Friday, May 15, 2020

Television Marquee Moon

I was kinda surprised that I hadn't written about this great album earlier - even the expanded CD - but I assume that it was a combination of always having the record and assuming that everyone in the world has heard this by now. But, what the heck, I don't have anything new right now...

I picked this up when it was first released as part of my purchases of anything coming out of the NY punk scene. I had read about the group, of course, but hadn't heard anything and was pretty surprised when I first put it on. There were none of the loud guitars that were prominent in most of the other punk bands - looking at the picture, they were sitting down (!) playing oddball Fenders through little combo amps, instead of Gibsons through Marshalls! - and they were incredible musicians with intelligent, intricately crafted songs. Certainly not a typical punk group! Naturally, I loved it for its uniqueness and for the amazing music and still listen to this regularly to this day.

The subtle and amazing interplay between guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd jump out immediately in "See No Evil", while Fred Smith (bass) and Billy Ficca (drums) drive and accent one of their more upbeat rockers. Named after the famed French poet, Verlaine's lyrics are poetic'n'clever with funny jabs like "I get your point, you're so sharp" and, in the following number, his classic arty/pretentious/hip line "I fell into the arms of Venus de Milo" along with his inside joke (that I actually got at the time, from reading so much about the scene) "Ritchie said, 'hey man, let's dress up like cops, think of what we could do', but something said "you better not". I was never sure which solos were Tom's and which were Richard's, but there some nicely sensitive volume control work on this one. More volume controlled leads spar with biting riffs and odd chords in "Friction" - the song is composed of guitar interplay, off-kilter chording offset by supremely cleverly odd leads and Tom's juvenile joke in the otherwise seemingly serious number when he intones "you complain of my DIC-tion". Dig the dynamically punctuated spelling towards the end, as well. In the legendary title track, the guitars truly intertwine in a way that is normally unheard and somehow the rhythm section locks in a strong groove behind it, making a truly gorgeous number with an amazing opening line "I remember how the darkness doubled, I recall lightning struck itself". The instrumental section is a true work of art and while there was definitely some improvisation, it is beautifully composed and the dynamic growth is fairly stunning, with an incredibly tight build up to a climax that bring chills every time I hear it which then dissolves into "birds" chirping and a refrain of the verse.

After that magnificent ending to side one of the vinyl, "Elevation" (I always took that as a homage to the 13th Floor Elevators, who they obviously dug and covered) opens side two on a bit mellower level, but still with quite intriguing, somewhat spastic accents on the choruses and more oddball guitar lines and a fairly soaring solo. "Guiding Light" is a truly pretty ballad backing a lovely poem, while "Prove It" opens lightly, as well, with a stronger chorus accented by fluidly melodic guitar licks and a nicely composed solo, and "Torn Curtain" is a pleasantly plodding bit of Hitchcock-ian noir - moody as hell, it feels like a fog-bound, storm-ridden night with crying guitars.

The expanded CD, besides including a terrific booklet with lots of info, gives us both sides of the "Little Johnny Jewel" single, a lengthy, strange, slow epic with lots of open space'n'noodling guitars, as well as pretty significantly different takes of "See No Evil", "Friction" and "Marquee Moon" - all pretty wild listening after hearing the originals for 40 or so years - and a fairly uninspired "Untitled Instrumental" that unsurprisingly didn't amount to anything else.

Truly a classic record in every sense - a must-have album!