Black Box Recorder – The Facts of Life

Black Box Recorder
The Facts of Life

On Black Box Recorder’s debut album, England Made Me, the trio had a song called “Child Psychology” that contained the controversial chorus, “Life is unfair / Kill yourself or get over it.” Because of that line, the song was banned from UK radio and from MTV in the states. On The Facts of Life, the band is much less overt regarding their sentiments, but this album still deals with similar topics as those on England Made Me, mainly the heavier issues of life, death, suicide, depression, relationships, love, and more.
That’s sometimes hard to gather when listening to the band’s music. Black Box Recorder’s songwriters Luke Haines (of Auteurs) and John Moore craft their melodramatic lyrics with metaphors and seductive simplicity. But when sung by Sarah Nixey in her fragile, haunting voice, the songs become almost sweet and reverential. Add to that the band’s penchant for light, almost dreamy pop songs with hints of a soulful edge, and you can easily forget the more serious nature of the vocals for the almost breathtakingly lovely music.
Probably the best example of that dichotomy is the album’s highlight track, “The English Motorway System,” which is at once both haunting and dreamy. The song uses the metaphor of the highway system for that of a broken relationship. With an ominous, thick backing, Nixey’s vocals make the song much less light but still quite lovely.
The song “May Queen” would have been a nice addition to the Virgin Suicides soundtrack for its eerily pretty and airy quality and its theme of a secret, illicit relationship. On the title track, a light song centered around a throbbing beat, Nixey almost recites the lyrics during the verses. You completely get the intention that she’s relating her experiences on life, and you can easily relate.
Things get downright dreary on “Gift Horse,” as Nixey sings, “They’re digging up human remains in Noting Hill” and goes on to sing plaintively, “I just want to be loved.” And the almost desperate-sounding “Goodnight Kiss” ends with Nixey asking “will the last one out please turn out the lights.”
Not all is serious and heavy, however, and compared to England Made Me, you might even say The Facts of Life is upbeat. “Weekend” is a light and lively, almost poppy number, and “Sex Life,” with its gorgeous, keyboard-driven background and lovely, chimey quality, is almost awe-inspiring. “The Art of Driving” is a light, beat-driven song that includes some light little “la-la-la”s. There’s even something of a rock-n-roll feel, ala Velvet Underground, on “Start As You Mean to Go,” one of two tracks only available on the US import.
This album is almost frightening in its purely seductive pop quality. It will suck you in, seduced by Nixey’s gorgeous and fragile vocals and the band’s penchant for light and dreamy pop songs. However, once you’re sucked in, you’ll get a dose of the trio’s actual haunting qualities. Just the pop alone would have been enough, but it’s the heavier subject matter and slight perversion that makes this a unique and inspiring release.