The title of Black Box Recorder's 1998 debut was England Made Me, and perhaps never before or since has an album title served so utterly and functionally to describe a band's obsessions. And on Passionoia, Black Box Recorder continues to work a vein of extreme, almost provincial Britishism.
So unless you've got a raging case of Anglophilia, which the caustic in-jokes on Passionoia only serve to deflate, you'll find quite a lot in the band's music that will pass over the head of the average American listener. Which leaves, well, the music. And in that regard, Passionoia is a treat, the band's most refined and catchy synthesis of Serge Gainsbourg-esque pop and slinky lounge beats. Vocalist Sarah Nixey makes like a particularly bloodless version of St. Etienne's Sarah Cracknell; the music has a subdued, sexy shimmer, particularly on tracks such as "These Are the Things." The overall effect is glacial, to understate the case, and where the lyrical themes are comprehensible to Stateside listeners, as on "Andrew Ridgley" and "The New Diana," the iciness works in favor of the parody. Elsewhere, Passionoia simply gives good background noise -- which itself may be part of the joke.
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