Listen to this track by British indie irony merchants Black Box Recorder, a group made up of vocalist Sarah Nixey, Luke Haines (the Auteurs), and John Moore (the Jesus & Mary Chain). It’s “England Made Me”, a celebratory ditty of that most English of traits; emotional repression. The song is taken from the band’s 1998 album England Made Me.
A big part of human experience seems to entail the balance between our public face, and our inner turmoil. A lot of time is spent pushing down the tendency to outbursts, to violence, in favour of decorum, and for lack of a better word, civility. These things can’t be eradicated, they can only be repressed, and denied. Because for all of our manners, and social norms, the potential for cruelty, lust, selfishness, morbid curiosity, murderous intent, and a myriad of dark thoughts and motivations are always there, lurking.
That’s what this song is about, this dark side of humanity, particularly in a society which frowns upon revealing oneself to others. And ironically, it is the external forces which demand repression that seems to fuel these dark fires beneath the surfaces of our public face. And what makes this tune most effective is how detached it is, and particularly how utterly resigned Nixey’s vocal is. This tune wouldn’t have worked in the same way without her understanding how important tone and delivery is, with tales of trapped spiders, casual detachment, and the connection between them.
There is another level of irony at work here, in that for all of the impenetrability of the English psyche, the music itself is highly accessible, welcoming the ear even as it is confounding the mind with evasive imagery. The contrast in this tune is pretty potent, and for all of its pop music sensibilities, there is something sinister here too, with the voice of someone who is capable of anything, yet revealing nothing, at the center of it.