Black Box Recorder
Luke Haines has always had sort of a dark personality. Even when his music didn't exactly match his words in his former group The Auteurs, there seemed to always be something just slightly edgy hiding underneath and while The Facts Of Life doesn't quite have the same feel that England Made Me does, there are a couple tracks where a line of lyrics cuts through things and remind you that you're not just listening to some airy pop 40 band.
Actually, one of the funny things is just how detached Sarah Nixey sounds when she's singing some of the lyrics on the release. Combined with amazingly atmospheric music (although it's a bit lighter, this sophomore release is much more interesting sonically), her pretty, breathy vocals give some songs an almost nursery rhyme feel while others feel quite strange offsetting her nice sound with not-so-nice lyrics. Thematically, the group covers a lot of the same ground (love, sex, and death, sometimes all twisted gleefully into one song), and while sometimes the lyrics come off as fairly half-baked, the album definitely works as something you find yourself singing along with.
Driving and motion are themes that are revisited more than once and after starting out with the pretty "Art Of Driving," the group drifts through "Weekend" (an examination on whether or not to make a friend more than a friend) and into "The English Motorway." Perhaps the most pretty and cinematic song on the album, the group culls together echoed guitars and a ghostly chorus for the backdrop of the song about broken-down relationships (and the broken-down transportation system).
Some of the cheesiest (and least effective songs) are the ones that have already pretty much been done in other places. "Sex Life" sounds like a weak retread of Blur's "Boys and Girls" (and with about one-fourth the feeling) while "Mary Queen" is just a little bit too silly for its own good. Forunately, the group offsets those tracks with some very good ones like the very cool "French Rock and Roll" (with backup vocals by Haines) and the haunting "The Deverell Twins." Just because they're cool like that, the domestic version even features 2 extra tracks not included on the UK release. If you like well-constructed pop/rock music with female vocals, it's definitely worth a look. Haines and co-conspirator John Moore construct great instrumentation and if you can get past the sometimes obvious lyrics you should find plenty of things to sing along with.