Death becomes her

Black Box Recorder | Underworld, London
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The Independent Culture

To say that Black Box Recorder's Sarah Nixey doesn't give anything away would be an understatement. The occasional flick of her hair is sometimes the only indication that there is life behind that glazed visage. There is something of the femme fatale about Nixey, but you certainly won't find her playing up to her fans. It's difficult to tell if she is aloof, nervous or just plain bored.

For the uninitiated, Black Box Recorder combines the vocal talents of Nixey with the deviant lyrical and musical sensibilities of Luke Haines - formerly of the Auteurs and Baader-Meinhof - and John Moore, who used to be in the Jesus and Mary Chain. It is testament to the band's innate morbidity that they are named after a device that relays the events leading to fatal plane crashes. Critics have fallen over themselves to praise the band, although, in a perverse role-reversal, the record-buying public haven't been so kind. Songs from their first album, England's Made Me, never troubled the charts, though their latest single, "The Facts Of Life", the title track of their forthcoming second album, is perhaps a more potent prospect. It's about as knowing as music gets, with Nixey offering sympathetic advice to boys approaching puberty. "Experimentation/familiarisation/ It's just a nature walk," she coos. If only it were that easy.

On record, Nixey's vocals seem supernaturally angelic (lying in glorious opposition to the lyrics), but tonight she hides them under a bushel. Her voice lacks immediacy, and the songs' propulsive power peters out somewhere near the edge of the stage. After a while your concentration begs for the night off. Haines and Moore are as inert as their singer - the only hint of spirit comes from their absurdly sharp suits. The band's stillness does lend the proceedings a surreal, filmic quality, but such thoughts can only engage for so long. Previous gigs have seen BBR flanked by video screens displaying scenes of English life; tonight we could have done with something similar to rouse our senses.

What prevents the gig from completely floundering is the lyrical incisiveness of their songs. BBR are the champions of the understatement; terror lies beneath the thinly veiled normality of their lyrics. Their virtue lies in their ability to imbue everyday themes - growing up, the English motorway system - with earth-shattering significance. "The Art of Driving" is a cruel examination of men and their maladroit seduction techniques; the Serge Gainsbourgesque "French Rock'n'Roll" is a sarcastic homage to French pop. For all its failings, tonight does at least inspire you to go home and listen to the record.