September 25, 2008

Television's Marquee Moon (1977)

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They’re a little Ramones, a bit of the Cure and a touch of the Velvet Underground. And though their most famous album Marquee Moon was released well before any of us were even a thought, their affect on music inducted a change in the approach to instrumentation that continues to influence bands today (see: Interpol, Gang of Four, Ima Robot, French Kicks).
The band was formed in 1973 by Tom Verlaine, an accomplished guitarist so inspired by Brian Jones’ innovation on the Rolling Stones’ 19th Nervous Breakdown that he took up the guitar himself. He began to experiment and develop a style of his own, a sound characterized by softly crooning rifts and shifting scales.
Though Television is demarcated as a punk rock band, they come across as more congruous than the punk acts post-mid ‘70s. They are perhaps better labeled as protopunk, as they possess the same edge and angst as your average punk band, yet tend to pay more homage to creating inventive instrumentals than to shrieking vocals. Their frequent rhythm changes and instrumental experimentation highlight a clear preference for developing a new style of rock music, an interest that dates back to Verlaine’s dissatisfaction with the guitar presence in rock and jazz and consequential desire to grapple with a new level of guitar playing.
The tracks on Marquee Moon as a whole are a gradual melodic progression. Most songs showcase extensive bridges focused on Verlaine’s pulsating guitar, teasing the promise of a final drop of the refrain — done Doors-style with building scales and shifting harmonies between bass, guitar and drums. The play of syncopation in both instrumentals and vocals, and the constantly moving call-and-response melody between Verlaine’s emphatic vocals and driving percussion, illustrate the band’s tendency toward playful sound and experimentation.
Overall, Television evokes a consistently comforting sound, somewhat exemplified through repetition of lyrics such as “you give me friction,” and “darling, darling.” Such words, blended with soft guitar rifts, make you long for the pre-kitschy days of heartthrob lead singers who weren’t adored so much for their chiseled jaw line, but for their heart shattering self-composed lyrics and raw, vocal peculiarities. Verlaine stands as the paradigm, a sort of skeletor, weasely man whose gentle droning lyrics, and yes, even emaciated alabaster stature, you can’t help but fall in love with.