Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What's on Television?

One thing that fascinates me is the way that critical attitudes change over time. I own three editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide - from 1983, 1992 and 2004 (there was a fourth, from 1979, which I don't have, but I think most of the material remained unchanged in the 1983 edition). Occasionally, I will flip through all three to see what critics from those very different eras thought of an artist.

Take Television, a band that, in most of my rock-crit-reading experience, people drool over. The irreplaceable Rob Sheffield, in the latest RS Guide, gave Television's debut album, Marquee Moon, five stars, and their follow-up, Adventure, four. Twelve years earlier, Mark Coleman had given those same two records those same two grades.

But in 1983, or possibly in 1979, when those records were still new (they came out in 1977 and 1978), Dave Marsh had a totally different take. He gave them both two stars. Here's Marsh's entire review of the band's career:

Somewhat mysteriously, Television was the most widely touted band to emerge from the New York new wave. But Marquee Moon showed the group as the exclusive project of guitarist Tom Verlaine, an interesting Jerry Garcia-influenced guitarist who lacked melodic ideas or any emotional sensibility. After releasing a similar LP (Adventure) in 1978, the group broke up, with Verlaine recording two records on his own.

Yes, he did say "guitarist" twice in the space of nine words, and he did have Verlaine "recording two records." Most of this, though, I think is Marsh being reactionary toward what he would regard as a betrayal of the heart of rock and soul; in the same book, someone named Brian Cullman gives both of Verlaine's solo albums four stars.


Scraps said...

This isn't an example of critical attitudes changing over time, it's an example of how badly out of step Marsh was. Marquee Moon was hailed as a great record at the time it came out. I think Christgau gave it an A or A+, for example.

That edition of the Record Guide is a disgrace, and the blame lies with Marsh, both as editor and as fatheaded critic. I wrote a piece some years back attacking it, but it's too long for a comment here.

Russell said...

It's a common misconception that Tom Verlaine was ever influenced by or even listened to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Verlaine's real influences included The Yardbirds,the Stones,The 13th Floor Elevators, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane,John Cippolina (Quicksilver Messanger Service), early 60s novelty records, early 60s surf guitar rock and more.