Devils & Angels

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A name like Mêlée -- with all its complicated diacritics, with its suggestion of violence -- suggests that this Orange County quartet is standard-issue modern punk, perhaps even being a band that tends toward the harder, brutal side of things. Names can be deceiving, however, since their 2007 major-label debut, Devils & Angels, is something entirely unexpected: a genuine pop album, one that's informed by new wave but winds up sounding like a good rock record from 1985. Much of this sounds learned second-hand from Ben Folds but Mêlée is notably lacking in Folds' perma-smirk. Even the cover of Hall & Oates' classic "You Make My Dreams" is done sans irony: unlike many punk covers, this is a celebration of song, not cheese. If Chris Cron, like many of his peers, has a voice that's a bit too thin to be memorably on its own accord, it works well with the band's exuberant feel and it delivers the hooks simply and cleanly. Plus, they have a way with hooks, particularly on the exhilarating "Frequently Baby (She's a Teenager Maniac)," which would be a smash at any time there was either pop radio or MTV. It may be the best moment here, but the rest of Devils & Angels proves that it's no fluke as it showcases the rare punk-pop band that places a greater emphasis on pop than punk to often addictive results.

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