Friday, April 28, 2017

Marshall Crenshaw 4: Mary Jean & 9 Others

In 1987, it wasn’t enough to write catchy songs and record them well. John Mellencamp had the “heartland sound” pretty much sown up, hair metal was creeping in, and record buyers were fairly selective in their nostalgia. One of the bigger movie hits that summer was the Richie Valens biopic La Bamba, which brought Los Lobos their biggest hit. Meanwhile, in the same film, Marshall Crenshaw played the role of Buddy Holly, which translated to little public interest in his fourth album, in shops around the same time.
Mary Jean & 9 Others is a suitably retro title, but makes the mistake of not putting the actual name of the potential hit single in the title. Still, This Is Easy & 9 Others mightn’t have grabbed many eyes on the shelf either, given the poorly lit photo on the cover, which depicts Marshall with brother Bob (back on drums) and the high-stacked hair of Graham Maby, on loan from Joe Jackson’s band. “This Is Easy” remains a great tune, and would eventually be used as the title of a turn-of-the-century best-of.
Given that fantastic start, much of the album follows his established template of catchy melodies, simple chords (save the occasional major-seventh), rockabilly rhythms and hooky choruses. One unfortunate sidestep is “This Street”, with its processed guitars and electronic drums, sounding much like a demo. He was no slouch at recording demos, but this one simply doesn’t fit the sound of the album. “They Never Will Know”, which closes the set, is more of a slow dance, but not too slow.
“Calling Out For Love (At Crying Time)” and “Somebody’s Crying” may have a word in common, but are both standouts. The closest thing what could be called the album’s title track is certainly toe-tappin’, but pales slightly in comparison to “For Her Love” (which it closely resembles structure-wise) from his second album. In the tradition of obscure covers, this album’s contribution is a subtly rocking “Steel Strings”, from former Plimsoul Peter Case’s critically acclaimed solo debut the year before.
That track tops five minutes, and most of the songs on Mary Jean & 9 Others are over four; perhaps with only ten songs in his arsenal he was hesitant to shorten them, lest the album seem too short. In an alternate universe, his version of “Cryin’, Waitin’, Hopin’” from the La Bamba soundtrack might have joined the other “Crying” songs to entice consumers, but we should hope that in any alternate universe, he’s sold more records than he has in this one.

Marshall Crenshaw Mary Jean & 9 Others (1987)—3

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