Those Harbor Lights
Rough Trade R2881 (UK), 1992
The Deep Dark Clouds
Thrill Jockey Records (USA) thrill 162 2005
Bonus Tracks on Thrill Jockey release:
Tom Verlaine: Guitars
Please Keep Going
A Film of Flowers
Patrick A. Derivaz: Bass
Fred Smith: Bass
Billy Ficca: Drums
Jay Dee Daugherty: Drums
What are we to make of Warm and Cool?
With The Wonder criminally ignored and the newly-reformed Television's third album also due out in '92, Verlaine goes into the studio and produces a collection of fourteen "instrumentals". If you had ever wondered what an album of Verlaine instrumental music would sound like, chances are it wouldn't have been this. In fact, the best thing about it is that there's no way you could ever have anticipated it.
It's not the absence of lyrics or vocals or even songs that's disappointing - this man, remember, reinvented the electric guitar. What's missing is the sense of passion that has characterised all Verlaine's previous work. It's no accident that it's called "Warm and Cool" because"Hot and Cold" would have been a bit too emotional.
It's more a collection of sketches for ... well, something or other. Some of them hardly get started and some of them outstay their welcome. Which is not to say that there aren't some good moments here - there just aren't any great moments - except maybe in Ore when passion creeps in and you could almost be listening to a Beefheart track from around 1970. Or Lore, which is nearly seven minutes of frantic, aggressive, almost-desperate playing. There are one or two moments of stark beauty. There are parts where Verlaine seems to be fighting whatever threads of melody poke through the skeletal structures, and parts of Lore when the musicians seem to be fighting each other to see who can sound the least sympathetic.
There are parts where something ethereal almost starts to solidify into something more reassuring; Saucer Crash is spookily atmospheric and Spiritual is rather lovely. Those Harbor Lights"sounds like after-hours music in a bar in a David Lynch movie.
It never sounds like jamming which, I guess, is a testament to the empathy between the musicians. But it never really sounds as if very much is going on, either. There's no sense of vision, or even of intention. There's something very detached about it, something almost cold and unfeeling, except for Little Dance which sounds like, hey, they might be enjoying themselves. Mostly, it sounds like a soundtrack to a documentary on alienation.
Verlaine has never lacked a sense of irony, so either this is all very ironic or, well, it's just what he felt like doing at the time. Which is, of course, fine - it's just that it's not something that you find yourself wanting to listen to very often.
(As this is an album that seems to divide Verlaine fans into two opposing forces, here's a different point of view from Lance Glover:)
Okay, this was an album I suppose all Tom Verlaine fans had been waiting
for- just the guitar, the instrument's own stark poetry unbridled by words,
no matter how insightful or ironic. Probably a lot to live up to for any
album, especially one so idiosyncratic as Warm and Cool turned out to be.
There are numerous instances of pure beauty here, but as is so often the
case with things deeply drawn, some of these pearls may require repeat
listenings to give up their secrets. I won't review the tracks one by one,
or necessarily in sequence, but instead prefer to jump from one highlight
to another, hopefully creating enough sense for what the music holds to
influence those of you who've not had a chance to spend time with this
recording the motivation to do so...
Highlight 1: Sleepwalkin' this has what sounds like a lost Link Wray
riff, with some really adventurous, albeit laid-back Verlaine arabesque
melodic figures woven through. The ostinato quality of the riff bed reminds
me somewhat of Present Arrived... check Tom's solo blossoming into little
swirls of blues-explosions at 2:02, and again, around 2:55 as he slides in
and out of major and minor spaces, building an exquisite bit of tension
while somehow avoiding all the typical blues cliches.
Highlight 2: The Deep Dark Clouds. Billy Ficca's evocative rolls and
cymbal explosions build a sense of impending peril, opening with Verlaine's
volume swells floating into a starkly melodic figure... image: high
windswept rocky shore, storm rolling in. It sounds like a stripped-down
rejoinder to the V. Underground's Ocean.
Highlight 3: Saucer Crash begins with more signature Verlaine
mood-enhancing trem/speed swells before erupting into a spirited flurry of
notes culled from deep inside the guitar; then several Duane Eddy-like
staccato divebombs punctuate the most wandering melodies on the album - but
as another reviewer noted, this is no jam - Verlaine seems to know where
he's going at all times, even if the course meanders a bit along the way.
Highlights 4, 5,6: Depot (1951, 1957, 1958): lyrical, brooding,
unequivocal; Depot (1951) contains one of the loveliest, loneliest guitar
melodies Verlaine's ever recorded; the three variations provide a rich
matrix of complements and contrasts; obviously Verlaine liked this theme
well enough to keep mining it, and repeated listening will bring out many
of its subtle flavors.
Highlight 7: Sor Juanna 1:50 of perfection; a reverberant
evocation/invocation. Ficca's brushed/bowed/rolled cymbal work sets the
stage. Starting at about 1:14 but really kicking in at 1:29, notice the
strange, subtle feedback overtones Verlaine's picking up - as though some
paranormal radio frequency were trying to channel through his amp...
Highlight 8: Spiritual: magical, full of questioning and affirmation. my
favorite track on the album. so simple, but... listen to it!
Highlight 9: Little Dance: makes you wanna do one... sweet, more than a
little silly, even, but helps leaven all the darkness, and a good diversion
before the intense double onslaught of Ore/Lore.
Highlights 10, 11: Ore: metallic, explosive, convulsive. the repeated
phrase which surfaces around 1:29 forms a solid core around which the other
elements finally coalesce and then leave behind as things rattle to a
close. it seems as though Verlaine is so anxious to realize the sounds he's
finding that he can't keep ahead of himself, as though the restraint of the
rest of the album has been too much to contain... Lore is pure joy of
sound. the guitar/amp axis. I hear quotes from Marquee Moon hidden among
the overtones. What it feels like to switch on an old Fender amp and turn
Ultimately then, not the recording some may have expected, but there's lots
here to appreciate for the open-minded. Another all-instrumental album
would be just swell, Tom!
- Lance Glover, 8 feb 02 (10 years after)