As an experiment in corrupting teenagers, Black Box Recorder’s second album, The Facts Of Life, works remarkably well. It features songs with sounds and arrangements which, with just a little more effort, could pass for Billie Piper or All Saints, but that dark undertone inherent in everything Luke Haines gets involved with prevails through the sweet melodies and hourglass singer Sarah Nixey’s soothing whispers.
Indeed, compared with the last Black Box Recorder album England Made Me, this effort is positively commercial. Okay, so they didn’t have their songs written for them by faceless wonders in the bowels of Sony or EMI, but the ingredients are there.
The album’s title track and first single discusses courtship in a far more subtle way than either Pulp, on one extreme, or The Spice Girls on the other, could. Weekend threatens to sound like a pop song in places too, but descends into jarring harmonies. The English Motorway System could be rerecorded by Ian Broudie to sound like a football terrace anthem, but BBR have produced a delicate pop truffle about driving. The same theme, perhaps unsurprisingly, is considered in The Art Of Driving.
Some of the album veers away from pop (Sex Life) and owes more to punk (French Rock’n'Roll) as its primary barometer of good taste. There are no screaming guitars or screeching males, you understand – we allude here merely to song structure. But just when we think we’ve summed up this album, we hear the exquisite May Queen, which is for all purposes an electro-acoustic ballad about gossip, laced with ’50s sci-fi prog-rock noise.
Sarah Nixey’s voice is seductive throughout, luring the listener to believe everything she says. And now they’ve had a top 20 single. When that happened, many people declared their faith in the music charts for the first time in years. Let’s hope Sarah seduces some more of the chart-buying public soon, for Black Box Recorder, like The Auteurs before them, simply demand to be listened to.