The reality is that Marquee Moon is such a perfect specimen, one of the most unquestionably brilliant debut albums in rock history, that anything in its wake is bound to pale in comparison.
And when you examine everything in Television’s wake, you’ll see that their first album was the culmination of the band’s years of woodshedding and cherry picking their way through only the best material.
The follow up, Adventure, compiles both the also-rans of their debut, but also with it the stench of a band splintering from all of the unmet expectations. It’s no wonder that guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd delivered better debut solo albums than Adventure, and it also created a bit of hesitation when it was announced in 1992 that Television would re-form after more than a decade of inactivity.
It was very clear that the band was taking advantage of the chaotic state of music left in Nevermind’s wake. Strange, as the
quartet were miles away-literally and figuratively-from the essence of those NW
Big Muffs who promoted substance over style.
Let’s not forget that Television had a very keen sense of style, and the band’s resulting entry in the land of grunge is a stylish reminder of NYC’s ability to slay with guitar tones devoid of distortion.
A quick spin of “Call Mr. Lee,” Television’s emphasis track upon release, shows an ageless volley between two guitar greats and the results make the entire record worth the price of admission.
The song is a nervy jem, but it’s the solos that make the entire song transcendent. Lloyd and Verlaine trade off Fender strangling riff in the record’s most “showy” moments, but your jaw will drop at the results as they are just as colorful at some of the best moments of the solo on the title track of their debut.
Elsewhere, the riffs are subtle yet complex. Tones seem to rue the day on Television, with “No Glamour For Willi” offering at least a half-dozen different tones throughout the course of five minutes. It’s like the fellas knew this reunion job would be brief, so they set a course to document every single guitar tone they conjured up during the proceedings.
It’s Verlaine-lead, so Television has the feel of a very inspired solo record, with maybe just a tad more strut during the set’s bolder moments (“Beauty Trip” and “In World”).
The ones that take the longest to get a grip on are the kool kat beat vibe that Verlaine dishes on such tracks as “Rhyme” and the Pere Ubu tribute, “Mars.” But the more you listen, the more you figure out that even at their most pretensious this band continues to sound like nobody else, and Television became a worthy distraction back in ’92.
Twenty years later-and still the band’s final statement-it’s worth another distraction. What reminded me was a visit to a record store and noticing that Television had been reissued on vinyl.
I resisted my impulse to purchase another copy, particularly since I hadn’t listened to Television since it was first release. I just knew that a song like “Call Mr. Lee” had to sound awesome through those warm analog vibrations.
So a few spins of the colder, digital kind were in order, and with each one, new patterns and tones emerged. The simple truth is that I became infatuated with Television’s beat cool and guitar heroics.
The album has aged well, and while it may not have exactly serve what this record was intended to be-a sales bump from grunge’s strange ability to make a few hits-it did end the band on a better note than Adventure and it managed to make me miss Television a bit more when they signed off again.