Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Televison - s/t

Television (1992) ***

Remarkably, their comeback after a decade and a half layoff picks up right where they left off, with all of the classic elements of the Television sound intact; it says something about the enduring timelessness of Television's spare, angular guitar rock stylistics that they manage to fit snugly as a velvet glove into the '90s alternative rock scene.  So, good news first, now here's the bad news.  If you ever wondered what classic Television would sound like without the passion, warmth, energy, soul, or reason for existing, this is the record for you.  This is exactly the kind of smooth, self-satisfied professionalism that '70s punk stood in opposition to.  The tone is cool to the point of being cold, the sound of professional musicians so easy and relaxed in each other's intuitive company that there's no spark of creative tension - just Lloyd and Verlaine trading licks off each other:  imagine Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler guitar dueting, only not quite as boring.  Verlaine's voice dropping a register doesn't help, either; his dry, tune-deaf vocals are even more off-putting than ever, as he intones everything in an emotionless monotone that sucks any potential energy from the songs - in short, he sounds bored.  The songs and performances never achieve the transcendent lift-off to make this album seem much more than a self-conscious genre exercise in lovingly, painstakingly recreating the classic Television sound.  Nevertheless, the first half or so contains some relatively solid songs, with "Call Mr. Lee," the clear highlight with its Middle Eastern snake charmer hook; the first track, "1880 or So," gets the disc rolling on a promising start; "Shane, She Wrote This," ain't bad love-pop; and "No Glamour for Willi," works because of not in spite of its cool, relaxed vibe.  But spoken-word tracks like "Rhyme," seem to exist soley to take up space (see:  filler, definition) and the final three tracks are all awful.  Kudos for so brilliantly recreating the Television sound - lots of holes and empty space, it's so rare for modern music to deviate from the wall of density and give the music some breathing room.  Those who've waited since 1978 for the return of Lloyd and Verlaine weaving their web of interlocking tasty licks, this is manna, as you won't be disappointed - tasty licks aplenty to waft in.  But this is the type of album that will only appeal to you if you were already a huge fan of Television in the first place. 

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