The definitive punk guitar genius, Tom Verlaine returns with his first material in 14 years, the last being 1992’s Warm and Cool. Verlaine’s new recordings feature some familiar faces—Billy Ficca drums on the instrumental Around, while Fred Smith and former Patti Smith cohort Jay Dee Daugherty both guest for spells on Songs and Other Things.
Songs finds Verlaine in a sleek, almost beat-focused mode. Musically there’s a regular lick, riff or stutter to point the listener towards the auteur. “Orbit” has touches of Poe in its elongated bar-stroll. “Blue Light” nods to Cohen. On “Nice Actress” Tom moans that he “never said you were some fucked up actor,” rhyming “but there is a hidden factor.” It’s probably the serpentine allure that’s reminiscent of Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart more than anything else. “A Stroll” could be a seaside trip with Lou Reed and Dylan. Equidistantly Coney Island Baby and Slow Train Coming, its ambience points towards a lot of transparent redemption. “Lovebird Asylum Seeker” opens declaring “What’s this crazy slogan in my ear?“. There’s something of an Amnesiac‘s technical foreboding in the songs abstract paranoia. As “five ugly bugs crawl across your table,” it’s apparent that Verlaine hasn’t remained cocooned of late.
Around could be labelled a vocal album that doesn’t feel like saying much. It benefits immensely from the voiceless-ness. Somehow these instrumentals feel more lyrical than many of the Songs above. “The O of Adore” is a spectral and jazzy, with undeniable warmth at its shadowy heart. This ghost probably gives kids Hershey’s, and therein lays its beauty. “Rain, Sidewalk” wouldn’t go feel of place with a Tom Waits skit about Edward Hopper rapped over it. “Meteor Beach” plays like subterranean cocktail music, perhaps with a little Pere Ubu weirdness. “Eighty Eights” has an introverted splendour worthy of Galaxie 500 and Sun Kil Moon. It’s as comfortable complementing imperial decline as detergent-based love.
“A Burned Letter” scars warmly as the best reverb flamenco can. Angelo Badalamenti should consider this for his next score. Meanwhile “Wheel Broke” seems to have realised that the Star Wars aliens were real people, and that jam band music is no pre-defined curse. Several dads tap fingers, but with an embarrassment that’s deserved rather than forced. “The Sun’s Gliding!” is a fantastic advancement. A cosmic radiance to rival M83 fuels this dream like but punctual trip.
With the possibility of a new Television album in the future, fans of Verlaine should have even more to be optimistic about. Here, surrounded by band mates and peers, he has birthed two commendable solo efforts paying lip-service to sounds prior and after his greatest moments. Songs marks time while aiding the artist’s reputation and self-respect, while Around feels most appropriate at this moment.
Galaxie 500 – Today
Tom Waits – Real Gone
Johnny Dowd – Down In the Valley