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