The Blow-Up is a live album by the legendary NYC band Television, Tom Verlaine's baby before he started making solo albums. It was originally released only on cassette in 1982. That sounds insane because it is; the label, ROIR ("Reachout International Records") started out back then with the very strange idealistic notion that cassette tapes were the a fine thing and that the downtrodden peoples of the Earth would march into the future, shoulder to shoulder, at 1 7/8 inches per second. Therefore, ROIR only released cassettes. In time, they came to terms with reality: Cassettes degrade over time even worse than vinyl does, they have atrocious random access capability, and they sound like crap. They're incurably noisy. Magnetic tape can sound good if it's done right, but 1 7/8 ips is far too slow and an eighth of an inch is too narrow. Mass-duplicated cassettes sound worst of all1. These days, ROIR releases CDs like everybody else. 16-bit PCM at 44.1 kHz is not perfect and we'll all be happy when that standard is replaced by something with better resolution, but it sure beats those cheap little tapes.

Now, the record. It's pieced together from several shows recorded in 1978. It's a double CD, and it's got a lot of non-LP goodies. It's the only legal place I know of where you're going to find "Little Johnny Jewel" without paying collectors' prices for a beat-up 7" single. The tracks are as follows:

Disc One

  1. The Blow-Up
  2. See No Evil
  3. Prove It
  4. Elevation
  5. I Don't Care
  6. Venus de Milo
  7. Foxhole
  8. Ain't That Nothin'
  9. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan)

Disc Two

  1. Little Johnny Jewel
  2. Friction
  3. Marquee Moon
  4. Satisfaction (Jagger/Richards)

So that's that. You'll notice that "Glory" is missing. Were there no good live tapes of that one?

The liner notes eulogize Verlaine's playing to no end, and they're right. The band is often ragged and the sound is often imperfect ("See No Evil" is clearly from an audience tape), but Verlaine is (usually) on target. I've never understood why Richard Lloyd gets so much good press. Back then, he was adequate. On the 1992 Television "reunion" tour, he got one big solo all evening, and he sounded like he'd been listening to Kirk Hammett or worse2. Lloyd's a foil for Verlaine. Listen to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" here: Verlaine sings off pitch as often as not and on the guitar -- his real voice -- he skates around the tonic for eight minutes in the grand old manner and Lloyd just does his job. You can't beat it.

"Satisfaction" is a mess. "Little Johnny Jewel" wasn't much of a song to begin with and "Foxhole" was always unsalvageable (but dig the groovy novelty value: Verlaine manages to sound like a saxophone!). On the up side, "See No Evil" roars and charges like a lion, and "Venus de Milo" makes greater sense live than on the album. They're looser, louder, and more aggressive than they ever were in the studio. That would be a better thing with a tighter band. All things considered, it's a must for fans but not for anybody else.

1 If I recall correctly, mass-produced cassette tapes are made not with a record head the way you dupe tapes at home, but by pressing a "master" and a length of blank tape together. Each is on a pair of reels, of course; they don't do it all at once. This can be done very rapidly, but the results are about what you'd expect.

2 Apart from that one horrifying digression into heavy metal, it was one of the most beautiful evenings of rock and roll I've been privileged to witness. The high point was "Rhyme": On the album (the eponymous 1992 one) it trails off abortively, but on the tour they got to that trailing-off point and exploded, magnificently. That album's out of print in the US, but CDNow has it as an import. It's "prettier" than their 1970s efforts, but it's got the same glow when they do it right.

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