Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tom Verlaine

  • Tom Verlaine [Elektra, 1979] A-
  • Dreamtime [Warner Bros., 1981] A-
  • Words from the Front [Warner Bros., 1982] B+
  • Cover [Warner Bros., 1984] A-
  • Flash Light [I.R.S., 1987] A-
  • Warm and Cool [Rykodisc, 1992] Neither
  • Songs and Other Things [Thrill Jockey, 2006] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Tom Verlaine [Elektra, 1979]
In which he deploys backup choruses and alien instruments, the kind of stuff that bogs down all solo debuts, with modest grace and wit. And continues to play guitar like Captain Marvel. Neater than Television, as you might expect, but almost as visionary anyway, and a lot more confident and droll. Inspirational Verse: "My head was spinning/My oh my." A-

Dreamtime [Warner Bros., 1981]
A pop boho and an ecstatic mensch, an exalted lead guitarist who loves to chunka-chunk that rhythm, Verlaine is a walking, cogitating rock and roll contradiction. Granted, the solo-with-backup hierarchy does constrict his wild gift a little. But Ritchie Fliegler's Richard Lloyd simulations get the job done, and anyway, this is Verlaine's best batch of songs since Marquee Moon--two years' worth, ten in all if you count the one that goes "Hi-Fi." Elsewhere, Verlaine evokes the touchy ironies of urban love--passion and detachment, adoration and despair--with deftness and soul. A-

Words from the Front [Warner Bros., 1982]
Verlaine's ever-resourceful guitar has always been more richly endowed with mood and effect than with the hook riffs that make him a great rock-and-roller, and here for the first time things get too atmospheric. "Postcard From Waterloo" is a classic, but the strangulated vocals and expressionistic structures suggest that he really should get out more. B+

Cover [Warner Bros., 1984]
Anglophobes and wimpbashers won't hear it, but Verlaine's light touch constitutes a renewal and an achievement. Synthesized ostinatos and affected vocals are deplorable in themselves only when they're ends in themselves. Here they're put to the service of tuneful whimsy that has brains and heart, a sense of beauty and a sense of humor. Goofy romanticism at its driest and most charming. A-

Flash Light [I.R.S., 1987]
Supremely self-conscious, utterly unschooled, Verlaine writes like nobody else, sings like nobody else, plays like nobody else. His lyrics sound like his voice sounds like his guitar, laconic and extravagant at the same time. After three years off the boards, he's deemphasized keyboards in a quest for dynamite riffs, and he's found enough to thrill any fan. As usual, I'm not sure just what the songs mean. But that bothers me mostly because it may bother you. A-

Warm and Cool [Rykodisc, 1992] Neither

Songs and Other Things [Thrill Jockey, 2006]
Crazy like a guru--funny like one too ("From Her Fingers," "All Weirded Out"). **