Virgin Records, V2227 1982
Postcard From Waterloo
Clear It Away
Words From The Front
Days On The Mountain
Tom Verlaine: Guitars, solos and vocals
Jimmy Ripp: Guitars
Fred Smith: Bass
Joe Vasta: Bass
Jay Dee Daugherty: Drums
Tommy Price: Drums
Allan Schwartzberg: Drums
Lene Lovich: Vocals and sax
Picture this: a trench somewhere in France in WW1. Mud. Mustard Gas. Or maybe the American Civil War. A letter home from Hell. At the centre of this album is "Words From The Front", which is Verlaine's most "conventional" (i.e. direct) song lyric yet. And this isn't the only departure for Verlaine who, on this album, starts to move sideways away from familiar sound. One of his great strengths has always been a reluctance/refusal to repeat himself or return to familar ground. His is a unique talent always looking for ways to express itself. This album seems more like a group of ideas sharing the same cover. There are two or three different approaches and no real sense of stylistic unity, as if the album was recorded at different times, in different moods/for different reasons.
"Present Arrived" is a playful and rather effective love song built on a repeated guitar figure. It doesn't go anywhere but it's a lovely opening for the album. Verlaine sounds as if he's enjoying himself and not taking things too seriously. "Postcard From Waterloo" is catchy and commercial and very pleasant, with some lovely relaxed guitar.
"True Story" introduces tension to the record - more an apology than a love song framed by some spooky, edgy guitars spinning off each other and putting us back in more familiar musical territory.
"Clear It Away" is completely stripped-down and marks the first step into a direction that would be explored on later albums. It floats along on a rhythm of busy bass, rim shots and hi-hat, punctuated by fractured guitar accents and what sounds like a cheap Cassio keyboard. Like the best dub music, it's full of space and opposition. The mannered vocals and cryptic lyrics just add to the sense of dislocation.This is the only song on the album with Fred Smith and Jay Dee Daugherty and maybe it's Verlaine's confidence in these two which make it work so well.
"Words From The Front" is dramatic and moving. Simple and stark in the form of a soldier writing home, a few phrases, spoken then sung, set the atmosphere, building to the scary cry of "Blind!" when the Jazzmaster lets loose with a solo that seems wrenched from the guitar, framing the anger and despair in the lyrics. The second break, over the fade, is full of confusion.
"Coming Apart" sounds exactly like that - tension and urgency building relentlessly to a short, dramatic guitar break.
"Days on the Mountain", featuring only Verlaine, Allan Schwartzberg on drums and Lene Lovich on sax is the other stand-out track on the album. Over a machine-like drum pattern, the song is split into three distinct sections and has a haunting, dream-like quality added to by Verlaine's vocals. The guitars are restrained and intricate. It doesn't seem to mean anything much but it's full of regret for other (better?) times and a sense of things ending.
Coming after "Dreamtime", "Words From The Front" seemed like a disappointment. It would have been a misjudgement to expect more of the same, even though, I guess, that's what I half-wanted. But it's a mistake to view each of Verlaine's albums in relation to the preceding one - each has to be seen in its own context. The continuity between them is expressed in the ever-exciting guitar work and the constant investigation and experimentation.