arah Nixey is well aware of her greatest asset. Barely seven seconds of solo-debut swishy-sparkle ambience has passed before it arrives in a moment of pure, unblemished diction—“This is Sarah Nixey talking.” The voice that launched one thousand sexually-frustrated comparisons to saucy school ma’ams and shared The Facts of Life with a fortunate generation of adolescents, placed up front and direct. It feels like something of a statement.
Despite constituting an exact third of Black Box Recorder, Nixey’s status was prone to speculation. As the ever-audible vocalist, her presence inevitably became synonymous with the group itself. At the same time, however, whispers and innuendo would persistently suggest that Luke Haines and John Moore were the true criminal masterminds—making cunning use of a well-spoken mouthpiece to deliver their manifesto. The truth is elusive. Only this much is clear: the band required all three to function.
Which is why the decision to open with a sentence that could be interpreted as a synopsis of Ms. Nixey’s entire Black Box Recorder career feels a somewhat bold one. Rather than attempting to put as much distance between her most recognized work and this shiny, new solo career as possible, our heroine seems keen to draw from her previous success and mold it into fresh, exciting shapes. At least, we must presume this was the plan.
Sing, Memory is a glossy, shimmering presentation. It bleeps and trills, swoons and climbs, and coolly exudes the confidence of some professionally-executed electronic jiggery-pokery. It also comes in two semi-distinct halves (go on, guess their names), each preceded by a spoken prelude. Aside from this nod to conceptual trappings, however, the musical side doesn’t stand a great distance away from Passionoia, the final Black Box Recorder record. Except, notably, it is missing the trademark lyrical-satirical content.
Instead we’ve got a heady mixture of love, obsessive weirdoes, philosophical musings about the nature of the universe, and a surprise cover of a dusty Factory Records gem. Said cover is The Names’ “Nightshift”, given a buffed-up sheen and, puzzlingly enough, overlaid with percussion that has seemingly been sampled directly from an 8-bit computer game character collecting a handy power-up. It’s a fine choice of track for reworking and interestingly handled, sounding a touch more sinister than the hypnotic bleakness of the original.
The strongest cuts though, are perhaps provided by the chosen singles—one apiece from each “side,” suitably differing in tone. “Strangelove” takes the domineering ice queen route, brimming with detachment, stylishly disinterested “hey hey” chorus work and sexual encounters which sound alarmingly clinical. By contrast, the dreamier vibe of “The Collector” details a disturbingly methodical character who pins ensnared partners in his metaphorical butterfly book, for twisted kicks. Understandably, Sarah sounds somewhat distraught that he keeps getting away with this—and perhaps a bit miffed at herself for being a repeat victim. (It’s a touch disconcerting that the one about an obvious psychopath is generally warmer than the one about consensual sex, but such are the odd whims of cutting edge electro-pop.)
Elsewhere, there are some relatively lovely ponderings about the nature of reality and the epic expanse of outer space. Both “Beautiful Oblivion” and “The Black Hit of Space” (another decent cover, The Human League this time) deal with the matter in their own way. The former leans toward an embrace of the concept of limbo, whereas the latter compares a record’s smash success with the all-consuming power of a black hole; pulsing and glitching as it swallows everything in its path. Likewise, “Endless Circles” employs a similarly spacey overtone, though the material is of a more insular nature—tackling the apathy which comes with the realization that our choices may all be for naught, as the perpetual repetition of the human condition gradually wears our protagonist down.
There’s nearly an hour’s worth of music here—and even Nixey’s magnetic vocal-hook can’t manage to sustain that much material. However, all told, there’s enough invention amidst the cozy familiarity to result in a tentatively successful solo debut. Propelled by such an instantly recognizable voice, Sing, Memory was always going to run into Black Box Recorder comparisons—and by electing to stay comfortingly near the sound found on Passionoia such criticisms are practically invited. Nonetheless, a divergence in thematic content provides enough of a natural progression to make this a distinct release in its own right.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2007-01-10