Tom Verlaine - Songs and Other Things
Review by Tony BonyataIt's been fourteen years since the influential leader of the New York City rock band Television, Tom Verlaine, made his last album, the instrumental Warm and Cool, and over a decade-and-a-half since his last album with vocals, 1990's The Wonder. Perhaps this long hiatus from the music world is what has spurred the singer/guitarist to release two separate albums simultaneously - one instrumental (Around) and the other with vocals (Songs and Other Things).
Verlaine and Television were once the original house band for NYC's punk club CBGBs in the mid-'70s and, while largely ignored by the mainstream, would go onto influence bands such as The Strokes, Sonic Youth, Interpol and others with their two brilliant '70s albums - Marquee Moon and Adventure. One of the issues that naturally occurs when an influential artist emerges from his creative cave after such a long absence is that immense expectations arise, often leading to disappointment.
Such is the case with both albums here - especially Around, which, with its looming, often brooding instrumental stretches, comes off more as rather annoying background music than inspirational ambient soundscapes. From the drone of "Candle" and "Shadow Walks Away," both visited by a ghostly guitar line, to the decidedly more poppy "Eighty Eights," which unfortunately doesn't build up enough steam, these are compositions that just don't feel fully realized. Even when Verlaine, along former Television drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Patrick Derivaz, raise the bar somewhat, as on the snappier pop of "Wheel Broke" and the Caribbean-kissed "Meteor Beach," it's not enough to keep these songs from sounding like rough demos with a bit of potential.
Oddly enough for his vocal album, Songs and Other Things, which turns out to be a much more interesting affair than Around, Verlaine decides to open and close the album with instrumental tracks, of which neither (the '80s fodder of "A Parade in Littleton" or the sleepy "Peace Pipe") adds anything to this otherwise pleasing effort. Sure, there's some darker moments here, as on the hallucinatory "Nice Actress" and "Orbit," with its murky melody and spiraling guitar, but it's also filled with the bright, sunny pop of songs such as "From Her Fingers," "Lovebird Asylum Seeker" and the quirky, loveable "All Weirded Out."
While neither albums here were worth holding our breaths for fifteen years, when Verlaine does manage to hit his stride on Songs and Other Things - mixing his guttural, vibrato vocals with angular guitar lines, there's still a glint of genius shining through. Perhaps if he stays planted in the saddle long enough to record another album in the next year or so, more of this genius will emerge on an even more consistent album.
"Shut up 'n play your guitar," may have been great advice for Frank Zappa, who in turn would release an ongoing set of strong instrumental records under that same title, but for Tom Verlaine it just doesn't work. Sing it, Tom.
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