We’re going to do two reviews a week here – one of a new album (less than a year old) and one of an older album. We also thought it’d be cool if our reviews took the form of a discussion, with humor and personality, rather than a dry essay. Our throwback album review this week is of Television’s 1977 debut Marquee Moon. Click “continue reading” to check it out.
Television are one of the most significant New York rock bands of the 1970s. They were founded in 1973 by Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Richard Lloyd, and Billy Ficca, but Hell left before the release of recorded material. Television’s sound is defined by their interlocking guitar parts, as well as Tom Verlaine’s vocals. They are widely regarded as an influential punk and rock band, and Marquee Moon has been put on many lists of important albums. They broke up after the release of their second album, Adventure. They reunited briefly in the early ’90s to record a third album, and reunited again in 2001, performing on-and-off since then, with Jimmy Rip replacing Richard Lloyd since 2007.
Zen: It’s probably about that time that we talk about music. Why did you pick this album?
Oscar: Because I used to take guitar lessons from Richard Lloyd, who’s one of the guitarists in Television, and they’re on that box set of punk my dad gave me, so I’ve known “See No Evil” and “Little Johnny Jewel” since like middle school. And I’ve heard it’s a great album, so I wanted to expand my knowledge.
Zen: All good reasons. Does this mean we can hang with Richard Lloyd?
Oscar: Nope. I was a really shitty student.
Zen: I figured as much. I never knew you even touched a guitar.
Oscar: I didn’t, that was the problem.
Zen: OK, so, what is your overall opinion on the album?
Oscar: I thought it was a very cool album. Some of it felt a little dated, but overall I liked all the songs. And at its best it was really musically interesting as well as being solid alternative/punk/post-punk music.
Zen: Valid thoughts. I was surprised at how interesting the music got. I expected just straightforward angry white males playing poor guitar.
Zen: What were your favorite songs?
Oscar: My top 3 were “See No Evil,” “Elevation,” and I think “Torn Curtain.” “See No Evil” wasn’t their musically most interesting song, but it established their style strongly and I think it’s the most well-crafted song as a whole on the album.
Zen: I agree. It’s also really hard to not enjoy that song. The call and response works so great.
Oscar: “Elevation” was my favorite musically, how each instrument works in its own groove and they all fit together like puzzle pieces. Which is the technique of song-crafting that’s prevalent on the album, and I think it’s strongest here. And lyrically it was my favorite as a whole I think. And “Torn Curtain” was a very strong ending. I liked how unabashedly minor it was as opposed to the others. I loved the whole “tears, years” part, and in the second or third verse when the guitar comes in hitting that one note repeatedly it was absolutely great.
Zen: I’m impressed you’re quoting direct lines. I barely understood anything the man said. But I agree. That one note was one of the things that stuck in my memory.
Oscar: I actually looked up the lyrics for each song as I listened.
Zen: I thought about doing that, but I wanted to experience the album as they made it.
Oscar: Although I have to say, as an addendum, if we were counting the bonus tracks, “Little Johnny Jewel” would be my favorite by far.
Zen: I would agree. Everything about that song I enjoyed. Its out-of-tune, shitty guitar solo was stellar.
Oscar: Yeah. What were your top 3?
Zen: “See No Evil.” It was a perfect punk song in my eyes.
Zen: My second would be “Marquee Moon.” I was just searching through the tracks for the names, and just realized how long Marquee Moon is. I was totally unaware while listening.
Oscar: That’s a good sign.
Zen: Yeah. Also, “Marquee Moon” was one of the songs where I clearly saw how current acts drew their influences. Kings of Leon popped into my mind, the whole back and fourth simple guitar licks creating the rhythm.
“Marquee Moon” would be number 4 for me, I had to choose between that and “Torn Curtain.” I love in “Marquee Moon” in the solo when you hear him fuck up and try and fix it.
“Torn Curtain” is my 3rd
Zen: Lyrically I enjoyed it the most, although I’m sure whatever I enjoyed wasn’t what he was actually saying.
Oscar: He’s not hard to understand lyrically to me. I mean, I can hear the words he’s saying.
Zen: For some reason I only understood only about 60% of what was sung. And in regards to the fucking up of the solo, I liked that too. The whole album had a raw feeling I really enjoyed. I feel like recently I’ve been listening to a ton of very produced music, which is perfectly fine, but it was nice to take a break and just hear a bunch of dudes make noise and love doing it.
Oscar: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Much more raw than any of the other stuff we’ve reviewed so far.
Zen: By far.
Oscar: So what about bottom 3?
Zen: “Friction.” It felt too contrived to me. Also, I am not, and I repeat, NOT, a fan of motherfuckers spelling the title of songs in the fucking song.
Oscar: I knew that’s what you were gonna say. And I would swear my life to the cause of making sure that never happens again. Except for Aretha, “Respect.” She can do that.
Zen: Respect where respect is due, of course.
Oscar: I mean the song “Respect.”
Zen: Capitalize your song titles.
Oscar: Sorry. I’ll do it later. So what were your other bottom 2?
Zen: “Guiding Light.” Nothing against it per se, but it felt a bit forced to me.
Oscar: I agree.
Zen: And lyrically I was surprised to find a love song that was so straightforward.
Zen: Last would be “Prove It.” I thought again it felt forced. Almost as if they were trying too hard to be punks.
Oscar: I have the same exact bottom 3 list in the same exact order.
Zen: And that is why we have a blog together.
Oscar: One thing I do think is interesting about “Guiding Light” and “Friction,” they both sounded to me almost like if you took an R&B song, had weird white dudes play it, and then put it through several layers of heroin.
Zen: Well said. I agree for both. Also, another thing I enjoyed even about my bottom cuts, were the guitar licks.
Oscar: Yeah, the guitar interplay is definitely the strength of the album.
Zen: In punk you don’t have a lot of variation in melody from the singer, and to me it felt like the guitar was taking over the role of supplying the long runs and things that stick in the listeners heads, almost like a second singer.
Oscar: Yeah, definitely.
Zen: Other thoughts to add to the bottom heap?
Oscar: Nope. Favorite musical moment?
Zen: In the intro to “Marquee Moon,” when the second guitar kicks in and you know you’re in for a good time. It was simple, yet worked perfectly.
Oscar: Good choice.
Zen: Your favorite moment?
Oscar: I think in “Elevation,” when there’s that weird cut after each chorus. After “Elevation, don’t go to my head” and it skips like a third of a beat or something.
Zen: Yeah, that impressed me as well. Just a cool choice.
Oscar: The first time I was like “dammit the mp3 is fucked up” but then it kept happening and I was like “that’s dope.”
Zen: I may have worried the same thing…
Oscar: It’s a great way to make the listener feel on edge.
Zen: I also feel it works as a way to, without beating people over the heads, show that these cats are a cut above the rest.
Oscar: Yeah. Favorite lyrical moment?
Zen: “If I ever find that ventriloquist.” That was possibly the only line I got in that song, and my brain had no idea what to do with that bit of information, but…
Oscar: What song is that?
Zen: I wish I knew.
Oscar: It’s “Friction,” I just looked it up. The line is “If I ever find that ventriloquist I’ll squeeze his head right into my fist.”
Zen: Right, now it’s coming back to me. Again, it was so strange and out of the blue, especially since I wasn’t a huge fan of the song in the first place, that it stuck in my mind.
Zen: Your lyrical moment?
Oscar: I think in “Marquee Moon,” later on in the song, when he talks about a Cadillac – “Well a Cadillac, it pulled out of the graveyard. Pulled up to me, and they said get in. Then the Cadillac, it puttered back into the graveyard. And me, I got out again.”
Zen: I’ll get behind that. It’s great phrasing, as well as great imagery.
Oscar: Yeah. So what would be your overall score?
Zen: 7.5. I would give 8 for how much I enjoyed the cuts I enjoyed, but if we’re not counting the bonus tracks, 3 songs out of the whole thing is not a lot to enjoy
Oscar: 3/8 is more than a third. To really like more than a third of an album, especially if you count the songs by length, that’s good. Because “Marquee Moon” itself is like a quarter of the album.
Zen: Fair, no, you’re right. I may just be being a picky asshole. I’m gonna bump it up to 8. It’s one of the first true punk albums where I’ve liked more than 2 songs. Punk is by no means my favorite genre. And just by listening to the guitar, I was incredibly inspired to make music. Not a ton of music has that effect on me.
Zen: Your score?
Oscar: I’d give it an 8 I think, because while there weren’t any songs I didn’t like, and I really liked the ones I liked, the whole thing didn’t deviate far from the one style. And listening to Tom Verlaine’s voice for that long wore on me. I think his weird pitch-sliding and half-hitting notes is cool but I just couldn’t take it for that long. I was a little surprised I put up with it. I fucking hate the dude from Modest Mouse’s voice.
Zen: That’s fair, but at the end of the day, you’re diving into a punk album. The fact that they had a song that went past 3 minutes is a deviation from the style. I agree on that vocal gripe. That’s one of the things that puts me off most punk. I can’t deal with most punk singers. I’d be surprised if you didn’t hate most things about Modest Mouse.
Oscar: I don’t think anything about this band or album is typical of punk, though, except maybe the general sound of despair and heroin.
Zen: I don’t know if I agree, I think that his style of staccato lines and clipping the length of his notes is a very punk dynamic.
Oscar: But I think it should be taken as being in a separate category from stuff like the Sex Pistols or Black Flag.
Zen: I’d agree with that.
Oscar: So, final question: A lot of people consider this album a classic of alternative rock. Do you agree with its standing?
Zen: I was unaware of this opinion. I’d probably agree… As I said, you can clearly see the way people were inspired by its sound and then implemented its sound into their own. However, I don’t necessarily think that makes it a classic. There are tons of things I listen to which I don’t consider amazing, or classic, that inspire me. So, I’d give it the title of one of the “Pioneering Acts of Alternative Rock” (which might add up to the same thing just in different words)
Oscar: I feel similarly but I think that does make it a classic. Because you can see a large influence over a number of acts, and I’m sure they all had influences that aren’t considered classic too. But you can see its impact. And it’s definitely a solid album too, which doesn’t hurt.
Zen: That’s a fair way of looking at it.
Oscar: If someone came to me and said, “I want to understand the role the late ‘70s had in shaping the sound of modern alternative/indie music in America,” I’d point them to this album, among others.
Zen: Well, I’m glad that you are now thoroughly prepared to handle one of life’s less common scenarios.
Oscar: Thank you. Any last thoughts before we leave this establishment of overpriced coffee?
Zen: If you write a song, and proceed to spell the title of said song in the song itself, know that I will personally come and punch you in the neck.
Oscar: Noted. Let’s go.
Come back next week for our reviews of David Bowie’s The Next Day and Portishead’s Third.