kids in a cratered neighbourhood of Ramallah.

'It definitely affected me as a kid. You'd spent three months out there – the whole summer practically. When my grandfather was dying, everyone that he had ever met basically travelled to say goodbye. The children were left to their own devices. I was probably nine or 10. We spent a lot of time playing football with kids who lived in slums. I learned to ride a bike. It was pretty central to my childhood. What I saw was so far removed from the experience of anyone living in England."

LUMINOUS IS OUT NOW.

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