Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Marquee Moon

Elektra Rhino

Live at the Old Waldorf 1978
Rhino Handmade

Once upon a time, Television seemed like a band that might make it, because with their reasonable tempos and long guitar solos they resembled other bands--more than the rest of CBGB's protopunk riff-raff, anyway. In retrospect, however, Television seem like a band that could never have made it, because they actually resemble no one before or since. Utterly dominated by the strangulated vocals and self-taught guitar of Tom Verlaine ne Miller, who never came up with such compelling music during a productive solo career that lasted twice as long as the group's, they are the very model of the world-historic cult band. Although their studio albums have been findable on CD, this reissue is a boon. Incredibly, the expanded Marquee Moon and Adventure each include a bonus track you should own--the debut single "Little Johnny Jewel" and the lost title track "Adventure." And the punchy new live set dwarfs ROIR's renowned The Blow-Up on audio alone.

Television didn't last because Verlaine couldn't tolerate junkies--bassist Richard Hell, whose sense of style defined punk with the Heartbreakers and his own Voidoids after Verlaine replaced him with Fred Smith, and then guitarist Richard Lloyd, whose choppy rhythm riffs and poppy solos were the essential foil to Verlaine's hand-looped excursions. These now recall Neil Young and even Jerry Garcia more than nascent new wavers would have dreamed at the time, only Verlaine got an unfashionably mellow sound out of the Jazzcaster and other Fender classics he favored--Young's was rawer, Garcia's cleaner. But with Lloyd countering him, Smith supporting him, and mysteriously obscure drummer Billy Ficca driving him, the band's dynamic tension epitomized nerve-wracking excitement.

But it wasn't all guitars. Mewl about image all you want--CBGB was a song scene, and Television wrote great songs. Verlaine's solos didn't generate much melody, but his hooks were dynamite, and though he named himself after a poet he wasn't just an metaphor-slinger--in among the seductive obscurities are demotic gems like "I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo." Marquee Moon is the must-have--one of the great debut albums, period. But collect the whole set. Like the man says, "Prove it, just the facts." These are they.

Tracks, Jan. 2004