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Jonathan Richman - Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild

2009-01-16 08:16
Jonathan Richman
He's influenced and inspired many bands and musos, from the Sex Pistols to Galaxie 500, from David Bowie to John Cale. Both Bowie and Cale (who produced early Richman demos), have covered Richman’s crazy homage to Pablo Picasso, a track from Richman’s seminal Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (1976).

There's another homage to a painter on this album (to add to "Vincent van Gogh" and "Salvador Dali," from 2004's Not so much to be loved as to love), the sweetly rocky "No one was like Vermeer." It's trademark Richman, with its absurdly gawky "Vermeer was eerie, Vermeer was strange, he had a more modern colour range, as if born in another age, like maybe a hundred or so years ago."

It's a gawkiness that you'll find mirrored in Richman's strange dancing style, which you can watch an example of on this live footage of "I was dancing in a lesbian bar", one of my favourite Richman songs: youtube video.

A bit of biography is probably in order, as Richman is hardly the sort of musician you'll find featured on the pages of the popular press. Some readers will know him from an appearance in There's Something About Mary, where he and drummer Tommy Larkin kept wandering in and out of the action, musically commenting on the action.

Richman's early band featured drummer Dave Robinson and keyboard player Jerry Harrison, who left to become part of The Cars and Talking Heads, respectively. A long time ago, I read that Robinson left because Richman kept asking him to play softer and softer, and eventually was asking him to cover his drumsticks with dishcloths. I can't confirm that, but it's a good story. It is true that in Richman’s next band, drummer D.Sharpe included in his repertoire shaking his brushes gently in the air.

All this is by way of a warning – Because her beauty… is a lovely, restrained album, rich in melody and texture, but you need to embrace the quirky Richman style to truly enjoy it. "Our party will be on the beach tonight" is as useful a song as any to practice on. A kind of depressed extension of the sentiments expressed in the happy-go-lucky "Parties in the USA" from I, Jonathan (1992), there are no parties in this song, just a wake of despair and gloom. It's not a mood that you'd normally associate with Richman, but the song is, amazingly, as moving as it is bathetic.

There are also a couple of songs in French and Spanish, in keeping with Richman's penchant for singing in other languages, as well as a gorgeously. In truth, if you were looking for a classic Richman album to start off your relationship with this odd, intelligent, sweet singer, you’d be better off with I, Jonathan or You Must ask the Heart (1995). But if you're already a Richman fan who owns the other 20 odd albums, this one is a precious addition to the canon.

And to further illustrate the weird genius that is Jonathan Richman, here's a quote from his record company's website: "Please note that Jonathan Richman does not have any direct involvement with the Vapor Records website and does not participate in the internet on any level."

Jonathan Richman is one of the greats of American music, regarded by many as being as important as the Velvet Underground, the band that inspired him to become a musician.


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