Richard Lloyd Lurches Out

Source: The Village Voice, 1980

by Tom Carson

In essence, Television was Tom Verlaine's vision, but in practice, they often sounded less like his band than like a supergroup - a constant clash of warring tensions, held together only by a common intensity. Billy Ficca frequently slipped away from the 4/4 beat Verlaine demanded, into his own jazzy improvisations; Verlaine's self-propelled solos sometimes flew so high that the rest of the band vanished beneath him; Fred Smith's bass asserted a calm center where, as often as not, none existed. Then there was Richard Lloyd, the untutored country cousin to Verlaine's chilly aristocrat - gawkily passionate, the kid who always does everything wrong because he so badly wants to do it right, and yet so earnest that you can't help liking him. He was Verlaine's musical antipode as well - if Verlaine's solos strained for the ether, Lloyd's rhythm playing would mine underground - and more than anything else, he helped to keep one foot of Television firmly planted in rock and roll.

You always knew that Lloyd had more of a pop sensibility than anyone else in the group; his first solo album reveals just how deep, and how pop, that sensibility is. Alchemy's themes may be slight - puppy love throbbing with unrestrained teenage weltschmertz, melancholy caught up in its own beauty, all capped off by that great teenage fantasy, Dying Young - but Lloyd invests them with utter conviction. Formally, the album is pure power pop - layered with chiming rhythm guitars, shot though with banked synthesizers and keyboards, locked into high gear by driving, rock-hard percussion - but it's power pop so intense that it also becomes, surprisingly, a comic moving personal testament. It's not a work of great sophistication, like Verlaine's solo album, but it has a freshness, and a frank, unforced youthful vulnerability, that Verlaine's album lacks.

Lloyd is also a fervent romantic in the most sentimental AM radio tradition; he so goofily embroiled in these banal pop song situations, so desperately convinced that they're important, that he makes them important. He knows in his bones the great lesson of pop, which is that clichés aren't clichés if you happen to believe in them. He's nervous, edgy, tentative but determined, and the album's sound, lush and raw at the same time, backs up the naked emotionalism of his fragile, breathless vocals: each song builds into a little epic, which to Lloyd is exactly what it is. And yet the record is loose, lunging, even sloppy, like a good garage band. The tense Booker T. piano that drops neatly into a pause on "Blue and Grey", the Motown vocals that kick into the opening guitar riff on "Summer Rain", the dark, staccato synthesizer phrase that abruptly turns out to be the coda on "Should Have Known Better", all sound unplanned, providential. He's such an utterly instinctive artist that he couldn't pull off a calculated effect if he tried.

Like a latter-day Holden Caulfield, Lloyd never sounds more innocent than when he's self-consciously enamored of his own innocence; he's self-consciously nostalgic over it's passing. But the pathos, the melancholy, feel genuine; when he sings, "I guess there's a lot about a woman's ways/That I don't understand", he sounds so utterly forlorn that it's funny and touching all at once. Everywhere on the album you can hear tints and fragments of the Byrds, Herman's Hermits, the Ventures, the Grass Roots, the Beatles - lots of Beatles - and great 60's singles bands like the Box Tops; Alchemy is an album as suffused with yearning for rock and roll past as Johnny Thunders great anthem to wasted hopes, So Alone. But while Thunders is a genuine urban gutter rat, with a good 10 years of hard knocks under his belt, Lloyd is just starting out in the world, and his callowness makes the aching regret that pervades the record at once more poignant and more unsettling.

In the Johnny Thunders tradition Lloyd is also turning into a great fuckup for whom victory isn't worth having unless it's snatched from the jaws of total disaster. And yet I feel protective about him in a way that I don't about Johnny Thunders. One scene in particular, from his chaotic gig last week at Irving Plaza, stands out in my memory. The band had launched into "Blue and Grey", and by the end of the first verse, Lloyd, obviously in bad shape, had already forgotten the words. But after a moment's confusion, he covered up by tossing off a jagged, raging solo, made up from scratch, that was his best playing all night. The band finished the song, but Lloyd kept playing, oblivious. A few seconds later he looked up, realized the song was over, and with the aplomb of a very young Bowery bum, lurched into the next one.