HOW TO DEFEND Marshall Crenshaw? His career presents a portrait of the rock auteur in silhouette: The excavation of his persona is a process of continuous addition by subtraction--i.e., to determine what you love about him, you must first decide what you don't hate. He's a talented cult artist with, curiously, none of the eccentricities that invite fanaticism or exclude mass appeal. His lack of a knack for punnery, profundity, or even close observation obscures his expert glad-handing of the vernacular. His voice emits a caring, if vague, decency that undercuts the bitter Lennonist-betrayal tropes he sings. (Crenshaw rarely assigns himself blame.) But most significant, he understands that songwriting is a process of setting a melody into dynamic motion, not of fussily arranging ornamental but static set pieces.
True, you wouldn't frequently accuse the singer of rocking out, but he loves guitars so "truly, madly, deeply" (to paraphrase a tune you'd swear was rooted out of some Tin Pan Alleycat's unpublished notebooks) that Crenshaw has temporarily settled behind the drum kit and entrusted the riffage to others. A rocker who takes the sticks into his own hands usually has a fool for a drummer (ask John Fogerty or Paul McCartney), but Crenshaw on skins lends his ten latest tunes the same combination of ease and determination that permeates his singing and writing. Which, of course, raises even more questions: Is it his choppy tom-tom fills that power "Dime a Dozen Guy" past self-pity to its real but hardly permanent fatalism, or that slashing surf-guitar riff on top?
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