There is no need to argue the importance of Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon. Anyone with a remote interest in punk rock, the modern day garage revival or just straight-ahead no frills rock and roll needs Marquee Moon in their album collection. The jaded yet somehow impassioned cynicism of Tom Verlaine’s vocals and Romantic poetry inspired lyrics have become the model for a whole army of modern day New York bands. A quick look at M2’s Subterranean will show that the rock quasi-underground of today would not exist without Television. The sparkling clean and precise guitars of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd manage to imbue a simplicity and directness to their multi-part songs and epic solos, allowing the band to preserve their punk spirit while pursuing a thoroughly un-punk muse. The underrated rhythm section of Fred Smith and Billy Ficca played with a precise syncopation that influenced the arrival of countless post-punk and new wave acts. Television, it seems, were pretty much exactly 25 years ahead of their time. Rhino’s decision to reissue this landmark album in 2003 is a smart financial decision, but does there need to be a new edition of Marquee Moon?
The main selling point of this particular remaster is not the uninspired liner notes or the underwhelming bonus tracks, but rather the updated sound. More than any other album associated with the ’70s punk scene, Marquee Moon demands immaculate sound quality. The most notable feature about Television’s sound was how clean and sharp the music sounded. Rather than burying their songs in effects and distortion, Lloyd and Verlaine strove for a return to the “ringing-a-bell” sound of Chuck Berry. Where most post-Hendrix guitarists went for the big effect, Verlaine and Lloyd, on rockers like “Friction” and “See No Evil”, produce sounds that are precise and razor-sharp, like tiny pins. Because of this dedication to simplification, the two guitarists never step on each other’s toes, complimenting each other rather than overlapping into bombast. While the original CD remaster of Marquee Moon was not an embarrassment, the Rhino remaster has given the best possible sound to this great album.
Take for instance how the remaster cleans up the title song. Television’s finest moment, the song “Marquee Moon” is a triumph, a ten-minute epic of Romantic brooding that feels as concise as a three-minute pop song, yet is as powerfully evocative as a symphony. A ten-minute song, with poetry for lyrics, an extended instrumental section, and plenty of soloing hardly seems the fare for a “punk” album. What makes the song “punk” is how Television manage not to waste a single second with self-indulgence. From its gripping cinematic opening to the climactic orgasm of heavenly guitar squeaks that would awe even Kevin Shields, every single element of the song builds upon the previous part. Television were never a jam band, and even the solos just propel the song to its irresistible climax. “Marquee Moon” works like precise clockwork, with each instrumental section pushing the next part along. With the new polished sound, the drama of “Marquee Moon” becomes starker, and the moment where the heavenly music stops and the song steps back from the sonic excess of the climax and settles back to the simple opening groove becomes even more bewitching.
If you already own the album, and are content with the old mastering job enough not to feel pressured into shelling out 17 bucks or so for the new edition, the bonus tracks will do little to entice you. The single version of “Little Johnny Jewel Pts. 1 & 2” is issued on CD for the first time. Hardcore Television fans highlight this strange tune as Television’s finest hour, but its toy-box of squeals and bangs is not equal to the rousing emotional epics of the album proper. The alternate versions of “See No Evil”, “Friction”, and “Marquee Moon” are very similar to the original versions, with only a slightly rougher sound and different solos to distinguish them from the album versions (although a step above the “alternate mix” phenomenon that is plaguing modern day reissues). In a bit of a cop out, the concluding surf-inspired “Untitled Instrumental” is actually an out-take from the Adventure sessions. The hardcore fan, hungry for any unreleased Television material, of course will need all of this, but it is the cleaned-up sound that makes this reissue a godsend for those who have put off buying the original master. And those who have already bought the original, and refuse to buy the album again, don’t beat yourself up. In ten years or so, during the next New York rock revival, the new “new and improved” Marquee Moon will inevitably pop up on DVD-Audio. Until then, this is the definitive version of a definitive album.