[1 March 2007]
Richard Lloyd is one of rock’s great guitarists. Not because he plays flashy solos or because he’s adored by millions—but because throughout 30-plus years in the biz, Lloyd has proven that he can adapt and flourish in any band. Whether playing his melodic leads with Television, cranking it up in the revived Rocket from the Tombs, embellishing Matthew Sweet’s seminal power pop opus Girlfriend, or leading various solo projects of equal diversity, Lloyd’s musicality and ability to blend with others have always been his greatest assets.
The groundwork for Lloyd’s greatness was laid with the pre-reunion version of Television from 1973 to 1978, where his sense of timing and melody were the perfect foil for fellow guitarist Tom Verlaine’s more abstract tendencies that were liable to drift endlessly without Lloyd to hold him in check. Much like the band’s use of long jams harked back to the feel of John Coltrane and modal jazz rather than ‘70s progressive rock excesses, Lloyd’s guitar solos were also unique, often taking on the role of melodies rather than setting or reflecting a mood.
Verlaine’s post-Television solo career has been a series of turgid, impenetrable outings that only rock critics could love to prove that they “get it” (“it” being supposedly avant-garde music). Lloyd, on the other hand, has excelled in solo arena. His 1979 debut, Alchemy, sounded like nothing else even in that watershed year of experimentalism, attaching pop melodies to Television-esque formats (TV bassist Fred Smith was in the band) and vice-versa without quite being either power pop or Television at their mellowest. Alchemy was like a Van Gogh painting: Pleasing at first sight, but even more endearing once you uncovered all of its subtleties.
That would also describe Lloyd’s next album, 1985’s Field of Fire, a 180-degree shift from the first album. If Alchemy reflects the quieter moments on Television’s sophomore album, Adventure, then Field of Fire is a harder-edged grind in the vein of The Blow-Up live set, only not as dark. Field of Fire displays more overt passion than Lloyd had previously, with rocking numbers like “Keep On Dancin’”, the title track, and “Lovin’ Man” not only revealing a rougher guitar tone than Lloyd was known for, but also more commanding, assertive leads than his work with Television.
If those three and other rockers like “Watch Yourself” and “Soldier Blue” represent the Lloyd eager to strut his stuff after six years in addiction hell with no record deal, then “Losin’ Anna” (written 12 years earlier) is the Lloyd of the past, his guitar filling the textural role it had in Television. Similarly, more laid-back numbers like “Pleading” and “Black to White” are what one would expect from Lloyd in the wake of Alchemy. Whether the new Lloyd or the old Lloyd shows up, however, it’s all a fine comeback effort that was deservedly praised upon its release.
That said, Field of Fire is not without its flaws. The lyrics are hit and miss, but more than that, the album is overproduced, replete with the grating, “hitting-garbage-cans-with-baseball-bats” drum sound (occasionally courtesy of a drum machine) that rendered so many ‘80s records unlistenable. To his credit, Lloyd—who had to travel to Sweden to record it—made it work, but one couldn’t help but wonder what could have been.
With Lloyd’s remixed and rerecorded update on disc two, one need wonder no longer. Lloyd rerecords vocals here, guitars there, even strips down cuts all the way to the rhythm section before redoing the rest—and the result is a more fully realized Field of Fire. What’s better about the 2006 update? Everything. No more unnecessary guitar enhancements, no more “super loud artificial snare smacks” (to quote Lloyd’s liners), no more thin, trebly ‘80s mix—just guitars that sound like the Lloyd of old and drums that sound like drums. This also unearths two previously unreleased tracks from the session, the heartfelt melody “The Only Feeling” and the more brooding guitar workout of “Tobacco and Corn”, a semi-allegorical ode to Native Americans.
To round out the potential blasphemy, Lloyd resequences the tracks and puts the two outtakes into the running order—again with superior results. Purists may decry messing with history, but for this writer, the choice between the two is clear—even if the original is a nice artifact. And if it inspires further remixing that strips out the vestiges of the 1980s elsewhere, then so much the better.