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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The Modern Lovers
The Modern Lovers (reissue)
Sanctuary

Rating: 9.1/10 ?


October 19, 2007
"I started a group because I was lonely and figured that way I'd make friends" - Jonathan Richman

The Modern Lovers left a unique mark as a staple within a scene overridden by aggressive angst in the early-to-mid 1970s. Although they were following punk's three chord archetype, they were doing it in a different fashion - being coined under the term "proto-punk" by many confused critics at the time, the band followed on the groundwork laid by the Velvet Underground in the late 1960s. Many find making the Lou Reed comparison an easy one to make with Modern Lovers frontman Jonathan Richman, and I doubt Richman would argue the Reed angle. Within this comparison though, there lies a difference in their fundamental approach to lyricism. While Reed expresses a sense of maturity and life experience, Richman is more concerned with teenage rebellion. Richman was considering the music he was making more in terms of its own time rather than any timeless effect it might have on popular music years later.

The Modern Lovers' eponymous debut, originally pressed in 1976 on Beserkley and now re-issued by the Sanctuary Group, highlights Richman's ability to capture a sense of youthful innocence. Paralleled only by Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run-era innocence anthems, The Modern Lovers was more of the counterculture's take on those ideas. But by then Richman was speaking to a far different "counterculture" than the one that existed a decade earlier. By the time The Modern Lovers were on point, the hippies were irrelevant; a generation of creative minds had been wiped out, casualties of drugs or war or both, and people were putting up with the ripples of disco's emergence into the mainstream. In the recoil of what had seemed like a period of potential cultural revolution petering out, Westerners started turning to folks like the Velvet Underground and The Modern Lovers for escape, searching for sounds that were more abrasive than just giving peace a chance but were still built around something of substance. Richman and the Modern Lovers, building around the same raw, droning substance that John Cale helped produce, provided a sense of optimism that the Velvets lacked.

The album's opener, "Roadrunner" is a classic cut about escape and the open road, built around a repetitive guitar hook and Richman delivering his careless, nasaly vocals - "I'm in love with Massachusetts/ And the neon when it's cold outside/ And the highway when it's late at night/ Got the radio on/ I'm like the roadrunner." Richman's lyrical content is consistent throughout the record, touching upon subjects like those presented in "Roadrunner" - things every 18-year-old with a semi-conflicted life experiences in one way or another. But instead of encrypting these messages in a fog of trippy nonsense like had been the flavor a decade earlier, Richman' skill was in his personal delivery, which conveyed his ideas from a position that Lou Reed wouldn't take up until his post-Underground solo recordings.

Richman's main contribution to rock and roll's arc in 1970 was in picking up where the original Velvet Underground left off. He modernized that band's drone into a handful of power chords and meshed the 1960s' dwindling momentum with the modern landscape, which would soon find itself in the throws of the punk movement that Richman would never claim to have been an intentional part of. These original songs off of The Modern Lovers were recorded in 1970 and '71 as demo tracks, soundingboards that the world was never expected to hear. Looking back on the band with three decades of perspective, it's much easier to scale their success and see their massive influences in everyone who manipulated minimalist chord progressions and tried to emulate Richman's vocal qualities. But to try and picture The Modern Lovers within the context of their time is a much more difficult task. There is ample evidence that Richman wasn't aware of the effect he was having and would have, and the band's first record isn't even being reissued until well into the age of superfluous reissues. There is something to be said for an album sitting quietly for thirty years before being considered with great merit and as a modern masterpiece, something that Thelonious Monk could appreciate. As Monk put it, "I say, play your own way. Don't play what the public want - you play what you want and let the public pick up on what you doing - even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years." Well, if anyone is a testament to that notion, Jonathan Richman is the guy.

Reviewed by John Bohannon
An LAS contributing writer based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, John Bohannon is also a regular contributor to the pages of Prefixmag.com, Daytrotter.com, and Impose Magazine.

See other reviews by John Bohannon

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