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Record Review


The suggested alternate title to this album: Prelude to a Kiss -- an awkward first kiss, in this case, followed by fumbling attempts at foreplay, not to mention coupling. Which means that, yes, English trio Black Box Recorder's sophomore effort is a concept album, damn it. But that's OK because, in their own ways, so were the Pet Shop Boys' Very and the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, both of which The Facts of Life earns favorable comparison with. This is partly because frontwoman Sarah Nixey's melting-ice voice warrants comparison with Neil Tennant or Stephin Merritt; ditto the dry wit of songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Luke Haines (auteur of the Auteurs and Baader Meinhoff) and John Moore (ex-Jesus & Mary Chain drummer).

Facts is wistful as a look back at adolescence tinged with melancholy and regret. The title track, a sing-songy ode to the harsh reality of first-time love, finds Nixey addressing the inevitable: "Now's the time to deal with the fear of being rejected/No one gets through life without being hurt."

"May Queen," an ethereal reminiscence of the fragile awkwardness of a first kiss, features lyrics such as, "Meet me after school/Meet me by the field/Away from prying eyes/Kids can be so cruel." And "The Art of Driving" offers the best extended-metaphor song in ages: "You've got the hang of steering," Nixey sings to a hapless suitor voiced by Haines. "Now try stepping on the brakes." Set to music far lusher and more baroque than on the group's debut, England Made Me, these songs sink in deep and never let go.

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