When it comes to music criticism and appreciation, I will be the first to admit to my hypocritical nature. When choosing a band name, you must do all that you can to be absolutely sure that you pick a name that hasn’t been used before. So when a band like the (John Speck) Fags comes around and you know they have full-knowledge of the Ypsilanti teen-punk vehicle for Carrie Smith of the same name, I can’t help but feel a little bummed.
But with bands like the Muldoons, the Hentchmen, the Shams or even the Mystery Girls, I find an appreciation in the reappropriation of an old moniker or the not-giving-a-fuck-ness of not even caring if someone’s used the name before.
And the same can be said about lifting lyrics or titles or melodies from somewhere else. When Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” first landed on radio the bastardization of Love’s take on “Little Red Book” and Iggy’s “Lust for Life” was downright enraging.
But when I listen to the Gories (who by the way, stole their name from an episode of “Gidget”) crib the chord progression to the Troggs “From Home” and do “Rat’s Nest” or pull the Cobras “I Wanna Be Your Love” as the basis for “Nitroglycerine” I absolutely relish in the historical context the band has chosen to include themselves in.
Likewise, when a group of rich kids are in a band together, I’m instantly put off. At the same time, sometimes those rich kids manage to pull one over on me. My only real example for both sides of this is the Strokes, who I initially wanted to hate, but ended up honestly appreciating.
And when a band gives themselves a “look” or “stage-outft” it’s usually absurd and with no meaning. I recall MhZ (prounounced Megaherz, or if you ever saw them live, Mega-hurts) wearing this douchy powder blue jumpsuits. No explanation, no seeming reason, just stupid really. And the band sucked too.
But with someone like the White Stripes or the early all-black incarnation of the Mooney Suzuki, it was understood. And it was cool. And it was badass.
So it’s fairly easy to say that I can go either way with the Horrors. Name already used by Iowa teen punks on In the Red just a few years ago, songs “inspired” by the Monks, the Ramones and others, and supposedly a bunch of upper-crust Londoners playing dress-up most commonly referred to as the second-coming of Edward Scissorhands.
All that needs to be determined is if I want to like the Horrors. The fact that Ben Swank knows them and vouches for them is a plus. The idea of a confrontational lead singer in the Alan Vega might-beat-you-up-if-you-dare-look-at-him-wrong sense is also a welcome return. At the same time, I’m immediately wary of anything British. Anything. And the fact that they’re already NME cover stars without even releasing an album, rather just a handful of singles…actually, I dig the singles part, it’s the NME I can’t stand.
My first word on this band was from Dirtbombs UK booking agent Ed Stringfellow. He’d said he was vying strongly to become the Horrors booking agent and said that my name had come up in talks with them. He was hoping I could put in a good word for him.
I thought it was weird that a band from Iowa that the Dirtbombs had played with once on a terrible night in Buffalo was suddenly in-demand in the UK and even moreso that my name had come up in conversation, but figured the world’s a small place and soon forgot about it.
I would later come to find out that there was a UK band called the Horrors and the Ben they knew was Swank, not Crackwell. After a care-package of all things Horror arrived many moons ago I became reluctant to listen to any of it. I didn’t know if I would like it or hate it. Didn’t know if I wanted to like it or hate it. I was confused.
So today I popped the DVD of “Sheena Is A Parasite” onto my trusty PowerBook. The Chris Cunningham clip was impressive, but still left much to be desired. No real clear shots of the band as a whole. But then again, maybe that’s the point?
The audio of “Death in the Chapel” was fine. Not offensive, not admirable. Upon second listen the searing guitar solo sticks like dirty underwear flung against a wall. That's a good thing. “A Knife in Their Eye” with it’s approximation of the Monks jam “Higgly-Dy-Piggly-Dy” is wonderfully worked to a song that retains all of the bounce of the original.
I detect a dedication to the Fall amongst all this debris…Faris Rotter’s vocals recall those of Mark E. Smith and even the guitar tones (tones dude…dude, tones!) and the Vox Continental owe more to the walking-corpse who wrote “How I Wrote Elastic Man” than the Elastik Band.
Having heard all they have to offer (or really, all I can find short of their cover of “Jack the Ripper”) I gotta say I dig it. Toss in the limited edition fanzine complete with a CD of their favorite US psych-punk 45’s and I will honestly admit hipping me to the Driving Stupid “Horror Asparagus Stories” as it was a track that somehow slipped past me. Add directions on how to modify effects pedals, tips on altering your pants for a perfect pair of drainpipes and an A-Z guide to the best in obscure British rhythm and blues, freakbeat and psychedelia and it’s clear…the Horrors not only have the right intentions (which it seems TOO many bands have lately) but they also have the proper execution.
Then again, I’m sure you could twist the facts just a bit and hate it. You decide.