Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

  • Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers [Beserkley, 1976] B+
  • Rock & Roll With the Modern Lovers [Beserkley, 1977] B+
  • Back in Your Life [Beserkley, 1978] B+
  • Jonathan Sings! [Sire, 1983] A
  • Rockin' and Romance [Twin/Tone, 1985] B-
  • It's Time for . . . [Upside, 1986] B-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers [Beserkley, 1976]
Well then, is this Lou Reed without chemicals or Loudon Wainwright III with a cold? If the former, he'd better renegotiate his right to be fey by balancing off each new LP with some rock 'n' roll drone ("Road Runner," say, or the Earth Quake cuts on Beserkley Chartbusters). And if the latter, there'd better be one funny song as astonishing as "Pablo Picasso" (or "Rufus Is a Tit Man") every time. B+

Rock & Roll With the Modern Lovers [Beserkley, 1977]
This all-acoustic record is even further in general tough-mindedness from Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers than that fey testament was from The Modern Lovers; it defines the difference between a child who is cute and a child who knows adults think children are cute. Sometimes I think I should hate it. But in fact I don't, because its self-indulgence represents not the manipulative arrogance of a star but rather the craziness of an almost powerless case of arrested development, and you can hear that. However unattractive a child Richman may be, he does convey the fragile lyricism only children are capable of. B+

Back in Your Life [Beserkley, 1978]
I'd say this is great kiddie music--lotsa innocence, lotsa animal songs, even a snot joke. But kiddies seem to prefer Donna Summer. So put him down as an original and wonder yet again just how much that counts for. B+

Jonathan Sings! [Sire, 1983]
Like a bit of great modern rock and roll only more so, Richman's surprising return to his senses plays havoc with all notions of artistic maturity. It couldn't have happened if he hadn't finally grown up, but it wouldn't have been half as striking if he'd relinquished his kiddie lyricism in the bargain. "Not Yet Three," "The Neighbors," and the admonitory campfire anthem "That Summer Feeling" have the magical complexity of masterworks without the reassuringly forbidding aura of mastery, generating just enough authority to shore up lesser songs that might have seemed merely eccentric on their own. Granted, without the disarmingly precise backup of Ellie Marshall and Beth Harrington, Jonathan's singing might have seemed merely eccentric as well. It doesn't. A

Rockin' and Romance [Twin/Tone, 1985]
It's a thin line between ooh and ick, and when he starts saying bum for ass (butt, buns, behind, backside, rear end, tush, I'll even settle for bottom) you can figure the feybirds have flitted off with another album. I like Walter Johnson myself, but Jonathan should realize that maybe Vincent van Gogh deserved to be called an asshole. B-

It's Time for . . . [Upside, 1986]
I think eternal youth is the secret of rock and roll myself. But if anybody really and truly believes that feeling "Just About Seventeen" is the way to achieve it, the arch nostalgia of this moderately gifted neoprimitive egomaniac should send them running for the Geritol. B-