No.10 Marquee Moon • Television
(Elektra Records, 1977)
Formed in New York City in 1973 by guitarist and songwriter Tom Verlaine, guitarist Richard Lloyd and drummer Billy Ficca, Television's first recordings resulted in a one-off independent single, Little Johnny Jewel (parts 1 & 2) in 1975. After a period treading water, (rehearsing, gigging at CBGBs) they secured a record deal with Elektra, the hip Warner Brothers subsidiary, in late 1976 and their first album, Marquee Moon, was released in February 1977.
While virtually every other band on both sides of the Atlantic were bashing out crude two-minute blasts of riotous chaos, Television were one of the few who turned their backs on the prevailing vogue and took a decidedly rockist route instead. They only released two albums, this one and its underrated follow-up, Adventure (1978) before splitting-up acrimoniously - only to reform briefly in the early 1990's for one more shot at the cake.
The album kicks off with See No Evil, with spiralling guitars, a booming tom-tom and Tom Verlaine's anguished voice: 'I get your point, you're so sharp' is his sarcastic rejoinder to the unseen twat pissing him off. The choruses feature some close harmony backup vocals of some dexterity. These songs have been rehearsed into the ground.
Venus follows, its cool, detached stance recalling the Velvet Underground. 'How I fell' sings Tom, 'did you feel low?' asks the band in reply, 'I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo' Tom finishes, a worthy joke proving that he was quite capable of slipping in a joke or two alongside the serious stuff. An excellent cascading guitar riff doubled by crystalline cymbals colours the ends of the choruses.
High-to-low noirish lead guitar heralds Friction one of the more ordinary tracks included on this otherwise sharp collection. Lyrics are still strong though, thick with bizarre imagery: 'my eyes are like telescopes' Verlaine yelps before treating us to some rapacious guitar all over the fretboard.
The mammoth ten-minutes title track Marquee Moon starts with, and is built around, three distinct guitar motifs, the first playing a simple two-note pattern, the second a hammering arpeggio, the third a three-chord bass grouping. Breaking into the chorus, the band cruise coolly through a melange of pummelling snare-drum and insouciant lead guitar, always returning to those opening arrangements like a wandering child, back to mama.
'Well the cadillac, it pulled outa the graveyard, pulled up to me and they said get in- GET IN!" Verlaine spits, but the gothic imagery goes nowhere, disappointingly. The two-note hook returns and a series of guitar experiments are now unveiled over it in a gallery of different melodies and patterns, beautifully played and gradually rising in an atmosphere of apprehension. This gives way to stark drums and crude riffs, before the main arrangement inevitably returns. High drama, musically.
Ever wondered where Elvis Costello got that fantastic bass-part for his wonderful Watching The Detectives single of summer 1977? Then wonder no further- naughty Declan had heard and enjoyed this great album (issued Feb. 77), because this is exactly the same bass-riff on the next track, Elevation. Chiming, Byrds-like guitars dance around the vocal, there is a rather ordinary chorus and the lyric again doesn't seem to make much sense (probably Tom's weakest area) but hey! Who gives a damn when the performances are so atmospheric, the guitar-playing stunning?
The ghost of Lou Reed rears its head on Guiding Light, bringing to mind such gems as Jesus and I'm Set Free. Moving at a stately pace, with Verlaine delivering a soulful vocal before his glorious guitar solo appears.
Prove It was the single taken from the album, and my favourite Television track. Like Mark Knopfler's Private Investigations five years later, it deals with the dark goings-on in a private dick's life. Starting with a gentle overture, a plectrum is scraped over the guitar strings, harmonics chime in an arc, like Christmas bells and our story is underway: 'docks, clocks, a whisper woke him up, the smell of water would resume' mumbles Verlaine, Billy Ficca delicately embellishing the lyric by tip-tapping on the hi-hat. Drop-dead cool solos alternate with Verlaine's leading lyrics to form the choruses: 'Prove it! Just the facts, confidential'. We really do get the impression of time passing, frustration, and of fuck-all being achieved: 'this case that I've been working on so long - you're in so deep that you could write a book'. And from 2.35 to 3.25 on the digit-readout of your CD player youll find one of the most perfect guitar solos of the New Wave.
Torn Curtain ends the collection, with a rumbling floor-tom on the drumkit setting the scene, but the song is less an intense experience and more a laborious slug, dragging its charmless bulk for what seems like ten years. Repetitious and dull, the saving grace is predictably, Tom Verlaines prowling guitar.
Oh well, we can excuse Tom and the lads for one horror in an otherwise superb showcase of supreme material. Marquee Moon quickly became a critics favourite and a best-seller.