Hear No Evil
From clamour to swoon, and dissolution to revelation, Tom Verlaine’s adventures on record.
THE RENOWN of Television’s Marquee Moon (left, Elektra, 1977) not only put its successor Adventure (Elektra, 1978) in the shade, but loomed over much of Tom Verlaine’s solo career. The trial-by-comparison began with 1979’s solo debut Tom Verlaine (Elektra). It might have been Television’s third, containing as it does a clutch of live regulars, among them the stately Kingdom Come (covered by Bowie on Scary Monsters (And Super
Creeps)), and the mesmeric Breakin’ In My Heart, on which The B-52’s’ Ricky Wilson’s two-chord Velvets chug impels some of Verlaine’s most lyrical Jazzmaster peregrinations.
Despite a cluttered production, for many, Dreamtime (Warner Bros, 1981) remains solo Verlaine’s chef d’oeuvre, its avalanche of guitar tones colouring a procession of pocket battleship songs that run the gamut from urgent, Television-like clamour (Always) to Byrdsian swoon (Without A Word). The following year’s Words From The Front (above, Virgin) welcomed new guitar foil Jimmy Rip to trade vibrato shimmers on the playful Postcard From Waterloo and the lamenting, soaring title track, while the lengthy Days On The Mountain dissolves into exquisite near-ambience.
Synths and drum machines were to the fore on 1984’s Cover (Virgin), in service of some typically mercurial songwriting, whether the languid, lovestruck ballad O Foolish Heart, Let Go The Mansion’s iridescent dream pop or the gnarled post-punk of Five Miles Of You. 1987’s Flash Light (Fontana) now feels hidebound by brittle production and ziggurats of staccato guitars, although One Time At Sundown and A Town Called Walker remain indubitable earworms.
The Wonder followed in 1990, with its dreamy, 12-string-drenched highlights 5 Hours From Calais and Stalingrad. In 1992, Television released their self-titled third album. Almost simultaneously came Verlaine’s Warm And Cool (Rykodisc), a collection of charmingly wacky improvised guitar instrumentals seemingly plucked from an episode of The Twilight Zone. A long hiatus from solo work ensued while Television’s stop-start renaissance played out, though in 2006 Verlaine would unleash final solo long-players Songs And Other Things (above) and all instrumental set Around for Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label. After which, Verlaine obviously decided, this case is closed.