11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2004
I first heard Black Box Recorder on a pre-release sampler for 'England Made Me'. My friend was a journalist, and used to get advance copies of stuff he liked. We were both huge Auteurs fans, so the prospect of a new project by La Haine had him putting in a request for a tape at the first opportunity. The tape featured about six songs, and by the time we'd got to 'Uptown Top Ranking', the fourth or so on the tape, we were weeping with laughter. Don't let anyone tell you that Haines has no sense of humour, as this album has it in spades. The music is claustrophobic and airless, but Sarah Nixey comes across as a petulant drama-school teenager delivering Morrissey lyrics. I still giggle even now when I hear the line from 'Child Psychology' about the "plastic Christmas tree that played 'Silent Night' over and over again". The whole record just drips with loathing and sarcasm, like a stalker sing-talking the back catalogue of Saint Etienne.
Special mentions too for the crisp, beautiful 'Swinging' and 'It's Only The End Of The World', which are amongst the best songs that Haines has ever written.
Cold genius, delivered deadpan.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2000
There is no joy in this album, but if melancholic songs with poignant, meaningful lyrics are your thing, then this album is certainly worth a try. Including in their number Luke Haines out of the much underated Auteurs, Black Box Recorder have produced a real gem of an album. If you have heard their latest single 'Facts of Life' on the radio, the songs on this album are in a similar style but darker. Don't be put off.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2006
England Made Me was the first album released by Black Box Recorder, an indie-pop super group comprising of the former Auteurs' chief-in-residence Luke Haines, ex-Jesus and Mary Chain drummer John Moore, and that cool indie-chanteuse in the making, Sarah Nixey. Together, the band would inflict upon the world three wonderfully bilious and sadistically dark pop albums that would draw stylistically on a number of different influences, most notably, The Velvet Underground, glam-pop and Saint Etienne. Of the three great albums that they released, England Made Me remains my personal favourite, with the songs here lacking the 21st century trip-hop ambience of 2000's semi-hit follow-up The Facts of Life, or indeed, the bright and sparkly electro-pop sound of 2003's more topical release Passionoia, to instead present a much darker and more claustrophobic take on life in a world fast approaching the once-devastating notion of Y2K!!
The stripped-down style works well here, with the band adopting an almost lo-fi approach to give the songs a further creeping feeling of claustrophobia. As a result, the real components of these compositions are Nixey's lulled and seductive vocals and Haines's minimal guitars that creep up and down the scales amidst some subtle drum and bass inflections, a dash of minimal keyboard work, a bit of electronica (most notably on their cover of Up-Town Top-Ranking) and of all things, a singing saw!! The results are cold and curiously esoteric... a world away from the warmth of songs like Showgirl or Chinese Bakery, and devoid of the sly wink to the camera favoured by later projects like The Oliver Twist Manifesto and Passionoia. Instead, England Made Me Comes across as both po-faced and dead-pan, acting like the musical equivalent of Nathan Barley, in the sense that the joke is more about those who don't quite get the joke than the joke itself!! Regardless, the songs here are excellent, in my opinion, with Haines and Moore writing some wonderfully subversive pop gems that sound sweet on the ears, whilst simultaneously, talking about suicide, terrorism and domestic ennui.
The album opens with the standout track Girl Singing in the Wreckage, which besides being the greatest title for a pop song (ever!!) is just fantastic... kicking off with Haines's bare and spidery guitar work and Moore backing the title refrain between Nixey's bored and despondent lead vocal. The lyrics, like those found throughout the album, are sniping and snide and filled with moments of great black comedy, though are delivered with a straight-face by the lovely Ms. Nixey... So, either you get the joke and appreciate what Haines and Moore were attempting to do, or you chastise the group for being too bleak, serious and depressing (like a certain on-line indie-snob music bible that really missed the point!!). Girl Singing in the Wreckage is amongst the top-ten pop songs of the 90's and gives way to the equally great title track, which references Graham Greene whilst further developing the reliance on stop-start song structures, minimal instrumentation, and that cold and uninviting feeling of sonic claustrophobia developed by co-producer Phil Vinall.
The lyrics are fantastic, offering a combination of gothic storytelling and kitchen-sink desperation, with lines like "It's only the end of the world / not a death in the family / we've seen all the best sights / been on all the best rides / at the amusement park / on Saturday" from It's Only the End of the World or "I had a dream last night that I was drunk / I killed a stranger and left him in a trunk / at Brighton railway station / it was an unsolved case / a famous murder mystery / people love a mystery... / England made me" from the title-track, presenting moods that are both dark and devious, but also warm and humourous. The song-writing throughout is really on top form, with Haines (in collaboration with Moore) continuing his obsession with social subcultures (New Baby Boom), middle-class apathy (Hated Sunday) and underground terrorism (Kidnapping an Heiress), alongside more conceptual allusions to troubled childhoods, British mediocrity and a general feeling of pre-millennium tension (baring in mind that the album was released in 1998... the cusp of a new century!!).
Child Psychology was the album's big single, famously being banned by the Beeb for featuring the classic lyric/chorus "life in unfair... kill yourself or get over it", as well as a great stop/start structure that has Nixey almost speaking the verse, before breathing the chorus in a soft and sleepy whisper. I find most of the songs fantastic, from the more immediate sounding New Baby Boom and I.C. One Female to the more lyrically abrasive subject matter of Ideal Home and the fantastic Kidnapping an Heiress (which continues the terrorist theme developed on the Baader Meinhof LP, which in turn, would continue through to his soundtrack to Christie Malry's Own Double Entry). I could have perhaps done without the novelty cover of Up-Town Top-Ranking, but this is more than overcome by the swooning Swinging (which has a lush sound and Nixey's lovely vocals croonign lines like "All the people have to say / we're swinging / we don't like you / go away / we're swinging / feeling rotten to the core / and I don't need you anymore") and the great closing moment, Hated Sunday, which makes the inclusion of the Beachy Head photographs inside the CD booklet suddenly make sense!!
England Made Me is a fine album that ably demonstrates that not all Britpop albums were about trad glamour or novelty pop bombast. The musical arrangements are sparse and tight, but still firly pop in influence (the melodic use of tempo and key-change, the great production, the backing vocals, Nixey's smooth and seductive voice), whilst the lyrics are amongst some of Haines's very best work. England Made Me is easily the peak of Black Box Recorder's brief career, whilst along with After Murder Park and Baader Meinhof, it represents the dark heart of Luke Haines' subversive pop trilogy.
8 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2003
Luke Haines and John Moore should be respected for eschewing normal conventions of production and song construction. The production is understated, their instruments undistorted, their tunes exploring tempo and mood changes. Unfortunately, they've employed a middle class drama student to get the words across. I'm sure its supposed to be dry and witty, but Sarah Nixey's mannered delivery makes the whole thing feel like an intellectual exercise. It feels elitist, cold, exclusive - a record to listen to when you're alone reading your trainspotting manuals.
One of my stars is for the cover which is, I have to say, fabulous.