Björk‘s ‘Björk’, Pantera‘s ‘Metal Magic’, Prince‘s ‘Wonder Machine’… There is no shortage of debut albums that completely failed to capture the essence of their creators and subsequently became viewed as ‘false starts’. When Southend-on-Sea’s The Horrors dropped 2009’s most critically acclaimed album, ‘Primary Colours’, completely reinventing themselves as masters of blurry psychedelia in the process, the days of their odd little debut ‘Strange House’ seemed to be numbered. It was consigned to the bargain bin of musical history, it’s pale, ghostly light blotted out by its younger sibling’s shadow.
For the rest of the following decade the album would be labelled as over-hyped and cartoonish by the very music publications that did the over-hyping in the first place. Mascara was out. Woozy psych-rock was, and remains, in (thanks in no small part to the example that ‘Primary Colours’ set). But now that alternative hype machine is dead. Overexcited op-eds on the next big thing in math rock have been replaced by thought pieces on the sexual politics of Tove Lo and a running commentary on which up and coming grime artists have been spotted hanging out with Drake.
Now that the sun has well and truly set on that bronze age of music journalism, the time is ripe to revisit the most beguiling of its disowned children. ‘Strange House’ has aged bizarrely well. Like the carousel in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, the record is a breakneck ride that both chills the blood and leaves you feeling fifteen years younger. Faris ‘Rotter’ (as he was known back then) towers over proceedings like a demented puppeteer. His unhinged screams and predatory growls rival Lux Interior for savagery as he pictures himself “carving out trees and scoring skin” (‘Draw Japan’) and “hacking desperately at a sea of appendages” (‘Gloves’). Meanwhile ‘Spider’ Webb, who would later swap over to bass duties, smashes out some of the finest organ-work of the 00s (take that Wolfmother!)
The sheer energy the band marshalled during this era is breath-taking, especially when you consider just how lifeless the once frenzied band has now become. Yes, for a short time ‘Primary Colours’ was the most exciting thing to happen since Obama’s election (though I’ll never quite understand why Geoff Barrow nabbed his own arpeggiator part from Portishead’s ‘The Rip’ to build the second half of ‘Sea Within A Sea’ around), but it also set them on the path towards the fun-averse naval gazers they would eventually become. Their most recent album ‘Luminous’ and vast swathes of its predecessor ‘Skying’ sound like the kind of future Radio 2-ready dross your son will beg you to turn off in 2039 while you’re driving his mates and him back from football practice. ‘Strange House’, on the other hand, sounds fated to become the kind of cool, deep attic discovery that finally allows him to lose his virginity in 2045 to that goth chick who’s perennially re-dyeing her hair.
It’s absolutely fair to say that the album wasn’t the most original release of the 00’s. Its rabid interpretation of gothic rock is built firmly on the ground broken by Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard‘s old outfit, The Birthday Party. But, given that the album kicks off with the blood-curdling Screaming Lord Sutch cover ‘Jack The Ripper’, it’s quite clear that The Horrors were aiming for impact first and originality second. Plus, while there an infinite number of acts who’ve tried to emulate 4AD label-mates Bauhaus, there are disappointingly few that aim to emulate the untethered ghoulishness of The Birthday Party.
In its turn ‘Strange House’ kept the dribbling torch of Edgar Allen Poe-st punk (thank you) burning long enough enough to inspire such later acts as Screature and Savages, neither of whom could exist without The Horrors‘ peculiar form of garage goth. The band who made ‘Strange House’ knew how to inspire shock and awe without inventing their own instruments or zealously searching for unheard sounds. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll decide to dust off the coffins and steal their skinny jeans back from Noel Fielding? Or maybe they’ll continue to endure life’s most ghastly of curses: the process of growing up.