Tom Verlaine, Dreamtime
If they're being honest with themselves, fans of Television likely have mixed feelings about the work of the band and its guiding force, Tom Verlaine, past their remarkable debut album, Marquee Moon. I know of only two people who think the band's follow-up album, Adventure, was anything but a tepid letdown. I know a few people who find merit in the band's s/t "comeback" album from the early '90s, but I've never been able to listen to it past a few introductory spins following its release. It was as if Verlaine and guitar sidekick extraordinaire Richard Lloyd put saltpeter in the food of the band's previously distinctive rhythm section, Fred Smith and Billy Ficca, so the recordings would have a more reserved, "contemporary" appeal. Where were those warm bass fills and the off-kilter crashes? But there I go straying from this blog's extremely positive objectives again! Before I return to accentuating the positive and giving credit where credit is due, I must raise the interesting belief that one friend holds, that the entire story had been told - great story that it was - by the end of side one of the orginal vinyl album release (ie, through the title track for those of you who have not experienced the joys of flipping an actual album over).
I raise these doubts because there's one solo Tom Verlaine album, Dreamtime, that both meets the high, visceral bar set by side one of Marquee Moon while satisfying what I will only assume was Verlaine's vision of a more ascetic, crystaline setting for his music, as hinted at on side 2 of Marquee Moon. Despite some high marks from the usual suspects, Dreamtime was fairly overlooked in its time and is all-but-forgotten (and out of print) today.
The album opens with the furious stomp of "There's a Reason", featuring all the unique guitar and rhythmic interplay that sold us from the opening measures of ""See No Evil". Here, however, the lurching, rhythmic riffs do more than update the debut-album rockers' melding of gleefully stoned, mid-60s Rolling Stones singles and the Beatles's "Paperback Writer". Verlaine has taken the fencing feats of even the song "Marquee Moon" to a level previously unheard in in his oeuvre (sorry, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to use that word). Despite the snaky singing, the stinging guitar leads, and all the other stuff that screams ROCK 'N ROLL!, it's the sound suggested by the Lou Reed album title Metal Machine Music more than that of a rockin' band. This quality is carried through the rest of the album to great, pre-crappy-'80s-production-techniques effect.
The album's second track, "Penetration", completes the template of thrusting repetitive rocker followed by elegant mid-tempo number, as established by the first two Television albums. Again, however, the jangly elements of this Dreamtime equivalent to "Venus" and "Days" are lacking in the warm and fuzzies that kept Television's experiments with one firm foot in the traditional rock soil of Woodstock, Monterrey, et al. The song moves along in detailed, dispassionate increments, with only the slightest release during a jaunty dual-guitar break. I keep thinking, whenever I play this song, that although I will never form as emotional and personal an attachment to "Penetration" as I do to "Venus", it all makes sense in the artistic direction that Verlaine initially launched. He was headed this way, as the third song, "Always", a bit of a chilled, nasty rocker along the lines of "Friction", also tells me. And so on...
It may seem like I'm selling Verlaine short on this album by identifying these templates and patterns, but I do think there are artists who can spend a lifetime honing a small set of clear ideas. Not every artist can move comfortably from "Love Me Do" to "Help" to "Strawberry Fields" to "Cold Turkey", and not every artist needs to move in a line that shows such clear "progress." I've got a handful of other Verlaine albums, and they all have their moments, but no other one seems as focused on his small set of clear ideas. No other one seems to pick up the thread, and despite efforts every few years to see what the guy might be up to (eg, producing demos for Jeff Buckley, guesting on Patti Smith recordings, composing music for films), I can never tell if he even possesses the thread these days.