"Fantastic Planet of Love" / Marshall Crenshaw
Life's Too Short is one of those Marshall Crenshaw albums that just kinda sorta never got any notice (unfortunately, it's not the only one). I kept meaning to buy it, to fill in that last hole in my MC collection, but it took me a while. Now that I've finally bought it and listened to it, I'm astonished. Why in the world would an album this tuneful and tight ever languish in obscurity?
There's not a single song on here I'd ever heard before, but it didn't take more than one listen to get attached to certain tracks -- like the third cut, "Fantastic Planet of Love." That title seems to promise tongue-in-cheek irony (Robyn Hitchcock would do it that way), but this track is way beyond irony. It's a giddy love song, all charged up with finger-snapping rhythm and curling surf-guitar licks. Even though he frequently invites other guitarists to guest on his albums, Marshall Crenshaw has over the years developed into a kick-ass guitarist, one of the few whose instrumental tracks I'll sit still for -- maybe because his guitar solos are all about soul and melody, not braggart speed and head-butting volume.
The emotions of this song aren't complicated -- it's straight-ahead love and devotion -- but I'm intrigued by the reasons he gives for loving her. It's not just because she looks good walking down the street, or because she "does it" better than anybody else. No, it's because she lifts his spirits when life gets him down. "The way you smile / Even when heartbreak / Is closing in around you / You know that's one thing / I ought to learn how to do." That's something real to admire in a woman, and it comes bundled up with a real-world knowledge of how rough life can be. "Just this morning I felt like trouble's plaything," he says in verse two; and in the bridge,"I feel something closing in around me / It's in the headlines of the tabloids / And I heard it on TV." All the more reason to cling to somebody who can help you weather all this tribulation.
The way this melody dances up and down, the unsettled jazzy chord changes, all contribute to the song's sense of life as a tightrope walk. Played slower, it might come off as dark; instead, Marshall delivers unbridled ecstasy. "It's only when I'm next to you / That I ever dream of / A fantastic planet of love," he exults, and sure, it's a dorky expression -- that's what's so endearing about it. He's too transported by happiness to care about seeming cool or mature. He tosses in some fuzzy space age sound effects in the interval, too, just for fun. It's like: Yes, I read comic books and watch sci-fi movies! And I don't care who knows it!! And I'll use a thousand exclamation points if I have to!!! Because my woman makes me feel good about life!!!!!!!!!
Gotta love it.
Fantastic Planet of Love sample