One misstep along the way
Elliott Brown | San Francisco | 02/19/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, let me give you the track information:1. Present Arrived -- 5:16
2. Postcard From Waterloo -- 3:30
3. True Story -- 5:24
4. Clear It Away -- 4:11
5. Words From the Front -- 6:39
6. Coming Apart -- 2:59
7. Days on the Mountain -- 8:59Originally released in 1982, this album really shows Tom Verlaine's new wave side shining through. I'm assuming you already know about Tom and Television, so I'll spare you the history. I will tell you that I am a fan primarily of anything by Television as well as Tom's first album. With all that said, this album continues the trend towards sparce arrangements in TV's solo work. The songs on this album also tend to be a little slower and softer than what came before. To me, it seems they lack energy. Coupled with the use of cheesy (kind of sparkly) guitar effects that take the edge out of TV's playing, not much of what interested me about the earlier efforts is left. This album kind of reminds me of later Gang of Four and Talking Heads -- particularly the song "Postcards From Waterloo." There's still good songwriting and an undeniable sonic link to the music that made Verlaine a legend, but his best work is not on display. There are definitely hints of the agressive, creative Verlaine of yesteryear on songs like "Coming Apart" and "Words From the Front," but truncated solos and straightforward song structures don't give his guitar much leeway to meander. This album is listenable. It is Verlaine. But it's not too much else. I'd recommend it for people trying to complete their Tom Verlaine collections, while referring most everyone else to his earlier work."
Tom Verlaine Lost in Space
J P Ryan | Waltham, Massachusetts United States | 07/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"My title is not intended to evoke this important and original artist's music, however hermetic and oblique Tom Verlaine's music can be. No, I'm frustrated with the lack of any serious
attempt to restore Verlaine's remarkable catalog in any but the most piecemeal fashion.
Verlaine made his reputation with Television, one of the greatest bands to emerge from what might loosely be called the C.B.G.B.'s scene, or the NYC '77 punk era, the one that produced Ramones, Talking Heads, James Chance, Patti Smith, Blondie, the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell to name but a few, and we all know these bands inspired quite an upheaval accross the Atlantic as well. A 1975 debut single on Ork, "Little Johnny Jewel", and two classic albums for Elektra, "Marquee Moon" (1977) and "Adventure" (1978)were released. Some critics raved. Incendiery shows with Tom and Richard Lloyd's dual guitar attack - with marvelous control of dynamics, smart and never self-indulgent or cliched interplay, abetted by jazz-influenced drummer Billy Ficca and a Fred Smith, a solid bassist with a producer's ear. Then, after the tour to promote "Adventure" concluded, Television was gone. A couple years ago Rhino did a nice job remastering and expanding both of Television's Elektra classics, adding the Ork single and many other bonus goodies. At roughly the same time Rhino released (sadly, in a very limited edition, so it's going to cost you if you don't already have it) a terrific live album recorded in 1978. The band did record a third ("reunion")album in 1992, "Television" (Capitol), to little fanfare and a big yawn from the marketplace. To date no Television album has charted on Billboard's Top 200, an accomplishment that not even the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, or the amazing and outre Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band can claim.
Verlaine's solo career started strong, with Elektra's "Tom Verlaine" in 1979 (perhaps the album most suggestive of his previous band) followed by the stunning "Dreamtime" (Warner Bros., 1981)which is perhaps his most accomplished solo effort, full of beautiful melodies, songs bursting with memorable riffs, and layered guitars that soothe and stun and shimmer. The album under consideration here, "Words From The Front" (Warner Bros., 1982) felt a little disappointing at first, maybe because it contains only seven tracks, or a certain lack of immediacy (i.e. 'punch'). Years later I'm not sure the latter impression is true. Certainly the songs are more expansive than on the first two solo albums; Verlaine would appear to be interested in creating a very different emotional landscape on each track, from the pastoral to the harrowing. 'Uncommercial' in comparison to its predecessors, the album holds up well and offers many startling songs and passages. "Postcard From Waterloo" is utterly gorgeous both lyrically and melodically, and despite its melancholy air feels like a single. The halting, jagged rhythms and off-kilter guitar work on "Present Arrived" and the title track are both jarring and compelling. The nine-minute "Days On The Mountain", is a rather fruity yet atmospheric excercise unlike anything else in Verlaine's ouevre, and it too sounds better now than in 1982. Overall, the album - which relies a bit more than usual on keyboards and studio effects, remains perhaps Verlaine's most insular. Additionally, the production has a slightly harsh and unnatural '80s feel, with clanging guitars and too-big drums. This is a minor quibble, however. "Words" deserves a B plus (or A minus)for sheer creative verve and the fact that it transcends its flaws most of the time. By the way, this CD is from 1989, not "remastered" or "featuring extra tracks" as Amazon's listing would indicate. (There is a nifty b-side recorded at the "Words" sessions, to be found on the anthology "Miller's Tale").
Verlaine's next, "Cover" (1984) is perhaps his least inspired both in terms of songwriting and performance, but he came back strong in 1987 with the bewitching "Flash Light", made with old friends including Fred Smith and Jimmy Rip, perhaps his best along with "Dream Time", filled with short, memorable tracks built with artfully layered guitars and subtle and effective, but very occasional, use of keybards - though again the bloodless production, characteristic of the era in which it was made, is off-putting at first. But those remarkable, haunting, and fully developed songs as well as Verlaine's inspired playing, ability to create mood and atmosphere and (in a real leap forward) character, show a willingness to still take risks, renewed focus and inspiration, evidence of an artist still growing and expanding his musical, narrative, and emotional range. Following 1990's "The Wonder" (Fontana, unreleased in the US) we were treated to both the aforementioned Television album and Verlaine's instrumental set "Warm and Cool" in 1992. Then, aside from occasional session work (noteably with old friend Patti Smith) it would be 14 years before Verlaine came back with two new compelling and mature solo albums.
Aside from Rhino's Television reissues, Verlaine's work is barely and rarely available. Collector's Choice - whose remastering efforts are inconsistent - issued the debut (replacing one track with an early demo instead of the final master by mistake on first pressings) and "Flashlight," the latter without any of the marvelous outtakes issued on 12-inch b-sides during 1987-88 that would only enhance what is already a killer set - and how hard could those tracks be to license? "Cover" was issued on a long-gone (deservedly so) CD that perversely deleted one song (?). The excellent, short-lived Infinite Zero imprint issued "Dreamtime" in 1994, with two bonus cuts, but this too is long out of print. Only "Warm and Cool" - in my opinion a strong instrumental set that remains somewhat minor and sketchy and is now vastly overshadowed by Verlaine's much more confident and cohesive new instrumental set - has been recently expanded/reissued by Thrill Jockey. As for "Words From The Front"? Forget the cheesy, drab-sounding German CD from 1989 or so (with the black band across the bottom of the front cover), and try to pick up a vinyl copy at a used record shop. As recently as this year I still saw copies in excellent condition going for under ten bucks, and once in awhile much less. Now, with all those different labels involved, who might be motivated and able to invest in a committed Verlaine reissue campaign, with a top remastering engineer, vault research for strong unissued material, and the numerous and rare non-lp singles all brought together on sonically state-of-the-art, expanded editions? After thirty years in the record biz, it's time Tom Verlaine gets some respect beyond his loyal fanbase, those of us who waited fourteen years to buy those two new gems, "Songs and Other Things" and "Around", available right here, nearby in Tom's cyber-bin.
***12/2008 I just noticed Collector's Choice, the label that reissued both Verlaine's and Richard Lloyd's debuts 3 or 4 years ago, has reissued this title on CD as well as "Dreamtime." Though I haven't yet been able to hear them, I'm almost certain "Words" would sound better than this
1989 import. Still no bonus tracks, and in the case of "Dreamtime," it appears the 2 bonus cuts appended to the 1995 Infinite Zero edition (mastered by Dan Hersch of Rhino fame) are not included on the new transfer either."
A Verlaine Classic
Richard B. Hines | San Diego, CA USA | 02/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For some reason, this album remains somewhat overlooked in Verlaine's catalog. I find that the album is simply brimming with highly original ideas in both the songwriting and playing departments. Recorded before Verlaine became disillusioned with the music business, we find a songwriter stretching his talents to find new ways to express himself. This is unquestionably my favorite Verlaine solo work.
The opening song, Present Arrived, begins with the typical jerky rhythms we associate with Verlaine. Lead and rhythm guitars twist and turn in an outpouring of ideas that is simply astounding. Postcard From Waterloo eases us into a beautiful ballad that finds Verlaine at his most sensitive and tuneful. But it's when we come to True Story that the music begins to really stretch out. True Story is written around a memsmerizing see-saw rhythm guitar part, with Tom's vocals weaving in and out, accompanied by all sorts of little chiming noises reverberating in the spaces.
Clear It Away is perhaps the most dispensible work on the album, although it is certainly not a weak song per se. The title track is a moving song written from the viewpoint of a soldier on the battlefield. You can almost hear the fear as Tom's voice delivers the lyrics in a quavering tone, and some incredible lead guitar only heightens the tensions. A masterpiece.
After the paranoia of Words From the Front, Coming Apart brings us back to more traditionally rocking territory (in the Television sense of "rocking"). This brief respite sets us up for the highlight of the collection, Days On the Mountain. Set over a strange, errie beat, with syncopated guitars rhyming in the background, Verlaine mumbles/sings a surreal tale before the music suddenly changes completely midway through this nine-minute epic, then changes again for a lovely shimmering guitar coda at the end.
Throughout, Verlaine's guitar work shines with an originality any fan of his will recognize immediately. He appears much more comfortable than usual singing, and I find his vocals to be some of his best on any of his recordings. When I listen to this album, I am constantly amazed at how a single person can put so much creativity into one work.
The only albums of Verlaine's to come close to this are Marquee Moon (a recognized classic) and Dreamtime (his solo album before this one). It wasn't long after this that Verlaine began to put out some spottier albums like Cover and The Wonder as the record industry began to wear him down with its lack of artistic freedoms. This is Verlaine at the height of his powers. And if you like this, his import anthology The Miller's Tale includes a full disc of songs performed from his "tour" for this album, including many from WFTF. The live ambience and Verlaine's interaction with rhythm guitarist Jimmy Ripp make those songs if possible even better."