Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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"Life is unfair/Kill yourself or get over it," crooned precious-voiced Brit Sarah Nixey on Black Box Recorder's 1998 debut, England Made Me, and that quiet, dangerous challenge summed up the album's dark irony. But Nixey and composers Luke Haines and John Moore play a different game with her innocent act on The Facts of Life (Jetset). The title's no tease--the first half of the album focuses on the precoital stages of sexual development, including first kisses and not going "too fast." The fulcrum is the title track, where Nixey plays a mother watching her two sons undergo the agonies of teen experimentation in a sweet, dry, dead-accurate rundown every bit as as classic for its time as Leader of the Pack and Jack and Diane were for theirs. That doesn't mean you'll soon hear it on the radio--or warm to The Deverell Twins, in which Nixey joins two drowned children in the Thames. But this band is the latest proof that, as usual, reports of songwriting's death have been greatly exaggerated.

In 2000, almost-famous alt-rock heroes Pavement quit while they were ahead, leaving their feckless leader to pursue his muse. Stephen Malkmus (Matador) is a tunefully off-kilter collection bolstered by backing musicians rather than stretched out of shape by a band. The lyrics are more direct too. My favorite is the three-verse autobiography of a pirate.

Two contrasting examples of jazzy Jewish wedding music: Frank London's clarinet-led Klezmer Brass Allstars' Di Shikere Kapelye (Piranha) translates as "band of drunks," and they earn the sobriquet; Khevrisa's European Klezmer Music (Smithsonian Folkways) has just as evocative a title--violin-based, it's almost classical in its sense of decorum.

Playboy, Feb. 2001

Jan. 2001 Mar. 2001