1880 Or So
Capitol Records (U.S.) No. SPRO-79456, Promo Only, 2000 copies made, released October, 1992
Shane, She Wrote This
Call Mr. Lee
No Glamour For Willi
Also: Capitol Records (Germany) 7 98396 1, 1992
Also: Capitol Records (U.K.) ESTU 2181, 1992
Tom Verlaine: Vocals, guitar,
Richard Lloyd: Guitar
Fred Smith: Bass, vocals, guitar
Billy Ficca: Drums
(Solos on "1880 or So," "In World", chorus of "Call Mr Lee", lead theme of "Rhyme",
slide guitar in "Beauty Trip": Richard Lloyd
Solos on others : Tom Verlaine.
Has any other band ever brought out its third album fourteen years after the second one? Television got back together again and this is the result. Could it possibly be as good as I wanted it to be? Well, no, it couldn't, but that's my fault, not theirs. What Television did, what they defined, was back in the 70s and since then there have been seven Verlaine albums and three by Lloyd and everyone has moved on. Or sideways; somewhere else, anyway. Whether or not this is a great Television album is perhaps not the issue; I mean, compared to what? It's a great album, but it's not a wonderful one.
Fourteen years is a long time so it's no real surprise that this sounds like the album that follows "The Wonder" and not "Adventure". Despite what they've both done in the meantime, there are no vocals from Lloyd here and all songs are Verlaine's (although the music is credited to the whole band). It's as though the whole tone of "Television" comes from Verlaine. Most of the material sounds as if it could have been on "Cover" or "The Wonder", but none of it sounds as if it could have been on "Field of Fire". Which rather suggests that, for Television to function, Lloyd has to compromise more than Verlaine does. Or, perhaps, that the vision was Verlaine's, but it doesn't work without Lloyd.
The playing throughout is committed and very tight, there are some great guitar moments and Verlaine is singing as well as ever. What is new for a Television album is the emphasis on the slowed-down, stretched-out, spacey song structures and half-spoken vocals that Verlaine had been exploring since "Words From the Front". And what is missing, sadly, is the sense of daring (danger, even) that ran through the first two albums.
"1880 or So" and "Shane.." are fine, with some nice picking on the former and a hint of what we were hoping for in the latter. But "In World" is where the album starts to get interesting: held back rather than laid back, a great vocal from Verlaine, solid bottom groove from Smith and Ficca and a sharp solo from Lloyd. It's a reminder that Television was always greater than the sum of its parts. As is "Call Mr Lee", where the relaxed, open feel of the verse snaps into double time guitar in the chorus. The drums are excellent, as is Lloyd's guitar break. "Beauty Trip" is sly and tricky, held together with urgent drums and thick, bottom bass, with some nice slide guitar from Lloyd. Verlaine's vocal is amused and amusing.
But the gem on "Television" for me is "Rhyme". A slow, languorous and seductive rhythm with echoing rim shots and Lloyd's guitar providing the theme line. It's open, full of space and has a great half-drawled vocal that suits it perfectly. It ends sooner than you expect and sooner than you'd like and it's the indication on the album of a direction that you might like Television to explore if they hadn't split again. This track and "This Tune" are where Verlaine really sounds as if he's doing exactly what he wants to be doing.
Verlaine saves the interesting guitars for "The Rocket" and "Mars", the two least polite tracks on the album. It's almost a relief to hear something that isn't so, well... slick, I guess. "Mars" is one of his Is-this-a-joke-or-what? pieces but he lets the guitar off the leash and shrieks over the top. It's a bit like (God forbid) "Yonki Time" but much better because the rest of the band sounds like they're in on the joke.
"Television" certainly doesn't disgrace the band that made the first two albums and shows that there was still a reason for these four people to make music together; it's full of talent, originality and skill. What I miss is the Vision; the disappointment is not that they didn't make "Marquee Moon" again (what would have been the point?) but that they didn't magic up its equivalent for the 90s. And yes, of course that's too much to ask for, but I couldn't help wanting it anyway.