Sarah Nixey is one of the finest singers of our age. There, I’ve said it.
Her solo career started in 2005, after her group Black Box Recorder decided to take a bit of a break. The first single was The Collector, and others followed, concluding with the full album Sing, Memory early in 2007.
Sing, Memory is neatly and properly split into two halves. The first begins with Sing (Prelude), in which Nixey in her impossibly posh and lovely voice tells us what this album is going to be about. Then we launch into When I’m Here with You, the main single from the album. It’s a fantastic song, and wonderfully sets the mood for the rest of the album.
Beautiful Oblivion follows, slightly more uptempo and with a little more power to its synth lines. Sarah is obviously very much in love with me. Err… I mean, whoever the song is written for. Strangelove (Sing Version) is similarly enchanting. On this track you get a bit of a taste of the era’s glam-pop stylings with occasional chants of “hey hey”, but as always it’s Nixey’s voice that keeps you listening.
The dark and mysterious Hotel Room follows. There’s something very other-worldly about this album – I think even at the time it felt somewhat anachronistic, and it doesn’t sound any more or less dated now. It just sounds fantastic. This is an incredibly evocative album in many ways. The whole thing comes in brilliant bright red packaging, and listening to it now really transports me back to my life in 2007, walking through cold snowy Yorkshire winters or sitting in the warmth of our terraced house looking out at the world.
The first half of the album closes with Nightshift, which is probably my favourite track on the whole album. Rather more overtly electronic than most of the other tracks, it adds a brilliant computer game effect (who doesn’t like them?) and is frankly just extremely beautiful.
The second half, the Memory half, kicks off after its prelude with debut single The Collector. The slightly sinister story of a lonely little boy who collects butterflies harks back somewhat to Nixey’s days with Black Box Recorder. The verses and chorus are almost entirely at odds with each other, making it rather a dark love song, but an excellent one too.
The album continues in a similar vein, and really any of these standing alone would have made for a fantastic single. Breathe In, Fade Out is softer, with some curious electro elements, and again Nixey’s voice is almost totally at odds with the darker electronics behind her. Endless Circles, surely a description of all of our lives, builds from very gentle beginnings to a chorus which takes me back to the early 1990s and the very first songs I loved on the radio.
I don’t honestly know how easy this is to read, and I’m definitely running very short on superlatives. I’m really finding it difficult to describe quite how excellent this album is – somehow it found me at a particular point in my life when I was extremely happy and it resonated perfectly with that, and now when I listen back to it I’m transported back to that time. So sorry if this all sounds a little sycophantic – all I can do is write about how this album makes me feel.
The Man I Knew is the centrepiece of the Memory half of the album, and tells another slightly off-kilter love story. Sarah Nixey clearly picked up much of the ingenious and sometimes decidedly twisted songwriting of Black Box Recorder, and is able to employ it with aplomb. Masquerade follows, and actually despite the title is a more straightforward pop song with a few slightly trippy elements and another lyric with hints of self-effacing bitterness.
The final track is the lovely Love and Exile with its massive squelching snare sound, bringing an absolutely perfect album to an undeniably perfect end. Well, not quite – this is where you benefit from having the CD. After a little gap, there’s a prelude, in the form of a truly exceptional cover version of The Human League‘s seminal (now there’s a word I don’t often use!) The Black Hit of Space. Although not astonishingly different from the original, it’s a worthwhile update, and Phil Oakey’s intriguing lyrics benefit from having Nixey as the vocalist. Fifteen tracks, and every one of them exceptional – how often does that happen?
There are also some great b-sides and EP tracks that you should consider tracking down, and an entire second album, which we’ll cover here very soon.
Sing, Memory can be found on iTunes just here, and this will also bag you a demo version of Strangelove, which may well be worth having too.