The Grip Of Love
Elektra Records, K52156, 1979
Souvenir From A Dream
Breakin' In My Heart
Tom Verlaine: Guitar, vocals
Fred Smith: Bass, percussion, vocals
Jay Dee Daugherty: Drums, percussion, vocals
Tom Thompson: Drums
Allan Schwartzberg: Drums, percussion
Mark Abel: Twelve string
Bruce Brody: Piano
Ricky Wilson: Guitar
A year after what seemed to be the second and last Television album, Tom Verlaine's first, eponymous, solo album. On the cover, the scary-looking guy from "Marquee Moon" now looks relaxed and comfortable. Almost like (dare I say it?) a Pop Star. (In the record company's dreams maybe but hardly, I'd guess, in his).
This could never be mistaken for another Television album. It's much more 'personal' and exposes relationships in a more direct way - or, as direct as Verlaine ever gets. The inner sleeve b/w shot shows Verlaine seated at a piano, looking isolated and strangely vulnerable.
The album looks and feels (and sounds) like a statement of intent (although, musically, it's not a massive leap sideways from "Adventure"). The sound is "bigger", clearer, with Verlaine's voice sounding fuller, more melodic and with a new warmth. Only Fred Smith appears from the Television line-up and his basslines weave through the songs, always melodic and at the heart of the music. There is a sense of celebration in some of these songs, lyrically and musically. The absence of a lyric sheets suggests that there may be less ambiguity, the meaning may be clearer; Verlaine's lyrics have always gone beyond 'verse-chorus-verse' and there is a poetry in these songs beautifully matched by their musical settings.
To say that one of Verlaine's songs is 'about' love is to read, in a sense, between the lines. His lyrics are evocative and provocative - lines follow each other more like thoughts spoken aloud than structured stories or explanations. In one way these songs are very simple - they just sound complicated because Verlaine doesn't seem interested in letting you have the whole picture. What you get is like a Polaroid - a frozen moment - and, if you want to, you have to guess what's beyond/behind the edge of the frame. The images you pick up on offer clues to what he's feeling and communicating and you make of them what you will. They connect with experiences of your own but the meaning you give to the lyrics may not be the one intended - it doesn't matter because the emotions connect. So "Kingdom Come" is both an ironic lament about life imprisonment and a dissection of a relationship. Or either. Or neither. (David Bowie later, on "Scary Monsters", did a pretty good cover of this but left out the ambiguity)
Verlaine's guitars weave in and out of the songs, always interesting; it's the constant surprises, those lines and little flourishes that catch you off-guard and that couldn't be anyone else's. There are no obvious fuzz boxes, wah-wah pedals and the rest, just constant invention - the little cascades of notes high up the neck in "Flash Lightning", the little jerking guitar figure that kicks off "Red Leaves". You just know that no-one else ever thought to play the electric guitar like this.
Brash, soaring guitars slice into the opening of "Grip of Love". It's a fabulous noise, full of space and echo and the track fairly drives out of the speakers. We're talking about love and the price that it, like everything else, carries - a theme that seems to continue throughout the album. "Souvenir From A Dream" floats along on a reggae-ish bassline and crisp percussion and chiming guitars.
I have to say that I've never really 'got' "Yonki Time". It just sits there in the middle of the album and irritates me. Makes me laugh, sometimes. Maybe that's the point?
"Last Night" is built over plaintive piano and simple organ lines that establish moods of longing/regret, echoed by two beautiful, lyrical guitar breaks. "Breakin' In My Heart", with its urgent, layered guitars over solid drums and tumbling bass line, ends the album with a rush of exhilaration.
For those of us who had been waiting anxiously since the demise of Television for something to reassure us that there was more of this wonderful music to come, "Tom Verlaine" fitted the bill almost exactly. If it doesn't all hang together perfectly well, it was good enough to justify the wait. Not that many people bought it but then when do you ever remember the record company really pushing a Television/Verlaine album?