Music

Tom Verlaine: Songs and Other Things

As a poet, Tom Verlaine is a guitarist.


Tom Verlaine

Songs and Other Things

Label: Thrill Jockey
US Release Date: 2006-04-25
UK Release Date: 2006-04-24
iTunes affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

As a poet, Tom Verlaine is a guitarist. Some of his lyrics are like chords, functioning to set up his stingers and surreal one-liners. The actual music in his songs serves to set his words up, which means that between his singing and his actual heroic guitar playing he is almost constantly soloing. That is what made Television such an amazing band; one could never really tell where the songs were going next, but one always knew that Verlaine knew.

As huge as Television's two original albums loom in new wave history, though, I know plenty of people who think that he really hit his stride as a solo artist. I still remember the perplexed look on my college roommate's faces when I first played them the cassette tape of Cover for them -- but after a few days they had memorized the whole thing, and we all went around singing "Lindi-Lu" together when we were drunk, which was a lot. And there are plenty of things on 1987's Flash Light that are hard for me to listen to because they are so nakedly emotional and strange.

Songs and Other Things is Verlaine's first album as a singer-songwriter since 1990, but he hasn't lost a step. If anything, this is fiercer and tougher and more ambitious than The Wonder. The guitar skills are still in full effect, as he proves early with the voodoo blues lines he spits out on "Heavenly Charm" seconds before he lays down the nastiest- and chunkiest-sounding power chords ever made. Every song has a new OMG-did-he-just-PLAY-that moment, which is what we have come to expect from the master. We are not disappointed.

It would not be a Verlaine album without plenty of lyrics that defy analysis on the first or fifth or thirteenth listen. Very few of them sound like anything that anyone else could have written. "Orbit" begins with an ominous drumbeat from Louie Appel and the cryptic words, "You're the girl who just stopped talking / No more would be all right / Blue window here without a frame / A ghost goes through your arms." His aim is not to lead your mind down any particular path, but rather to give you some images and let your own subconscious put them together. That is why he can get away with stuff like "Five ugly birds crawl across your table / Oh, those rascals!" as easily as he coos out romantic stuff like "O to be summoned by / Unseen and sparkling eyes." (Aw.)

To me, the most impressive thing about Songs and Other Things is that Verlaine's singing has actually gotten stronger with time. Verlaine's oft-tremulous voice has always been an interesting instrument, as perfect for fans as it is off-putting for outsiders. But here he is able to pull off sexy ("Heavenly Charm", "The Day on You") right alongside blissed-out naivete ("The Earth Is in the Sky") and sly indie-soul ("Documentary"). Verlaine sounds downright menacing on the chorus of "Nice Actress" ("Never said you were some FUCKED-up actor / But there IS a hidden factor"), which sounds great on him. And when he finally gives himself space to do some vocal riffs on the epic "Shingaling," he testifies and coos his nonsensical horny words over the loosest funk beats ever associated with uptight ol' Tom Verlaine.

This is a great album, but not just because Tom Verlaine has done classic things in the past. Its greatness isn't just attributable to his long layoff, either. The truth is that Songs and Other Things is a great album because of its songs, and its other things. Damn, 2006 is shaping up nicely.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image