Let's take it as read that anyone who was browsing through Splendid, and who subsequently clicked through to read this review, probably has some idea of the amazing career and remarkable talent of Mr. Jonathan Richman. Further, anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the man's career over the past two decades must be well aware that, for the most part, he has consistently produced albums with a similar sound, thematic structure and range of subject matter. Sure, there have been occasional forays into full-band arrangements, as well as horn lines and even backup singers, but the core Jonathan Richman experience has long been the sound of an acoustic (or occasionally electric) guitar, a minimal drum kit and that inimitable voice.
The only question, then, in evaluating Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love, is the degree to which Jon and Tommy's attempt to convey the proper degree of Richmanosity is successful. That is, does Dr. Richman deliver the goods?
Never fear. Not So Much is 100ccs of pure JR genius delivered straight to your central nervous system. From laudatory elegies to distinguished late painters, to an assortment of foreign-language stunners, to an elegant (if a bit naive) paean to Mumia Abu Jamal, magic is liberally scattered throughout the album.
Funnily enough, the leadoff title track may also be the album's weakest cut. While the theme, a classic Richman roam-around-town-and-discover-something-about-myself concept, is solid, the execution never clicks in quite the way that the man's other self-discovery songs have. On the other hand, we have tracks like "He Gave Us The Wine To Taste It", another classic entry in the quit-being-cool-and-enjoy-life genre, as well as "My Baby Love Love Loves Me", a winner in the I'm-so-glad-to-be-in-love-again genre (equalling such brilliant moments past as "When She Kisses Me").
Perhaps the most surprising element, in sheer proportion, is the foreign-language material. While Richman has been known to sing an entire album in Spanish, it is unusual for more than a couple of the tracks on a non-thematic album to be rendered in another tongue. Not So Much features four such tracks, in three different languages. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you; "Cosi Veloce" in particular is one of the album's finest moments.
The short version, then, would be that you need Not So Much for all of the reasons that you ever needed to get back in touch with the perfect truth, joy and innocence that is Richman's metier. He's simply essential for anyone over the age of twelve who needs a periodic reminder of what life was like when the world's possibilities felt truly limitless.