on 24 April 2003
Although following in a similar vein to their previous 'Facts of Life' album the latest collection of songs is a major advance. The opening number 'The School Song' is a great start (I disagree with the reviewer who discribed it as dross - along with The Deverell Twins - another favourite of mine). The following track, GSOH QED, displays Sarah Nixey's unique vocal style at its best. The single 'These are the Things' should have been a smash hit - it’s simply a great pop song.
With the exception of the last couple of tracks, which just fall short of the exceptionally high standard set elsewhere, this is a great album, brilliantly produced and recorded - if your curious about 'BBR' start here and work backwards.
on 8 March 2003
To be fair, Black Box Recorder albums in the past have often flattered to deceive, with excellent individual songs and lyrics let down by dross like 'The Deverell Twins' and 'Sex Life'. The omens are poor this time around with the opening self parody of 'The School Song', but once that's out of the way things improve rapidly. The music is a huge advancement from the last album, with rickety synth-pop replaced with a far fuller sound. A familiar accusation is that the band only sneer in their lyrics, but the depth of 'British Racing Green' and 'I Ran All The Way Home' complement perfectly the acid of 'Being Number One' and 'The New Diana'. Throw in a seemingly heartfelt tribute to Andrew Ridgely (Wham!'s Gary Barlow) and Black Box Recorder 2003 shows themelves to be, if not reformed characters, then at least having got a grip on their bile ducts. But why was the excellent b-side 'The Land Of Our Fathers' not included? Not quite ten on ten, but an excellent album nonetheless.
on 6 July 2005
Passionia continues Black Box Recorder's obsession with dark cultural themes wrapped in a tight pop melody... with ten new songs that dissect the bloated excess and eccentricities of the British Isles with the kind of cynical glee usually reserved for rock curmudgeons like Mark E. Smith and Elvis Costello. Granted, neither of those artists would ever write a song called Andrew Ridgley, nor, for that matter, begin their album with a parody of a football chant over an electronic drone (then again, we are dealing with the same band that released a pop single with the catchy chorus "life is unfair... kill yourself or get over it"). The first Black Box Recorder album, the great England Made Me, is probably the one that draws most on the sound of Luke Haines's former band The Auteurs, with those sparse arrangements and spidery guitars sounding a million miles away from the kind of music found here, with Passionoia drawing less on the sound of the Auteurs and more on the sound of Haines' first solo-album, The Oliver Twist Manifesto.
Here, the guitars are merged into the background to make room for dissonant sound effects and an abundance of 80's style electronic music.. over which vocalist Sarah Nixey relates her tales of repressed British normality and crippling nostalgia. The move towards a more synthetic 80's sound was already becoming apparent on that second BBR album, The Facts of Life, particularly on songs such as The Art of Driving and The English Motorway System. However, with that album, there was still a certain continuation of minimal arrangements and a sparse sound to give us some sense of continuity to the album that came before. Passionoia on the other hand seems like a whole new musical direction for the group... a bright, vibrant and at times giddy pop album, which takes onboard elements of both the 60's and the 80's, but with an overall production job and subject matter that places it firmly in the here and now (...this is real 21st century pop!!). Unlike The Facts of Life, which saw the band looking at more personal issues like relationships and approaching middle-age, Passionoia gets back to the messy business of expelling all and sundry... with songs that deal with pop rivalry, star-worship, celebrity excess and the general British ennui brought on by rainy-days, tabloid TV, and the always prevalent political-class struggle.
Opening track The School Song gets right down to business, with a seductive sounding Nixey essaying the role of the teacher (which will continue on the later track Girls Guide for the Modern Diva), whilst dispelling contemporary rock stars for a number of clichés that conform to the kind of things a teacher would say to a class of rowdy secondary school pupils (as well as doubling as a typically bilious Luke Haines indictment against caricatured rock & roll excess... bringing to mind other Haines-related pop putdowns like American Guitars and Tombstone). The theme moves from celebrity to the personal on the next track, GSOH Q.E.D., which taps into the 21st century infatuation with speed-dating, personal-columns and internet-romance, with Nixey's delivery breaking into an almost rap, as lyrical descriptions of sad, callous, middle-aged types are spat out over the bed of pulsating electro-pop. It's the kind of snide social critique that Haines did so well on that classic Auteurs' album, Now I'm a Cowboy, and certainly demonstrates the fact that Haines and co-writer/band-member John Moore (ex-Absinth Importer) are easily on the same musical page (writing songs that complement the work of esteemed writers like Lennon & McCartney, Mark E. Smith, Ray Davis, Kevin Rowland, Morrissey & Marr, etc, though really, possess a style and ideology that sounds like no one else).
The single at the time was Being Number One, which has a stark irony about it that I'm sure delighted the band, though for me, the songs that sandwich it on the album would have been much better choices for singles one and two. British Racing Green is one of my very favourite BBR/Luke Haines tracks, managing, as it does, to sound like a harsh critical indictment against the British way of life, as well as a warm and nostalgic peen to old fashioned British values ("everybody needs a dream, romance and love and eight hours sleep, a little cottage by the sea... British Racing Green"), which is easily as great, if not greater, than anything released by the Kinks during their classic mid-60's studio era. New Dianna is just a good, tapping into that whole notion of icon-worshiping tabloid excess that seems so prevalent in the 21st century, with the band managing to break through the saintly veneer of the former "queen of hearts", with Nixey gracefully intoning "I want to be the new Dianna, lying on a yacht reading photo magazines, I want to be the new Dianna, visiting the shore occasionally". It's probably a much harsher treatment than what she deserves, but then again, what can you expect from a band who've developed beautiful transcendent pop songs out of suicide, murder, kidnap and death?
The final run of songs bring the album to a perfect close... with Andrew Ridgley offering a tongue in cheek ode to the former Wham! himbo, whilst When Britain Refused to Sing is more perfect pop, 21st century anxiety, with a great use of production and an amusing Nixey rap. The two closing songs are, for me, perfect, capturing the stark, minimalist, dreamy melancholy of the first two BBR albums, with Girls Guide for the Modern Diva offering an example of how pop music should sound in the hear and now, whilst I Ran All the Way Home sounds like classic single Child Psychology, played on a Casio keyboard. Once again, Passionoia is the sound of Black Box Recorder progressing and developing as a band, taking on new ideas, whilst simultaneously perfecting old ones. As with their first two albums, this is a truly, essential purchase.
I'm sure by now (2013) underrated pop genius Luke Haines must have realised that 'pop stardom' is about as elusive an ambition as world peace and full employment (and undoubtedly to be much less prized), but at the time of this 2003 album with his Black Box Recorder incarnation he could have been forgiven for thinking that he was teetering on the brink. Not only had the band achieved (relative) commercial success, including having appeared on Top Of The Pops, with their magnificent Facts Of Life single from 2000's album of the same name, but for this follow up the band had adopted an even more commercial sound, full of synths and drum effects, thereby producing the desired foot-tapping effect but without compromising their ever-maturing pop music sensibility (at the core of which was a continuing ability to pen catchy melodies and hooks, together with a typically witty and satirical set of song subjects and lyrics).
Here, singer Sarah Nixey's voice is as sultry as ever, the apparent innocent tones disguising a tongue firmly in the cheek on such takes on 'modern pop icons' as in the songs Andrew Ridgley and (one of my favourites here) The New Diana ('I want to be the new Diana, OK!, Hello, lying on a yacht reading photo-magazines, visiting the shore occasionally'). Similarly, Nixey's vocal take on a disciplinarian schoolmarm throughout the brilliantly vibrant album opener The School Song, is hilarious (like something straight out of St Trinian's) and totally infectious ('And what on earth is that you're wearing? This is an educational establishment, not a nightclub'). For me, other highlights include another uniquely Hainesian take on English suburban ambition in the haunting British Racing Green, the amazingly banal (but undoubtedly accurate) account of modern life and relationships summed up in These Are Things ('A pint of milk, a loaf of bread, a magazine on special offer, check the weather forecast, buy a new umbrella,..., these are the things that keep us together') and the witty account of the trappings of modern female stardom recounted in Girls Guide For The Modern Diva. I guess Passionoia could be criticised for sounding too samey, but (for me) there really is hardly a weak moment and I find it difficult to understand why the album did not chart as well as its predecessor.
Still, never mind Luke, the ever illusive pipedream aside, please rest assured that in the albums New Wave, Now I'm A Cowboy and After Murder Park, in my book you masterminded three of the greatest albums of the 1990s (in fact, probably surpassing any other single artist's trilogy in that decade) and continue to produce, via projects such as The North Sea Scrolls, some of the most infectious and perceptive (pop) music of current times.
on 3 April 2003
I enjoyed The Facts of Life and expected more of the same, but I was actually surprised that this was even better (wasn't too bothered about the first album). As I type this I can hear the playground chant of 'Blackbox Recorder' from The School Song ringing in my head. The initial comment from people I play this to is "It sounds like St Etienne" but I then ask them to listen to the lyrics, they are the real key to all this - acerbic, haunting, telling and FUNNY and all set against melodies to die for. Hearing material so arch and camp makes me want put on my silk smoking jacket, get out my cigarette holder and SMIRK from my window at the passers by. FAB, BUY IT!
on 9 February 2016
The superb third (and final so far) album by Black Box Recorder a.k.a. Luke Haines of The Auteurs.
Glacial cool modern electronica with hilarious lyrics - nothing quite like it.
Please reform BBR now Mr. Haines!
I never got to grips with Passionoia at the time, which I probably put down to the fact it was the most irritating LP title this side of PJ Harvey's Uh Huh Oh Her, or my belief that 2000's celebrated The Facts of Life was Black Box Recorder's definitive statement. I was wrong, and now I want more...and strangely, Passionoia is the Black Box Recorder LP I listen to the most. Heck, one of the albums I listen to the most these days, for some strange reason. 10 Odd Pop Greats, in case you were wondering...
First things first, Passionoia probably has the best front/back cover twist since 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle - Haines and Moore looking as slick as Bullingdon Club members, Nixey reclined in bikini, corpse in the pool blending Michael Barrymore with Sunset Boulevard, champagne bottles, the kind of place you expect to find Rowan Pelling, interesting reflections, a copy of 120 Days of Sodom...all a bit like Ballard's dark side of suburban utopia. Yes, probably worth buying for the cover alone...
Haines and Moore, the songwriters here, are probably too clever for their own good, and their brand of delectable, subversive pop doesn't get to infect the mainstream and ends up getting celebrated by anally retentive souls like myself alongside folk like baader meinhof, Denim, (early) Fatima Mansions, Luke Haines, Magnetic Fields, Microdisney & Sparks...I will say that it sounds like pop to me, but I like all manner of oddness, so my idea of pop is slightly deranged, which means this is the perfect album. Passionoia, as The Facts of Life, has an electronic edge - something that some critics haven't liked on wonderful Haines solo records like Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop and The Oliver Twist Manifesto (...where else to go after After Murder Park with Albini?). All Luke Haines-associated records should be owned and revered, even the slightly average Now I'm a Cowboy and the slight boring remix thingy not long after that...a national treasure, mark my words...
For the most part, Passionoia wipes away the acoustic elements of The Facts of Life, though I don't really see why this LP was so ignored and seems unsung (...I might have to nominate it for Unsung status on Head Heritage, despite the fact that the band members weren't bearded psych/Kraut types from the US 60s-70s!!). Sometimes these songs don't stand out on their own, but the effect of listening them all together builds up to something like the Village Green Preservation Society made by Girls Aloud imprisoned in the Death Factory...
Passionoia opens with a chant of Black Box Recorder, and the Dre-influenced world of the Oliver Twist Manifesto combines with The Facts of Life, and charts waters just off Beachy Head. Sarah Nixey drifts into dominatrix mode, sounding like Anne Widdecombe forced to sing Venus in Furs, the chant continues, and Nixey is allowed to sing (...though not sure how catchy "Destroy your record collection" is - probably a good idea, unless you're just doing it to win the Turner Prize). It gets even better with GSOH QED, which is very zeitgeist (then and now, dig the anachronism!), and tells you everything you need to know about the Western World you can't get in American Pie: The Wedding. The opening triad of songs concludes with the sublime pop of British Racing Green, which has a strange Hawaian vibe and probably should be played in the shops we buy our clothes in...as much as I love the songs on England Made Me (1997) and The Facts of Life, British Racing Green shows that Haines/Moore (or Moore/Haines) were getting better at their co-writing. It also has a guitar solo that Radiohead would lightly whine for...
Passionoia gets even better with Being Number One, which like the later These Are the Things, probably should have been a huge hit (something that also applies to Lenny Valentino, Unsolved Child Murder, Baader Meinhof, Child Psychology, The Rubettes, The Facts of Life, Weekend, Discomania etc)- the latter is a song that Girls Aloud or Sugababes could have sung, which explains the Richard X Leeds United (another should have been smash...) Being Number One seems to have been viewed like those crap Irvine Welsh novels about policemen who listen to Saxon or The Great Escape by Damon Albarn, sneering at the world it depicts. But it's much better than that, not just the easy target that people like Simon Cowell represent, but is actually attacking the shallow world that most of us exist in (or aspire to, even if we pretend we don't want to work for THE MAN) The Haines/Moore male backing vocals very apparent on The Facts of Life aren't as present on Passionoia, so it's notable that the part on Being Number One when they come in ("God bless the public, God bless number one vs. God bless the radio/God Bless TV vs God bless parking money - these are the days of too much wine and sun...") This is history, pop kids, and with amusing references to Gloucestershire Pig and Max Clifford...
Black Box Recorder and Pete Hofmann refine the sound of the Facts of Life, no more apparent than on The New Diana, a Facts of Life-style ballad with a dash of Kid Loco's Cocaine Diana and that bit about Diana on Blue Jam by Chris Morris. Passionoia is probably the English record that most criticism of the Good the Bad & the Queen's album said that was...a shame that a high budget video wasn't forthcoming for the New Diana. Think about it, Haines & Moore in Monte Carlo, Sarah Nixey on a jetski in leopard-print, and a wonderful denoument in a tunnel in Paris that recalled the final scene of the original version of The Vanishing. In dreams...
Maybe Haines and Moore took things too far with Andrew Ridgley, though the construction of the song seems to be predicting that Xenomania several songs against another quality apparent in something like Biology. The rest of the record is a definite odd pop wonder, especially When Britain Refused to Sing, which has a shift in gear akin to A Walk in the Woods by Fatima Mansions, and now the Black Arts appear with their Xmas single, rumours of a fourth Black Box Recorder LP abound, and John Moore's other works on i-tunes...we're spoilt ambassadors, we really are...in the meantime, here were 10 Odd Pop Greats from Haines, Moore & Nixey.
on 3 March 2003
I picked this up in London 2 months before its release date and it has not left my cd player. I own and love BBRs 2 other releases “ENGLAND MADE ME” and “FACTS OF LIFE” but I must say that this is the best one yet. Sarah Nixey’s sexy, breathy
vocals are clear and better than ever. The amazing production job on this is noteworthy. Every song is good, no filler here. My favorite track is “GSOH QED” very catchy and current.
on 9 March 2003
light aircraft on fire, any band that in its original incarnation can craft a song utilising these characteristically esoteric phrases somewhat sets a rod for their own back and yet over the subsequent years the distillation of all that was great about the Auteurs into the BBR brew has proved to be an unqualified success. This album strays little from the formula of their last offering and yet somehow seems more confident and accomplished. The opening track, "The School Song" mixes Smiths- esque crowd chanting and a perfect pop beat with the overlaid dreamy female vocals working to a treat when they really shouldn't. Yet this represents the whole ethos of BBR, one could not really accuse them of daring to be different as this would imply that they cared what people think and quite plainly they don't and all power to them in this regard. This is an accomplished and polished performance and a joy to behold in todays humdrum scene. They may well plough there own inimitable furrow but as long as they continue to do it with such wit and a disregard for mainstream acceptance I personally will not cease to admire the perverted genius of MR L Haines.