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The Horrors: Skying (XL) 

What would happen if Wednesday Addams unraveled her braids, exchanged her black dress for a spry Jenny Packham shift, and applied some lip gloss? What if she found herself at gallery openings and strange after-parties in the Hollywood Hills, where she'd kick off her nude clogs to dip her feet in the pool?

The Horrors are similarly re-branding, leaving the crypts for the coliseums. Skying is wall-to-wall arena rock, more U2 than Groovie Ghoulies. "I Can See Through You" invites us to travel backward in time to 1987, when The Joshua Tree had just come out. Remember when Bono was the Voice of a Generation? The Horror remember, though they've wisely avoided U2's obnoxious sermonizing in favor of recapturing the simple aesthetics of their sound.

"Still Life" is another egregiously tepid "new wave" ballad, where the band strains to hit a note somewhere between Echo and the Bunnymen and the Happy Mondays. Instead, "Still Life" drowns in its own synthetic swirl, sounding hopelessly passé.

The big problem is that they now sound like a host of empty signifiers. On 2009's superb Primary Colours, they perfected their own weird collision of My Bloody Valentine's drone and Bauhaus/Siouxsie Sioux's goth rock. (See "Who Can Say" or "Scarlet Fields"—both are perfect.) At best, Skying is inoffensive ("Moving Further Away"); at worst, it's the smart, sour boy you had a crush on showing up in Chris Martin's cardigan, with a whole new goddamn outlook on things.

More by Sean Bottai

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