Sarah Nixey made a name for herself in the late 1990s and 2000s as the lead singer of U.K. band Black Box Recorder, alongside Luke Haines (of The Auteurs) and John Moore (of Jesus And Mary Chain). In 2007 Sarah released her debut solo album, Sing, Memory, an alluring collection of dance pop and icy torch ballads graced by Sarah’s distanced and cool-tone, airy vocals.
Her long-awaited follow-up has finally arrived and to quote Morrissey, Sarah has returned “with incredible style”, as singer, songwriter, and producer of Brave Tin Soldiers. Sarah retains her unshakable poise and British vocal inflection, but her delivery is warmer and more engaging than on her debut, yet still tinged with an edge of melancholy.
This lyrics-centric album is lush with polished production values, highly developed song structures, and sophisticated instrumentation that includes resonant orchestral strings, piano, acoustic guitar, and synths. Various permutations of love and loss run through the album, reflected in Sarah’s story-telling confessionals.
Most songs are crafted as contemplative ballads or laments, adorned with orchestral strings, guitar lines, and piano, with the exception of the moody dance pop of “Love Gets Dangerous”. Its continual, fast beat contrasts with slower strings, elongated synth lines, Western guitar refrain, and glances of acoustic guitar as Sarah reveals “It’s never enough / until it’s dangerous.”, sighing silkily through the words “Dare to love me.” Sarah’s voice is light as a cloud as she sings the song title in a higher register that recalls the tones of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush.
“Brave Tin Soldiers” encapsulates the direction of the album’s themes as a tick-tock clock beat, acoustic guitar, and lower, sonorous strings accompany Sarah as she breathily emotes Kate Bush-like on the chorus backed by sighing female vocals. The pace picks up with the addition of synth lines, cymbal tap, and varied strings, as Sarah wistfully opines “Do you remember what you’re fighting for?”
The complex and involving “Miss Sauvignon” is a story-telling tale of jealousy and betrayal. It starts off with a measured drum beat march, slowly strummed guitar, and Sarah’s introspective, hushed vocals. She snakes seductively around the verse lyrics of “Won’t you teach me all your tricks / so that I become his new fix / and he won’t tell me lies / and hold you so high.” Cello and violins come in on the chorus and piano notes sparkle like gems amid Sarah’s lofty vocals. Mid-way through the song, the instrumentation takes a compelling turn, building up to a propulsive tempo with swelling strings and music box tings, before it lays back to rest.
The story-telling lament “Black Rose” pulses with a marching beat, scattered mid-range piano notes, and an undercurrent of thumbed bass line. Sarah takes on the persona of a persecuted woman, deepening her voice on certain words as she intones on the chorus “Now die for my sins / the life within me / They’ll cut me down / ‘cause I’m a black rose…” The bleak, Nick Cave-like lyrics are tempered by Sarah’s smooth and dreamy delivery, but still make quite an emotional impact.
“The Burial of Love” digs the grave a little deeper as Sarah sing-talks in a reflective, deeper tone that “Everything must pass / We took our chances / face our losses / It wasn’t meant to last.” A thumping beat, acoustic guitar, tambourine tap, high piano notes, and drawn out strings form a sonic web against which brightening strings increase in intensity, as Sarah embraces the song title with a floating sigh, adding hope to the stark sentiments.