Marshall Crenshaw never broke out the way he should have. He made a couple of perfect power pop masterpieces (his debut and Field Day), and modestly toured for his faithful following, stopping at one point at the Catholic University gym in the mid-1980s. He performed a country and western instrumental version of “Dominique” (the Singing Nun song) that I wish someone had preserved to tape.
Crenshaw’s newest recordings look backward and forward to varying levels of success. I Don’t See You Laughing Now is the first in a series of vinyl EPs supported by a Kickstarter project. If the money comes from a forward-looking business model, the music sounds like a weary artist looking more backwards than forwards, which detractors have said he has been doing all along.
Each of the EPs will offer one new song, a revisited classic, and a cover. A live version of “There She Goes Again,” which auspiciously launched his debut album, is taken at a more leisurely pace than the ebullient song of regret that announced his arrival 30 years ago. By the time he sings “as time goes by,” it becomes a kind of valedictory statement, which the cover of Jeff Lynne’s Move-era “No Time” reinforces. It’s a sad situation indeed. The one new song, “I Don’t See You Laughing Now” shows that the old harmonies are there, but while his voice may have gained in richness and depth, his delivery sounds tired.
It’s too bad, because the presentation is terrific. A 10” EP pressed on red vinyl and mastered at 45 rpm is the stuff of vinyl heaven. But even the cover art, as cute as it is, reflects a patina of despair, a plush animal watching over a dusty, neglected keyboard. The marketing is inspired too. The first of the vinyl EPs had an early release on Record Store Black Friday, one of those commercial promotions that have helped the resurgence of vinyl—and of frenzied collector mentality. I Don’t See You Laughing Now is only the first of a projected six EPs over two years, and I hope the rest offer music that is as inspired as the salesmanship.