Black Box Recorder - England Made Me

WHAT IS ENGLAND, ANYWAY, Brian? Whilst cultural chatterboxes the island over take their cue from 11 men chasing a pigskin to jaw over the nature of Albion '98, her most peevish son, Luke Haines, is busy, elbow deep in muck, dissecting the body.

He's been here before, prodding at the innards of things with The Auteurs and fondling the cancer of sociopathy with Baader-Meinhof. This time, he's assisted in his sparse melodicising by John Moore - one-time drummer for those other professional misanthropes, the Reid brothers - and newcomer Sarah Nixey, whose opiated debutante tones take Haines' odium to new, discomfiting extremes. And if what Haines finds inside the cavity isn't exactly a surprise - Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey, for two, have reported volubly on the national malady - it's the cold glee with which he juggles the diseased parts that make this particular autopsy such a pleasure.

The pitch-black heart of the project is 'Child Psychology', a splendidly bored account of a childhood spent mute and dissenting, hating for hate's sake. It's easily the anti-single of the year, neatly dispatching the overblown angst-rock consensus with one pithy put-down: "Life is unfair/Kill yourself/Or get over it". Everything else here can only add detail to this sense of epic disdain. 'Ideal Home' sends up suburbia, 'Hated Sunday' revisits Morrissey with its vista of endless, depthless grey days and the title track, 'England Made Me', laughs darkly at the national penchant for murder mysteries and the cruelty of little girls. There's even a warped attempt to reflect Britain's ethnic diversity (possibly) with a cover of 'Uptown Top Ranking' that teeters icily between being silly and downright offensive.

Curiously, though, it's the tunes less concerned with dissing Blighty and more preoccupied with escape and revenge that stay with you. 'Girl Singing In The Wreckage', for one, is an oblique tale that almost rivals 'Child Psychology' for twisted serenity.

Yet for all the contempt Haines reserves for the enforced pleasantness of his native shores, it's telling that he remains rather taken with dear old Blighty as muse and inspiration. He does try to jazz the place up with aspirational ditties like 'Kidnapping An Heiress', that recall the Patty Hearst saga more than any proper domestic crime (like, say, child murder). Indeed, Haines' worrying of the national scab actually belies a curmudgeonly fondness for the place, much like a man who kicks his dog but cannot bear to be parted from it. England may well have made him, but she's slotted him into a long line of wits and naysayers who love to hate the land that decanted their bile.


Kitty Empire