A lot has been said about Jonathan Richman, from all the praises in the world to all the criticisms one can dish at the guy. Whether or not they're well-deserved is another issue, altogether. Personally? I don't know the guy, what he's like, but musically, he's pretty proficient, that's for sure.
I know that's too "neutral" for a review, and you'd probably like it if I used some sort of scathing adjective, but I'm not gonna. I just don't know that much about his personality. If anything, he reminds me of a friend of mine, who one day loves a certain "type" of music and will play it incessantly, only to change his mind a week or two later and head down a new path. Sure, it's a little erratic, but some of the greatest minds were, and if Richman isn't a great musical mind, then, what else could he be?
Richman left his original Modern Lovers in the dust, proclaiming he hated that kind of music and that he wanted to return to a more earthy, older sound, like Doo Wop or 50's Rock 'n Roll. His intentions were unknown to anyone but himself, but hey, is that really that important? He touched a natural nerve, and he really came into place with that sound.
This album is a collection; a greatest hits. I must confess that I don't own any of his true albums, aside from his stuff from the Modern Lovers, but that's mostly because I'm not such a big fan of his Doo Wop sound. I like Doo Wop, and I like this greatest hits album, but I'm not crazy about it. I just won't invest much more than I already have, basically.
As far this album goes: it's pretty nice. Catchy, heartfelt, soulful, simple, pretty, fun, sincere. I could go on, but it wouldn't be anything new from what could be said, already. He taps into that old-school, carefree world of a teenager whose biggest gripes are girls, love and rocking out. However, he openly talks about his wife and his married life within the context of a lovelorn teenager. It's that sort of small complexity that really gains depth and a sense of sincerity that only Richman can deliver.
Songs like "Closer" and "Everyday Clothes" put his concept into perspective. In "Closer," he talks about how he gets all tingly and mushy when he rubs up against his wife in bed. Spooning? Perhaps, but there's something so innocent about his emotional state that it diminishes the amount of dirtiness involved. Of course, that dirt is there. It wouldn't be Jonathan Richman without it. But the simple fact that he twists it into this adolescent fantasy really changes the shape of things. "Reno," a song about, you guessed it, partying it up in Reno, brings that out to a tee.
It starts to get grittier, however, by the "You're Crazy For Taking the Bus," in which he talks about traveling with outcasts and vile rednecks while heading to Salt Lake City. Yet, he's down for the ride, without any concern about those folks.
"The Neighbors," about a possible cheating Jonathan Richman (in the eyes of the community) is another mature song, that begins to transcend the fine line of well-intended innocence and his struggle dealing with the accusations of fellow adults. He must know that he's playing a dangerous card by flaunting a close, but platonic friendship with an attractive woman, but he understands the possible scandal, involved. See what I'm talking about? This shit is pretty dramatic, but he keeps that immature drawl and carelessness that comes with that territory. He's like the guy who's still a kid, with a nerdy sense of humor that almost everyone loves, except for his girl.
I could delve into each song, but it would be overkill. This album jumps back and forth between the much-maligned mature side of Jonathan Richman, and his beloved teenager inner self. The positioning of the tracks, hopefully, is meant to showcase that inner struggle, because they really leap from one to the other. It puts you inside his head, and although he hates being an adult, somewhat ("When I say Wife/ It sounds like a mortgage," in "When I Say Wife"), he can't help but love the fact that he's on his own, doing his own thing. It's nothing inspirational, but it's fun. You'd hang out with him, you'd be rockin', you'd be drinking cappuccino and you'd be partying in the U.S.A.
This album is pretty much an: A.