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Television

 Better than the appliance of the same name...

 

Introduction
Marquee Moon
Adventure
The Blow Up
Television

The Lineup Card 1977-1992

Tom Verlaine (guitar, vocals)

Richard Lloyd (guitar)

Fred Smith (bass)

Billy Ficca (drums)

As one of the original New York mid-70's CBGB groups along with Patti Smith and the Ramones, Television had a major role in the development of punk rock, and even more so in the idea of 'non-mainstream' rock. For if the Ramones were the archetypical punk rock band, all over the rock press as the saviors of good ol' stupid rock music, and Patti was held up by everyone as the preserver of art in rock (and by art I mean, you know, Noo Yawk boho poetry and unshaven armpits...not Steve Howe) and a pioneer for all other ugly women with awful voices to follow in her footsteps. But Television? Hell...Television was the first unknown great band, the first band where you thumb through your friend's record collection, pull out Marquee Moon, and say ' who the fuck are these junkie clowns?' For all the bands in the future that were never on Saturday Night Live, never made a video that came within 100 miles of MTV, whose albums top out at about #130 on the Billboard Hot 200, Television was your grandaddy. And not because they sucked...no way. This band is more of a Velvet Underground sort of phenomenon, everyone who heard this band went out and formed a band and wrapped guitar loosened strings around their necks and made their guitar sound like it was undergoing secret Nazi electro-torture. Craploads of 80's alt-rock bands count Television as an inspiration (and rightly so), and that's because they totally kicked ass. For an album.

Television was formed sometime in the early Dark Decade by Tom Verlaine (not his real name) and Richard Hell (but I think that one's genuine), two poetry nuts from Delaware. They were jamming fools, liked their 13th Floor Elevators and Nuggets when it was still highly uncool to do so if you weren't Patti Smith's guitar player, and started playing gigs around the Big Rotten Apple and in came second guitarist Richard Lloyd (not his real name....I mean Lloyd? That's a FIRST name, not a last one. Fools!) . These shows quickly morphed into a regular spot at CBGB's, where Television was an early favorite. They tried to record a demo with Brian Eno but no one bit, so Richard Hell left the band and was replaced by former Blondie bassist Fred Smith (also not his real name) because Television was going places and was going to be rich and famous, while Blondie was just wasting its time. The band got signed, recorded and released its debut Marquee Moon, and was seen to be headed for big things. But it didn't get there. Moon tanked in the US (it did better in England), the followup did worse, and that was it. Verlaine did a solo career, and so did the others, but no one cared much. They reformed in 1991, after they finally got some measure of respect for what they'd done, released an album and promptly called it another day. Now, despite a few scattered UK tours through the years, it seems like Television is done for good, killed by its own obscurity at a time when obscurity was a fatal disease with no known treatment. 1978 was a different time...

This band is known as the jammiest of all the O.P.'s, and Tom Verlaine as the Jerry Garcia of Punk. They weren't afraid of guitar solos, weren't afraid of their won instrumental talents (all of them were at least heads and shoulders above all other known punk musicians in terms of instrumental ability), weren't afraid of 10 minute song times...hell, this band wasn't punk at all, if you define punk in its usual sense. They don't even sound angry! But in its original meaning, this band is way out  there...thar ain't a commercial radio station on this here planet willing to play a Television song, because of the difficult guitars, the lack of reinforcing hooks, Verlaine's complaintive voice, and the strange lyrical imagery. Lyrics? Often dragged straight out of a nightmare happening right on the streets, they are. These days, Television may still strike some as being pretty left-field. They really eschew a lot of the louder/harder tendencies most rock bands pull towards, yet are pretty fucking far from sounding weak and soft. This band sounds like they look on the cover of Marquee Moon...strung out, paranoid, and jumpy. And cool as hell.

 


Marquee Moon - Elektra 1977

This album would've had a lot more impact if it had been released in 1975 like it should have been, along with Smith's Horses and the first Ramones record. But instead, it had to come out in early 1977, when the spectre of Punk Rock concept as spiky-haired, needle-nosed buzzsaw rock had sunk in too far. This was none of those things, but it was just about everything else. This album is excellent, and if you have any tolerance at all for guitar solos (but good, edgy, modal ones....there's not a blues scale to be found stinkin' up this thing anywhere) you'll dig this like Dig Dug. Just about every song on here is a highlight for me, and each one has a pretty strong hook. And the whole thing reminds me of a drunken night in downtown, a light rain and all the scumbags of the earth out rolling in their black Cadillacs with the windows all smoked up. There's a certain giddy quality to the opener, how he eeks out 'I see....I see no....I see no....ev-illl!!' like he's trying to convince himself that his eyes are fooling him, that he didn't just see the old lady across the street get jumped. I wouldn't say this song is a bummer, actually none of these songs are true downers, but a lot of them are on the edge of being unsettling. What exactly can you say to the dude-on-the-corner-with-his-firends-and-a-40 call and response of 'Venus De Milo'. 'Didja feel low? Uh-uh Huh? I fell right into the arms of Venus De Milo....' He's a street poet and he don't even know that he is such. If this song doesn't describe a drunken, desperate night out when you'd rather be doing anything else, I don't know what does. It's also about the happiest song on the record.

Now for some favorites...'Friction' was as close to a hit as the group ever had (in the UK only, wouldn't you know it? Those damned Americans were too busy scarfing down singles from Frampton Comes Right On His Bassist's Face). It's got this nasty groove thing that no one in their right mind would call funky, but as the lead guitar makes it's commentary on the proceedings, you might feel a bit like squeezing a head right into your fist as well. This song builds the tension, builds it more, and pulls the noose tight. I'm not even sure the tension even ever gets released until well into 'Marquee Moon', which is the hood ornament on the Rolls Royce, the tits on the supermodel, the main cheese that the entire album points to...and you know it's coming. It's brutal. First off is the poetry. What was a dull night out has turned in a bad way, and you're now stuck trying to figure out why your friend hasn't come back from his pissbreak in the alley. Yeah, the darkness doubled...

This song should be a case study in how to make a song 10 minutes long sound like its 4. The tempo changes on the chorus part...the breaking of the waves...the insistent bass groove (yes, funky this time) with the sparring lead guitar lines over the top. If, for some foul and bleak reason you don't feel the power and grace underpinning this song, you've got a screw loose that's somehow migrated and embedded itself deep up in your colon. Around minute 3 or 4 you may think the song's beginning to go nowhere...but you are just preparing for the good part. There's one last verse about the Cadillac in the graveyard that never ceases to give me chills. I'm bugging at the knife. And I ain't waiting, uh uh. I'm running. And the solos are chasing. These have got to be some of the most evocative solos I've heard outside of a Beatles or possibly Doors record, but they're different....follow those mood shifts from calm to slightly heightened in awareness to paranoid to simply panicking. Yes, he sounds sorta like Jerry Garcia, but I promise he's not going to play forever. He's going to play the perfect amount. If you get bored, listen to the drums and bass interplay...then prepare for the build to the skyscraping howl into the abyss to begin around minute 7:30...something so simple, but so powerful. Like a brick to the bridge of the nose. WHAM! And then....floating. Space. Shock. And then, we found ourselves back on the street. Back into the hell we know rather than the one we don't. What a song. What a band. Is it the moon or the marquee? You tell me.

The rest of the album is an exercise in picking up the shattered pieces left over from 'Marquee Moon'. 'Elevation' is the most safe sounding song on the record, but it's also the bleakest. Is he saying 'Elevation, don't go to my head!' or 'Television, don't go to my head!'? Makes a big difference depending on which one it is, doesn't it? On to 'Guiding Light', which is happy in a 'Sunday Morning' Velvet Underground kind of way. The ghost of Lou Reed is all over this record, but as far as I can tell he never put together an album's worth of material as good as this one in 30 years. It's just that Verlaine took what Lou was trying to get across and ran with it. Is 'Guiding Light' the worst song on the record? Probably. It's definitely the one that elicits the least response from me, but the piano-driven melody and arena rock solo have a lot of charm. And again, in case you get lost, listen to the bass. Fred Smith was a master for someone who you've never heard of...the whole band does a lot with very little. It's all remarkably economic. Those solos may go on, but they're busy with something, all the time. The composition of the goofy 'Prove It' probably has a lot to do with Patti Smith. It's a very Patti sort of song, but a lot less annoying than her stuff always threatens to be. Quite a big 50's influence going on here, and nothing wrong with that. I quite like the chorus part, and it never ceases to be interesting and tuneful. Possibly a big long on that one at over 5 minutes (most of the album hits or breaks the 5 minute mark), but they're only trying to prepare you for the Side 2 closer 'Torn Curtain', which clocks in at a cool 7 minutes. A very harrowing 7 minutes. If 'Marquee Moon' was like an adventure, this one is an ordeal. This is stumbling home as the sun comes up after a long night trying to paralyze yourself, trying not to throw up on the schoolkids running along, and remembering that you got so wasted last night because your girlfriend walked out. This time for good. Now this song is depressing...there's just no getting around it. You break down and cry uncontrollably, even though its the middle of the street and everyone is looking at you and trying to move as far away from you as possible. Do you even know where you are? Fucking gotta find my way home so I can lock myself in for a few days and not leave the bed...

This album is excellent. It has power, nuance, style, interesting melodies, great lyrics...and it rocks. If you ever find yourself craving something different, but not too weird, and have had just about enough of blues rock and heavy metal and the usual crap to last a lifetime, it's time for Marquee Moon.

Capn's Final Word:  I've never heard anything quite like this record. It's a singularity. There's familiar greatness, and new greatness. This is the second type.

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Tony Souza     Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: One of the best debut albums of that decade, easily. Tension is the word most used  for Television songs, but it's also the truest description. The guitar interplay of this band is fantastic and the title track is just as classic as Free Bird and Stairway to Heaven are. I agree -- "Marquee Moon" is the quickest 10-minute song you'll ever hear, and there's not one boring second in the whole tune. The rest are pretty good too. The problem with Televison, at least for me, is Verlaine's voice. It sucks. The music has to be exceptional to overcome his weak vocals, which sound like a cat being strangled. Luckily on this album, the music is exceptional most of the time. There was no way these guys were going to hit it big behind Verlaine's voice. Too quirky and quivery, and that's being nice. That being said, this album is still pretty damn good. 

 

Nathan Harper nator9999@comcast.net    Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Yup, this album sounds like nothing else. The stretch from 'See No Evil' to 'Elevation' is nearly flawless. 'Torn Curtain' kicks some mighty ass too. I have just one question: How in the world did this ever come to be classified as punk?

Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The title track has some of the greatest guitar playing ever laid to tape. It's absolutely extraordinary. That's my favorite song, but all of them are near-total winners. Verlaine's voice is difficult for me at times, which is one reason I don't put this on all the time, but when I do it almost never fails to blow me away.

 


Adventure - Elektra 1978

I couldn't help but be a little bit disappointed by my first exposure to this record. Even though I'd done my homework and read all the 'it's just not as good as the first one' comments, I was still a bit surprised at how conventional this album sounds in comparison with Marquee Moon. Songs are almost self-consciously simple, and the darkness and mood of the debut are missing wholesale. Even more of a crime, so is most of the interesting guitar work. I wouldn't say these guys were necessarily trying for a hit...they're too obtuse for such a crass act. But they for sure weren't feeling the same emotions that led them down such a passionate road in the past. If you go into this record thinking about Marquee Moon, you're lost from the first note. If you go in looking for a tuneful, well crafted album of skewed pop songs, you're going to have a great time. If you think less 'earth quaking paranoia' and more 'mid 80's REM', you're already halfway there. Adventure is a very cheery album, coming from such a morbid group of dudes, and is oddly free of art-moves. They just went into the studio with some tunes and tried their darndest to lift the heavy air that was left by their last album.

So if you must have your Television dark and shocking, take 'Foxhole' first, for it's as close as Adventure gets to gripping city drama. It's driven by an almost Cheap Trick-y feel (and this parallel isn't just drawn because I just bought Cheap Trick last night. I remember thinking this back when I first bought this album in 1998), and Verlaine's guitar is definitely marked 'lead' on this one. The solo is original and just different enough to keep you guessing, but I hear it growing from Neil Young this time around rather than San Francisco acid rock. It's also quite short for being one of the few memorable solos on the record. Forget any 10 minute nightmares...Adventure keeps everything very economic at less than 7 minutes per, and three of the songs have 3-minute times. This leads me to believe that some of these shorter songs are tossed off, like the lightweight 'Careful'. Follow that up with the thoughtful ballad (yes, a straight ballad) 'Carried Away', and you may believe Tom and Co. underwent some EST in their off year. He's coming off as sincere, which is helpful (he definitely never compromised his integrity, unlike a lot of his contemporaries), but sincere about being a sort of sop. It's probably a lot easier for later bands to draw from Adventure than to attempt to do what Marquee did, and as a result I'm able to hear a lot of this stuff in later work as varied as 80's alt-country (of course, that may just be the inventive and eerie slide guitar on 'The Fire') and even 90's U2, and tons of points in between. Or I may just be a total nutloaf. Whatever I may be, I'm also a slight fan of this record now that I've gotten over myself, and can recommend it to anybody, while MM is a bit rough for some people with wank allergies, short attention spans, and weak hearts. It's just simply inferior otherwise,in almost all respects, and I will forever be getting my Television fix from the black-clad scumbag of a debut over this one.

Capn's Final Word: A fine record that never fails to disappoint. Absolutely not crap, but not trying very hard for greatness either.

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The Blow Up - ROIR 1982


Totally worthwhile double-live archive release from 1978 shows just what possessed demons Television were live. They could play all their studio songs just like you hear them on the albums (or album, since only two songs from Adventure are played here: 'Foxhole' and 'Ain't That Nothin') except, if anything, better. They rip off entirely new solos on a lot of things, totally master the audience, prove that they're in equal control of silly rock songs like 'I Don't Care' as their apocalyptic epic 'Marquee Moon'. They do some covers, one of them being the 13th Floor Elevators 'Fire Engine', for some reason renamed 'The Blow Up' here, which rocks, 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' and the first ever paranoiac version of 'Satisfaction'.

The only thing holding you back from having your testicles crushed 100% by the sheer power of this performance is that it sounds like crap. It was recorded on a two track with the help of record critic Robert Christgau (probably helping by letting the recorder sit on his table and not spilling a drink on it) and sounds like the bootleg it was intended to be. Muffly, sometimes out of tune...sometimes inaudible. It's not the worst thing I've ever heard released legitimately, but it truly is a trying listen at times. But, since it's your only way to hear this band live....

Capn's Final Word: A seminal band playing at their peak. Just recorded in sub-optimal conditions in sub-optimal ways by sub-optimal people. You make the call.

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Television - Capitol 1992

Long after their flashbulb-brief moment in the sun as the most musician-ly of the CBGB's bands (and therefore of punk bands in general, back before the Brits co-opted what punk rock was supposed to mean), Television re-united for this out-of-the-blue 1992 disc, no doubt attempting, like so many other fringe artists (like, say, Patti Smith, to take one totally non-random example), to poke their heads out of the wilderness and connect with a public that finally might just possibly, coulda, woulda, maybe, I dunno embrace their hyper-original, musically genius, but commercially retarded compositional style. Now, the real hardcores already owned all of Tom Verlaine's solo albums (I don't, but I should), but outside of Best 10,000 Albums Of The Post-Black Plague Era lists appearing periodically in, um, periodicals (if, indeed, you call poorly-designed toilet paper substitutes like Spin 'periodicals'. I guess it comes out pretty much periodically, except when they're too busy sucking 'hipster' bands like Franz Ferdinand's and the Yeah Yeah Yeah's overrated genitals to actually write a magazine, so I'll call it one. But I still don't have to like it. Can you tell I don't? Does it show? Should I change my shirt to one that's not soaked through with bile?), Television has faded into the background noise of rock music history, one of those bands that people mention only in passing, saying 'Oh yeah! Marquee Moon's great. Sho nuff. The punk Grateful Dead. But how 'bout them Ramones?'

That sucks. I think Television no only should be held in higher regard than they are (having released only two albums in their prime doesn't help that, admittedly), but that their reunion album shouldn't have been ignored completely by all involved, not least of which includes Your Humble Reviewer Himself.  Yup. Marquee Moon being one of my, say, Top 10 favorite albums for about 15 years running, I sought out this album when it came out and reacted like Heidi Klum figuring out she's been set up on a blind date with Carrot Top. It didn't sound like Marquee Moon at all. Oh, the Fender madness guitar interplay circus was still in full display, but all of the thick, gooey tension and darkness of their debut was replaced by, well, a low-calorie version of same. It also failed completely to rock, not even making a half-assed attempt to do so. The final straw were Tom Verlaine's vocals, which sounded like he'd been spending too much time hanging out with Patti the Horse herself. I probably listened once, maybe, and decided a quick annulment of our vows was the most painless answer.

Nowadays, see, having a web site where I 'have' to review every album by an artist makes me go back and jump off that same old bridge and see if the water's still just as cold as it was (even if this review's coming almost three years after the Television page was written, but you can just shut up about that, naggy person who lives in my head. Yes, I KNOW I haven't fucking reviewed Magnification yet, goddamn it! And don't even get started on Frank Zappa again. I'll review that Eighties shit when my fucking kids graduate from high school, dig?). Oddly, after having this album reside on my hard drive for about two months now waiting for a review, I've probably had a good 20-25 spins of this album, mostly as a sort of easy escape hatch from whatever I was reviewing at the time, and each one was absolutely just as good as the last.  That crystalline-clean Fender guitar interplay? It's like a drug, an audial Valium that makes me forget all my cares, wiping clean all my Phobias and Ultimate Sins I've subjected myself to in the last few months in a small, efficient flurry of interesting songwriting and oddball, left-field logical pop hooks. But the main thing is the guitar interplay, that tone, that conversational thing which is a poem in and of itself. Unfair as it may be to compare albums released almost two decades apart from each other, there's not a single moment on here that would fit on Marquee Moon, but that's just fine with me. This album is its own little clean-tone self, and does just fine on its own legs, thank you. (I honestly don't remember what Adventure sounds like, but I'd be surprised if it's this good).  This thing absolutely comes from a 'pop' standpoint, quite unlike the more 'rock' oriented Moon, to the point that the straightforwardness of the rhythm work and cleanness of the guitars almost makes it sound like something an alt-country band might come up with. Verlaine's always got that sort of hitch in his voice anyway...is it really all that far from Nashville land? Lyrically, of course, it'd be a little weird for CMT. The Cadillacs and graveyards of 'Marquee Moon' and the 'arms of Venus De Milo' are supplanted by cops from Mars (is this a 'Rapture' reference, or what?) and 'Call Mr. Lee...he'll know the code is broken'.  There's a really refreshing combination of the known and unknown on Television - you might wonder what the fuck he's talking about (in a good way - Verlaine always sounds like he's talking about something), but are led on to the answer by the tone of whatever modal scale he's buzzing around at the time. 'Call Mr. Lee' and 'Mars' might also be the most 'suspenseful' songs on the album, and therefore the closest to the classic MM sound, but I think the best moments are elsewhere. 'Rhyme' is a near-ambient showcase of restraint, in which the wordsmithing is mostly left to the Telecaster.  'Beauty Trip' is absolutely charming rockabilly, something like what the Reverend Horton Heat probably stays up late at night trying to decipher. Lesser moments include the Sonic Youth-channeling, alt-structured 'Rocket' (as in Silver, I suppose?), which still packs some killer lines, and the obviously throwaway 'This Tune', both positioned at the end. Plus, the way Tom caterwauls 'That cop...that cop is FROM MAWAWAWRRRRRSSS!!' goes beyond amusing to nerve-shredding.

Capn's Final Word:  Hell, I'd usually tell you to steer clear of a zero-success reunion album by a bunch of guys who got permanently tripped up trying to follow up a classic twenty years back, but here I am - Television is a great record. Especially if you need a good sweeping out upstairs. This record makes for the greatest sonic pipe cleaner I've heard since An Evening Of Contemporary Sitar Music.

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Tony Souza     Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: Simply put, the first five songs are great and the last five songs are crap. The first five have great hooks, the usual great guitar interplay, and I can even stand Verlaine's voice on these.
"Rhyme" is a bueatiful song, and almost worth the price of admission alone. The last five are dull, hookless and don't do a thing for me at all and when the music falters, then Verlaine's voice is just too much to take. A good buy if you can find it cheap used.

 


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