By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Instrumentally, Black Box Recorder are also completely unlike the Auteurs. Spare and keyb-based, they're not just quiet but gentle, favoring folkish guitar figures, high organ/flute/string touches, subtle samplesfar too tasteful and low-rent for modern pop, but recognizable as an arty take on same. Although Haines was once a piano prodigy and nobody mentions John Moore much, I assume this sound is where the born-again Jesus and Mary Chainer earns his cocomposing credits, and if not it's still a lot more striking than the Auteurs' cello-tinged Velvets-Kinks strummage. Though lighter on the samples and hookier in the choruses than England Made Me, The Facts of Life sticks to the program. Vince from Harrogate, England, nailed its appeal when he told amazon.co.uk it was "a very peaceful and relaxing album, extremely good when listened to in bed." Picture Vince lying there; imagine that he's the guy who posted the lyricson Auteurs CDs Haines always provided cribs, but with the BBC up top, why bother, right?with "precocious" as "precautious" and "chivalry" as "shivering." Black Box Recorder have their work cut out for them, clearly. But on The Facts of Life they mean to reach that kid, and the effort serves them well.
As it more or less announces, The Facts of Life is about erotic explorationnot a concept album, more an advice album. For seven of its 11 tracks proper (the two bonus U.S.-onlys would fit better on the debut), Nixey plays varyingly innocent young females staking out sexual spaceand, on the title track, the mother of two adolescent boys whose parallel struggles will make Vince wince if he ever gets out of his bedroom. This is a rather surprising tack for the professionally jaded Haines, Jesus and Mary's personal absinthe tycoon, and a sometime love doll whose favorite albums are Berlin and The Marble Index (although the Like a Virgin connection works). But they bring it off with a remarkable synthesis of decency and edge. Just for undermining the myth of casual sex, the nudge-nudge wink-wink that convinces the inexperienced that other people fuck as easily as they tie their shoes, they deserve a merit badge. The three driving metaphorsgoing too fast, a weekend away that could go any way, and not knowing when the journey's overare droll, seductive, and redolent. The intimations of the homoerotic, the impossible wet dreams, the first kiss like a peace pact, the last kiss like swallowing a mickeythese are complex, cautionary tales, but they're also sexy. Lie in bed thinking about them and you may learn something even if you know it all. Immerse in their mood and you may get turned on.
Not by Nixey, necessarilyI've never warmed to girls who wear their class on their tonsils myself. But unlike the musclehead reviewer in Arizona who branded this album "morose," "cynical," "lifeless," "dull," "plodding," "emotionless," "sterile," and (ooh, that hurts) "affected"none of which, except for the last, it isI've learned to take sex as it comes, which, as with music, often isn't like you were just fantasizing. And unlike the tin-eared buffoons nationwide who think every chick with an English accent is raring to put them down, I listen to Nixey's careful tone and caring words and find kindness there. Realistically, she thinks girls have it hardest in this rite of passage. But here she is on a boy phoning for a date: "Now's the time to deal with the fear of being rejected/No one gets through life without being hurt/At this point the boy who's listening to this song is probably saying/That it's easier said than done and it's true." If it takes BBC noblesse oblige to put that kind of lesson across, I can deal with it. If it takes Brit art-pop, ditto. There's never been an album like this, really. Take it as it comes.