Music

Album of the Day: Television – Marquee Moon

– By Yufeng K.

Stuck in a burgeoning crowd at Fort Canning, it was half an hour past the start time. With no wind whatsoever (and of course this tropical heat), it was getting sweaty, and needless to say, restless.

Suddenly, a light shone and images started to play on the white canvas that obscured the rest of the stage. This slideshow (well, sort of) of lo-res videos continued for about 20 minutes, which is also roughly how long I stood in a sweltering mass of people, mesmerized (not to mention desperately checking Soundhound.)

The rest is another story for another day but a deep passion for 70’s music has been reignited in me since that gig (by British singer Morrissey if you need to know). And somehow as I stared at Francoise Hardy and the New York Dolls, all pixellated, the first band that came to mind was Television. Who you say? Surely the Beatles would have been the go-to 70’s band. Well, the brain (my brain) works in mysterious ways.

Formed in 1973 in New York City, when the punk movement was gaining momentum, Television is a lot of things. They are critic darlings, appearing on many top 10/50/100 lists. They are a proto-punk band (well because they formed the backbone that would evolve into the punk movement). They are, according to some, the progenitors of post-punk, which is at the same time ironic and telling.

But, born 13 years after the release of their seminal record ‘Marquee Moon’, and living in the sedate island of Singapore, where punk never really had a foothold, these things don’t matter as much to me as they may to others. The context in which Television is viewed and critiqued by critics and fans alike is foreign to me.

Likewise, the issue of genre is a non-issue.

I recently read an essay by Steve Neale on film genre in which he describes genre as necessary and yet ever-changing. In similar vein, while music genre is necessary to create some form of order amongst thousands upon thousands of tracks, it is malleable and ultimately unstable.

So love it or hate it (and I do love it), what matters is the music that Television and ‘Marquee Moon’ offers to us.

Unlike those who have experienced the days of the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith or those who have an intimate and extensive knowledge of music, I am but a humble consumer. So I leave the critiquing to the professionals (Nick Kent is one such, whose review of the album in UK music magazine NME is, as Wikipedia informs, infamous and bordering on hyperbole).

Instead, I shall list two reasons, why ‘Marquee Moon’ is one of those records I have fallen head over heels for.

1) Tom Verlaine

Sure, his warbly tenor can be a source of annoyance but when you think of the Lou Reeds and the Patti Smiths, it all seems to fit somehow.

Of course this is terribly lame justification, so I shall proffer another.

To me, Verlaine’s voice (his every pause, his every yelp, his every inflexion) adds so much to ‘Marquee Moon’ and the opener ‘See No Evil‘ is an excellent example. His voice, while distinct, is one with the song; in sync with the driving guitar riff and its rhythm. “I want to jump, jump, jump,” he sings. Billy Ficca’s drums comply (or perhaps understand?). It truly is perfection, the result of 3 years of live performances together.

Not forgetting Verlaine’s lyricism, poetic almost. “I understand all/Destructive urges/And it seems so perfect/I see/I see no/Evil.” An unforgettable climax to an unforgettable chorus.

Fittingly, Verlaine’s vocals are potent on the closer ‘Torn Curtain‘. “Tears, years,” his croon accompanies the lengthy guitar solo in a chillingly haunting fashion and as the track and the album fades out, it continues to echo in my head.

2) The Guitars

I’m pretty sure Billy Ficca and Fred Smith are first-class musicians and indeed the solid drum and bass work form the backbone and engine of ‘Marquee Moon’.

But the guitars, oh the guitars.

Names like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana come to mind but make no mistake, the talents of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd definitely give them a run for their money. Between the two of them, riffs, chords and solos come with consummate ease. Verlaine and Lloyd’s guitars constantly intersect and intertwine, growing in complexity and ingenuity, always inventive, always fluid.

But the highlight of ‘Marquee Moon’ has to be the guitar solos and which better track to showcase this than the title track. And what a track it is.

The centerpiece of the album, ‘Marquee Moon’ bears all the the hallmarks of Television, their strengths pushed to the fore; Smith’s understated bassline, Ficca’s drumming (flamboyant while not overdoing the high-hats), Lloyd’s frantic guitar riffs, the interplay between the two lead guitars, Verlaine’s dark lyrics, all well-oiled cogs in an epic machine.

And what about the pure ear-gasm that begins at around the 4:30 mark.

Breath-taking.

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