Manda And The Marbles - Angels With Dirty Faces (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Manda And The Marbles

Angels With Dirty Faces (2005)


Angels With Dirty Faces, the too-long in the works followup to 2002's More Seduction, is a shining batch of 80's-styled power pop built on a solid punk rock base. Manda's vocals have only grown stronger over the last few years, and her confident delivery demands attention. Angels... benefits from crisp, clean production values, but Manda's voice is wisely left free of any studio tampering. The result is a sunny pop record that never feels like it's been over-tweaked.

Manda's songwriting feels quite accomplished here, so it's a bit of a shame that the record leads off with a cover. The band turns the Fast Cars' "Kids Just Wanna Dance" into a minute-and-a-half mantra that, while bluntly stating their mission statement, isn't really that interesting the second time through. The Marbles really hit their stride on nuggets like "Say Anything" and "Confidential." Manda's soaring vocals fit perfectly atop Joe Damage's buzzsaw guitarwork while new keyboardist Elias Dubok helps cement all the 80's new wave comparisons the Marbles are met with. The Ramones-y moments of their debut show up here more in the guitar tone than the tempo, as the band never really breaks some self-imposed speed limits. Still, despite a collection of relatively mid-tempo rockers, Angels... doesn't lag. Reinforcing their roots, the band even serves up a cover of the Avengers' "Cheap Tragedies." Of course, it's far less shambolic here than when Penelope Houston did it, but it's a nice show of respect to what came before. Angels... maintains a steady pace and consistent style up until the acoustic ballad "Seventeen." The string-accompanied summer love tune allows Manda to show a different dimension of her voice. After a track like this there should be no doubt that, if she pursued it, greater pop fortunes are on the horizon. However, perhaps it's for the best that the Marbles stay their current course, as songs like the closing "Let Them Talk" show the band is at its best with one foot in their punk/new wave roots.

I can't shake the feeling that there's no real standout among the record's 12 tracks. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it means there's a fairly consistent package here, but Angels... seems to lack the few really distinctive tunes needed to push it to greater heights. Manda also keeps things decidedly positive, and with the strength of the band behind her it feels like an opportunity was missed for a few more muscular, provocative songs. Regardless, as an enjoyable collection of light, new wave-inspired pop-rock songs you can't claim Angels With Dirty Faces misses its mark.