Whoa! This is Jonathan Richman's 22nd full-length release! And as with his earlier releases, this album once again provides beautifully crafted and lovely, earnest pop tunes that celebrate the small pleasures and joys of life and ache with romantic longing. Such songs have made him into the beloved cult figure and indie rock iconoclast he is today.
Now 53, Richman has been making albums since the mid-'70s, first with the Modern Lovers and then on his own. His songs are always painfully catchy and honest. He never worries about what's hip at the time, instead choosing to give the world his same pop sensibilities and intensely wise optimism.
Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love is 15 songs (including two hidden tracks) of spare arrangements and beautiful vocals from Richman. These songs are straightforward, warm and lovely. Many of the songs feature only Jonathan and his longtime percussionist, Tommy Larkins. The result is simultaneously Richman's most sophisticated and most simple work yet.
On "Vincent Van Gogh" and "Salvador Dali," Richman continues his tradition of praising his heroes in song, albeit somewhat self-indulgently. He makes the rare move into political subject matter on "Abu Jamal," (a plea to free famed political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal) and shows his love for other cultures on songs like "Cosi Veloce," (with its sprightly Mediterranean sound) and "On a du Soleil" (with its beautiful, gentle French lyrics and melody).
When he sings on the title track that "I used to wander all over town... waiting for love from someone. I was looking for affection, but I was looking in the wrong direction. What I needed was not so much to be loved, as to love," evoking the prayer of St. Francis, this is clearly the voice of someone who has matured into self-awareness yet who still remains hopelessly romantic.
While Richman retains his playful innocence, he deals with some serious issues (aging, regret and politics) for the first time here. This, arguably, is his first truly adult record. It's full of sophistication without cynicism, and it's the sound of someone who is happy with his life. Those things are indeed hard to come by. Richman is truly an original.