Album Review: Television – Marquee Moon (1977)


Rating: 10/10

To dub Television as guitar wizards is to undersell them. Not because Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd could ever be accused of not mastering the instrument – they prove themselves as early as the album’s first riffs. And not because Marquee Moon couldn’t be classified as a guitar album – it undoubtedly centers around the interplay and exchange of leads between the two players. But at the same time, it is so much more than that. It is simply put, a case of an album where everything comes together, where every element is in its right place. It reads like a finished puzzle, which is crazy considering that it was only the band’s first effort.

Take Venus for example. The guitar parts are a serious contender for the album’s prettiest, but a lot of the magic has to do with just how well they blend in with the rest of the song’s elements. Each guitar line seems to perfectly mirror the mood created by Verlaine’s lyrics and intonations: when the “There stood another person who was a little surprised” lyric comes on, the guitar switches from a calm line to a surprised one. When the backing vocals ask “Did you feel low?” the guitar seems to do the same. And when Verlaine stretches the ‘arms’ word as to give it a conclusive feel, the guitar sounds as if it relieves all the accumulated tension. Something similar happens on Elevation, where the most memorable moment is not a chorus or a solo, but a perfect sync on the line “I sleep light on these shores tonight”: the vocal is shaky and emotional, one guitar plays the somber riff while the other beeps like a broken machine in distance, and the fragmented cymbals only add to the mystifying atmosphere.

The award for the best song still has to go to the title track though, if only for the fact that it manages to keep the listener’s attention for all of its 10-minute duration. Here the guitars seem to be racing each other, gaining small advantages with each new repetition of the riffs and then catching up. And it wouldn’t make as much sense without the high-pitched climax to give the impression of them reaching the finishing line. And how could one forget Friction, with its sexual innuendos and adrenaline-rush guitar riffs. It’s songs like this that makes Television speak to both intellectuals that seek musical professionalism and punks in need of immediate thrills.

The rest of the songs don’t blow minds quite the same way, but there is no real misstep either. See No Evil and Prove It show the more rocking side of the band; Torn Curtain does the crying-bluesy guitar thing to a tee; and Guiding Light is the type of ballad that most bands would just present in a naked piano arrangement, while Television find the right guitar lines to complement that. Marquee Moon as a whole simply is a rare case where I have nothing to complain about – not the sequencing, not the mood, not the melodies, not the production. After all these years it remains an album in its own unique league, never to be duplicated.


Categories: Album Reviews


28 replies

  1. Right on, thanks for covering this one! Full agreement from here, on this one. Love love love it. I have an old vinyl copy of it, one of the prized LPs in my collection for sure! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done, Ovidiu. You perfectly described everything that’s so special about Television’s debut album. As I wrote in my post about their brief discography back in 2011, Marquee Moon “is one of those rare records that doesn’t include a weak track or even a single wasted note, and should be up there on the list of best debut albums.” Seems like you and I are in complete agreement here. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great stuff, Ovidiu – as Rich and Aaron mentioned already, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. A truly brilliant album. Pretty much near perfect, actually.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to agree with the previous comments: you’ve written an excellent review of one of rock’s most perfect albums ever. My vinyl copy is well-used; my CD copy is always close enough to save me whenever the world seems to be going under like a Cadillac in a graveyard.


  5. Not listed to this album in year, I know what I will be doing tomorrow

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I checked out Television along with a lot of other bands after I watched the CBGB movie starring Alan Rickman, but unlike Talking Heads or the Dead Boys I didn’t really care for them.
    Maybe they deserve another listen?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fine review of an outstanding album. Nice one.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The title track really is somethings special – well described Ovidiu!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This one’s in my collection, but I only listened to it twice. I thought it was kind of cold and soulless. But I’ll have to give it another (third) shot. Thanks for the great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I want to be buried with this disc. It is, as everyone has noted, nearly perfect. It sounds familiar, yet it defies clichéd stock rock riffing. It moves, it flows, Verlaine and Lloyd et al. nail the whole tension/release dynamic. Lloyd’s “See No Evil” solo is one of rock music’s finest and the title track is almost visual as it builds to a climax. The interplay of the band is almost telepathic. I tend to look at this album as a sort of jazz LP. Imagine if Charlie Parker and John Coltrane were punk rockers and played guitars instead of saxophones. Too bad the rest of their catalog never followed suit, though admittedly Marquee Moon would be a tough act for any band to follow up.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A spot on review really! Thank you for it.
    Two comments though, just opening a conversation, rather than disagreeing. The first one being the observation about the debut albums in general. Many people consider debut albums either difficult, due to the inexperience of the artist(s), or easy, given that the songs have been tried several years before the artist actually put them down on tape. Although I do get the slight differences of each inclination, I tend to agree with the second one. First albums are usually easy for the musicians and relatively easy to be good (I don’t recall who said:”they have their whole life to record the first album and just 1 year for the second”), bringing something fresh to the world (unless the producer/studio spoils it with messy recordings). Just think of how many good debuts we have, from bands that they slipped back into obscurity with their second album, usually never to resurface again. Of course we are talking about Television, knowing their full history since then and the perfection of the album puts it several steps up from the rest of the bands with “good” debuts, that stopped there. Which brings me to my second point, about the quality of the songs of the album. Although opinions about songs and works of art might and should be plenty, I think that a perfect album can bare no weak songs, or as you wonderfully put it: “don’t blow minds quite the same way…”. I believe that MM (like Making movies 😉 ) is one of these albums. And although your comments on the 4 (not so quite the same mind blowing ) songs is actually good they are somehow shaded by the opening line of the paragraph. I think it would be more fitting for their second album. Of course my opinion is subjective, and I quite know what you mean, so again, thank you for this wonderful review.
    PS. the expanded 2003 CD edition had a couple of extra songs, Little Johnny Jewel, their first single and an untitled recording, plus 2-3 alternative takes.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A fine album to be sure. I recommended this to my millennial son. Not sure if he ever listened to it. Come to think of it, not sure if he ever listens to anything I recommend. 😀 Oh, well. Ovidiu, I was intending to post on this one day. Maybe I can reblog yours, save myself some carpal tunnel ?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Back in the day I didn’t really care for this one – I need to go back and see what I missed!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fantastic album. As well as the praise for the guitarists however don’t forget drummer Billy ficca, apparently a jazz player originally who plays some quite unorthodox stuff and with a lightness of touch that matches that thin guitar sound

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on Music Enthusiast and commented:
    On my “to-be-reviewed” list was the album Marquee Moon, a classic of the punk-rock era. However, fellow blogger Ovidiu Boar over at Tangled Up In Music reviewed it recently and did a nice job. I asked him if I could re-blog it and he was cool with that. Plus having a guest blogger will save me from A) carpal tunnel and 2) having to think.

    The only thing I’ll add to his review is that I read somewhere that these guys rehearsed this album relentlessly. Anyway, without further ado, here’s his review.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Tangled up!!! “Marquee Moon” reminds me of the 1960’s music of my college years leading to Woodstock 1969! Thanks for the “Follow” & “Like” on my website . You have a good thing going here on your website! Phil

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Good choice. Seen Richard Lloyd and his ‘The Heath and Happiness Show’ back up Butch Hancock. Great concert. Keep up the good work. CB

    Liked by 1 person

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