Friday, January 18, 2008

No '50s for Excuse

(I just got Robert Christgau's Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide — part of a continuing Christgau binge — and I thought I'd start transcribing a few of my favorite entries. For no particular reason. Or else because it's edifying. Yeah, that's it.)

The Modern Lovers: The Modern Lovers (Home of the Hits, '76). These legendary sessions, produced by John Cale for Warners in the early '70s but never released, still sound ahead of their time. Jonathan Richman's gift is to make explicit that love for "the modern world" that is the truth of so much of the best rock and roll; by cutting through the vaguely protesty ambience of so-called rock culture he opens the way for a worldliness that is specific, realistic, and genuinely critical. Not that he tries to achieve this himself — he's much too childlike. Sometimes his unmusicianship adds a catch to a three-chord melody and his off-key singing unlocks doors you didn't know were there. But other times he sounds like his allowance is too big, as worldly as Holden Caulfield with no '50s for excuse — the first rock hero who could use a spanking. Original grade: A minus. A