Cool Hand Luke
And so, thankfully, once again, here are Black Box Recorder to dispatch a cold bucket of sarcasm over the chronically lukewarm indie/pop scene. Passionoia, superficially, doesn't seem quite so bleak and mordant as Luke Haines & co's previous work. The spindly, sophisticated, John Barry-esque strings and electronica of "The Facts Of Life" have been eschewed in favour of a shiny, bouncy sound. Certainly there isn't quite the sense of serial killers lurking in the rose garden—but don't be deceived.
"School Song", the opener, returns to the theme of "England Made Me", with prim vocalist Sarah Nixey playing the role of the sort of bitterly authoritarian schoolmaster responsible for emotionally crippling the nation's youth. ("You lot need a bit of toughening up... you're weak and spoilt.") There's something almost kinky (a good BBR word) about Haines and John Moore employing Nixey as a mouthpiece for this nightmarish recollection of schoolboy misery but all involved seem to enjoy the perversity. There's playfulness, also, in the numerous instances of pop pastiche. "GSOH QED" alludes to Tupperware Bacharach/David pop classic "I'll Never Fall In Love Again". Only for Nixey, the price of passion is death threats and intimate pictures on the Internet from two-faced impotent spineless reptiles". Then there's "Andrew Ridgeley", with its impudent steal from The Human League's "Love Action". "This is Sarah Nixey talking..."—ah, the triple-axled irony. "Andrew Ridgeley" is a defiant cri-de-coeur on the part of a generation weaned on the most shinily insipid aspects of the 80s. Still more intriguingly worrying is "The New Diana", in which Nixey yearns to be just that, "lying on a yacht reading photo magazines".
A fairy tale wish or a death wish? As ever, BBR's absinthe-flavoured acid drops give you a great deal more to suck on than the rest of pop's confectionery selection. Savour their sourness.
Rating: 4 / 10