A record deemed so momentous they made the review into a cover story / inside spread
New Musical Express, February 1977
by Nick Kent
Cut the crap, junior, he sez and put the hyperbole on ice.
I concur thus.
Sometimes it takes but one record----one cocksure magical statement, to cold cock all the crapola and all purpose wheat chaff mix'n'match, to set the whole schmear straight and get the current state of play down, down, down, to stand or fall in one dignified granite hard focus.
Such statements are precious indeed. 'Marquee Moon' the first album from Tom Verlaine's Television however is one: a 24 carat inspired work of pure genius, a record finely in tune and sublimely arranged with a whole new slant on dynamics, centered around a totally invigorating passionate application to the vision of mastermind Tom Verlaine.
Forget all the New York minimalist punk stuff. Television's music is the total antithesis, and to call them punk rock is rather like describing Dostoevsky a short story writer.
Television's music is remarkably sophisticated, unworthy of even being paralleled with that of the original Velvet Underground whose combined instrumental finesse was practically a joke compared to what Verlaine and Company are cooking up here.
Each song is tirelessly conceived and arranged for maximum impact, the point where decent parallels really need to be, made with the very, very best.
Dylan and early Love spring to mind, the Byrds cataclysmic 'Eight Miles High' period, a soupcon even of the Doors and Captain Beefheart and their mondo predilections, plus the very cream of those psychedelic punk bands that only Lenny Kaye knows about.
Above all though, the sound belongs most undoubtedly to Television, and the appearance of 'Marquee Moon' at a time when rock is so helplessly lost within the labyrinth of its very own inconsequentiality. Where actual musical content has come to take a backseat to 'attitude' and all that word is supposed to signify, is to these ears little short of revolutionary.
My opening gambit about the album providing a real focus for the current state of rock, bears a relevance simply because here at last is a band whose vision is centered quite rigidly within their music----not, say, in some half-baked notion of political manifesto mongery with that trusty, thoroughly reactionary three chord backdrop to keep the whole scam buoyant.
Verlaine's appearance is simply as exciting as any other innovator's to the rock sphere---like Hendrix, Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan---and yes, Christ knows I'm tossing up some true-blue heavies here, but goddamnit I refuse to repent because the talents of Verlaine's Television just damn excites me so much.
To the facts then---recorded in A&R studios, New York, produced by Andy Johns---the album lasts roughly three quarters of an hour and contains eight songs, several of which have been recorded in demo form at least twice before, and have been performed live innumerable times.
The wait has been worthwhile because the refining process instigated by some hesitant non-recording contract months has sculpted the songs into masterpieces that are here, present for all to experience.
Side one makes no bones about making its presence felt, kicking off with the full-bodied thrust of 'See No Evil'. Guitars, bass and drums are strung together fitting tight as a glove, clenched into a fist punching metal rivets of sound with the same manic abandon that typified the elegant ferocity of Love's early drive.
There is real passion here, no half-baked metal cut and thrust---each beat reverberates to the base of the skull, with Verlaine's voice mixed perfectly into the grain of the rhythm. The chorus/climax is irresistible anyway---Verlaine crooning, "I understand all destructive urges and it seems so perfect . . . I see . . . I see . . . no e-v-i-i-l-l."
The next song is truly something else---'Venus de Milo'. It 's simply one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard (the only other parallel to it is Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man') a vignette of sorts, dealing with a dream-like quasi-hallucinogenic state of epiphany.
"You know it's like some new kind of drug, my senses are sharp and my hands are like gloves. Broadway looks so medieval, it seems to flap like little pages . . . I fell sideways laughing, with a friend from many stages."
'Friction' is probably the most readily accessible track from this album, simply because with its cutting anarchic quasi-Velvets feel, plus (all important) Verlaine's most pungent methedrine guitar fretboard slaughter. Here it'll represent the kind of thing all those weaned on the hype and legend, without hearing one note from Television, will be expecting.
The song has vicious instrumentation and a perfect climax which has Verlaine vengefully spelling out the title F-R-I-C-T-I-O-N, slashing his guitar for punctuation.
The album's title track closes side the first side. Conceived at a time when rock tracks lasting over ten minutes are somewhere sunk deep below the subterranean depths of contempt, 'Marquee Moon' is as riveting a piece of music as I've heard since the halcyon days of . . . O'h, God knows, too many years have elapsed.
Everything about this piece is startling, built around Verlaine's steely runs and meshed with Lloyd's intoxicating counterpoints. Slowly a story unfolds---a typically surreal Verlaine ghost story involving a Cadillac pulling up to a grave yard and the disembodied arms beckoning the singer to get in while "Lightning struck itself", and various twilight rejects from 'King Lear' (that last bit's my own fancy, by the way), babbling crazy retorts to equally crazy questions.
The lyrics as a scenario for the music are utterly compelling. It transforms from a strident two chord construction to a breathtakingly beautiful chord progression, which acts as a motif/climax for the narrative as the song ends with a majestic chord pattern.
'Marquee Moon' is the perfect place to draw attention to the band's musical assets. Individually each player in Television is superb---Verlaine's guitar solos are sublime; they are in short a potential total redefinition of the electric guitar. As it is, Verlaine's solo constructions/coltraneisms are always unconventional, forever delving into new areas, never satisfied with referring back to formulas, simply he can solo without ever losing the point.
Richard Lloyd is a good foil for Verlaine. Another fine musician, his more fluid conventional pitching and manic rhythm work is the perfect complimentary force, and his contribution demands to be recognized for the power it possesses.
Fred Smith on bass is an excellent solid player; he holds down and controls the undertow of the music with great skill. His understanding of what is required of from him is a real pleasure to listen to.
Billy Ficca, a delicate but fine drummer, using every portion of his kit to colour and embellish. I can only express a quiet awe at his inventiveness.
Individual accolades apart, the band's main clout lays in their ability to function as one and perhaps a good demonstration of this can be found in 'Elevation', side two's opening gambit. Layer upon layer of gentle boulevard guitar makes itself manifest, until Lloyd holds the finger-picked melody together and Verlaine sings in that truly incisive style of his.
The song again is beautiful, proudly contagious with a chorus that lodges itself in your subconscious like a bullet in the skull---"Elevation don't go to my head", repeated thrice until on the third line a latent ghost-like voice transmutes, "Elevation" into "Television". Guitars cascade in and out of the mix so perfectly.
'Guiding Light' is reflective, stridently poetic---a hymn for aesthetes ---shimmering with lovely piano lines played by Verlaine.
'Prove It', the following track is a potential single. Verlaine spits and seats his command on the vocal---"This case . . . this case I've been working on so long . . . so long." And of course that chorus which I still can't hesitate quoting---"Prove it . . . Just the facts . . . Confidential."
Final song on the album is 'Torn Curtain'. A song of grievous circumstances (as with many of Verlaine's lyrics), the facts---cause and effect---remain enigmatically sheltered from the listener. The structure is indeed strange, with Verlaine's vocals at their most yearning. The song is absolutely compelling and I can't think of a single number written in the rock idiom that I could possibly compare it to.
So THAT'S IT. 'Marquee Moon', a work of real genius suffice to say---O'h listen it's released on Elektra and reminds me of just how great that label used to be. I mean this is Elektra's finest record along with 'Strange Days'. Tom Verlaine is probably the single most important songwriter/guitarist of his kind since Syd Barrett.
If this review needs to state anything in big bold, black type it's simply this: 'Marquee Moon' is an album for everyone, whatever their musical creeds and/or quirks. Don't let anyone put you off with jive turkey terms like 'avante-guard' or 'New York psychos'.
This music is passionate, full blooded, dazzlingly well crafted, brilliantly conceived and totally accessible to anyone who (like myself) has been yearning for a band with the vision to break on through into new dimensions of sonic overdrive and the sheer ability to back it up.
Tom Verlaine and Television are out there hanging fire and cruising like meteors above all the three chord wonder boys.
Prove it? They've already done it; all you have to do is listen to the album, and levitate along with it.
They are one band in a million, the songs are some of the greatest ever. The album is 'Marquee Moon'.