Twice-lived | Lyons, CO United States | 08/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Years ago, I had this up on the stereo when my wife walked in the door. "What the hell is that?" she asked.
"Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers," I replied, and before "Morning of Our Lives" was over, she was choking back tears.
That's the kind of record this is. It walks the thin line between stubborn steadfast optimistic love and stalking"
The twisted, fascinating evolution of Jonathan Richman
Gena Chereck | Nebraska, USA | 06/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This disc opens with three tracks from the Modern Lovers' self-titled LP, originally recorded in 1972 but not released until '76. Produced by ex-Velvet John Cale, the influence of the Velvet Underground is all over these tracks, in the gritty garage-rock sound of the band (including future members of the Cars and the Talking Heads!) and in Jonathan's wildly off-key vocals. The lyrics, however, are Richman's own -- simple, honest expressions of adolescent joy ("Roadrunner"), lust ("Astral Plane"), and snotty attitude ("Pablo Picasso"). A sharp turn takes place on track four, a version of "Government Center" that Jonathan did in 1974 after he disbanded the Modern Lovers; Richman's voice was more tuneful, his lyrics more whimsical, the instrumentation more stripped-down and acoustic (influenced by '50s and early '60s rock 'n' roll). This became Jonathan's blueprint for creating rock music, not only for the mid-to-late '70s in the face of a growing punk scene (which the Modern Lovers had helped influence!!), but for his whole career after that as well. On the four albums he recorded for Beserkely between 1976 and '79 (with an evolving lineup of backup musicians, also dubbed the Modern Lovers), Richman -- having lived out his alienated, lonely adolescence on The Modern Lovers LP -- regressed into a sort of second childhood with songs about regional pride ("New England"), Martians, abominable snowmen, the ice cream man, cars that don't run ("Dodge Veg-O-Matic"), and dinosaurs, among other things. Songs like these continue to puzzle (and put off) rock critics and Modern Lovers fans, but they also show that Jonathan can write songs about pretty much anything. (He would later write about such things as chewing gum wrappers, Harpo Marx, vampire girls, and thrift stores).At the same time, though, he was showing a more mature and thoughtful side, waxing poetic on "Lonely Financial Zone," expressing devotion to his woman on "Back in Your Life," and giving his woman encouragement and respect on "Morning of our Lives" and "My Love is a Flower Just Beginning to Bloom." Best of all is the closing track, "Affection" (from 1979's Back in Your Life), one of Richman's most emotional performances ever caught on record; his voice wavers and breaks quite a bit as he explains how he beat his adolescent loneliness by finally reaching out to other people.While not as consistent as the 2002 Rounder compilation Action Packed, The Beserkely Years (Rhino, 1986) represents the twisted, fascinating history and evolution of an unusual and grossly underrated songwriter. Warning: Jonathan Richman's unabashed honesty and unself-conscious weirdness may not be for all tastes; I recommend this mainly to those who have heard his more recent stuff (in concert, in There's Something About Mary, on one of his Rounder or Vapor albums, etc.) and are curious about his history."
Forgotten master of anything goes
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richman had a quietly profound influence on rock music, not just because his band spawned members of Talking Heads and the Cars, or because his early work was produced by John Cale of Velvet Underground. Clearly he couldn't sing, but he made the most of his creative talents with the sort of do-it-yourself irreverence that punk would later seize on. Yes, his work can be humorous, and downright catchy. In the late seventies, when hip music had become loud, Richman went the other way and made very quiet songs, still postmodernly silly like so much modern music, Barenaked Ladies or They Might Be Giants, in tone. In sum, Richman was one of these sort of underground heroes just for sheer originality, and that originality would influence other, more commercial bands in various ways for years to come."
Getting it Right
John Heydon | Alabama | 09/05/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Jonathan Richman blasted out of Boston with his band, The Modern Lovers, about 20-odd years ago, hailed as the next new Mick Jagger, yet with an open heart, and not a cloaked dagger, to offer his fans. The group that filled out The Modern Lovers(Jerry Harrison, later of the Talking Heads; Ernie Brooks, the renowned bassist and later sometime record exec, and David Robinson, who went on to play drums for The Cars) were equally distinguished.There are no known visual recordings of that group at work, tho some still photos are floating around; some of these can be found on the one live album of the (mostly) original group that did (thanks to Brooks) make its way into CD form. (That recording is spotty at best, which is to be expected given the primitive recording nature, but gives one an idea, and also includes at least one old Lovers outtake not to be found elsewhere on disk or vinyl.) What we do know is that fans and record executives who saw the group were convinced that they were the next great thing, and the Lovers were promptly shipped off (by RCA, if I recall correctly) to LA to be produced by ex-VU member John Cale (Richman, as a youth, had been a big VU fan, and from time to time would follow them around on their abrupt touring schedule) for the then astronomical sum of $250,000.Songs like Roadrunner, Pablo Picasso, and Modern Love were catchy, new, and, amazingly enough, seemed acceptable to both teen audiences and their parents (many of the latter, you will recall, were at the time terrified of their children developing into Charles Manson-like flower children or, even worse, college dropouts) and it seemed like Richman and the Lovers were on their way.It was not to be. Richman, often described as good-hearted but hard-headed, did not take kindly to the artistic direction suggested by the record company, balked at the deal, and walked out on the band. Happily, the basic tracks had already been laid down, and we now have the essence of that great group available on the CD simply entitled The Modern Lovers.Richman's self-relagatio (broke and back in Boston) lead to the various odd incarnations we have found him in since. Happily, Jonathon Sings is one of those rare occasions were he really gets it right. There is an artful acoustic twinge to this production which makes the most of his ever-wistful lyrics. Best of all is the little-known classic: The Neighbors. Rhapsodizing about the maleficent influence of excessive neighborly interest, Richman declares himself "intent not to let the neighbors run my life, yeah, no need to let the neighbors run my life."That statement might well sum up his attitude toward the entire music establishment. Richman's independent line of thought has often tested even his most loyal supporters, but with Johnathon Sings he amply rewards them with his best solo work.Daniel Pendergrass"
Surrender to Jonathan!
Thomas Fisher | Portland, ME United States | 07/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My first exposure to Jonathan was hearing the catchy track "New England". I immediately wanted to listen to more Jonathan, and bought this album. By not taking himself too seriously Jonathan manages to make some profound statements. It is full of honesty, compassion, and straightforward fun that make Jonathan one of the most amusing and yet touching artists in the world. As another of his albums suggests, don't analyze Jonathan, Surrender to Jonathan! And oh yeah, see him live."