AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #179 : BLACK BOX RECORDER

 A GUEST POSTING by ROL

from My Top Ten

1. Child Psychology

I still remember picking this one out of the new releases pile back when I worked in the radio station record library. We were always on the look-out for new music to play on our Sunday night indie & alternative show: the only time of the week we actually got to break free from the safety of the playlist.

I fell in love with Child Psychology on first listen. It’s dark, it’s wickedly funny, and it has Sarah Nixey whispering Luke Haines’ twisted lyrics. And then comes the chorus…

Life is unkind
Kill yourself or get over it.

I can honestly say I’d never heard anything like this before and it blew me away. It spoke to me personally. My 20s weren’t the best of times. Yes, there were lots of gigs and free records, but a lot of loneliness and heartache too. I was jaded, cynical and world-weary. This song could have been written for me.

According to iffypedia, Child Psychology was banned by UK radio except XFM. Well, excuse me, iffypedia, but we gave it a few spins on a Sunday evening… when we knew the boss wasn’t listening because he hated guitar music. In the US, the song was released just after the Columbine massacre, so the chorus lines were played backwards. Was that ironic, given the history of supposed backwards suicide messages hidden in pop songs… or did someone in the record company seriously think that was a logical solution?

2. Girl Singing In The Wreckage

There were two b-sides to Child Psychology, and both worked to complement the main track. Girl Singing In The Wreckage was also the opening track of the debut BBR album England Made Me. I don’t know if it was meant as such, but it feels like a sequel to Child Psychology, with the female narrator growing up and tackling the metaphorical car crash of teenage ennui.

(The third track on the CD single was a cover of Jacques Brel’s gloriously tragic suicide anthem Seasons In The Sun, originally a hit for Terry Jacks back in 1973. Once you’ve heard Ms. Nixey’s take, you’re liable to ask, “Terry who?”)

3. The Facts Of Life

Although the BBR songwriting chores were shared between Luke Haines (who, I’d guess, had more hand in the lyrics) and former Jesus & Mary Chain drummer John Moore, the band’s greatest asset was arguably Sarah Nixey.

I find it difficult to write about Ms. Nixey objectively without coming across as an old letch… but the best way to describe her would be in twisted comparison to Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell. Imagine a cartoon where a lovelorn young bloke has a pure, perfect, sweet-voiced angel dressed in white sitting on his right shoulder, encouraging him to be good and kind and virtuous. That would be the Sarah Cracknell angel. On the other shoulder, however, would be Sarah Nixey, dressed in black, also sweet-voiced… but that’s where the comparison ends. Now imagine that second angel was the teacher in your Sex Ed class…

Welcome to The Facts Of Life, a single which took Luke Haines into the top 20 for the first and only time in his career. If you’d asked me before I started compiling this ICA, I’d have told you this song must have been Top 10, probably Top 3… I mean, surely this was one of the biggest hits of the year 2000? It was in my head, anyway. In reality, it scraped #20 for a week then disappeared from the chart forever. A true sign of quality.

4. Andrew Ridgely

Another of Luke Haines’ ode to the 80s, and to the underdogs. The song begins with Nixey saying, “I never liked George Michael much… although they say he was the talented one”, before confessing a secret passion for the forgotten half of Wham!

This is a song about everything that was wrong with the 80s – plastic synthesizers and “Loadsamoney!” capitalism – yet Haines manages to make it sound not so bad really. Certainly, by today’s standards, most of us could probably find time for a little 80s nostalgia.

5. Keep It In The Family

After their third album, Passionoia, in 2003, BBR went “on hiatus”. Nixey and Moore were married by this point but split up in 2006. Then, a couple of years later, the band turned up again with a surprise gig in London. Plans were afoot for a new album and two tracks were recorded, but nothing else materialised and in 2010 Keep It In The Family and Do You Believe In God? were released online as The Final Statement. What might have been…

Side B

1. The School Song

A blatant attempt to recapture the success of The Facts Of Life, pitching Nixey as the sarky, sexy school marm telling us to wipe that idiotic smile off our faces and not to run in the corridor. Well, it worked for me. I never ran in the corridor again. Typically iconoclastic Hainesy chorus too…

Welcome to the school of song
It’ll help you achieve perfection
Destroy your record collection
It’s for your own protection

2. England Made Me

The story of a very English psychopath and the country that made him… or her. At this point, it’s difficult to distinguish between Haines’ lyrics and Nixey’s performance. Her angelic vocals were the perfect mouthpiece for his darkest fantasies…

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.

3. The English Motorway System

American highways are full of romanticism… British motorways are dark and dreary in comparison. Trying to make a successful British driving song is hard work, but this is up there with It’s Immaterial’s Driving Away From Home and Billy Bragg’s A13 Trunk Road To The Sea in my mind. It’s about the end of a relationship, obviously… but even that can be beautiful and strange in the right hands.

4. Sex Life

Find me a better song about young men who see sex everywhere but don’t know how to get it. In your dreams!

5. The Art Of Driving

The song that rolls all Black Box Recorder’s obsessions into one delicious confection. Sex. Teachers. Driving. Seduction. Englishness. Innuendo. More sex. Car crashes. Death. What else do you want from a pop song?

ROL

JC adds…..here’s the fabulous Top of the Pops appearance to enjoy:-

 

7 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #179 : BLACK BOX RECORDER

  1. Brilliant ICA!
    The comparison with Ms Cracknell holds beyond the potential angel role, BBR and St Etienne play the same league musically but the lyrics of Mr Haines are mostly more interesting. IMO.

  2. You inexplicably overlooked BBR’s best song, British Racing Green, a majestic Haines lyric demolishing the English suburban dream. I also have a soft spot for their cover of Uptown Top Ranking, with Jamaican patois delivered in a voice straight outta Cheltenham Ladies College. Factory Radio would make my top ten too.
    Saw their mini-reunion at a Hanes show in a room above an Islington pub earlier this summer. Very spirited considering Haines usually loathes nostalgia.

  3. Excellent stuff, though I’d have to have included ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ too. And I’d like to hear that US Radio edit of ‘Child Psychology’- I wonder why they didn’t put it on the Box Set!

  4. Agreed about Uptown, but I kept away from covers to focus on Luke’s songwriting. They did a great version. Of Rock n Roll Suicide too.

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