If there’s one thing Black Box Recorder are keen to remind us, it’s that barbarism begins at home. Enormous screens either side of the stage flicker with the more sinister elements of British culture: Lord Lucan, Myra Hindley, Louise Woodward and, er, Chris Evans. Meanwhile, Auteurs mastermind Luke Haines and his new cronies weave sparsely orchestrated meditations on the corruption that underpins ‘respectable’ society. While smiling, of course.
The way disconcertingly placid vocalist Sarah Nixey is engulfed onstage by a swarm of blokes in black may be like Theaudience gone goth, but Black Box Recorder’s agenda is more vampiric than vampish. ‘England Made Me’ tells of trapping a spider under glass to watch its slow demise – echoing the lurid fascination with dissolution that the gig’s visuals suggest; ‘Hated Sunday’ comes closer to capturing The Smiths’ doleful mordancy than a thousand Gene songs. Sure, holding domestic discomfort up for scrupulous inspection might be a limiting basis for an entire [I]oeuvre[/I], but Black Box Recorder are just clever enough to get away with it.
Never one to wax modest, Haines introduces ‘Child Psychology’ with, “Some people think this song is pretentious and highbrow, but it has the best chorus written in the history of pop music,” and indeed, [I]”Life is unfair/Kill yourself or get over it”[/I], could at least prove to be one of the year’s most remembered refrains. And although some of the album’s more pithy lyrical observations are lost when played live (do we really need Haines shouting over the top of the choruses?), songs like ‘New Baby Boom’ take on a bigger, more resonant presence.
Nevertheless, their real strength is in their subtlety. The sweet, little-girlishness of Nixey’s voice becomes deliciously ominous as she intones the tacit DOA, [I]”We think we’ve found your daughter”[/I], in ‘Kidnapping An Heiress’; but perhaps the surest sign of Black Box Recorder’s genius is the way they have unearthed the true creepiness of Terry Jacks’ ‘Seasons In The Sun’ – one of the bleakest songs to masquerade under the guise of pop EVER – while also rendering it impossibly beautiful.
Even though tonight they forget how to play it. Crucially, all this bruising sentiment is also tempered with affection: as Posh Spice leers in imperious slow motion from the video screens and Nixey drawls, [I]”Oh to be in England on a Sunday/Dear old dismal England on a Sunday”[/I],It’s obvious she bloody well loves it. Really, for all its afflictions, this isn’t such a bad place to be. Especially as long as Black Box Recorder are still singing in the wreckage.