The Horrors' new record blows its budget on cinematography and settles for a decent script.Wolf Tone / Caroline International, 2017
Purchase: Band's Storefront / Amazon
8.0 / 10
There’s something to be said for outstanding production. Take Mezzanine, for example — Massive Attack‘s mainstream breakthrough still finds a place on contemporary soundtracks because it sounds like it could have been made just last week. Sure, it helps that the album is chock full of great songs. But those songs wouldn’t still be in rotation if it wasn’t for their crisp, excellent mixes. That brings us to The Horrors‘ new album, V. It’s an album whose engineering, mixing, and production is head-and-shoulders above its peers. Unlike Mezzanine, however, V deserves better songs for how good it sounds.
V is like James Cameron’s Avatar. Avatar is supremely beautiful to look at, even today with all the technological improvements in the 8 years since its debut. The world, the set, the character design, are all meant to deliver pure enjoyment. It’s a crowd-pleaser by design, to give you all the thrills you’d expect from a big-budget project like this. But the script? The script is OK. So it goes for V. The Horrors’ new album has great cinematography, so to speak, but only a “good” script to fill the time.
One of the most fun things about The Horrors’ music is to think about where they’ve come from. I don’t mean the UK, I mean their first album. They were a garage rock band singing songs about Jack The Ripper in 2006. With each subsequent release, their sound shifted slightly, with 2011’s breakout hit Skying culminating as a full-blown psychedelic, shoegaze record. The Horrors show their math, though. You can hear exactly how they went from lo-fi, horror rock-n-roll to lush, vibrant musical vistas — how they went from Point A to Point B. So when V starts, and you hear synthesizers and some electronic percussion, it’s not unexpected. You saw it coming with an inevitability that feels as if The Horrors planned it from the beginning.
While we’re talking about this opening track, “Hologram”, let’s dive into the problems with V, because this track highlights them. Its crunching rhythm section sets the stage for an anthem. Indeed, we get one with singer Faris Badwan crooning “Are we hologram? Are we vision?”. Wait… what? The build-up of “Hologram” leads you to believe that we’re getting something interesting, something exciting. Instead, we get a two-line pseudo-philosophical musing that’s not even grammatically correct. There’s nothing wrong with going big, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with having lyrics that ponder the nature of existence, but if you put the two together, you better be sure that it works. Otherwise, you get overblown nonsense that comes perilously close to Muse’s post-“Knights of Cydonia” work.
It’ll come as little surprise that the Horrors share a co-producer credit with Paul Epworth, the man behind several pop records from the past few years. That list includes Adele, Cee Lo Green, U2, and Foster the People, so that should give you an idea of where The Horrors’ pop-centric aspirations lie. It pays off for V, though. The album has all of the crystal-clear engineering of a pop record, but The Horrors at least want to make something exciting.
What that translates into are 5-6 minute songs that throw in some fun production tricks after the second chorus. Maybe the volume drops out (“Press Enter to Exit”), maybe the arrangement explodes into sonic glitter and confetti (“Ghost”), maybe the electric guitar solo becomes indistinguishable from the electronic tapestry (“Weighed Down”) or maybe the left-and-right stereo channel shifts frequently over the course of a few seconds (“Press Enter to Exit”, again). Much like Avatar, there are many spectacles, but they’re enjoyable spectacles.
“Something to Remember Me By”