Marshall Crenshaw | Miracle of Science | (Shiny-Tone/Megaforce)
4 out of 5 stars
For a guy who cranked out terrific power pop discs every few years starting with a 1982 debut, Marshall Crenshaw has been frustratingly quiet in the 2010s. His last full studio album of originals was over a decade ago and except for a few EPs in 2013/2014, he has laid low.
That’s about to change, sort of, in 2020.
Crenshaw announced the reissue of his Razor & Tie catalog of three studio sets, plus a live offering, along with a collection of early demos and home recordings — all with extra tracks and some “tinkering” of the material.
If the first in this series, 1996’s Miracle of Science, is an indication of what is to come, then the project is off to a great start.
Virtually all the entries in Crenshaw’s 10-album catalog have been critically acclaimed, even if somewhat commercially disappointing. Compounding with the fact that once he left the well-distributed Warner Brothers label for the scrappy Razor & Tie imprint, there was less promotion, distribution and overall attention paid to his work. One listen to this collection however shows no drop-off in quality to Crenshaw’s ringing melodies and riffs. Rather, with Miracle of Science, he was at the top of his game. At that point he had been a professional musician for over 15 years and had honed his chiming pop rock to a glistening edge. Opener “What Do You Dream Of” is as hooky a track as he has written, kicking off with a simple acoustic riff that runs through the rest of the tune as he wonders what mysteries his lover keeps in her “secret world…behind your sleeping eyes.” All in under 3 ½ minutes.
He spills out other pop gems in the sweet “Starless Summer Sky,” the melancholy “Only an Hour Ago,” the glimmering, Byrds-styled “Laughter” and even a nifty if perhaps not entirely necessary cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd.” Crenshaw taps other writers to uncover obscurities in the noir “A Wondrous Place” (a 60s hit for UK rocker Billy Fury) and Grant Hart’s “Twenty-Five Forty-One.” The latter is the address of the apartment that serves as the song’s central character around which a romantic affair disintegrates. He also goes rockabilly with “Who Stole that Train” and tosses in a cool surf instrumental “Theme from ‘Flaregun’.”
On the debit side, Crenshaw inexplicably includes the entire song “Seven Miles An Hour” played backwards because he thought it sounded better than the normal version (it doesn’t and you’ll likely skip it), and one of the two newly recorded covers “Misty Dreamer” isn’t memorable, especially next to the rest of this stellar album.
Still, the hit to miss ratio is high enough to make this one of Crenshaw’s finest efforts, which is saying plenty. As with most of his music, it’s timeless guitar pop which too few Americana listeners heard when it was first released nearly a quarter century ago. Now that it’s back in this expanded, remastered edition, we have a second chance.