“Hardly the innovation-obsessed liberal bastion it is known as today, Boston was a city teetering on the brink of collapse, an aging city grappling to define its identity in a rapidly changing world.”
“The Modern Lovers is a bundle of nerves and contradictions, a genuinely optimistic outpouring of angst confusion set to a primal throb of resounding immediacy.”
And that’s the set-up for Sean L. Maloney’s take for his 33 1/3 book on the legendary 1976 collection of demos that would become The Modern Lovers. That’s right…this highly-influential record was not meant to be album. How did this happen?
The Modern Lovers debut album is one of the touchstones of rock and roll. There’s a popular saying that The Velvet Underground didn't sell many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band. In my opinion, The Modern Lovers is version 2.0. of that notion. The album of demos, recorded in 1973 and produced by none other than John Cale, was a startling listen. It made you sit up and take note. Its simplicity, its honesty, energy — and youthfulness — were its charms.
One of the things Maloney’s book best does best is contextualize the Modern Lovers and their music, and where it was birthed. It’s not New York City, where the band frequently played with the likes of the Velvet Underground. It’s not LA and the West Coast, where the band recorded. It’s Boston, or, more specifically, the suburbs of Boston. And, as any teenager knows, the suburbs can be the loneliest place in the world. “Roadrunner” connects so viscerally because it rings so true; the joy of being young and out driving at night with the “radio on” in search of an adventure is both palpable and identifiable.
In fact, there are several stories here that run parallel and it’s one of the things that makes Maloney’s take so intriguing. There’s the breakdown of the songs of course, and the songwriter’s personality, that accounts for one of the all-time great “accidental” masterpieces. There’s also a tidy little history of the Boston music scene. The Seventies and early Eighties was when it became a dominant American music city, but Sixties Boston was legit. Finally, Maloney intersperses the city’s urban transformation, from uptight Brahmins and white flight, to bohemian musicians and avant garde filmmakers pushing boundaries, to townies beating up college kids, all within Richman’s — and Maloney’s — musical take on his city and his youth.
If you know The Modern Lovers record, you’ll love this book. If you’re a fan of the “Bosstown Sound,” you likely will as well. Hell, if tales of urban renewal are your thing, you’re in for a treat. But if you don’t know any of the above, start here. It’s the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts. And it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4…..
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