"Tom Verlaine Without TV: The New Season"
NEW YORK ROCKER, #22, September 1979
by Roy Trakin
The break-up of a band, in the wake of our experience with the Beatles and countless others, should
no longer be a traumatic event, but there certainly was cause for anguish among local fans when
Television decided to call it a day, dissolving the matchless dueling guitars of Richard Lloyd and
Tom Verlaine. In the wake of "Adventure's" dreamy insularity, it should come as no surprise to the
observant that there was room for only a solitary ego in Mr. Verlaine's increasingly obsessive
vision. That "Tom Verlaine", the initial solo effort by Television's erstwhile mentor, should be
such a satisfying album after "Adventure's" apparent warning signs, is a tribute to Verlaine, who
retreated into semi-seclusion during this past year, hard at work putting his LP together.|
Verlaine employs different musicians on the various tracks, but the result is unremittingly personal - this is not a your typical post-hippie singer/songwriter with session band support. In fact, "Tom Verlaine" is a more accomplished Television album than the band ever got around to creating - certainly up to the considerable quality of their altogether startling debut, "Marquee Moon". The album opens with a song Television debuted at their farewell Bottom Line performances last July when they went out in a blaze of glory, "The Grip of Love". Coolly sensual with a razor- sharp double-edge of wit, the song builds on some classic, pulsating Television riffs into a jangly love/hate lament which immediately cuts to ribbons anything on the "Adventure" LP. Verlaine's multiple, overdubbed guitar parts eliminate Lloyd's upper-register tension yet manage to successfully thicken the texture and enrich the sound.
"Souvenir From A Dream" is a marvelous set-piece with some vivid Verlaine conceits and thoroughly human jocularity. Some guy loses his way on a dark road and ends up in Plattsburg as Verlaine taunts, "Mister, you've come the wrong way."
"Kingdom Come" follows, though this is not the old Television number, but rather a redneck prison chain-gang saga in which T.V. stars as the long-suffering laborer "breaking these rocks, until the kingdom come". Tom parodies his well-known asceticism here with some hilarious lines like "I'm a slave of the burning rain [sic]." It's neo-psychedelic revival time, kids, get out those purple tie-dyes!
The final two cuts on side one show Verlaine simultaneously at his most playful and most down-to- earth. "Mr. Bingo" sports the blunt lyric, "Thank you, Mr. Bingo, fuck you very much", and the perhaps self-confessional, "I know you're saying something, Lord, I don't know what." "Mr. Bingo" is a lose-limbed late-night romp in which Verlaine relaxes a bit to fine advantage. "Yonki Time" is an exercise in general cutting-up and clever punning the likes of which we haven't heard from Verlaine since his "Little Johnny Jewel" period. Revelatory lyrics: "I better take out the garbage/We-l-l-l why not?" Indeed, Verlaine's sense of humor has often been underrated or misunderstood, but here his unique deadpan wit comes across in all its colorful eccentricity.
The second side is hardly a let-down. "Flash Lightning" exhibits Tom Verlaine's constantly improving control of vocals, as each inflection or stress adds nuance to the overall performance. Verlaine sings, "I was torn out by the roots/ And left out to dry/ My head was spinning/ My oh my" with such stone-faced woe that you simply have to crack up. "Flash Lightning", like many of Verlaine's tunes, is about being touched by an other-worldly experience - it juxtaposes the singer's passivity with a pan-sexual, dynamic view of nature. "Red Leaves" is a paean to seeing the world through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, with the legendary Deerfrance supplying some winning "la-de-di's".
"Last Night" is a no-holds-barred production similar to "Adventure's" "Dream's Dream", building like Brian De Palma's "Obsession" into a vertigo-inducing, surrealistic trip through the eye of a hallucination with a dramatic urgency that propels the seemingly plotless narrative along breathlessly. Verlaine bleats to the heavens, "Last night a moon came/ She replaced my eyes/ She says your plans undermine you". A seemless work, "Last Night" flows into a classic ditty from Television's repertoire, the hypo-romantic "Breaking In My Heart", which closes the album in suitably raucous fashion.
All told, "Tom Verlaine", the album, does not really miss the strong presence of Richard Lloyd as much as Tom Verlaine, the live performer, may. In any case, for me, the biggest loss is the telescopic, unique drumming abilities of Billy Ficca, who has since gone on to play with the tight if unoriginal fusion band formed by a French chanteuse named Sapho. Lloyd, whose remarks to Ira Kaplan in last month's "New York Rocker" on his excellent rapport with Elektra seemed to mock Verlaine's own antagonism toward the music industry, is wrapping up his own debut album at Bearsville Studio under the capable guidance of Mike Young, who produced the Cars' demos which garnered them a record deal. Affable and underrated bassist Fred Smith hasn't decided quite yet where he's headed as of yet - he's played on both Verlaine's and Lloyd's albums and apparently intends to tour with Verlaine. Where he ends up is anybody's guess.