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Marshall Crenshaw 

This is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw

For better or worse, singer-tunesmith Crenshaw has never given a tinker's damn about conforming to contemporary standards of cool. He is a man out of time, chugging along at a comfortable 45 rpm while the bloodless digital world whizzes past. His quest: to create the penultimate sugar cube, a three-minute packet of perfect pop.

When Crenshaw sported nerdy horn-rims while portraying the late Buddy Holly in La Bamba, the irony was blindingly clear. Hell, in real life, Crenshaw was Holly or Brian Wilson or some letter-sweater auteur from pop's salad days. Like his heroes, Crenshaw didn't write songs about making love. He wrote about making out.

Laden with kisses, This Is Easy contains passionate teen anthems waxed between 1981 and the new millennium. The radiant program is powered by yelping lead vocals and compact, testosterone-fed surf-guitar solos. Meanwhile, Crenshaw's heart-pumping story lines celebrate in simple language the innocence of adolescence as well as the middle-class pleasures of the old hometown.

And that's why he's never achieved real star status. Crenshaw arrived on the scene during the caustic heyday of post-punk, a bleak time when nobody cared to hear about the goose-bump glories of puppy love.

Of the anthology's 22 cuts, four were lifted from Crenshaw's eponymous debut. Like so many artists, Crenshaw made his finest record right out of the gate. Produced by Richard Gottehrer, better known as the Svengali behind the Go Gos, Marshall Crenshaw remains sonically brilliant, a treble-y masterpiece that reminds me of the Beatles' halcyon singles.

As a bonus, Rhino's archivists beefed up this deluxe reissue with nine rare demos and rock-steady live shots. Not only was Crenshaw slick around the studio, but back in the day, his brave little combo could suck the mildew out of the dankest nightclub.

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Latest in MUSIC: Soundbite

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