rock nyc’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration: Marshall Crenshaw: Will Your Heart Ever Be Satisfied?
(It is June 2009, I am still writing solo, rock nyc’s number are still beyond minimal (20 readers the day I posted this), but the birth of an idea that I still use today and lead directly to my full length review reviews of every Presley, Presley, McCartney albums, and continues to this day with Curtis Mayfield, Frank Sinatra, and Aretha Franklin, began here -IL)
t is one of god’s’ great jokes that on the first song of the first side of his first album Marshall Crenshaw fell into his career epitaph. “Will her heart ever be satisfied?” he asked. “There she goes again with another guy”. And for the past 30 years the great songwriter has seen his audience drive off with another guy.
Crenshaw’s new album is another great release from the master. If the singer/songwriter’s calling card is consistency Crenshaw is easily the most consistent songwriter, er, ever. I don’t mean to keep on taking swings at Costello (and Costello is vastly more prolific) but if “Sugarcane” had half as many great songs as “Jaggedland” I would be praising it loud and long.
When Crenshaw misses he misses by inches, when he hits, he hits it on the nose and he usually hits it on the nose. His voice is sweet but not weak, they’re is a rock and roll yearning in his timber that has had him compared to Buddy Holly and early John Lennon and he has both in him but also Arthur Alexander, the Shirelles… geez, this is a suckers game, Crenshaw has rock and roll in his voice and if he is missing the sexual ferocity of a great rocker he makes up for it with an empathic compassion that cuts straight through the decades.
He is also a master guitarist, comfortable taking the songs of people as different as Richard Thompson, John Hiatt, Dave Alvin and Ben Vaughn and making them his own. On his new album his bluesy rhythmic attack is exciting and his melodic acoustic coloring a thing of beauty. Incidentally, I could have written that line about any of his albums.
As a lyricist Crenshaw doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He once said to me, “People can hear my songs and know everything they need to know about what type of man I am. My beliefs, my politics, everything.” Precisely. From his voice, from the tempo of his songs, from the nature of his relationship with women as portrayed in his songs, Crenshaw is so decent. This decency permeates his work, it is just another grace upon a career of gracefulness. But they are for the most part objective love songs, open ended, apolitical.
This gives Crenshaw a timelessness that should transcend fashion and instead he is perceived as a retro act, a 50s, early 60s, genre exercise. This stopped him from being the next big thing Warner Bros. were banking on and left him with weak distribution on smaller labels. Maybe Crenshaw doesn’t mind that he hasn’t reached the audience he deserves and I have seen him many times in comfy confines like The Bottom Line so I guess i’ve made out on the deal.
Of Course the other thing about writing timeless music is that those 0f us who love Crenshaw can expect him to transcend his time and be discovered by future generations. I hope I’m around to say i told you so.
I am going to review and grade every album here, ending with the latest.
Wow. It took me an hour to get past the first song, “There She Goes Again,” only to discover the second song “Someday, Someway” and then the third “Girls”… The sound is impeccable, double, triple tracked vocals, the emotions so filled with a youthful longing and joy. There is an American joyfulness and a simplicty, “Let’s not talk about it,” he tells the girl of his dreams, “We’ve got better things to do!” Like rockin around in nyc and not watching TV. Grade: “A+”
My problem with “Field Day” is not Lillywhite’s production: I like the way his production changes and evolves the songs, giving them a rumbling depth. My problem is the hit single that ended a career “Whenever Your On My Mind” was one of Crenshaw’s slightest songs. they were flogging the wrong one. . The very next song is “Our Town” (which he wants to leave!!!) and somewhere soon is “Try” (“…till we die”) and over the horizon a song that somebody somewhere should got into the discos “Monday Morning Rock”. All of them would’ve made better singles. Near the end is the tearjerkin’ heartstopper “All I Know Right Now” -it can still make me cry if I am in the mood. Grade: “A”
Now he’s got problems but I am damned if I know why. It rocks harder than “Field Day” and the Ben Vaughn cover is a template for everything cover Crenshaw would ever do: he makes it his by removing Vaughn’s sarcasm and replacing it with a strange kindness at odds with the lyric. Why it stiffed I have no idea Grade: “A-”
Mary Jean and Nine Others
Here even the critics are getting ratty and again I don’t know why. “This Is Easy” is the most Crenshawy of Crenshaw songs, a cousin of “Whenever You’re On My Mind”only the Byrdsy zoom guitars are better and the melody adhesive. “Steel Strings,” written by former Plimsoul Pete Case is just plain knock out, it rocks real hard and I hadn’t hear it before Grade “A-”
The complaint here was too many covers. Well foooey to that. In Juliana Hatfield’s autobiography she says she never liked Richard Thompson, tell her to try Crenshaw’s stunning re-thinking of “Valerie”. Play Thompson’s original and follow by Marshall’s cover and you’ll notice immediately what MC brings to a song: he cuts a verse, speeds up the solo and mutes the frustration. Anyway, all of these Crenshaw grades are just small gradations, this is his best album since “Field Day” and…? So what? I was in the front row of a Crenshaw acoustic set where he was letting the audience call out for songs. I asked for “Radio Girl” from this album. He got thru half before blowing it. “Not bad,” he said. “I’ve only played it once since I recorded it.” My fave is his forgotten! Grade: “A”
Life’s Too Short
This is a stunning piece of work. How wasn’t it a hit? I don’t get it I remember hearing him playing “Better Back Off” on Letterman and I was jumping from the chair and dancing from the first yelp!!! OMG!!! Have you never heard “Fantastic Planet Of Love”.????? Yes, it is as good as the title implies… No covers this time and the originals are all first class. Grade: “A+”
Live… My truck Is My Home
Here are the covers on this album: Dave Alvin’s “Wanda and Duane,” Bobby Fuller’s “Julie,” Abba’s “Knowing me, Knowing You” Grade: “A”
Miracle Of Science
I feel as though I’m in an Aruba commerical. OK, here’s a complaint, he was covering Hendrix’ “Let Me Step Into Your fire” around this time. The album could’ve used it. Still, nice to hear “Starless Summer Sky,” lost for fifteen years. Grad: “A-”
The 9 Volt Years
Odds and sods from all points South , listen up for the Sam Cooke cover “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On.” Grade: “A-”
I’ve Suffered For My Art, Now It’s Your Turn
Live, mostly acoustic, at the Stony Pony. Crenshaw has never sounded jazzier (except on an occasional intrumental). There is a DVD as well. Grade: “B+”
Oooooh, another really good handful of originals. “Right There In Front Of Me” still reminds me of a girl who isn’t right there in front of me any more. “Dime A Dozen Guy,” is as brittle as this humanitarian ever gets, “T.M.D.” is a keeper ballad… more instrumentals than usual and he didn’t play “Right There…” when I caught him on the tour. Grade: “A”
What’s In The Bag?
Crenshaw’s worst album to date and what does that mean? “The Spell Is Broken” saddens me but it is still a beauty, “Big Heavy Dog” isn’t as good as the instrumentals on #447, “Will We Ever” is up there with “Whenever You’re On My Mind” in the rotten Crenshaw stakes. If this is his worst the man is a g
enuis. Grade: “B+”
People say this is Crenshaw dealing with the aging process but he has dealt with aging all through his career (never more so than on “What’s In The Bag”) and despite all the heavy hitters producing and playing with him here it sounds very much like another very superior Crenshaw album. Even Crenshaw seems to be heralding “Jaggedland” as a return but a return to what. recording? OK, it’s a return to recording but MC’s career needs no apologies from anybody including himself. He better back off that stuff. Actually, it sounds a bit like an answer to “Life’s Too Short”. A clutch of great songs moving from light to darkness and back and that gorgeous voice and the lead guitar: sometimes twangy and rhythmy, sometimes jazzy and strange but mostly melodic,. “Just Snap Your Fingers” is a standout, “Live And Learn,” “Stormy Weather” the first blues boogie I’ve enjoyed all year and the cover de jour is Dion’s “Donna The Proma Donna”. Just getting getting around to Dion???? Grade: “A”
One quick heads up, if you loved the Gin Blossoms’ “Till I Heard from You” in the 90s, Crenshaw co-wrote it.
Some writes reverse: loving the new Kid Cudi “Make Her Say” -wonder how much they paid for the Lady Gaga sample? I know I said Rhett Miller’s “Like Love” is the best of what I’ve heard on his album and it is but it sounds like faint praise and it’s not -he is in great voice and this dumping a chick song while no “No Baby I” stands up well against a torrent of music vying for my time.