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The Facts of Life

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Album Review

Make no mistake: Black Box Recorder are malevolent scoundrels. Their debut album — England Made Me — was a distressing, vacant eye staring over the unspoken horror of everyday England, so one wondered where they could go from there. With The Facts of Life, they moved that voyeuristic, cynical stare away from suicide and car crashes and focused it on small-town dating and disenchanted sex lives. Strangely enough, the horror feels the same. Songs like the utterly menacing hook of "The Art of Driving" will chill even the most neutral of listeners, while the John Barry-influenced "Weekend" strolls along with such desolate grace that it's just subtly elegant. Vocalist Sarah Nixey sings with impassioned distance that serves up the disparagement nicely. Lines such as "Don't even look at me 'till we're alone," "Careful not to touch, we've drunk enough/Just another weekend falling," or "Read the message on the bottle/Go and drink yourself to death" probably won't become national anthems anytime soon. All the better for it, then. As in BBR's debut, the same barren instrumentation and distanced vocals are still here, but this time around, there seems to be a pop sensibility that evokes far more seditious strengths than ever before. This produces a delightfully sinister contradiction. "Straight Life," for instance, has Nixey chiming, "It's a beautiful morning," and only BBR could make such a statement sound truly sardonic. The closing "Goodnight Kiss" is also brimming with beauty, yet — at heart — still a song with pained regret. All this doesn't even begin to get near the marvel that is the title track, either. "The Facts of Life" is found nestled in the album's core and it still glares at you like a Stanley Kubrick-directed All Saints production. Simple, gorgeous, chart-friendly, and just plain evil, it is undoubtedly one of the most subversive singles ever written. Indeed, clocking in at just under 40 minutes, The Facts of Life is a precise, meticulous, deeply disturbing experience. The album is proof that there's still life in pop music. Subversion has rarely sounded this startling.


Formed: 1998 in London, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Black Box Recorder included Auteurs main man Luke Haines, former Jesus and Mary Chain member John Moore, and vocalist Sarah Nixey. Like the Auteurs, Black Box Recorder's songs commented on the state of English affairs, both social and personal, often using character sketches that exposed the less-than-pleasant with sharp frankness and simplicity. Domesticity and childhood themes often ran through their albums. Coming together in 1998 as Haines kept his primary vehicle operable, the trio introduced...
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The Facts of Life, Black Box Recorder
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