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Second Chance

Television

Adventure

1978

Bands are inevitably judged by the debut album- it’s a mission statement, breakthrough and labor of love all in one. But what of the sophomore album? Often dismissed as filler albums, does the second release really deserve that? Our ongoing series takes another look at albums that may or may not deserve a second chance.

Recently, a friend and I were taking our daily constitutional at a bar when proto-punk luminaries Television’s second album, Adventure, came on over the speakers. Both of us started nodding along to the driving rhythm of opening track “Glory” and singing along with Tom Verlaine’s sardonic “You said, “‘Blah, blah, blah” you got a pillow stuck in your head;” as each track rolled by, we extolled the virtues of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd and the Rimbaud-like lyrical intricacies of the band. And then my friend revealed a shocking secret- Adventure was his favorite album. Not even that he preferred it to the epochal Marquee Moon, but that it was his favorite album ever.

I had never heard anyone, ever, state Television’s sophomore album to be their favorite, but it made me wonder for days why I was so shocked by my buddy’s admission. Over the course of our conversation, we had agreed that nearly every track on Adventure was fantastic, but it stunned me to even consider that someone would like the album so much. Why is that?

Of course, the band that produced Adventure was a very different beast than the collision of two Delaware runaways with strange names. By the second album, frontman Verlaine had already founded the Neon Boys with Richard Hell, broken up and reformed as Television, ousted Hell (who would go on to co-found and be ousted from The Heartbreakers) and produced one perfect album. By this point in their career, Verlaine and company were already on their way to becoming cult legends, mythology and all; they were the first band to play CBGB’s and reputedly built the stage there, Verlaine was romantically involved with poetess Patti Smith, guitarist Lloyd had been given the “secret of the electric guitar” by none other than John Lee Hooker himself. So how could such a band put out an album as flawed as Adventure?

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The answer: it’s not. Adventure is an excellent album, but not a great one. It contains greatness, but fails to have the same cohesiveness and sonic mystery that its predecessor had and can’t help coming off worse than it rightfully should. Verlaine and Lloyd’s skills are in no way diminished- in fact, the construction of many of the songs seems much more sophisticated and arranged. In particular, standout track “Carried Away” is miles ahead of the kind of rough almost-punk they played only a few years prior; keyboards and a shimmering organ line drive the melody ahead, while Verlaine makes his legendarily strangled voices seem almost wistful with lyrics like “Last night I drifted down to the docks/ The water…glittering and black/ The snow fell lightly and disappeared/ I felt the old ropes grow slack.” As always with Television, the appeal of the song is in its enigma, not its meaning.

Highlight as that may be, it’s far from the only point of brilliance: “Foxhole” has one of their finest and most muscular riffs- Verlaine and Lloyd’s guitar weaving is the stuff of legend and it’s because of songs like these. In probably the most pointed and topical lyrics they ever attempted, Verlaine spits out a bit jaded spite of the exhaustion of war “In the line of duty, in the line of fire/ A heartless heart is my proper attire.” On the other end of the spectrum, “Days” invokes their background in poetry, inverting Heraclitus’s maxim with “No matter how much I cross/ I always see the same stream/ I’m standing up on these bridges/ That are standing in a dream.” Ballsy to the point of pretension (or maybe the other way around), but this was New York in 1978, after all.

But sad as it is to say, there are weak points in Adventure. Thankfully, the would-be title track was left off the finished product (it can be found on Rhino’s 2003 re-release), but tracks like “Ain’t That Nothin'” and “Careful” are, kindly put, filler. The latter seems particularly out of place, with a bouncy rhythm and boyish chorus that just don’t pull together to be interesting enough; perhaps it’s not surprising, considering that it was a pre-Marquee Moon song revamped for this recording. Sometimes things that were discarded once shouldn’t be re-examined.

Fortunately, the band pulls it together for the closer, “The Dream’s Dream”; while not approaching the grandeur of “Marquee Moon”, at six and half minutes, it feels epic. Minimalist lyrics such as “The elevator called me up/ She said you better start making sense/ The stone was bleeding, whirling in the waltz” barely figure into the texture of the song- that’s fully half of the entire lyric there. In its place, Verlaine and Lloyd pass a hazy, almost painfully emotional guitar line back and forth, eventually sharing a solo that begins to blur between a duel and a duet.

Ultimately, Adventure is a successful album- Verlaine and Lloyd (along with not to be forgotten drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith) clearly wanted to create something that was not just Marquee Moon II and Adventure is anything but. Although the band dissolved shortly after and would not reform for another 14 years, Television had already managed to create one perfect album and one excellent one. Not too bad.

by Nathan Kamal

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One Comment

  1. Dale Haskell

    January 25, 2014 at 12:38 am

    I agree with your friend! I actually heard and owned ADVENTURE before MARQUEE MOON back in the 70s,so my perspective is different. No second album perceptions or expectations. While it’s easy to understand MM’s impact,ADVENTURE was a grower,it sank in and stayed there,the songs haunting me forever. BOTH albums are essential (and the 1992 reunion is pretty keen also).

    Reply

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