BLACK BOX RECORDER – “The Facts Of Life” (CD Single, released 10/4/00)
Luke Haines is a fantastic example of what happens when musicians get room to develop. Play the first couple of Auteurs albums now – remembering that at the time these were about the sharpest records going – and they seem pitiable, almost flabby things. Over the course of his career Haines has learned to strip away any unneccessary self-analysis or sentiment from his music, and he’s also learned that you can get away with a lot more by playing with the tools and tropes of pop music than you can by staying wedded to indie orthodoxy of whatever stripe. So he’s buried the Auteurs and on this Black Box Recorder single his other band is working with the man who turned Billie’s “Honey To The B” into a what Haines correctly calls a “modern classic”.

It’s been a while since anyone tried pop entryism this openly or this effectively. “The Facts Of Life” has a superb, smooth chorus, and its agony-column dissection of teenage relationships is a memorable gimmick, on which basis the pop market will either embrace the record or not. It doesn’t sound like anything else and for that reason alone you should buy it. If it did become a hit there would no doubt be a lot of self-satisfied talk from the alternative sector about how BBR are ‘subverting’ the charts, but I don’t think there’s anything subversive about “The Facts…” at all – rather, what Black Box Recorder seem to be doing, here and on “Weekend”, is creating a highly structured take on pop, examining and describing a situation in the starkest possible light. “Just the facts of life” could be the band’s manifesto, and everything about them, from their name through their icy instrumentation to Sarah Nixey’s cold-blooded voice, seems dedicated to carrying it through.