My birthday this week, and I was in the mood to be happy, and when I’m in the mood to be happy I reach for Marshall Crenshaw’s first album, which should have been packaged with a convertible and a bright sunny day. Every song is a power pop gem, the production touches (handclaps, harmonies, triangle trills) are perfect and effortless, and the lyrics all quirky relationship songs with just enough specific detail to keep them from being generic (making it through 17 green lights in a row while driving around in New York City as a metaphor for the blessed, blissful state of young love? Brilliant!) Marshall would lose a lot of the efforlessness and (especially) the gift for lyrical detail on later albums, but the guy was hitting on all cylinders here.
Only on an album this strong could two songs as great as these be buried in the middle of Side Two (yes, I originally bought it on vinyl). “Cynical Girl” details Marshall’s quest for his dream girl, who like him “hates TV” and “has no use for the real world.” Against chiming guitars and those ear-worm triangle taps, Marshall imagines their meeting:
Well I’ll know right away by the look in her eye
She harbors no illusions and she’s worldly-wise
I love that he’s looking for an attitude and not a body type; I love that his fantasy is so earth-bound, but that the infectious music makes it take flight.
“Mary Anne” picks up the story a little later: he’s met his cynical girl but, uh oh, she’s turned out to be too cynical! (This happens, I know from personal experience.)The guitars here are chunkier, the vocal more forlorn:
You take a look around and all you seem to see
Is bringing you down, as down as you can be
Go on and have a laugh, go have a laugh on me
Go on and have a laugh at all your misery
For Marshall, love should be off limits when it comes to cynicism. Sadly, not everyone is as good as compartmentalizing.
(Though I’ve been a lifelong fan, I’ve only seen Marshall once, in 1983 in some dance club in New York City on a weeknight. We arrived at 10; Marshall and the band went on about 12:45. I remember him as being petulant, but that might have been me, anticipating having to get up and go to work the next morning on four hours of sleep. There was some dust-up about people in the crowd throwing matches at him; they couldn’t have been lit matches or he would have been far more upset. He generally seemed to dislike the audience. The drummer–Marshall’s brother, I found out later–played too much and too loud. Marshall still tours and still intermittently uncorks a great song, like “Live and Learn” from 2009. I suppose I should give him another chance live.)