Last night I closed my eyes and watched the tracers fly
Through the jungle trees
Like fireflies on a windy night, pulled up and onward by the breeze…
Kids In Philly remains a high water mark for Marah, and it was only their second album. Marah are one of those bands that shoulda, woulda, coulda been so much more but, following their second album, they were dogged by line-up changes and the ever-diminishing press interest and promotion that comes from a band that sign to a seeming merry-go-round of record labels. Back in 2000, though, the band with the Bielanko Brothers Serge and David at its core were coming off the enthusiastic critical response to their début Let’s Cut The Crap & Hook Up Later on Tonight – which saw them signed to Steve Earle’s now-defunct label – when they released Kids In Philly. The response was hugely positive.
Upon release critics lauded the band and the album for its originality and recasting of musical touch stones. References to Springsteen abounded along with phrases such as “imagine The Clash taking on Born to Run” documenting the album’s energy and lyrical call outs. Calling the album relentlessly infectious, AllMusic calls it stunning “in its diversity, and even more stunning in its ambition. The album forges its own confident, note-perfect rock & roll sound, while practising the type of effortless stylistic hopping that hadn’t been executed to such wonderful effect since the heyday of the Fab Four.”
Kids In Philly is an absolute blinder of an album and one that makes my own Essential 100 list (which I’m still miles from returning to let alone completing). It’s not only compellingly addictive in its urgency and song-writing craft but the lyrics come across as hugely authentic and miles away from the phoned-in, play-acting that was rife in so music at the time – 2000 was peak landfill-indie on the radio. Rolling Stone cited how the album “lives and breathes the streets where it was made.”
I found it, as with so much music at the time, via one of Uncut Magazine’s Unconditionally Guaranteed cds glued to the cover (I wonder if I ought to start buying that magazine again). I’ve got an odd soft-spot for these war story songs (Goodnight Saigon serves as another example and even Stand Ridgway’s Camoflauge for other reasons) that try and put something so inhuman into a human context. It’s tricky, though, to get it right – find the balance between affective lyrics, a good tunes and a song that works in its own right. In that respect Round-Eye Blues exemplifies everything that makes the album it’s from great; instantly catchy, full of hook, biting lyrics and great craftsmanship in both the tune and the lyrics.
Somehow these guys manage to make a bitter tune sung from the point of view of a Vietnam vet (another little nod to Bruce) convincingly genuine despite the fact that they would only have been in their early 20’s at the time – “But late at night I could still hear the cries of three black guys I seen take it in the face, I think about them sweet Motown girls they left behind and the assholes that took their place.”
From here it was a bit of a stalling, down hill tumble for Marah. Their follow-up was made by Owen Morris (who was known for producing Oasis so Be Here Now should have served as a red-flag in terms of suitability), the over-produced (so much so that they later released a “de-constructed” version) and aimless Float Away With The Friday Night Gods failed to capitalise on the doors opened by Kids In Philly (or the practically-buried cameo from Springsteen himself) and led to the previously mentioned label-hopping and line-up changes. I stuck around for a few more albums hoping for a return to form but, while they remained capable of turning out the odd little reminder of their song-writing charm the energy and urgency of Kids In Philly eluded them and lack of effective record distribution made it harder to get hold of their work. Still, I understand that they’ve since ‘reformed’ to celebrate the album’s 15th anniversary so who knows.