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Class ?

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Punk/Grunge, Art Rock
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: --------



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Television fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Television fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1977

Okay... so this might be the best punk album of all time, after all. Except that - it isn't really a punk album, at least if we think that "punk music" or "punk rock" begins with the likes of the Sex Pistols or the Clash or even the Ramones. No; stylistically this stuff is far closer to Patti Smith, which isn't all that surprising, seeing as how Television were resident at the same CBGB location as Patti and were closely related (Tom Verlaine even played guitar as a guest star on Horses), and which is also extremely ironic seeing as how it's become the latest trend to praise Television to the sky and put Patti Smith into the dirt. No way, buddy. Anybody who has no warm feelings towards Patti Smith whatsoever while worshipping Television is deceiving either his audience or himself.

Me, I don't have anything in particular against Patti Smith, so it's no wonder Television appeal to me even more. Marquee Moon takes a while to get into, and this 'while' depends on whether you're actually prepared for it beforehand or no. Because - and this is Verlaine and company's obvious flaw - the band never really invents anything of its own. No, the main advantage of this album is that it assembles together a lot of diverse elements previously thought of by others; however, these are elements that hadn't yet been put together before, and that's why the record is responsible for its 'minor revolution'. What are these elements? Tom Verlaine's gnarly, nasal singing voice is taken directly from Patti Smith (or maybe they were just influencing each other), but, of course, essentially it dates back to Lou Reed's style. The urbanistic, impressionistic lyrics are beat poetry, of the likes of Leonard Cohen, only a little less smart (actually, I don't pay attention to the lyrics at all - as in the case of Patti Smith, the lyrics are the last thing that actually matters when you deal with this kind of music). The rhythm section plays the usual type of garage rock that the CBGB scene was soaked in.

But the most important thing, of course, are the guitars - Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's style of guitar interplay is something previously unheard of. I don't know if they actually trade functions on here, but usually Lloyd sticks to rhythm while Verlaine soloes over his patterns; and while Lloyd's dry, minimalistic chord bashing certainly owes a lot to the Stooges, Verlaine's soloing recalls me of none other than Jerry Gracia - yes, he throws in these shrill, 'psychedelic', one-key solos that the Grateful Dead featured so prominently in their live jams and occasionally, in the studio. Does it work? Yes, it does. Marquee Moon presents you with a visibly minimalistic, yet, in fact, incredibly rich sonic palette that was arguably the most professional kind of thing that you could imagine at the CBGB scene, and yet, does not reek of excessive 'artsiness' that the early New York punkers detested so much.

Practically every song on here has something interesting to say. 'See No Evil' borrows a riff from the Doors' 'You Make Me Real' and "doubletracks" it (I mean, Lloyd plays a minimalistic pattern in one channel and Verlaine plays a more 'full' version of the riff in the other channel), resulting in a pretty energetic track. 'Venus' (or 'Venus De Milo', as it is sometimes known) uses the same interplay to create a bleeding, tragic sound pattern that really makes me depressed if I let myself get too engaged in it. 'Friction' and 'Prove It' are excellent rockers, both highlighted by excellent minimalistic riffs from Verlaine contrasted with equally excellent minimalistic riffs in the other chanel from Lloyd (check out the absolutely mind-blowing descending riff that Verlaine sometimes concocts for 'Friction'). 'Elevation' and 'Torn Curtain' add in more depression, while 'Guiding Light' provides an exit from it, although, strange enough, it does not close the record.

However, the best track on here is still the title one, which goes on for nine minutes - so much for punk - and never ceases to intrigue, often in the same way that you would be intrigued by a Dead jam, say, 'Dark Star' or something. Verlaine's main swirling riff is absolutely compelling, and when he goes off into his fluent solos, he really takes you on some kind of fantasy ride. Minimalistic and terrific.

That said, I'm not exactly willing to worship at the shrine of Marquee Moon as do those who call this record the main basis for 'post-punk'; if it is the main basis for post-punk, well then post-punk must be a pretty miserable affair. Yes, these guys did extract a wee bit of 'artsiness' and successfully injected it into a basic garage rock structure, but in doing that they merely repeated the steps of their Sixties predecessors on another loop of the spiral. It is a very good, solid, enjoyable record that does sound different from everything else, but it has its flaws (for instance, however good each individual song might be, the sound does get tedious after a while because everything sounds in the same way - the typical curse of both punk and 'pseudo-punk' records like these), and its revolutionary role, though definitely existent, has been overrated over the years. To emphasize the importance of American punk music, mayhaps? "Hey there, Yanks! What do you have against our Clash and Jam?" "Hmm, let's see... oh yeah! We have our Ramones and Television! How're you gonna beat that?"

But don't make any mistakes, this is still a wonderful record. Your Seventies collection is certainly incomplete without it.


THE BLOW UP ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1982

Actually, this one was only released in 1982, long after the band had dissipated. It's a double-CD recording of a live show from Television's last tour; I'm not sure about the exact location, but whatever it was, the acoustics left a lot to be desired. True to the spirit of punk, the recording quality is bootleg-level and even lower than that, at times; I suppose it was just taken from an audience tape recorder. I hate that - me no "sound quality guy", but there are certain limits, you understand. Plus, Television definitely weren't a "noise band", and their guitar pyrotechnics sure deserve a better treatment.

That said, Blow Up is still a good document of the epoch, and I suppose that after a few listens, the poorness of the sound quality wears off - personally, I couldn't stand more than two listens (which I do allow myself to be content with if it's a live album), but that's just me. In any case, the band is in good form, and the guitar interplay of Verlaine and Lloyd is as fascinating as always. After all, the live stage is where they - like any other CBGB artist - made their primary reputation, and their studio sound was always secondary to what they achieved in a live setting, i.e. it was a relocation of their live sound to a cleaner studio arrangement, not vice versa. Therefore, Blow Up, being, as far as I know, the only widsely available Television live record, is an essential purchase for any fan.

That said, I would recommend this stuff primarily for the tracks that cannot be found on the preceding studio albums. For example, the fourteen-minute version of 'Marquee Moon' is excellent, but I couldn't really notice any truly significant additions to the studio ten-minute version. Yes, the soloing is excellent, and it's really awesome to hear Verlaine pull off that cute buzzin' rhythm that lied at the core of the song in such a perfect way, but... well, it's the usual complaint: why put out a live version when they're so similar? See, Television weren't the Ramones, who were wise to "clean up" most of their songs for the studio versions, while the truly raunchy, sloppy, monstruous live versions presented them in a different light. Television didn't exactly 'rip it up' on stage - they were way too artsy for that. As exciting and inspired as these performances are, I still feel enough restrain and care for the music (the latter in a bad sense, as in, "too careful to take any chances") to show the boys at the possible top of the possible game. But possibly that's just a possible me.

In any case, all of these factors make me concentrate on the material that didn't make it onto their studio LPs. (For the record, though, about two-thirds of the Marquee Moon album are here, and only two numbers off 'Adventure', including the minor hit 'Foxhole', not tremendously adventurous as far as I could perceive it, but hey, there's that little problem with the sound quality anyway...).

For instance, the first CD ends with a beautiful cover of 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' - easily the best version I've ever heard bar Dylan's studio original, mainly because they step away from the Clapton/Dylan-popularized reggae version and bring back the steady, majestic pace of the original, together with the solemnity and religious feel. Plus, Verlaine - or maybe Lloyd, who knows - throws in a couple slow, melodic, pompous distorted solos, very much in the Neil Young mood (they remind me of Neil's excellent workouts on songs like 'Cortez The Killer'), but slightly less bluesy.

The second CD only has four tracks, all of them quite lengthy, as contrasted to the shorter songs on the first CD. 'Marquee Moon' and 'Friction' are, of course, quite similar to the studio versions. But there's also a nearly fifteen-minute length composition entitled 'Little Johnny Jewel' which rocks out more than 'Marquee Moon', plus, so as not to bore you, has a few tempo changes along the way and a few mood shifts - at a certain point, the band almost manages to metamorphose into a 'minimalistic Santana', with climactic, cathartic solos. Ah, for a better sound quality! Why didn't they care to clean up the sound quality? A kingdom for a "clean" solo at the middle of 'Little Johnny Jewel'!

And then, of course, the show ends with a seven-minute long version of 'Satisfaction'. You can easily see how this song got regularly covered by the band - while 'simpler' punk bands would borrow their attitude from and base much of their songs on the power chord approach of the Who ('I Can't Explain' is probably the most direct analogy of the Holy Bible for most punk bands), Television, with their twisted, looping riffs and mid-tempo mantraic wankings, were simply bound to worship at the altar of 'Satisfaction'. I swear, if one happened to ignore the origins of the song, he could have sworn that it had been written by Television members themselves - it fits in so nicely. A bit overlong, maybe, but impeccable all the same.

And to conclude - the album is called Blow Up because the band's opening number is called 'The Blow Up', but essentially that first number is an old song by the 13th Floor Elevators that the Elevators called 'Fire Engine'. Why Verlaine and Co. didn't like the original title is anybody's guess. I'll leave you wondering now.


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