Words From The Front
By 1982, the epochal Marquee Moon, and indeed even his pioneering punk band Television, was a blip barely registering on restless New York musician Tom Verlaine’s rearview mirror. The band was dead, the CBGBs scene was scattered, and Verlaine was eager to keep exploring and romancing his own fickle muse — whether or not fans came along seemed of little consequence to him. So we come to Verlaine’s third solo album, Words From the Front. By this time he’d already sacked his backing band and recruited a new ad hoc band consisting of Mink Deville’s rhythm section and session guitarist Jimmy Rip. They recorded the bulk of Words in less than a week, with Verlaine apparently channeling Dylan-esque ideas of spontaneous quick takes, and then moving on to the next number. This is somewhat at odds with the overly slick sound of the final product. It definitely has that glossy “’80s production” sheen, especially with the keyboard and drum sounds, which is one of the album’s biggest drawbacks. It simultaneously dates and restrains the performances on the album. They’re fine performances and the session men do as session men are supposed to: stand back, play solid, and don’t get in the way of the star. Verlaine is front and center, with no Hell or Lloyd as a foil, with stellar, fiery, and emotional guitar solos (Verlaine and Carcass’s Bill Steer are the only two guitar soloists that I can stand). His vocals are among his best, desperate, adenoidal yelps, fearless and searching for that right word or turn of phrase.
The songs, all penned by Verlaine, are a varied lot of texture and atmosphere, informed by everything from new wave to doo wop to hymns to funk, all cloaked in echo. The greatest crime here is that on several tracks Verlaine coasts, he has no creative foil; no one challenges him. If the experiments don’t always work — there are a number of weak tracks and half-formed ideas on the album — the highs do their best to even the score. “Clear It Away”‘s slo-mo dub skank, the searing guitar solo (shades of Neil Young) that forms the pulpy, beating heart of “Words From The Front,” the whoosh of “True Story’s” chorus, one that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Echo and the Bunnymen album, and best of all, the puzzlebox grandeur of “Days On The Mountain” an eight-minute track bursting and phase-shifting with enough ideas and separate movements to fill a whole other album. For that track alone…
Collectors’ Choice: www.ccmusic.com