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Customer Review

on 4 November 2007
Released in 2000, 'The Facts of Life' was the second album from Black Box Recorder (featuring the lovely Sarah Nixey, the dastardly Luke Haines & the decadent John Moore) and to date this is probably their masterpiece (though debut 'England Made Me' is almost as great & the neglected 'Passionoia' equally excellent...though probably too clever. Maybe people thought BBR had made their point? & perhaps the TV talent show/state of pop themed 'Being Number One' and 'Andrew Ridgley' were slightly obvious targets?) Fingers crossed for the rumoured fourth album from Black Box Recorder; in the meantime, The Facts of Life...

Penned by Haines and Moore, The Facts of Life advances on the dark climes of England Made Me - Weekend references The Specials' Friday Night, Saturday Morning AND the book/film that referenced (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning), and manages to take its title from one of Jean-Luc Godard's most enjoyable films (autogeddon, cannibalism, communism, intertextual pop references). Weekend captures the whole life of consumption thing, the allure of capitalist hedonimism that Gang of Four once sang about ("Please give me evenings and weekends")- Cashmachine macht frei, if you like. The album opens with single The Art of Driving, which joins the ranks of Ballard/Crash themed pop songs (see: Warm Leatherette, Pull Up to the Bumper, Cars, Fly on the Windscreen...) and probably isn't that far away from Godard's Weekend. The clashing vocals between Moore and Nixey are fun, and the guitar here kind of a glam take on that Throbbing Gristle sometimes employed. I come from a world where proper guitar solos' depress...

The car theme continues with The English Motorway System, BBR's Autobahn and the kind of song that Morrissey should be writing, and probably only MES (apart from Haines/Moore) could pen these days. The Facts of Life is packed with sublime pop, like Haines' solo albums there are synths etc that some may object to (whilst pining for New Wave), it's cleverer than most listeners, and some great harmonics/backing vocals (check the comclusion of the title track when the boys come in, or the opening of Straight Life, or the distant moans in the English Motorway System). & people go on about Thom Yorke, what gives? May Queen is almost BBR folk, guitar that reminds you of the Velvets, of when Johnny Marr was good, or some Auteurs. The gothic themes apparent in the World of Haines, from the cover of Luke Haines is Dead, to After Murder Park, to Unsolved Child Murder relate to this one; & imagine if Kate Nash had a song like this! She'd be listenable then!!!

Sex Life probably should have been a single, though the title and boys/girls together lyrics probably would have been too much, and the record label that put this record out didn't do much of a job with it. Odd that The Facts of Life came highly in Critics Polls of 2000, yet Passionia was hardly referenced - I recently read some drivel about how 2000 was rubbish and saved by The Libertines. Hello?...Black Box Recorder, remember them? & is their anything better than the hook/harmony of "...in your dreams" - no, not really. Haines' vocals appear at the start of French Rock'N'Roll, which no doubt alludes back to Serge, BB, Francoise Hardy et al, though sat amusingly against cack like Phoenix, who were in vogue for a quarter of an hour in the early zeroes (the kind of music supermodels smoke to...so "super-cool"). Again, more hooks that a Captain Hook Society facing off a Dr Hook tribute band - The Facts of Life is one of the great pop records of modern times. How often do you get great pop albums? Treasure this one...

The title track scraped in the Top Twenty and resulted in one of those truly odd Top of the Pops performances that included the Associates doing Partyfearstwo, Mark E Smith with Inspiral Carpets, a manic Specials doing Ghost Town, PIL doing Flowers of Romance, & The Smiths doing What Difference Does It Make. The kind of performance that was great, partly as it confounded both audiences at home and studio. That would come in my top ten TOTP performances alongside the obligatory Starman and New Order murdering Blue Monday...I guess Straight Life is the kind of thing Damon Albarn failed to write around The Great Escape, advancing on Ideal Home from the debut, this might get the same critique that Albarn and Mike Leigh did. But I think of the serial killer from Se7en telling Brad Pitt's cop how he envied his life - the roots of Straight Life are probably both In Every Dream Home a Heartache and Shangri La...

Gift Horse returns to the territory of May Queen, a feast of jangling guitars (Haines & Moore have their roots in the C-86 era, I point you to The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Servants) and sad synths combine, as Sarah Nixey sings of human remains being found. The cover and artwork are fantastic by the way, though shame Amazon don't show the white outer sleeve cover with that iconic picture of BBR, especially Moore in a dapper white suit, looking a bit Under the Volcano. The Deverell Twins continues the folky theme, and taps back into the dark English seam apparent in the World of Haines, from Child Brides to All the English Devils, to Freddie Mills is Dead, to Tombstone. The keyboards feel a bit like the soundtrack to something like Get Carter too, or John Barry after too much Peter Ackroyd and Colin Wilson. Goodnight Kiss is the gorgeous kiss off to this post-millennium classic, the fact it sounds not far from Goldfrapp or Morcheeba is probably accidental - though I should remind you that the title track was based on Honey to the B by Billie (aka TV's Billie Piper, star of Dr Who and that awful programme where she wears lots of nice underwear). I guess I think this is pop, then again, I think the same of certain records by Denim, The Fall, Jack and Super Furry Animals and no one agrees with me there...In all, an English classic and one no ideal home should be without; here's to the return of Black Box Recorder...
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