such an unassuming fella, it’s curious that Tom Verlaine and the boys
in Television chose to credit the guitar solos on each track from their
hugely influential debut, 1977’s Marquee Moon.
Especially among the thousands of bands that sprang up in Television’s
wake, this is an entirely unprecedented move. Sure, any discerning ear
could’ve told the difference between Verlaine’s spidery, spastic guitar
lines and Richard Lloyd’s bold, fluid melodies, but the liner notes
nonetheless made sure you knew that “Richard [soloed] after the second
chorus” on the title track and “Tom after the third.” As Verlaine’s
eighth effort alone since Television’s Adventure (1978), Songs and Other Things
doesn’t need to draw such fine lines — all the solos are Tom’s.
Unfortunately, not all the tunes are his best, a short-fall that might,
in fact, have been best addressed with a little more attention to
Released simultaneously with the entirely instrumental Around, Songs and Other Things is Verlaine’s first vocal turn since 1990’s The Wonder.
While his performances with Television had a kind of meek charm — such
as witnessing the skinny kid at the back of class suddenly burst into
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” — as a solo artist, Verlaine’s voice has
become a tremulous, bitterly nasal thing. Listening to it can be
alternately unnerving, as when Verlaine’s tone goes from beat-poet cool
to jubilant whine in the same verse on “Heavenly Charm” and endearing,
as on the love-struck “The Earth is the Sky.” Most of the time, though,
Verlaine’s pipes just seem like regrettable restrictions on songs that
could have otherwise explored more interesting musical territory.
Verlaine is an artist who thrives on quirks, and his guitar playing is
a prime example. Tunes such as “Nice Actress” and the epic “The Day on
You” make it clear that little has been lost since his legendary
onstage battles with Lloyd.
The jazz influence is still front and center, the notes still stutter
and stop — running to catch up with the beat or staggering behind —
and the solos are still wholly original. The only problem is that there
isn’t enough of them, and there’s too much of Verlaine’s meandering,
are certainly moments that veer away from the middle of the road, but
for a former lover of Patti Smith’s and an influence on countless
pencil-thin indie rockers, Verlaine could certainly do better. Songs and Other Things’ mid-tempo pop feels
tossed-off, like Verlaine couldn’t have been bothered to do more
between walking the dog and a few dart games. Let’s just hope he has
enough left in him for that Television reunion.