The Modern Lovers
An album that failed to set the charts alight but proved extremely influential, The Modern Lovers was mostly recorded in 1972, well before the punk and new wave it influenced; ‘Roadrunner’ was a favourite rehearsal track for the early Sex Pistols. John Cale is the producer, and there’s an obvious trace of the Velvet Underground in The Modern Lovers’ sound, with the raw guitar work and lyrical honesty. But while Lou Reed oozed New York decadence, Richman is his young and awkward suburban cousin, finding meaning in the small details. Richman’s simple but effective guitar is joined by two new wave luminaries; future Talking Head Jerry Harrison on tinny organ and future Car David Robinson on drums. While the finished product is raw and loose, it’s also extremely accessible; Richman’s full of interesting stories and great hooks and vocal melodies, and any open-minded music fan should adore this record.
The closest things to standards on The Modern Lovers are the opening ‘Road Runner’, a two chord rumination on the joys of driving which Richman wrote while still a teen, and the relatively nasty ‘Pablo Picasso’, with the classic rhyme “Pablo Picasso/Never got called an asshole/Not like you.” Elsewhere, it’s all solid and all quotable; the hilariously overwrought ‘I’m Straight’ (“I’m certainly not stoned, like Hippie Johnny/I’m straight and I want to take his place”), the strangely touching ‘Dignified and Old’ and the sexual frustration of ‘Astral Plane’. Despite being cobbled together from various sessions, the twelve track CD version, released in 1989 on Rhino, hangs together perfectly and its unique sense of personality, its solid musical foundations and its huge historical importance are tangible immediately.
Even if Richman’s subsequent career has been erratic, his debut is an effortless classic; a summation of an awkward suburban adolescent embracing innocence in the face of a cynical world.