Let’s take the way back machine, shall we? Let’s go back to a time when Judd Nelson was the toughest thing on two legs and Richard Greico was cooler than Johnny Depp; a time when the Bangles dominated the radio and the Bengals were Superbowl contenders; a time of hyper color shirts, shoulder pads and slap bracelets; that magical time when an impassioned “a-whoa-whoa” was just as viable as any other lyric. It’s this bygone era of Reagan and Ringwald where you can situate the music of Manda and the Marbles.
Propelled by Manda Marble’s Gwen-Stefani-but-with-spirit vocals, the band perfectly channels the energy of an act like The Go-Gos but manages to be more than just a novelty throwback act. On Angels With Dirty Faces, Manda and the Marbles have put together a playful collection of catchy ’80s pop which is joyfully hook heavy and fun-loving. Much of the album plays like the soundtrack to an ’80s movie opus that never was; a raucous piece of John Hughes-ish teenagery starring Jon Cryer and Curtis Armstrong, culminating in some bizarre karate and downhill skiing competition. “Kids Just Wanna Dance” would be the film’s anthemic opener, the song played over images of some Midwest high school and its colorful collection of preppies, geeks, jocks and big-haired, leg warmer-wearing girls.
“Ode to Rock” occupies similarly catchy four-chord rock territory as the album opener, its peppy, punchy punctuations of “Hey! Hey!” preceding lyrics in the verse. Songs such as “Say Anything” with its swaying synths; the catchy, four-chord verse and spirally chorus “Confidential”; or the optimistic, conciliatory closer “Let Them Talk” ground the album in a certain smile-inducing wonder, some warm and smiley head-bobbing joy that comes half out of nostalgia and half out of pop giddiness.
Listening to “Lipstick” – with its hoppity-hopping, palm-muted guitar that perfectly accompanies Manda’s frolicking vocals – is one of the album’s finest pleasures. It’s the type of song that inexplicably makes you want break into antiquated dance moves that have since been abandoned by civilized society. Midway through frenzied renditions of The Shake, The Bat-Tusi, The Hitch Hike and The Monkey, you finally realize “Lipstick” is about a girl whose mood is depicted by her shade of lipstick. Consequently, you dance harder because the song has just become that much cooler.
The album’s big surprise comes on the penultimate “Seventeen.” Breaking from the pack of flippant, punchy, crunchy, school dance in a musty gym tunes, “Seventeen” is instead a quiet, regretful, and rather heartfelt meditation on old friends drifting apart. Manda’s reminiscing about a faded summer love at age 17 is a surprisingly touching, sincere attempt to recapture the past. The song’s bound to elicit a pining smile as Manda sings “Driving alone in the summer breeze / Listening to a song on the cassette radio.” It’s a detail so fitting for a song dwelling on old memories.
By the end of Angels With Dirty Faces, there’s a sense that things will work out, that even as friends drift and that good friends fade into old photos and fond memories, there’s still some sense of lasting love and good times yet to come. So yes, Jon Cryer gets the girl after doing the crane kick and slaloming on one leg like a champ, Curtis Armstrong wins a bet and gains respect, Judge Reinhold gets promoted to manager of his store after thwarting a robbery and Manda and the Marbles, they go on to even better and brighter things. Yes, as “Let Them Talk” says, everything’s gonna be all right.
The Go Gos – Beauty and the Beat
The Bangles – Different Light
The Ramones and various artists – Rock `N’ Roll High School