As is the case with many great and revolutionary albums, Television's epochal debut Marquee Moon is difficult to pigeonhole, defying conventional categorization with its unique blend of seemingly incompatible elements. This unorthodox mixture breeds nearly paradoxical terms such as 'art punk,' the product of the musical community's obsessive need to compartmentalize rock albums into safe and easily digestible classifications.
Another label that often arises when dealing with the album is 'garage rock,' but that's a rather inadequate description, as it implies a certain connotation of instrumental sloppiness and amateurish playing, which couldn't be further from the case, as the deft, fluid interplay of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's guitarwork is the band's signature sound, functioning as the cornerstone of all of the group's musical endeavors. It may not be hyper precise and technically immaculate in the vein of Fripp and Belew's guitar interplay in King Crimson, but it remains extremely professional and compelling, dispelling any doubts pertaining to any potential instrumental inadequacy in the group. While they may not be virtuosos Verlaine and Lloyd are extraordinarily gifted guitarists, and their innovative interplay became a huge influence on myriad subsequent post-punk outfits.
The centerpiece of the album is the epic title track, an undisputed masterpiece boasting a stellar riff, an incredible jam and a sweeping, anthemic feel. While it's about ten minutes long it never drags, remaining deeply involving for the full duration of the track.
While none of the other numbers attain the same dizzying heights as the title track they're universally strong, from the catchy rocker Friction to the moody, atmospheric, haunting Torn Curtain to the irresistible Venus to the cathartic Guiding Light to the classic opener See No Evil. The album's wholly bereft of filler, and while the tracks tend to be on the long side one's listening experience is never in danger of growing monotonous or tedious.
Assigning a standard genre description to Marquee Moon is an insult to the album, as its uniqueness evades easy categorization, and thus slapping a label on it reduces a highly complex, idiosyncratic work to a hollow classification that lacks the elements that make it such a special listening experience. It certainly derives some of its attributes from the punk movement, the avant-garde artsy scene and archetypal garage rock, but its fusion of these (and other) varied elements is precisely what makes it such a seminal, influential work.
The album's unique nature wouldn't count for much if its content couldn't match the ambitions of its formula, but, fortunately enough, the songwriting is brilliant even when viewed independently from the LP's artistic aspirations, and it's this that, in the long run, makes Marquee Moon such a brilliant product. Between the ubiquitous, phenomenal guitar interplay, the exceptional songwriting and its unique character the album constitutes a true masterpiece, and one that is justly revered to this day. Within it lie the origins of a plethora of future musical enterprises, but even when taken on its own it's an excellent aural experience, remaining a gripping, involving and memorable listen even when divorced from its historical context.
When a band stumbles upon a winning formula, especially early in their career, they're placed in a somewhat awkward position; do they simply produce a rehash of their first success and risk stagnation or a potential backlash or do they attempt to discover a new voice and risk alienating fans of their prior output?
It's a difficult conundrum, and one that Television were forced to face after their breakthrough masterpiece Marquee Moon. In their case they opted for the latter approach, which is not to say that Adventure is that far removed from their debut; the situation is more akin to REM's progression from Murmur to Reckoning, wherein the primary disparities are more related to the production than the actual songwriting.
Thus Adventure opts for a comparatively softer, fuller sound after their sonically jagged, minimalistic first outing. This helps differentiate the album from their debut, allowing it to develop its own identity independent of its predecessor. As was the case with REM the album fails to live up to their stellar debut, but nevertheless, like Reckoning, Adventure is a very strong effort, sadly thrust into a position where it will invariably be compared to the group's magnum opus.
Indeed, Adventure is a very accomplished affair, featuring very tight songwriting from Verlaine (primarily manifesting itself through the medium of clever riffs and engaging hooks) once again married to the band's trademark guitar interplay. The relative softness is ultimately a great asset for the band as, in addition to distinguishing the album from its predecessor it ameliorates the group's more mellow material while it scarcely impedes the harder fare like the classic riff rocker Foxhole.
The songwriting doesn't quite measure up to the impeccable standards set on their debut, and the rougher, rawer and more distinctive vibe of Marquee Moon is sorely missed on occasion, but nevertheless eschewing the trappings of their first effort was, in the long run, the correct decision, as it enables Adventure to stand on its own as a great album as opposed to a mere retread or lesser sequel. The new production generally complements the material quite well, offering glimpses of a different side of the band while still retaining the brand of songwriting depicted in their debut.
Ergo the album ultimately turns out to be yet another fine effort from the group. Sadly the album will invariably be eclipsed by its predecessor, but by any other criteria Adventure is a stunning achievement, featuring Verlaine's songwriting and his guitar interplay with Lloyd in all their glory. The band is to be commended for trying something different, and in the end that's what prevents it from amounting to little more than a mere clone of their debut.
In the early 90's a certain brand of punk-derived guitar rock was enjoying something of a renaissance, inspiring a plethora of the more prominent acts from the genre's heyday to reunite and record some new material to educe as much cash from the phenomenon as possible before the trend dissipated.
Thus it's unsurprising that one of the genre's greats, Television, would attempt to capitalize on the style's temporary resurgence. Despite their nearly universal critical acclaim and consummately influential status commercial success had always eluded the band; ergo, when the group perceived a chance to achieve the mainstream breakthrough they had always coveted they were quick to reform and launch a new era for the band, a second life that would attain the commercial heights they were incapable of reaching before.
Unfortunately, from a sales perspective this reunion certainly didn't work out as Verlaine and company had envisioned it. From a qualitative viewpoint, however, their eponymous comeback album worked quite well, a superb product filled with catchy riffs and abundant hooks.
Verlaine's creative faculties had not atrophied in the intervening years between Television's dissolution and their subsequent return as he had hardly been inactive during this time period; on the contrary, he'd spent his time honing his craft with a lengthy solo career, and needless to say the fruits of his innate talent were further ameliorated on their comeback by the presence of Lloyd who, as always, brilliantly complemented Verlaine's guitarwork with their classic instrumental interplay.
The album is hardly perfect; in particular, the spoken track Rhyme is pure filler, inoffensive but utterly expendable. Each of the remaining numbers, however, are quite strong, well written and performed in the band's signature style. There's nothing that betrays the group's prolonged sabbatical, as they pick off right where they left off on Adventure.
However, while their comeback is indeed quite impressive it's not quite a return to form; while his solo career had enabled Verlaine to sustain his creative energy nothing can change the fact that it had been fourteen years since the band had broken up, and thus nothing could restore the group to their qualitative peak. Television were no longer in their prime, and thus no matter how strong their comeback was it couldn't reach the heights of their prior output.
Nonetheless the album is a very good LP, everything one could reasonably hope for from a late period comeback record. Strong songwriting married to tight performances ensure a quality listening experience; whereas the most one can generally hope for from a belated reunion is that the group doesn't embarrass itself, this eponymous outing is an amazing feat, a superb product that depicts the band as artists who still have something worthwhile to offer even after all these years.