Thursday, July 23, 2015

Classic Vinyl: "Field Day," Marshall Crenshaw (1983)

In the "he coulda been a contender" department:

I'm not really sure why Marshall Crenshaw didn't become a star.  He had the chops, he had the looks, and to these ears he certainly had the sound.  Maybe it was just a matter of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In the early 1980s, there wasn't a lot of room on the airwaves for his style of straightforward, slightly pop-oriented rock.  There were no synthesizers, and he certainly wasn't a punk.  You could dance to his music, but the dancing would have been closer to 1950s sock hop than to anything remotely resembling what young people were doing out on the dance floor in 1983 or 1984.

"Field Day," released in 1983, was clearly his best album, and severely underrated at #29 in that year's Pazz & Jop poll.  Most of the criticism at the time centered on Steve Lillywhite's production, and that criticism was not unfounded.  Lillywhite's techniques and sound (heavy on drums, slightly tinny) worked perfectly for such bands as U2, Big Country, XTC and the Psychedelic Furs, but it was a horrible match for Crenshaw's American-oriented sound.  It was as if Quentin Tarantino was tabbed to direct a rom-com.  Just a weird combination.

But even with the muddy production, the songs were outstanding; even unbelievable.  In a perfect world, the album's opener - "Whenever You're On My Mind" - would have been a #1 hit, and it wasn't even the best thing on the album.  On "Our Town," Crenshaw showed that with the right kind of development, he might have been able to explore themes that wouldn't have been out of place on a Bruce Springsteen album; on "Monday Morning Rock," he demonstrated that he could be a balls-out rock 'n roller with a sense of humor; on "What Time is It?," he showed that he could handle 1950s updated for the modern era just fine.

He's still out there, but obviously never quite hit the big time.  Which is too bad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Classic Vinyl: "Imperial Bedroom," Elvis Costello (1982)

When this was released in 1982, I thought it was the most disappointing of his 6 albums (not counting the mostly failed country experiment from the previous year).  Naturally, it went on to win the Pazz & Jop Poll, over such notables as Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," Prince's "1999," Richard and Linda Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights" and Roxy Music's "Avalon."

After more than three decades,  I can hear a lot in the album that escaped me back then.  If the entire album maintained the drive and focus of the first side, I might even argue that it deserved to be a contender for the best album of 1982.  But it doesn't; on Side 2 Elvis gets a little fussy, although several of the songs point to the direction he was clearly heading - more Cole Porter than angry young punk.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that it was overrated at the time, but it's still a very good album and songs like "Beyond Belief," "The Long Honeymoon" and "Shabby Doll" would fit in just fine on a career-spanning anthology.