So enamored was I of The Horrors' 2009’s post-punk opus Primary Colours that I felt a small twinge of betrayal when The Horrors sound switched to subdued dreampop on 2011’s Skying. But that’s what the Horrors have always done. Early fans felt shafted when they shifted gears from 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster-style psychobilly to the wall-of-sound guitars and synths that brought me to Primary Colours.
Fortunately, ‘Luminous’ is far more immediate than Skying, which you could tell from the lead single “So Now you Know”, which sounds like Suede if their sonic motif was emotive of mescaline-fueled stargazing as opposed to the low-rent glamour of the English working class. Album opener “Chasing Shadows” starts with far too long of a buildup though, which worried me as the genre tag of “neo psychedelia” is usually a fig leaf for extended jams with no particular structure. Thankfully, “First Day of Spring” gets things back on track with a catchy Chameleons-inspired jangle; the bass line is so Stone Roses you’d think Faris Badwan’s increasingly polished vocals were floating over Mani’s bass at a show at Factory Records’ Hacienda venue in 1989.
“In and Out of Sight” comes off as similarly Madchester-inspired, with the keyboard samples straight out of early ‘90s St. Etienne, with the guitar drone and bass not unlike something I might have heard on the archetypal “baggy” record, Happy Mondays’ Pills Thrills and Bellyaches (1991). For Primary Colours obsessives, the sole shoegaze-style track this time around is the sadly formulaic Jealous Sun, which sounds much more like the terribly-named “blackgaze” sound of bands like Nadja than the sublime tremolo-laden Creation Records worship that I’d previously associated with guitarist Josh Hayward.
Halfway through the album, it’s clear that the Horrors’ sonic trajectory looks more and more like The Verve’s. If Primary Colours was their early shoegaze album (A Storm in Heaven, 1993) and Skying was the experimental, psych-leaning No Come Down, (1994) then Luminous is like A Northern Soul (1995), a significant refinement of their sound, with enough just pop leanings to foreshadow a full-on pitch for mainstream acceptance a la 'Bittersweet Symphony'.
This is clearer than ever on “I See You”, the second single off the album and just so darn catchy and sweet that you’d have a hard time convincing anyone who’d heard the Horrors between 2007-09 that it was the same band. That said, the album version of the song clocks in at an unnecessary 7.5 minutes, something that also weighed down tracks on Skying.
I was still feeling “meh” about this album until the last two tracks reminded me that few contemporary bands can stuff as much atmosphere into their tracks as the Horrors can. “Mine and Yours” is again reminiscent of the noisy glam rock of early Suede, replete with Bernard Butler-like piercing guitar notes. “Sleepwalk” is a great closer, a slice of sonically dense chamber pop that steals a bit from Spiritualized and Simple Minds, while maintaining a distinctively Horrors-like sound.
There’s much more for the neutrals to dig their teeth into here than there was on Skying, but mostly because the band aren’t taking a lot of risks at this point. And that’s unfortunate, because it does feel like the record is missing the sense of adventure that made their sound so compelling. At its core, this is a record deeply indebted to the sound and mood of late 1980s/early ‘90s British rave culture. While the same could be said of Primary Colours, the impact of that album is markedly different because no one expected a seemingly trend-whoring goth band to come out with a tribute to post-punk, shoegaze and Neu! style Krautrock all at once. Plus, that album had 'Sea Within a Sea', possibly the finest 8 minutes ever committed to tape by a band that likely pay more for a haircut than a fuzz pedal. So it gets a pass.