Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Tom Verlaine - Words from the Front

Tom Verlaine
Words from the Front


Released 1982 on Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Lawrence, 18/03/2010ce


Of course Tom Verlaine really needs no introduction. This album is a totally forgotten gem coming after two equally excellent solo albums after he left Television. Both the previous albums had stellar production with Verlaine increasingly using overdubs for a "wall of guitars" effect, creating almost orchestral soundscapes rivaling the Durutti Column at times. And of course by the second album (Dreamtime) he was oversaturating the tape, thus developing a fuller, more dynamic sound.

Before the all instrumental Warm and Cool this album could very well be his best solo work, although it's not perfect. Both "Present Arrived" and "True Story" are decent enough but seem to have a "Verlaine by numbers" approach to them. However if you get past "Present" which opens the album there's a very austere and beautiful country ballad by the name of "Postcard from Waterloo" that's quite well done and could almost be on a David Lynch soundtrack to boot...

But that doesn't prepare you for the rather downbeat rest of the album. Closing side one is the fractured reggae of "Clear It Away". Although the basic structure reminds me of "Billie Jean", the Michael Jackson comparison stops there as the lyrics describe inner-city poverty with some almost Jah Wobble basswork and Verlaine's flailing sheet-metal guitar and the hint of something ominous...

And onto side two with the title track, a disturbing description of being on the losing side of war with some emotionally intense soloing in that familiar sub-Neil Young style. And stuck in the middle of two epic tracks is "Coming Apart", clanging desperation and Verlaine's overdubbing coming to the fore here.

However I arguably think the last track, "Days on the Mountain", is Verlaine's greatest masterpiece since "Marquee Moon". Apparently a hark back to childhood innocence in a less wordy, poetic set of lyrics, Verlaine goes back to his other main inspiration John Coltrane in a very loose piece held together by a simple framework of a "one-two" drumbeat, echoed bass-synth and random overdubbed guitar chords, eventually leading to a beautiful bridge that makes me think of Nick Drake the minute Tom sings "There's that old house of colors again..." Then some more staccato leads and then it kinda tones down while he starts to recall a childhood memory, each verse followed by a very loud burst of synth and saxophone, with a bit of enigmatic mystery to it all. Of course quite beautifully ending with that Nick Drake-ish interlude as a coda. Again Verlaine never quite matched that very fine moment until Warm and Cool, thus for this lengthy track alone this makes Words from the Front a very important part of his back catalogue...


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