Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, October 26, 2008
      ( 10/26/2008 04:47:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THERE WAS SOMETHING IN THAT LOOK OF YOURS, SOMETHING LIKE A PLAY ON WORDS." Of all the major bands to come out of the CBGBs Era, it was Television who remain arguably the least fully appreciated. Despite releasing two magnificent albums of guitar-driven art-punk (Marquee Moon and Adventure), the New York band never passed into the MTV circle of their peers in Talking Heads or Blondie, for instance. Perhaps lead guitarist/singer Tom Verlaine's introvert nature kept the band from pushing themselves as a commercial entity (no Big Suits for our boy!); perhaps it was their record label's unwillingness to push a singer whose crooning style was at least one yelp higher than early David Byrne. Whatever the reason, Television's inability to rise out of cultishness remains a great what-if? question for the band's admirers.

Once the group disbanded - and its dual guitarists Verlaine and Richard Lloyd went their separate solo ways - it was clear these guys would carry the mantle of Criminally Unappreciated Critic's Darlings in perpetuity (though Lloyd would etch out a nice little career doing guitarwork for the likes of Matthew Sweet and John Doe). For members of the cult, though, the recent reissue of two of Verlaine's post-Television releases, Dreamtime and Words from the Front (Collector's Choice Music), is good news indeed. The latter disc, in particular, has been too long M.I.A. Though some fans consider it the least successful of TV's albums, in a lot of ways it's his most consistently accessible.

But let's start with the earlier of the two new reissues, 1981's Dreamtime. Recorded with two different backing units (members of Patti Smith's group, the Dictators and, of course, Television among 'em), in part because a tape snafu ruined some of the earliest finished recordings, the disc sounds more cohesive than it perhaps has a right to do. Of the two reissues, it's closer to Television in sound - particularly in those moments when Verlaine guitar duels with future how-to music writer Ritchie Fliegler, who brought a bracing sixties sound to the party (I assume he's responsible for the Bryds-ian guitar on "Mr. Blur"). While some of the fun gets lost in a muddy Stones-y mix (perhaps to match the "Jumping Jack Flash" homage of "Future in Noise"?), the results remain inventively clamorous in all the right places. Even the goofy placeholder instrumental has its charms.

To these ears, though, the highlights are those tracks which move furthest away from his old band: "Always," with its ringing chorus and Talking Heads-like admonition to "Think it over," and the concluding slow number, "Mary Marie," which deserves to be recovered by some thoughtful band of modern alt-rockers. With its hints of early r-'n'-b balladeering, it serves as a good lead-in to Verlaine's next solo release, Words from the Front. Produced by Jimmy Rip and featuring members of new wave r-'n'-b-er Mink DeVille's band, the disc is a polarizing one for many of Verlaine's fans, though to these ears, it surpasses Dreamtime in more than one track.

Admittedly, the disc sounds less "underground" than its predecessor, less like something conjured up in the middle of the night within a dim studio. Soon as the opener, "Present Arrived," kicks in, it becomes obvious that this will be a sonically friendlier album (much as Television's Adventure was to debut release, Marquee Moon), though a careful listen to Verlaine's always well-crafted lyrics reveals an ongoing theme of separation and loss throughout the disc. "Postcard from Waterloo," arguably one of the impeccably constructed pop songs in the singer/guitarist's repertoire, tells the tale. The romantic story of a couple about to separate (perhaps the war-torn narrator of "Words from the Front"?), it hangs on a mournful guitar line and an exquisite chorus. Another song that deserves to be reworked by some smart pop-rocker, methinks.

If the bulk of Words sounds commercially constructed ("Coming Apart" even possesses the rockin' rhythms of a Steve Miller track), the album's finish, "Days on the Mountain," throws a curve at the listener. A throwback to the days of extended psychedelic jams, it's embellished with some of Verlaine's most Jerry Garcia-esque serpentine improvising – and the sudden injection of a quasi-Oriental motif that adds to its echoing mystery. It's a surprisingly trippy move but an effective one, the guitarist taking his listeners on an ascent to the sublime. Though most of his admirers knew he was capable of reaching musical divinity, few of 'em would've wagered that it'd sound quite like this.


# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:

A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page

Ask for These Fine Cultural Blogs & Journals by Name!

aaronneathery.com News
Aaron Neathery

American Sideshow Blow-Off
Marc Hartzman

Arf Lovers
Craig Yoe

Sean T. Collins

Barbers Blog
Wilson Barbers

The Bastard Machine
Tim Goodman

The Beat
Heidi MacDonald

Kevin Church

Big Fat Blog
Paul McAleer

Big Mouth Types Again
Evan Dorkin

Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag

Blog This, Pal!
Gordon Dymowski

Rod Lott

Cartoon Brew
Amid Amidi & Jerry Beck

Cartoon Web Log!
Daryl Cagle

Clea's Cave
Juana Moore-Overmyer

Collected Editions

The Comics Curmudgeon
Josh Fruhlinger

The Comics Reporter
Tom Spurgeon

Christopher Butcher

Comics Waiting Room
Marc Mason

Comics Worth Reading
Johanna Draper Carlson

a dragon dancing with the Buddha
Ben Varkentine


Electromatic Radio
Matt Appleyard Aaron Neathery


Eye of the Goof
Mr. Bali Hai

Fred Sez
Fred Hembeck

Greenbriar Picture Shows
John McElwee

The Groovy Age of Horror
Curt Purcell

The Hooded Utilitarian
Noah Berlatsky

Hooray for Captain Spaulding
Daniel Frank

The Horn Section

The House Next Door
Matt Zoller Seitz

Howling Curmudgeons
Greg Morrow & Friends

The Hurting
Tim O'Neil

I Am A Child of Television
Brent McKee

I Am NOT the Beastmaster
Marc Singer

In Sequence
Teresa Ortega

Innocent Bystander
Gary Sassaman

Irresponsible Pictures

Jog - The Blog
Joe McCulloch

The Johnny Bacardi Show
David Allen Jones

Dirk Deppey

King's Chronicles
Paul Dini

Let's You And Him Fight
One of the Jones Boys

Mah Two Cents
Tony Collett


Michael's Movie Palace

Nat's TV
Nat Gertler

Ned Sonntag


News from ME
Mark Evanier

No Rock&Roll Fun
Simon B

Omega Channel
Matt Bradshaw

Pen-Elayne on the Web
Elayne Riggs

Peter David

Dorian White

Progressive Ruin
Mike Sterling

Punk Rock Graffiti
Cindy Johnson & Autumn Meredith

Revoltin' Developments
Ken Cuperus

Marc Bernardin

Matt Hinrichs

Self-Styled Siren

Spatula Forum
Nik Dirga

Tales from the Longbox
Chris Mosby


The Third Banana
Aaron Neathery & Friends

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

Toner Mishap
B2 et al

Trusty Plinko Stick
Bill Doughty

TV Barn
Aaron Barnhart et al

Unqualified Offerings
Jim Henley

Various And Sundry
Augie De Blieck

Video WatchBlog
Tim Lucas

When Fangirls Attack
Kalinara & Ragnell

X-Ray Spex
Will Pfeifer

Yet Another Comics Blog
Dave Carter

A Brief Political Disclaimer:

If this blog does not discuss a specific political issue or event, it is not because this writer finds said event politically inconvenient to acknowledge - it's simply because he's scatterbrained and irresponsible.

My Token List of Poli-Blogs:

Roy Edroso


Jane Hamsher

James Wolcott

Lance Mannion

The Moderate Voice
Joe Gandelman


Amanda Marcotte & Friends

The Sideshow
Avedon Carol

Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo

Talking Points Memo
Joshua Micah Marshall

This Modern World
Tom Tomorrow

Welcome to Shakesville
Melissa McEwan & Friends

Blogcritics: news and reviews
Site Feed

Powered by Blogger

    follow me on Twitter