Angels with dirty faces, indeed

When Sugababes released its debut One Touch in the States in 2001, nothing happened.

The teenage trio from England didn’t storm the US charts, didn’t knock Destiny’s Child or TLC off their mantle, didn’t horn in on Britney’s market share.

Back home, though, it was another story. Sugababes scored a minor hit with “Overload”. One of its members ditched the group in the middle of a tour in Japan. They were dropped by their label. They covered a Gary Numan bootleg and scored a hit, followed by another No. 1 single.

In the end, Sugababes became bigger than anyone expected. The trio’s new album, Angels with Dirty Faces, shows it.

Previously dubbed as an unpolished version of their aforementioned American R&B counterparts (see second paragraph), Sugababes have left that all behind. Angels with Dirty Faces is darker, funkier, dirtier.

Keisha, Mutya and new member Heidi still have fresh-scrubbed voices with a rough-edged hewn, but this time around, the music matches their harmonies.

“Freak Like Me” buzzes with fuzzy guitars and a huge rock sound. “Blue” slithers along a fractured drum ‘n’ bass beat. “Stronger” and “Just Don’t Need This” has already drawn comparrisons to Tricky and Massive Attack, and rightly so.

“Supernatural” and “Virgin Sexy” bump and grind, while “Round and Round” recalls “Overload”‘s hook-filled immediacy.

Something about Sting’s “The Shape of My Heart” inspires R&B artists — Sugababes follows Utada Hikaru’s lead by laying beats behind Gordon Sumner’s recognizable guitar hook.

(Utada’s “Never Let Go”, though, does a better job of grafting new music on Sting’s foundation.)

“Mature” has always been an adjective bantered about when describing Sugababes, but on Angels with Dirty Faces, the word is almost an understatement.

Although now in their late teens, Sugababes perform well beyond their age. Their voices sound young, but their music definitely isn’t. Alicia Keys, nothing — here’s a group that gives R&B the kind of grit it seldom ever possesses.

Angels with Dirty Faces is available in the UK. No US release date has been set.