The Horrors: Strange House

John Dover

Raucous garage rock debut from justifiably hyped goth-themed English troublemakers.

The Horrors

Strange House

Label: Loog
US Release Date: 2007-05-15
UK Release Date: 2007-03-05

There is no doubt that the Horrors are going to be a strongly divisive proposition. First there is the look: the Velvet Underground cast in an episode of the Addams Family. It screams GIMMICK. There are the names: drummer Joseph Spurgeon becomes "Coffin Joe", organist Rhys Webb turns into "Spider Webb". Then there is the, well as Colonel Kurtz would say, The horror, the horror .... Surgical imagery, parasites, disease, torture are all on the lyrical menu here; delivered over a squalling mixture of the Sonics, Siouxsie and the Banshees, early Fall and the Birthday Party and topped off with the use of the combo organ usually found in '60s B-movie soundtracks. There is no doubting that much of this IS a gimmick, and one that saw the band featured in the English mainstream media last summer before much of its music was available. In that sense, the gimmick worked. However, such calculated posturing does not detract in any way from what is a thoroughly compelling, abrasive and enjoyable debut album. There is substance behind the garish style.

The names of Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos, as well as Nick Zinner of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, are amongst the production credits and imbue proceedings with a real musical punch. The incessantly shrill guitar work of Joshua Third is strongly reminiscent of Zinner's own playing, rising with drill-like precision from the grubby mire of "Draw Japan" and the supremely unsettling "Gloves". It dovetails perfectly with the vintage combo organ playing of Spider Webb, which sounds like the aural equivalent of a violent electrical storm, creating a manic, helter-skelter sound.

Best of all, is the bravura performance of chief ghoul, Farris Rotter, who hams and screams his way through the album's 11 tracks with the intense breathlessness of a man tumbling down the side of a mountain whilst being pursued by a pack of werewolves. On "Gloves", at the end of a litany of viscerally unpleasant images, he starts shrieking, "I gotta get out of here / I gotta go", you certainly believe it. After "Count in Fives", which contains some of the best scream-singing I've heard since Black Francis' efforts on Surfer Rosa, you begin to fear for the future of his vocal chords. If you're looking for subtlety and variety, then Rotter isn't your man. If on the other hand, you're looking for raw power and conviction, he most definitely is. On "Sheena is a Parasite" (which was accompanied by an MTV-censured Chris Cunningham-directed video featuring the aforementioned parasite exploding out of a very worried looking Samantha Morton) he sounds like he's having a race with the band as to which of them can reach the end of the song first. When they stick to the template of fast and furious, they deliver to stunning effect. Deviations from this blueprint, such as the diffusely experimental instrumental "Gil Sleeping", and the plodding cover of Screaming Lord Sutch's "Jack the Ripper", which sounds like an unholy alliance between Nick Cave and the Strokes via Duane Eddy, are less successful. "Little Victories" (which again opts for the breakneck, screw subtlety approach) is an exhilarating rush of gothic punk that the Damned would have been proud of.

Despite the occasional misfire and the sometimes overcooked lyrics ("Butcher the paper with a ravenous pen") this a lean, aggressive and assured debut. The Horrors bring a dose of dark glamour to an increasingly anodyne British alternative music scene too heavily indebted either to Oasis and the Libertines, or earnest post-punk. They blend their twin influences of early '80s goth and '60s garage to startling effect. No doubt some will fail to see past the cartoonish fancy dress of cobweb strewn Edwardian undertakers, and write them off as a joke or novelty act. This would be a shame as there are half a dozen brilliant tunes on offer here. Forget the gimmicks and just listen to the music. It's horribly good.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.


Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.


Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.