While much of the press surrounding Marnie Stern’s The Chronicles of Marnia has concentrated on virtuoso drummer Zach Hill’s replacement by Oneida’s Kid Millions, the main difference between this album and other Stern releases is not who’s backing her up, but the fact that the drums and her signature finger-tapping guitar style have been pushed back in the mix while her vocals have been brought forward, a choice that emphasizes Stern’s lyrical storytelling rather than her impressive guitar playing. The album’s title isn’t just a silly pun. While the songs on The Chronicles of Marnia aren’t explicitly autobiographical, Stern expresses her anxieties through her characters. “You Don’t Turn Down” is an aging pop star’s lament: “They were standing arms up in the crowd/Got to get obsessed and stay there now,” she sings, and then declares that she’s “losing hope in [her] body,” unable to please her fans. Meanwhile, she takes on a cheerleader persona on the Afro pop-infused “Noonan” repeating, as if asking herself, “Don’t you wanna be somebody?/Don’t you wanna be?” Fortunately for Stern, now 36 and still, according to her, having not made any money from her music, The Chronicles of Marnia is her most accessible effort to date. While the album may alienate some of her most hardcore, noise-loving fans by ditching manic compositions in favor of comparatively conventional songwriting, its combination of traditional rock-guitar power chords and cheerleader pop certainly has the potential to win Stern some new admirers.
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