Marshall Crenshaw will re-release his 1996 album Miracle of Science 15 January 2020 via his own Shiny-Tone imprint, which is distributed through Megaforce. This is part of a campaign that will see five of his albums recorded between 1994 and 2003 for the Razor & Tie label re-released. All will be available on vinyl and all digital platforms.
In addition to Miracle of Science, the series will include 1999’s #447 and 2003’s What’s in the Bag?, plus 1994’s live My Truck Is My Home and 1998’s early demos collection The 9 Volt Years. Each album will include two newly recorded, previously unreleased tracks, which will appear on a bonus 7″ single on the vinyl editions and as bonus tracks on the CD and digital versions.
Miracle of Science‘s bonus cuts include “Misty Dreamer” by Scottish indie-pop artist Daniel Wylie, and “What the Hell I Got”, a 1974 number by Canadian artist Michel Pagliaro, which was a regional hit in Detroit and made regular appearances on the radio station CKLW.
Fans can now hear “Misty Dreamer”, a song that he came to in a somewhat unlikely way. “Daniel Wiley had some hit singles in England. I think he’s still active,” Crenshaw recalls. “Wiley reached out to me on Facebook. He wrote to me and said that he’d seen me on the Old Grey Whistle Test during my one and only visit to England. He saw us on that show, and got hooked right away, bought all my records. It meant a lot to hear that from a fellow artiste. That song strikes a chord with me. It’s bittersweet. I like the simplicity of it. I played it live a couple of times. The drummer, Rich Pagano, said we should make a record of it.
“There are lots of great things in Daniel Wylie’s catalog, including this dark, beautiful gem. I think it’s about social malaise. Rich, Andy [York, guitar], and I tried to channel Humble Pie or Spooky Tooth, maybe.”
With Crenshaw’s unmistakable voice front and center, with gorgeous vocal harmonies and guitar lines that seemingly change from spring to autumn and back again throughout, “Misty Dreamer” is one of the most breathtaking entries in Crenshaw’s output.
The Michigan native recently spoke with PopMatters from his home in New York state about the album’s origins and his decision to add deft new touches to an acclaimed and deeply original album.
* * *
Take me back to when you made this album.
I had made five albums for Warner Bros. and one for this little backdoor imprint through MCA. I was fed up with the major label world after that. I could have gotten another deal, but I wanted to be more autonomous. Then I crossed paths with Craig Balsam and Cliff Chenfeld at Razor & Tie. They put out a live album of mine, and a little less than a year later, they asked for a studio album. I organized a home studio with ADATs. I don’t know if you remember them.
It was digital recording on what were essentially VHS tapes. I got some gear and had a nice room on my property in Woodstock, New York. The guy who had built Bearsville converted my room into the studio. I just went at it. The first song I had was “What Do You Dream Of?” I went from there. You had to make an album. You couldn’t do a single. Nobody would pay attention to that. At some point, I went to Nashville and hooked up with Brad Jones and Bill Lloyd. It became a half-and-half recording: Woodstock and Nashville. I was on an interesting path at that time.
I was testing myself and challenging myself. I was definitely in that mode. There was nobody telling me how to do it. Nobody encouraging me to reign it in. There are different textures and noises. I had more freedom. That’s what I hear when I listen to it.
The home studio must have opened up some of those possibilities.
I had a drum set that was sitting in the corner, but I had a couple of drum machines. I always got a kick out of working with those. I’d get a groove going on the drum machine. A lot of songs started that way. Both in the writing and recording. I didn’t have to make demos anymore. The demos were the record.
Were you nervous about producing it yourself?
No, it was great. When I went to Nashville, the people I was working with were producers themselves, and they knew how to be creative and make the process fun. Brad Jones is really a brilliant guy.
You had left the major label world about a half-decade before the industry started to crumble. Did you have a sense that you were getting out in time?
I didn’t. I had no idea that what was coming was coming. It would never have dawned on me. Right around the time I made Miracle of Science was when I co-wrote “Til I Hear It From You” by the Gin Blossoms. The whole gravy train of the major labels and MTV was still running. I was benefiting from that more than I had from my own records. I always thought the whole thing had a lot of absurdity.
When we were in the studio for my first album, the engineer wanted to change the drum heads every day. Every take he’d have the drum tech go out and tweak the drums, maybe change the heads again. There was a lot of stuff like that. It was a whirlwind of ridiculousness. Then, the millennium comes, and the whole thing crumbles like a mountain.
There was a flurry of mergers and acquisitions around that time. There had been 25 labels with records on the charts, and then they were consolidated to three. I thought it was like it had been in the Soviet Union where there was one record label, Melodiya. I figured it would be one big corporation. Friends of mine who worked at record labels had horror stories about how they suddenly had to think quarter-to-quarter. The idea of playing any kind of long game was out the window.
Are you usually pretty happy with your records once you’re finished or do you hear them and say, “I’d like to go back and fix this, that and the other”?
I did fix a few things on Miracle of Science. That actually goes back to when the record first came out. After it came out here, it was licensed in Britain and Japan. When I knew those editions were coming out, I knew I wanted to fix a few things. I’d screwed up some lyrics on “Twenty-Five Forty-One”, which is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I was embarrassed about that. I fixed that. The one with the wrong lyrics has gone into the black hole.
This time around, I re-addressed a couple of tracks. On “Only an Hour Ago”, I had programmed drums and some of the sounds and some of the playing were too aggressive. The arrangement was a little busy. I decided to clean it up. I re-did the bass and got this idea to put live drums on it and play them with brushes. I got the multitrack tape out and listened to it and was stunned to discover that there were already live drums on it, played with brushes!
I must have done that when I was preparing for the international releases. That track has a different feel now. I did something similar on “There and Back Again.” I didn’t hear the song for about 25 years. I listened to the lyrics and wondered, “What am I going for here?” It reminded me of Nashville. I had a relationship with this publishing company, Bug Music. The head of the company was always trying to convince me to go down to Nashville and get onto that songwriting gravy train. I never wanted to.
I put some live drums on that, dialed back the arrangement, got rid of it, about half of what I had done. Now the song comes across more clearly. I feel like I can do this stuff because it’s my record. I think it’s a beautiful album. I like it.
You mentioned Grant Hart’s “Twenty-Five Forty-One”. How did you encounter it?
I heard it on the radio. I was listening to WDST in Woodstock, which is mostly a rock station. The morning DJ at that time was Nic Harcourt. He played Robert Forster’s version. The song immediately impressed me. I got home, called the station, and asked what he had just played. Nic told me about the Robert Forster album, I Had a New York Girlfriend.I bought it and decided I was going to do the song. I met Grant later on. He was nice. I really love my version. There’s beauty in it. It’s inspired. We’re all on our game.