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Michael Shelley shows sensitivity in songbook

Thursday, October 08, 1998

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Anyone who's ever been in love knows it's often as much about walking on eggshells as walking on sunshine. So why can't I think of the last time a songwriter so completely nailed the situation with the perfect blend of humor and insight you'll find in the opening cut of Michael Shelley's latest effort, "Too Many Movies"?

The tune, a Costello-esque ballad, is titled "Baby's in a Bad Mood." And you'll no doubt recognize a bit of baby and yourself in the lyrics.

"Well she came in at her usual time and I swear her kiss was empty. She took the longest bath I've ever seen and didn't hardly touch the dinner that I made her. So I'll sit in the kitchen and I won't pick a fight, 'cause baby's in a bad mood tonight."

He's noticed something a little peculiar about the response he's been getting on that one.

"I'm used to women relating to songs or at least being vocal about it," he says. "But you really have to strike a man pretty hard in order for him to walk up and tell you 'I know what you mean.' "

He writes about relationships a lot - with intelligence, wit and a Beatlesque way with a hook that puts the singer in a class with only the best of the new pop revivalists.

So how do his lyrics go over with dates?

"They almost get forewarned, you know? Like anything you say will be used against you in song."

Shelley, who opens for They Might Be Giants at 7:30 tonight at Metropol, says he wouldn't consider himself a "hardcore pop guy."

Sure, he traveled from Brooklyn to California to play the Poptopia festival. And yes, he is on Big Deal, a label that caters to pop fans. It's just that he'd rather not limit himself to the power-pop rulebook.

"I certainly listened to the Raspberries when I was 8 on the car radio. But I'm not trying to sound like that, you know?"

He may not be a household name, but from Shelley's perspective, this is living fairly large.

"I feel lucky to travel and sing and make records," he says. "I know so many great musicians who don't have the opportunity."

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