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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
CD Review: Black Box Recorder
Black Box Recorder
Black Box Recorder: The Facts of Life (Nude)
By BBC News Online's Chris Charles

You know what they say - it's the quiet ones you have to watch.

Sarah Nixey may sound like the shy girl at school who didn't dare raise her voice above a whimper, but you can bet she was actually the one organising the end-of-term riot.

This is the woman, after all, who advised us on Black Box Recorder's debut single Child Psychology: "Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it."

This time she's giving us The Facts Of Life as she sees them - cold and univiting in the main part, with glimpses of the promised land now and again.

Former Auteurs man Luke Haines provides the eerie atmospheric platform for Nixey's frank commentary and it makes compelling listening for anyone brave enough to take it on.

Haines and John Moore serve up an impressive cocktail of sounds, using glockenspiels, drum loops, xylophones and arpeggio guitars to ensure the album has a familiar Air about it.

Sinister undercurrent

The Facts Of Life kicks off with The Art Of Driving and puts its foot down to quickly reach The English Motorway System, which is adopted as a metaphor for relationships.

"It's beautiful and strange... it's been there forever... an accident waiting to happen," purrs Nixey over drum pulses last encountered on Ultravox's Vienna.

Every word she utters is intonated as if she were in the final of a public speaking competition, yet the sinister undercurrent is omnipresent.

French Rock'n'Roll deals with a woman about to throw herself off a building before "the sweetest sound I ever heard pulled me back from the edge", while Gift Horse concerns a body dug up in a Notting Hill garden.

Morbid fascination

And when she's not seeing corpses, Nixey is fraternising with ghosts. The Deverell Twins were two young children thought to have been murdered in the Thames back in Victorian times, whose hospitality she is "delighted to accept".

It's all pretty freaky stuff but, like a motorway pile-up or a documentary about a serial killer, you can't help but develop a morbid fascination with it.

When the title track - adolescent blues meets All Saints - leapt into the UK top 20, BBR confirmed what we'd suspected for a while - it's cool to be kitsch in the 21st century.

And this is a record of such power and beauty, it needs to be heard - just make sure there's a sofa nearby to hide behind.

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