New Album, 'Cover' From Tom Verlaine

New York Times, Dec 19, 1984

by Robert Palmer

Rock performers who write their own songs and have put in time mastering their craft often find themselves bored and short on ideas after spending 5 or 10 years making records, touring, making another record, and going off on another tour, in an apparently endless and often numbing cycle. Tom Verlaine, who has made only four albums since the breakup of his pioneering New Wave band Television, in 1978, doesn't have this problem. "I can't remember ever being *really* bored," Mr. Verlaine said the other day, having returned to New York from an extended European sojourn to prepare for two performances at the Ritz tomorrow and Friday. "I find life very interesting, actually. I think some other musicians are always looking for something to give them an idea, but I find I have to reject 90 percent of my ideas because they don't live up to some self-imposed standard. That's also why I don't make a record once a year. I throw so many things out, and I have to have something to say."

Mr. Verlaine's new album, 'Cover'(Warner Brothers), his first since 1982's "Words From The Front", is his strongest, most consistent record since the glory days of Television. That band attracted a rapt following in the mid-70s by playing New York clubs like CBGBs along-side contemporaries such as Blondie, Talking Heads and especially Patti Smith, the punk poetess who gave Mr. Verlaine his first exposure on records. While other bands dealt in concise song structures and abrasive energy, Television often jammed for 10 or 20 minutes at a stretch, led by Mr. Verlaine's lyrical curling guitar lines. The guitar sound of Mr. Verlaine and Richard Lloyd developed together in Television has inspired an entire generation of young bands, especially in Britain, where Mr. Verlaine spent much of 1984. But Mr. Verlaine himself has moved on. The songs on 'Cover' are compressed evocations of place and mood, laced with luminous, interlocking guitar parts that seem to float in space and only briefly erupt into anything that could be called a solo.

Though the songs on "Cover" telegraph vivid pictorial imagery, they also have a shimmering, dream-like quality. Like many of his favorite authors and poets -- Arthur Rimbaud, Blaise Cendars, the Persian Sufi poet Rumi -- Mr. Verlaine closely monitors his dreams. "I think keeping a dream record is a really worthwhile pursuit," he said. "The other night I was reading a dream I had in 1983, and I was astounded because what it had in it was something that came true, in a very real sense, a week ago. Sometimes I hear melodies, rhythms and things in my dreams, really wild stuff that the conscious mind would never have come up with. I wake up and hum it into a tape recorder." Some of the music on 'Cover' suggests a quieter sort of vision. "I hear the raindrops splashing on the leaves," he sings in 'O Foolish Heart,' a song he said he imagined in a Southern setting. "And the tapping of a branch on my windowpane, somehow is ravishing my sense of time ..." Displays of heroic guitar prowess would be out of place on a record like this, but Mr. Verlaine's tapestry of interwoven guitar motifs is equally entralling in its more introspective way. There are guitar sounds on 'Cover' that simply haven't been heard before, sounds no synthesizer is ever likely to produce. Mr. Verlaine went to England earlier this year to mix the record, and found himself staying. "I found it very easy to write there, I found I was getting a lot done," he noted. "A guy I met who's become my manager asked me to produce a new band, the Room, and when the rumor that I was producing got around over there, I got barraged with tapes. So I ended up staying for a while, got offered a tour, which I did, and then I spent six weeks in Paris, which I liked an awful lot. One thing this whole experience made me want to do was to develop melody a lot more on the new record, in terms of the guitar parts, as well as the vocals. There is such a history of melody in Europe. I'm going to try to spend around six months of every year there."

Mr. Verlaine's shows at the Ritz this week will feature three longtime associates from the New York scene, all of whom play on 'Cover': the bassist Fred Smith, originally with Television; the drummer Day Dee Daugherty, from the original Patti Smith Group; and the imaginative, resourceful guitarist Jimmy Ripp. And what of his next album? "Well," he said, "it might have more guitar solos. I know it will be different."