The Modern Lovers

The Original Modern Lovers

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Long before his lyrics celebrated abominable snowmen and ice cream truck drivers, Jonathan Richman was positioning himself as rock's poet of the ordinary. Ex-Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale and larger-than-life songwriter Kim Fowley translated the Richman vision with varying success, but the band dissolved when it couldn't agree on a direction. Beserkley Records issued the Cale sessions as The Modern Lovers in 1976, while Bomp followed suit with Fowley's rougher and readier handiwork in 1981, which is now recycled again onto compact disc. (Several bootlegs also contain songs not released on either album.) Bomp's repackaging dates the Fowley tapes to the spring of 1972, which Richman's liner notes sharply dispute. Curiously, the CD booklet doesn't address his point, despite two takes of "Roadrunner" -- one of rock's greatest drive-all-night songs -- that distinctly differ in performance. Richman also questions the disc's title, since bassist Ernie Brooks and keyboardist Jerry Harrison weren't in the band's inaugural lineup, which did include drummer David Robinson. (The latter trio made respective marks in the Necessaries, Talking Heads, and the Cars.) The sessions showcase a rudimentary, yet spirited outfit that knew how to emphasize its strengths. Richman's nonstop guitar chug lends depth to his elementary arrangements, which are further buoyed by Robinson's insistent drumming, and Harrison's fuzzed-out roller-rink organ, which is the primary instrumental voice here. Still, Richman's songs are the main interest: "She Cracked" slaps at a '70s rock scene fueled by laid-back decadence, while "Girlfrien" pleads for intimacy during a trip to the local art museum. "Walk up the Street" critiques a society that widens people's isolation while continuing to tempt them with an ever-growing array of modern conveniences and distractions. Given its thin sound, and a length that stops just shy of a meager 30 minutes, this disc is best appreciated as a documentary of an underdog band trying to harness its energies into a coherent product. At best, The Original Modern Lovers is a tangent to The Modern Lovers, which remains the definitive showcase of Richman's earliest creations.

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