Only a few times in life does one find a perfect album; that collection of songs that gives a voice to the ideas and feelings you have but are unable to articulate, a record that you can’t help but sing along with, a record that you love from start to finish, that stays in your CD player and your head for far longer that it ever probably should.
When I randomly happened to come across Manda and the Marbles’ More Seduction, I found just such an album. Sure, it was just a small release from some band in Ohio, but for me it ranks among my favorite albums of all time. Such a work is not easily followed, and it seems that the Marbles were ready and willing to face that demon down and give it a shot with their 2004 release Angels with Dirty Faces. They seem to have taken the right approach with this new album, which oddly enough shares its name with a 1930s gangster flick that has seemingly fallen into obscurity. Manda and the Marbles obviously did not set out to duplicate the style or substance of More Seduction, but rather moved laterally, forging a new sonic path that veers away from their punk styling and more toward the experimental fronts of New Wave form.
Departing from the simple crunchy chords, thumping bass lines, and helicopter drums of their previous works, the Marbles have blended the keyboards straight into the forefront, letting their punk roots stay in the background. What results is a mixture of pop, punk and New Wave that seems to have been inspired by the same muse that gave rise to Blondie once upon a time.
This time around, the Marbles are more melodic, more haunting, and seemingly more relaxed. With More Seduction the Marbles still had something to prove, to themselves and to their audience, on Angels with Dirty Faces they find themselves free to move on, their street-cred established, liberated to experiment, to slow down, to take a stroll through their full speed. Although Angels with Dirty Faces lacks the production values of More Seduction it is by far a more interesting and complicated album, both sonically and emotionally.
Previously, the Marbles had presented the portrait of a dreamer; someone who sees the world and the pain it brings and is forced to look away to a better and brighter future. Now, the Marbles seems to have woken up from that dream, and Angels with Dirty Faces is definitely a more grown up album. It pours its way past hope, past dreams, to a place where longing for the past and for the future meet; a present tense album full of realism in all its forms from the quirky, funny things in life, to the morose dejection we all feel. The album allows the Marbles to confront their lives on their own terms in a sonically complex and alluring expansion on their previous musical styles.
Angels with Dirty Faces is not a not a move foreword for the Marbles, but a move inward. There are definite standouts from the album: “Simple Things;” a dreamy and powerful confrontation between expectation and reality that Avril Lavign wishes her record company had written for her, “Lipstick;” a fun song about sex, power and how they delicately mix in with life that deserves some serious radio play, “Ode to Rock;” a song that makes you feel guilty for just bobbing your head slightly at Marbles shows, “Let Them Talk:” the natural flipside to “Seduction,”: a show-closer that can’t but make you feel good when you listen to it, and “Seventeen;” the perfect reminiscences of suburban youth, a song that captures that feeling of longing and loss that we all feel every now and then.
Angels with Dirty Faces is not More Seduction. That’s a good thing. Both albums are exactly what they need to be. While departing from their earlier style, Mark, Joe, Mandan and Elias have created a new sound and a new form. Although they’ve taken to experimentation, although they’ve mixed a more prominent New Wave sound into their classic and proven punk rock base, they haven’t lost their honesty and they haven’t lost their ability to put into words what we all feel. Most importantly, they’ve shown that they can mature, that they can change and that they can move on from their roots while all the while they manage to keep their CD in my stereo for weeks at a time.
Manda and the Marbles’ Angels with Dirty Faces may not be the best album ever made, it may not change the world, but the plain and simple fact is that I’ve listened to it every day on my way to and from work ever since I got it. Never underestimate Manda and the Marbles.