Angels With Dirty Faces

It's maybe no real shock that 'Freak Like Me' dominates Angels With Dirty Faces. What is more surprising is that the album falls so far short of matching its undoubted highpoint

Truth be told, it’s not been a great couple of years for pop music. While other genres have seen a whole host of exciting names emerging, what has pop’s answer been to the likes of The Strokes, The Streets and the Avalanches? Atomic Kitten? Blue? Kylie aside, there aren’t even many proper pop stars to speak of these days. Whatever happened to the pure, unadulterated thrill of it all?

The question is whether the Sugababes are so lauded because they’ve managed to fill a void, or merely because that void exists in the first place. Their pedigree is certainly strong. Debut single ‘Overload’ was a masterpiece – an invigorating, fresh and unforgettable assault on the senses. Here was a pop group that for once seem genuinely natural and gratifyingly unpolished, helped by the fact that Keisha Buchanan and Mutya Buena had been singing together since their school days. How it all went so pear shaped is still a mystery but, from disappearing band members to disappearing record deals, we thought that the Sugababes could safely be marked down as the ones who got away.

That was, of course, until ‘Freak Like Me’ bulldozed its way into our lives. In a world where records come and go in a blink of an eye, it was the real deal, one of 2002’s defining moments.

Given that it towered over practically every other tune this year, it’s maybe no real shock that ‘Freak Like Me’ dominates Angels With Dirty Faces. What is more surprising is that the album falls so far short of matching its undoubted highpoint. Second single, ‘Round Round’ isn’t a bad effort, while ‘Stronger’ is pretty good too, an elegant ballad way beyond their tender years. From then on, however, Angels With Dirty Faces heads into a disappointing spiral. ‘Supernatural’ is dull, ‘Virgin Sexy’ plain awful. The title track aspires to a Destiny’s Child feel, even aping ‘Bootilicious’s opening roll call, yet lacks the American’s sense of style.

What really grates is that it all sounds the bloody same, that spark of originality replaced by an all-pervading slick, urban R’n’B sheen. It sounds like music made by committee (it’s not uncommon for there to be nine writing credits on a single track) on machines. The feisty ‘Switch’ and the funky ‘More Than A Million Miles’ manage to pick up the pace somewhat in the album’s final third, a swing topped off by the closing ‘Breathe Easy’. A straightforward acoustic number and the only one written just by the three, it’s a revelation. Suddenly their strengths become clear – fantastic voices, beautiful harmonies and a way with a melody that their rivals would kill for. It makes a superb ending to the album… except that some bright spark has decided to spoil the effect by adding a perfunctory remix of ‘Round Round’. Nice one.

The cynics who sneered that ‘Freak Like Me’ was just a clever piece of opportunism in lieu of real talent may have missed the point by miles, but sadly Angels With Dirty Faces isn’t quite the defiant response that it might have been. Shame.

 

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