The Modern Lovers (Rhino ’76) Rating: A
In the early ‘70s, Velvet Underground fanatic Jonathan Richman put together an excellent band (which in addition to bassist Ernie Brooks included future Cars drummer David Robinson and future Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison) that appropriated his heroes’ best groove-based attributes. This Boston-based band built up a legendary live following and recorded a handful of demos before imploding because of Richman’s changing musical tastes and eccentric behavior. Though recorded in 1972, The Modern Lovers wasn’t officially released until 1976, with the help of former Velvet Underground noisemaker John Cale, who acted as the album’s producer. Cale managed to clean up the demos without losing the album’s raw, ragged feel. Well known tracks from this cult classic include “Roadrunner,” an all-time great driving song built around the riff from “Sister Ray,” the tightly wound, quote worthy “Pablo Picasso” (who was "never called an asshole"), and “She Cracked,” which features an intense stabbing groove and deals with the dangers of drugs. Although they took The Velvet Underground’s love of three primitive chords and bright organ embellishments, the Modern Lovers differed from their heroes due to Richman’s nasally voice and earnest, romantic, confessional lyrics, which proudly proclaimed “I’m Straight” in direct contrast to confrontational VU drug documents like “Heroin.” Renouncing his heroes’ darker side, Jonathan challenges “if you’re so great, why can’t you take this place straight?,” and his quirky, naïve enthusiasm is apparent on all 12 of these mostly superb songs.