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Black Box Recorder, Passionoia

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Burdened by the knowledge that it will no doubt eventually appear on these shores with a full complement of bonus tracks and promotional videos, I nevertheless broke down and bought the new Black Box Recorder, Passionoia, on import. In spite of my initial reservations, I’m at peace with my decision: it’s a damn fine record. There has been some grumbling over the increasing popification of BBR’s sound, but the elegant bleakness of England Made Me was never going to provide a comprehensive foundation on which to sustain a career.

Passionoia ups the pop quotient of The Facts of Life while at the same time reducing the level of menace that so informs Luke Haines’ work: more than ever, the band relies on Sarah Nixey’s vocals to carry the day (which is not to say that they haven’t been the integral component to begin with). The now-standard critical nomenclature for Ms. Nixey’s sound focuses on adjectives such as “cut-glass”: she’s the thinking man’s Sophie Ellis Bextor. I’m actually put a bit in mind of some early-solo Brian Eno vocal performances. Regardless, Nixey is, for the most part, up to the task (her rapping headmistress tones somewhat undermine the joke in “Andrew Ridgely,” but, really, that’s my only complaint). Like everyone else, I tend to undervalue the role of John Moore: lacking Haines’ paper trail (and with that slightly dodgy Jesus & Mary Chain connection) his contributions are more difficult to quantify, but, rest assured, I won’t try to make some absinthe metaphor here.

This is a pretty synth-heavy record; if that’s not your thing you might have a hard time getting into it. Search for some of the MP3s floating about if you’re wary (standout tracks include “The School Song,” “British Racing Green,” and “These Are the Things”); but if you’re already a fan of the band’s, I promise you that you won’t be kicking yourself for having plunked down the extortionate import cash. At least until that extras-laden domestic edition gets released.

This review originally appeared in slightly modified format at The Minor Fall, The Major Lift.

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