Though Marshall Crenshaw has written plenty of catchy tunes about falling in love, the best cut on his first album of new material since 1999 is about falling out of love. Set to a buoyant melody that one could easily hear arranged for steel drums, “The Spell Is Broken” finds the singer addressing the aftermath of romance, how nothing has happened, but everything has changed. “I just couldn’t help but doubt/What I thought I was sure about,” he sings in the deceptively simple expression of emotional complexity.
The rest of the album suggests a parallel progression to that of Nick Lowe — a movement from pure pop to a more bittersweet sophistication. The arrangements temper Crenshaw’s Hooks R Us craftsmanship with a more experimental eclecticism; the vibraphone of the Jazz Passengers’ Bill Ware and the steel guitar of Greg Leisz conjure a dreamy soundscape on the album-opening “Will We Ever?”, whereas the cello of Jane Scarpantoni gives a darker hue to the wistful reverie of “Where Home Used To Be”.
The poppiest track here is a cover of Prince’s “Take Me With U” (Crenshaw also covers Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You”). The wiry guitar lines of a pair of one-man-band instrumentals add to the grab-bag variety. Yet the opening lyric of the album finds Crenshaw singing, “There’s nothing on the radio,” the lament of an artist who remains a pop classicist at heart.