THE MODERN LOVERS The Modern Lovers (Get Back)
Feted and fated, The Modern Lovers coulda been contenders. Their demo sessions were produced by John Cale and Kim Fowley, they were courted by major labels such as A&M and Warner Bros. and counted Gram Parsons as a friend. Their lineup included idiosyncratic singer/guitarist/songwriter Jonathan Richman and future Talking Head keyboardist Jerry Harrison, yet they imploded before releasing an album. When this eponymous collection of remixed demos was released in 1976 its guileless simplicity saw it adopted by the nascent punk movement. Its songs have been covered by the Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Lloyd Cole and Cale himself, and in quotation Richmans lyrics have titled a Robert Forster album and a Mercury Rev track.
Of course, complaining about The Modern Lovers chronic lack of recognition does rather ignore the fact that the albums classic opening salvo Roadrunner almost grazed the top ten when released as a single in 1977. Its potency has hardly dimmed in thirty years: not even Springsteen has written a more definitive ode to the delights of night driving with the radio on, and its unlikely that The Boss could grasp the slippery, sly wit that Richmans lyrics display here. Astral Plane hustles Black Nights stolen riff back to its garage roots, but Pablo Picassos slouching, stumbling gait was only improved by John Cale and David Bowies covers, more venomous and upbeat respectively. Hospital has all the high drama of a daytime soap, Richman stuttering hesitantly amidst the hiss and hum; Someone I Care About and Girl Friend both outline a disarmingly un-rock n roll emotional manifesto.
Compared to such bafflingly overrated punk touchstones such as the Ramones and New York Dolls debuts, The Modern Lovers is much more fun, and its approachable, inclusive aura has worn the years better than those bands pouts and sneers. Get Backs vinyl pressing is as good as it needs to be: it crackles and crunches in all the right places.