BLACK BOX RECORDERThe Facts of Life (Nude)
For all its digitized gloss, the title track of Black Box Recorders second album is essentially an update of the Waitresses pricktease classic I Know What Boys Like, as anti-diva Sarah Nixey, whose icy speaking voice could make de Sades Justine sound like an appliance manual, alternates between withering dissections of puberty (Experimentation, familiarization . . . its just a nature walk) and schoolgirl suggestiveness (Ill let you hold my hand). Arch, yes, but also genuinely pop, thanks to a swaying electro-beat that might fit on a Take That record. (Dont trust me; the single was a Top 20 hit in England.)
Most of The Facts of Life isnt quite so calculatedly chartbound, but its still a plusher ride than England Made Me, BBRs excellent but side-project-ish 1998 debut. That album revisited themes of ennui and terrorism left over from AuteursBaader-Meinhof songwriter Luke Haines previous work, to the tune of Spartan trip-hop. This time, guitars make way for sugared keyboards, and layers of echo cushion drummer John Moores previously bone-dry beats. This increased slickness means that the irony sometimes pours where it could drip, especially on a few of the sunnier choruses (Its a beautiful morning, its a beautiful day).
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On the other hand, its the perfect foil for both Haines and Moores often grim material and Nixeys barbiturated delivery. In the course of the album, she weighs the advantages of a Straight Life and just barely decides not to jump off a building (French Rock n Roll), only to accept the invitation of two drowned Victorians (The Deverell Twins) to join her beneath the Thames. But the best songs expand on the singles will-she-or-wont-she persona: In one, she warns an adolescent suitor, If were heard, if were seen, you might forfeit your first kiss, while another is a rudely interrupted porn fantasy: Girl on girl, girls on top . . . in your dreams. Its as distastefully real as anyones first fumbles toward carnal knowledge -- and almost as compelling.