Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Marquee Moon [Elektra, 1977] A+
  • Adventure [Elektra, 1978] A-
  • The Blow Up [ROIR, 1982] B+
  • Television [Capitol, 1992] B+
  • Live at the Old Waldorf [Rhino Handmade, 2003] A-
  • Marquee Moon [Elektra/Rhino, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • Adventure [Elektra/Rhino, 2003] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Marquee Moon [Elektra, 1977]
I know why people complain about Tom Verlaine's angst-ridden voice, but fuck that, I haven't had such intense pleasure from a new release since I got into Layla three months after it came out, and this took about fifteen seconds. The lyrics, which are in a demotic-philosophical mode ("I was listening/listening to the rain/I was hearing/hearing something else"), would carry this record alone; so would the guitar playing, as lyrical and piercing as Clapton or Garcia but totally unlike either. Yes, you bet it rocks. And no, I didn't believe they'd be able to do it on record because I thought this band's excitement was all in the live raveups. Turns out that's about a third of it. A+

Adventure [Elektra, 1978]
Those scandalized by Marquee Moon's wimpoid tendencies are gonna try to read this one out of the movement. I agree that it's not as urgent, or as satisfying, but that's only to say that Marquee Moon was a great album while Adventure is a very good one. The difference is more a function of material than of the new album's relatively clean, calm, reflective mood. The lyrics on Marquee Moon were shot through with visionary surprises that never let up. These are comparatively songlike, their apercus concentrated in hook lines that are surrounded by more quotidian stuff. The first side is funnier, faster, more accessible, but the second side gets there--the guitar on "The Fire" is Verlaine's most gorgeous ever. A-

The Blow Up [ROIR, 1982]
John Piccarella and I annotated this eighty-five-minute tape because guitar heroes like Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd deserve a heroic live album. While the more word-heavy songs worked better in the studio, on the likes of "Foxhole," "Prove It," and "Marquee Moon," ahem, "Verlaine takes off in directions that even he probably didn't anticipate, indulging a lyrical wanderlust he never permitted himself when he had time to think about it. And Lloyd, always constrained by the necessity of getting his solos and rhythm riffs just right in the studio, goes nuts here--what he wanted to express on `Satisfaction' was so beyond his chops that he would regularly unwind his bottom E string, twist it behind the neck, and tense the guitar like an archer's bow, producing the unearthly noises preserved for posterity on this cassette." You also get two other key covers and a definitive "Little Johnny Jewel." But the sound could have been brighter--cf. Arrow, the bootleg disc where I first encountered the finest of these performances. And so, as with so many ROIR cassettes (and commercial tapes in general), audio makes the difference between a laudable document and living history. B+

Television [Capitol, 1992]
I prefer the more rocking, songful old Television, but it's a tribute to Tom Verlaine's conceptual restlessness and force of personality that in a world where alternative guitar means making noise or mixing and matching from the used bins, these four veterans have regrouped with a distinct new sonic identity. Droll, warm-hearted, sophisticated, cryptic, jazzy yet unjazzlike, they sound like nothing else--except, just a little, old Television, mainly because Verlaine has ignored the Lloyd Cole jokes and refused to alter his voiceprint. B+

Live at the Old Waldorf [Rhino Handmade, 2003]
Featuring four fewer songs and a slightly tamer performance than its long-standing ex-bootleg competition The Blow-Up, which sells for just a buck more, it more than compensates with superior sound. If the presence and detail of the vocals plus the definition and muscle of the guitars don't make a Tom Verlaine fan out of that theoretical dude who's always telling you they weren't kickass enough, show him how a real dweeb kicks ass: Take your iPod and go home. A-

Marquee Moon [Elektra/Rhino, 2003]
"Little Johnny Jewel," "Untitled Instrumental" Choice Cuts

Adventure [Elektra/Rhino, 2003]
"Adventure" Choice Cuts

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