O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth
By Chris McCann
You know it the first moment that you hear that nasally voice shouting “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” Jonathan Richman is going to be a big part of your life. Those cheap-sounding guitars and drums of “Roadrunner” stick in your head like burrs. And, over the years, Richman has given us some unforgettable songs — tunes like “Fender Stratocaster,” “Give Paris One More Chance,” and “Since She Started to Ride” — but, more importantly, he’s defined a unique rock-and-roll ethos. He’s never been afraid to discuss his vulnerabilities, speak his mind, and wear his heart firmly on his rolled-up sleeve. He’s made the case for sincerity, over and over again, yet with his newest album, O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth (2010), it easy to wonder if he’s gone to the same well one too many times.
The songs follow a typical late-Richman pattern with a combination of slow-picked classical guitar, idiosyncratic percussion by longtime collaborator Tommy Larkins, and Richman’s voice taking center stage. Tunes like the wistful title track, the funny “My Affected Accent,” and the requisite French ditty (“Sa Voix M’Atisse”) feel like old friends rehashing the same stories. They’re enjoyable, but you’ve heard them a few too many times to be all that excited anymore.
There are definitely some standouts, including the gorgeously romantic “Even Though I Know I Am the Wind and the Sun, I” and the warm, knowing “These Bodies That Came to Cavort.” Particularly fun is the sly “I Was the One She Came From,” which seems to wink, smile, and nod at you the way Richman does when he plays live. With its stripped-down feel, the record feels a lot like Richman’s live show. You get the feeling that he’s talking solely to you up there on the stage as he contorts his wiry body, inclines his head in your direction, and closes his eyes to hit a note that’s not exactly perfect, but certainly perfect enough for the frail and complicated human condition we all find ourselves in.
And perhaps listening to a Jonathan Richman record isn’t about parsing each lyric and interrogating each chord. Instead, maybe it’s enough to simply be along for the ride, which is an entirely inimitable journey. In the pretty “We’ll Be the Noise, We’ll Be the Scandal,” Richman croons “we’ll be the noise in the street/we won’t be disturbed by it, we’ll be it… come with us, you won’t regret it.” And in the end it’s true. O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth is not a great record — or even one of Richman’s more notable efforts — but it still contains enough low-key pleasures for fans to enjoy. And while that isn’t the most ringing endorsement, in these days of overhype, bombast, and endless self-promotion, you could do worse than to spend a quiet half-hour with the man who once asked only “to know that I’m important in your life.” – (6/10)
With a tour schedule that takes him up through California, arriving in Portland, Oregon on November 8, we expect Jonathan Richman to return to Seattle sometime this fall.