Luke Haines has always had a knack for turning the mundane and ordinary
into the erotic and mysterious. This has been apparent since his early
work with the Auteurs, which often saw him transmuting everyday
occurrences into ribald fantasies. But when I listen to Haines' early work,
it's now clear that there was something missing: the haunting voice of Black Box Recorder vocalist Miss Sarah Nixey. In Nixey, Haines has not only
found the perfect voice with which to paint his tawdry vignettes, but the ultimate
sex symbol to front his otherwise faceless group.
Now, after appearing on countless British end-of-the-year-best-of lists, Black
Box Recorder's sophomore effort is finally seeing the light of Stateside day.
On The Facts of Life, Haines and musical co-conspirator cum
multi-instrumentalist John Moore construct a vast sonic wonderland in which
Nixey’s starry-eyed vocals are given free reign. "The Art of
Driving" finds her cooing seductively over twinkling percussion and
gentle breaks as she and Haines engage in an erotically charged musical
conversation. "Weekend" and "Straight Life" showcase Moore’s more
unabashedly pop leanings, employing ultra-smooth production and
shimmering keyboards to create something that certainly wouldn’t sound
out of place among our current crop of boy/girl bands. But for all intents and purposes this is the Haines & Nixey show, and when they’re
on they’re really on, as "May Queen"'s synthetic country-soul balladry and "Gift
Horse"'s roughed-up production and Baroque piano flourishes will
The US release of The Facts of Life contains two bonus tracks that
nearly steal the show. "Start as You Mean to Go On" finds
Haines and Moore replacing their sumptuous symphonies with a
dirty, Pulp-like guitar dirge. In contrast, "Brutality"'s title couldn’t
be further from the truth; its genteel Morricone-aping production and
slinky vocals sound as soft as silk and twice as pretty.
While The Facts of Life probably won't catapult Black Box
Recorder to the level of Stateside success experienced by Coldplay and
Travis, it is certainly a release worthy of
your undivided attention. Though these Facts of Life are more subtle
(and morbid) than current mainstream Britpop, their stark and sometimes disturbing details
will still be with you long after you’re
through being "Yellow".