Saturday, December 01, 2007

“Alone In A Room” / Marshall Crenshaw

I’ve had the hardest time trying to pick just one song to focus on from Marshall’s 2003 album What’s In The Bag? It’s an incredibly consistent album, with superbly crafted instrumentals and thought-provoking lyrics. I marvel at how well Marshall’s voice has held up, too – for a 50-year-old (well, maybe he was still 49 when he laid down these vocals), his steady, sweet-as-honey tenor sounds every bit as good as it did twenty years earlier.

But what really blows me away about this album is its melodies. Venturing beyond the standard chord progressions of retro pop, Marshall’s ear for an arresting hook has never served him better than it does here. You’ll hear it on the lonesome road song “Will We Ever?”, the rueful “Where Home used To Be,” the end-of-love song “The Spell Is Broken,” or the moody “Long and Complicated.” And then there’s the warm delicious thing “Alone In A Room,” which happens to be one of the sexiest songs MC’s ever done, in my humble opinion.

Here’s my theory: singer-songwriters tend (consciously or not) to write melodies that fit their vocal style. Like Paul McCartney, Marshall Crenshaw’s wide vocal range and great pitch set him free to skip all over the scale, with lots of interesting interval jumps. In this song, the verses climb upward like a jazz trumpet, each line an impressionistic detail – “The sunlight on a violet wall / The radio playing down the hall / The curtains moving with a gentle breeze / There’s nothing else in the world I need / Right now” -- only to drop in the chorus into his lower register, with just a hint of huskiness on that tantalizing line “Right now it’s all / About you and me alone in a room.” It’s confiding, intimate, and I find myself leaning closer, yearning to be in that room with him.

“Waiting for the light / As we made our way home late last night,” he muses in the bridge, in a freeform melodic line. “Standing there with your hand holding mine,” with an unexpected jump upward on “mine” that shivers to the bone. The laid-back poetry of the lyrics is nicely married to that sensual syncopation, the shimmering cymbals and vibraphone adding a whiff of cocktail-lounge coolness. “I wish that life could always feel this fine,” he exults, and then breaks into a guitar solo that’s like the same cry of happiness in a different language.

At this point in his songwriting life, Marshall Crenshaw really knows that less is more. Those significant pauses between phrases let us savor each moment, as if we had all the time in the world. After the solo, he murmurs appreciatively, “Your / favorite clothes / and perfume / Yeah, you / Make me dream / About you and me alone in a room.” And that’s it, that’s all the detail we’re going to get – let your imagination take it from there.

You know, Marshall Crenshaw just keeps on getting better. It’s a crying shame that now, when he’s doing his best work, he’s not on simply everybody’s playlist. Well, do yourself a favor -- put him on yours.

Alone In A Room sample


the feeb said...

this is my new favorite site! good stuff!

Richard Sambrook said...

A whole week on Marshall Crenshaw and you don't cover "Fantastic Planet of Love" - his greatest in my view!