Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Televison - Marquee Moon

Marquee Moon (1977) *****

Let's face it, you buy this album for three songs.  First there's the garage-rock raver, "See No Evil," that kicks off the album like an updated "Satisfaction":  chunky but snakey guitar sound, that is, certainly not attitude - Verlaine's virtually sexless pseudo-nihilism is a million miles removed from Jagger's sleazily wheedling frustrated horniness.  The whole album is quite sexless, which is one differentation that makes this post-punk (the most sexless white rock music this side of prog-rock) not traditional '70s classic rock; and generally not very danceable, which differentiates this from their NYC CBGB peers Ramones/Blondie/Talking Heads and stamps the album as post-punk not New Wave.  It does sit them comfortably next to boho fellow traveler Patti Smith, whose music was as well non-dancey and non-sexy/ist; both she and Verlaine come across as leftover hippies who'd missed the Summer of Love a beatnik too late.  Oh, Verlaine "understands" punk's "destructive urges," but he views the Spirit of '77 from a cooly detached remove.  The second track, "Venus," is pure pop to "See No Evil"'s straight-up rock, and reveals the beatnik romantic in Verlaine's soul:  it's nothing more or less than a paen to the Big Crapple seen from the smitten eyes of a Maryland small-townie as he lifts his gaze to skyscrapers on Broadway.  It's as steely, majestic, and gorgeous as its subject, and the second best song on the album.  That honor goes to the lengthy title track, a stunning tour de force that isn't so much of a tune (though there is indeed a small pop song hidden inside the kernel) as a platform for Verlaine and Lloyd's expressive guitar soloing.  Like I said before in other reviews, I'm no guitar mechanic and I won't pretend to waste time blathering about things I know nothing about.  All I know is that a ten-minute prog-rock track full of extended guitar solos has me hanging on every transcendent chord, and I'm usually averse to those sort of indulgences.

Note that I haven't so far even bothered with an intro to the band or a brief summary of their sound or anything else of the sort.  That's because I'm assuming that any of the small handful of readers stumbling across this blog are already familiar.  A rock crit list of Greatest Albums of All Time without an entry for Marquee Moon would feel hollow and incomplete.  It's a byline in the Rock Critic Manual that we must include it.  As a music geek (and only music geeks read obscure blogs like this) you've heard of this album a hundred times, and have likely heard it a similar amount of times.  The only reason I'm bothering to re-review this is that I need to get this out of the way before I can review Television's followup albums, which are much, much, much less celebrated and so I am presuming some of you may not have heard.

Oh, and yes, I add as almost an afterthought, as you can see from my five-star rating, this album does live up to its hype.  It may not be the greatest album of all time, but it is one of the greatest albums of all time.   It always makes every rock critic best-of list because it's a consensus album.  While I can hardly imagine any rock fan personally totemizing Marquee Moon as his or her most cherished LP of the ages (Verlaine's music is too cool and detached to really reach or speak for anybody's heart and soul, you know), I likewise can't imagine any serious rock fan not enjoying or cherishing this album.  It appeals to all while offending none.  It has a raw, spare sound to appeal to punks and keepers of the garage-rock flame.  It has complex guitar interplay and lengthy epics to appeal to prog-heads and feasters of guitar wankery.  It has shiny crooked hooks and bright little melodies to keep popsters happy.  It's sufficiently angular, barbed, and aconventional to allow cerebral post-punks to stroke their chins along to.  And while in general things that appeal as all things to all people are as a rule of thumb a recipe for bland mush, this album is anything but boring.

I might as well close this review by trawling through the other five tracks, which I'm sure you're dying to hear my thoughts upon.  Of the non-canonical greats that occupy the rest of the space, only "Prove It," I can bring myself to dislike - it's mildly annoying and the lone "prove it!" hook isn't that clever.  "Friction," choogles along in a similar CCR-jam mode, but it rubs me this side of the right way.  "Elevation," boasts a mildly sinister minor-chord entry hook and a nice tension-building chorus.  "Guiding Light," possesses the album's most straightforwardly pretty melody, but it could sorely do with a little tension - as is, it's all merely prettiness, which of course isn't "merely".  "Torn Curtain," closes the album on a moody, almost dark-jazzy note; the guitar crescendo hook immediately after the shouted, angstily anguished choruses is to die for.


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