Jonathan Richman has been slowly but surely maturing, which nearly 30 years after the first Modern Lovers album shouldn't be much of a surprise, but it is a wee bit startling to hear the guy who wrote "Ice Cream Man" and "Chewing Gun Wrapper" finally sounding like a full-fledged adult with the advent of the 21st century. Released in 2004, Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love documents the thoughts and feelings of Jonathan Richman at the age of 53, which finds him as playful as ever but exploring some unexpected avenues -- confronting political matters as he sings to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, embracing the French and Spanish tongues, celebrating the art of Vincent Van Gogh and Salvador Dali (both with greater sophistication than he displayed in his famous tune about Picasso), and in his own subtle way confronting the specter of age and the weight of his past. Richman is still a musician who revels in simplicity, with many of the cuts featuring just Jonathan and his longtime percussionist, Tommy Larkins, but the Latin accents in his melodies (and guitar playing) speak of a more sophisticated aural palette than he displayed in the '70s and '80s, and the occasional wind accents from Ralph Carney add depth and texture that are welcome indeed. Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love is immediately recognizable as a Jonathan Richman album -- all these years later, it's still true that no one else sounds quite like him -- but the subtle shifts in his style and lyrical stance serve as evidence that he hasn't been running in place, and this is an engaging and passionate collection of songs from a man who has never failed to sing directly from his heart.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming