The Modern Lovers
All for the love of Massachusetts
The Lineup Card (1971-1973)
|Jerry Harrison||-||Organ, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals also of Talking Heads|
|Jonathan Richman||-||Guitar, Composer, Vocals|
|Ernie Brooks||-||Bass, Vocals|
|Greg Keranen||-||Bass, Vocals|
|Leroy Radcliffe||-||Guitar, Vocals|
|David Robinson||-||Drums, Vocals also of the Cars|
The Modern Lovers were an early-70's Boston teeny-bopper pop group led by child star and genuine geek Jonathan Richman, a young man who no one ever told was playing the wrong style of proto-punk surf/boogie/soul music four years too early for punk, and at least seven years too late for garage. The Lovers were all alone up there in Massachusetts with their refreshing, stripped down Velvet Underground-meets-the-Doors-meets-the-Stooges-meets-the-Ventures style of rock music, and were gloriously oblivious to their obsolescence/radicalism. They never actually released an album while they were still together, and Modern Lovers only collects some demos recorded in 1972-3 with former Welshman-in-residence for the Velvets themselves, John Cale. Jonathan went on to a long and vastly unsold solo career that culminated in two parts: first, when Johnny Rotten said 'shall we do Roadrunner?' on The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, and second, while starring as the 'singing narrator' in There's Something About Mary. That's it. 30 years in the biz and that's how people know who the hell he is. Well, it could be worse...he could be a member of Gong. But before there was Steven Malkmus or David Byrne or any other of those slightly nerdy/slightly studly new-wavey rock guys, there was Jonathan Richman, a lifelong teenager. Modern Lovers also features future Talking Head Jerry Harrison on (very) prominent Farfisa organ, so, you know, like, buy their album and all that crap.
Oh yeah, some of Jonathan Richman's solo albums also feature 'The Modern Lovers', but it isn't these three guys.
Trying to figure out what makes a 'good album' when the contents of said subject are so basic, so simple, so unadorned with outward signs of brilliance, that one is simply forced to go in and cowtow to critical opinion...err, I mean...is forced to just figure out how an album affects you as a listener (you know, that bad ol' word subjectivity...I actually revel in the stuff) and judge things on how you well you're able to connect to what the artist is trying to say, well, it makes this whole reviewing thing a pretty dangerous field. As dangerous as typing on a computer in your huge bedroom closet could ever be, at least when you don't live in South America anyway. Whatever. Modern Lovers was one of those seminal punk albums I'd always heard about, mentioned somewhat after but still alongside Raw Power and New York Dolls and Horses and all those other albums I rushed out to buy. But you know, I never, ever found the thing used, and since I almost staunchly refuse to pay full sticker price for music (I want to be able to buy, like, food.) I wasn't going to order the damn thing, either. So when I finally ran across this album for $7 at my local used book store last October I almost ran out of the store without paying for it. Out of sheer shock that, after so many years, at least since 9th grade, I'd finally found this record I found it difficult to even find information about. And you know what? It sounded almost exactly what I'd imagine it to sound like...a slight bit underwhelming, completely Lou Reed-worshipping, leaning very heavily on Richman's vocals, repetitive lyrics, and lots of organ. And I'm not talking about my anatomy. But it was also just about the catchiest thing I'd heard since I finally got all my Fall albums sent to me on MP3 by Mr. Adrian Denning. So let's dig a little deeper under the toenail, shall we? Shall we do 'Roadrunner', Paul?
'Roadrunner' absolutely fucking rules. 'I'm in love with rock 'n' roll....I'm in love with Massachusetts...with the radio on...' It's as if Chuck Berry had been given sedatives and forced to sing lead over 'Sister Ray', but, you know, only if you could turn him into a bored white guy that sounds so very 90's ironic you may not believe yourself the first time you hear it. I know this guy...he used to be my college roommate. Maybe he was yours, too. A good chap, straight-edge (he pleads with a girl not to hang out with the stoned hippie in 'I'm Straight') but still horny and with a nice, grouchy sense of humor. He's just a regular guy singing about regular white-guy stuff...he just doesn't feel like putting anyone on with some 'rock Adonis' act. He doesn't even have the energy to overwhelm everyone with cool like Lou Reed, much less scare everyone's mommas and poppas like Iggy Pop. He's just happy to have a great little rock 'n' roll band, that's all. Does rock 'n' roll always have to be about getting fucked up and ripping shit up and acting like someone on WCW? Well, sometimes it is (I'm planning on reviewing Kiss in the near future...and punk rock seemed to have a pretty huge element of 'put on' in it as well), but Modern Lovers shows us that sometimes it isn't, either. Could be that this band is just too young and too much under the spell of it's idols and too amateurish to be anything other than this...but what I say is that 'this' is all anyone ever needs from this band.
It's not to say that because Jonathan himself comes across pretty normal, his subjects are as well. On 'Hospital' he addresses someone he loves ('because of the power in their eyes') and bemoans her attempted suicide and various and sundry other adult-type problems. There's his competition with the uber-cool drug-popping hippie in 'I'm Straight' (oh how tables turn for 'coolness'). He describes how he doesn't want any 'cocaine sniffing triumph in the bar, no triumph in the car', but just a good girl, someone to love and respect. Hey, isn't that what most of us really want? I think we get this guy's approach already. Everyone talks about the song 'Pablo Picasso' all the time, but I don't really think it's very funny after the first time through the joke ('No one ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole'...I guess that might cause uncontrolled giggling amongst rock critic in the puritanical early 70's. Of course I'm kidding.), and the music on that one just sucks. Oh yeah, music...it's mostly a case of taking a pen and marking one of these following multiple choice questions:
A) White Light/White Heat Velvet Underground without all the feedback. And with more standard drumming.
B) Velvet Underground Velvet Underground
C) Watered down Stooges-era Stooges. It is John Cale producing, you know. Light, but still great...it's not easy to write licks as memorable as that, you know...
D) A mixture of elements from the above three...and with some interesting Can and Doors touches at times too...
Guess which songs I like the best. Yeah, the title track sounds like something off of an early Can album with that metronomic keyboard and economically swinging drum figure. I feel like oftentimes they get a little too close to their betters and even step into plagarism sometimes, but who else exactly sounded like this in 1972, except for possibly the Stooges, or Can themselves? No, not David Allan Coe OR Neil Diamond, smartass.
As a conclusion to what has to be my worst-written review in some time, I just want to push the reliability of this album...there's almost no chance that a lover of mid-60's or New-Wavey or non-punk alternative music wouldn't at least be entertained by this album. It's very worth finding, especially if you're a straight-edger who doesn't particularly like either Creed or Minor Threat. And then you too can walk around all day going 'Roadrunner road runner...'bout a thousand miles an hour....WITHA RADIO ON!!!'
Capn's Final Word: 'I'm in love with the Modern World...I'm in love with the Stop 'n' Shop...I'm in love with Massachusetts....WITHA RADIO ON!!!!' Brilliant.
Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form
email@example.com Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Hey Capn! Great review...it took me awhile to acquire this album as well. I bought it last year, but paid 20 bucks for it, which pales in comparison to to your 7 dollar bargain. Anyway, the only thing that surprised me when I first listened to it was Richman's Lou Reed-ish vocals..I always pictured him to be a more sing-song melodic type singer. Know what ya mean about him being everyone's college roommate though.
firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Very good review. This is one of my favorite albums ever, easily one the top 10 releases of the 70's. Richman's lyrics are so instantly memorable; listen to "I'm Straight" just once and you can identify with it so well. My personal favorite here is "Old World", with one of the coolest sounding guitars I've ever heard. And I love the rush of "She Cracked", and what else can I add to what you said about "Roadrunner". You've summed it up perfectly.
Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Wow! An awesome album. Being a restless teenager, I indentify with many songs. Roadrunner is deffinantly one of my all-time favorites. Astral Plane, Dignified & Old, and Government Center are also unforgettable!
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