Television - Marquee Moon
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
"All right," Doug said to me as he stamped out his Camel Light and we stepped onto the MTA, “we need some goals... we’ll try to find Entertainment!, Marquee Moon, and Explosions in the Sky.”It was a sunny March day, and I was visiting New York City for the first time in ten years, but more importantly – for the first time since purchasing a turntable. Doug has had one for years, and is constantly describing New York as a vinyl-shoppers paradise. Given enough time, plenty of subway tokens, and enough cash and desire, one can find anything.
That said, we clearly needed some rough guidelines, lest we empty our checking accounts on Velvet Underground repressings (without the peel-off banana), overpriced punk seven-inches, scratched-up Elvis Costello platters, etc, etc. So we decided on a few rules. 1) we’d try to spend less than 20 bucks on any one album. 2) we’d look for a few albums in particular -- ones that we need on vinyl; albums we know are good; albums that transcend.
After a few hours with no luck, we found ourselves walking down St. Marks Place to a record shop Doug knew would have some decent records. He started flipping through the “60s rock and soul” section while I headed to the “70s and 80s.” Within seconds, both Gang Of Four’s Entertainment! And Television’s Marquee Moon jumped into my hands. The hours of searching had been worth it, and NYC was cemented in my memory as vinyl-heaven. Doug glared at me for finding them first.
Marquee Moon is an amazing album. Each side is perfectly balanced, beginning with three relatively poppy tunes, roughly halfway between prog rock and post-punk. These six songs are all very concise, short and to the point. Both Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd play guitar lines resembling Talking Heads work of the same era, but they take it to the next level when they interact. The two guitars weave between the drum hits and bass lines, and bounce off one another, as if tying a mammoth knot that may appear haphazard and jumbled, but was actually drawn out far in advance, and carefully assembled with attention to every minute detail. The guitar work is what really sets this album apart from every other art-school punk album released in the late 70s. They eschew layered power chords for melodic lines and countermelodies, a trick that can easily be traced back to Cream and others, but a method that most late 70s punks avoided (probably because it didn’t “rock”). In applying this, they create an archetype that every post 1980 two-guitar band would do well to follow.
There’s nothing outstanding about the vocals, or the bass, or the drums, but the band expertly meshes all the instruments into a cohesive whole. This band was tight, and throughout Marquee Moon they won’t let you forget it. This is best-evidenced on the title track, which begins with an odd, almost reggae-esque guitar part. The second guitar kicks in, followed quickly by the bass and drums. They set up a groove that’s somehow both bluesy and precise, giving an illusion of improvisation where, on closer listen, it’s clearly too complex to be invented instantly. They progress through the chorus and return to the verse, doing so several times over the course of the ten minute song. While it is very repetitive, it never once gets boring. There’s not a bad track on the record, but “Marquee Moon” is the clear highlight, marrying the shorter tracks’ pop hooks and odd rhythms with the longer jam-oriented sounds on “Torn Curtain.”
By: Evan Chakroff
Published on: 2003-09-01