Black Box Recorder - Passionoia

In 2003 pop music is so safe and predictable that Richard and Judy are outraged by two teenage Russian lesbians in school uniforms kissing on TOTP even when the camera man cut's to a straight couple in the audience kissing as if it's somewhat more palatable. It's a touch more dangerous than the standard Gareth Gates / Blue / Westlife performance but when you consider that Hollyoaks deals with self mutilation, lesbianism, drugs and suicide several times a week it's easy to see why people are turning off the stereo and turning on the TV.

Black Box Recorder and Luke Haines in particular is man who has subverted pop music over the last decade and when you consider that their first single "Child Psychology" featured the unforgettable line of "Life is unfair / Kill yourself or get over it" at the height of the whole miserabilism of Radiohead and Coldplay it summed up the nations thoughts exactly. Following the bands second album, Haines then when onto release a solo album with "The Oliver Twist Manifesto" which turned the whole Dr Dre manufactured hip hop thang on it's head with songs about urchins, pickpockets and dandys. It makes sense then that "Passionoia" takes over the soundtrack of the electroclash generation and turns it into a celebration of celebrity and throwaway culture with Sarah Nixey as the spokeswoman for Haines and Moore lyrical passages on Andrew Ridgley, Diana, school days and growing up in the 80s.

Their comeback single "These Are The Things" is their most uptempo release to date and musically is the cutting edge retrofried pop which Sophie Ellis Bextor does so well. Using the classic list format has always been a winning formula, but never has it been so suited to Nixey's vocals and the mundane lists of "Pint of milk. Loaf of bread. A magazine on special offer. Check the weather forecast, buy a new umbrella" before heading into the middle eight with punchline of "Another night out with some old friends. I pray it will soon be over. I'm not listening to them". An alternative insight to the mundanity of relationships and the anti-thesis to that terrible Daniel Bedingfield if ever I heard one. "The New Diana", "Being Number 1" and "Andrew Ridgley" are central to the albums main theme are the artificiality of it and how regardless of whether it's the 80s, 90s or noughties there has always been this celebrity culture so by embracing this in it's most simplistic form what they've actually done is shown it up for what it is.

"Passionoia" is an album which at times is too is far too clever for it's own good and although it's their most commercial release to date whether you are drawn in depends on whether you like the electro-pop synth sound. For me personally it doesn't match the genius of either "The Oliver Twist Manifesto" or "Christie Marries Double Entry" which Haines released a couple of years ago, but when you're talking about great pop albums in 2003 "Passionoia will certainly be up their with the best of them.

Alex McCann

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