Record Review - 3 September 11 2003

For the last 20 years, Marshall Crenshaw has created irresistible pop nuggets, which — excepting his first single, “Someday, Someway” — are never heard beyond his small circle of fans. What’s In the Bag?, Crenshaw’s 10th release of original material, won’t do anything to change that; it’s simply too good for radio.

At first listen, many of the songs on Bag sound like typical Crenshaw power-pop 45s slowed down to 33 1/3. “Will We Ever,” “Where Home Used to Be” and “A Few Thousand Days Ago” find Crenshaw in a reminiscent, somewhat longing, mood (but not like the crusty old man he most certainly is not). Credit this to his still crystalline voice and ability to write clever lyrics: “Took a big chance on a sure thing/That wasn’t meant to be.”

He funks and fuzzes it up a bit on covers of Prince’s “Take Me With U” and Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You.” While these songs sound like boastful brags when done by their originators, here they sound more human, like pleas from a slightly fractured man.

Crenshaw’s forays into jazz began on his last release, #447, which included two instrumentals. He includes two more on Bag, but Marshall Crenshaw is a better rocker than jazz musician. The closing jazz cut, “AKA ‘A Big Heavy Hot Dog’” (named by Crenshaw’s 4-year-old son) sounds like Joe Satriani on Valium. But with all the other gems on this record, his missteps into the jazz world are forgiven.