Great rock groups often run on the creative and personal interplay between two people. In the Beatles, the Stones, the Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, etc., the successful balancing of conflicting forces (say Apollonian and Dionysian) made for some great rock ‘n’ roll. When the Stones really clicked, Keith’s raw groove was held in check by Mick’s crystalline pop sensibility, and vice versa.
Television was one of those bands. Though the main creative force in terms of songwriting was certainly Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd (co-lead guitarist with Verlaine) added just as much to the band’s inimitable sound. Verlaine’s wayward, melodic runs were perfectly offset by the jagged, rhythmic precision of Lloyd’s licks.
When Lloyd quit Television last May, it was, to put it mildly, anticlimactic. The group formed in 1973 in the midst of the thriving New York rock scene and has rarely performed since the late ’70s, when their two signature albums, “Marquee Moon” and “Adventure,” were released. But fans always rabidly awaited the next series of Television shows, which generally came every couple of years. And since neither Verlaine nor Lloyd ever approached the sublimity of Television in their solo careers, it was sad to see Lloyd finally leave the group for good after 34 years.
That said, Lloyd’s new solo album, “The Radiant Monkey,” is by far the best thing Television-related to have come out since that group’s first album, the masterwork “Marquee Moon,” was released exactly 30 years ago. The album, Lloyd’s fourth solo offering since 1979’s “Alchemy,” is the kind of straight-ahead rock record that hasn’t been made for a very long time, the kind that, as the Stones wrote on the sleeve of “Let it Bleed,” “should be played loud.” It displays a ballsy swagger and loose, loose groove that is the antithesis of the asceticism cultivated by Television. Indeed, any incipient sexiness was carefully pruned away by Verlaine, who kept the group squarely within his modernist art-rock vision. Lloyd rocks so hard and so raunchily on this album, it’s amazing that he could have played in a group as restrained as Television on and off for 34 years without spontaneously combusting.
First and foremost, he’s one of the great guitarists, and the album is filled with guitar playing of scintillating brilliance and intensity. He plays with the bluesy soulfulness of a Hendrix, the jagged rhythms of a Keith Richards or Robert Quine, the deftness of a Jimmy Page. He has absorbed and even equaled his influences: This is stellar playing. Which is not to say that “The Radiant Monkey” is merely a guitarist’s vanity project — the songwriting here is great, too. Lloyd’s voice is not the strongest or most distinctive, but he puts up an epic struggle to hit the notes, and the grainy vulnerability of his voice is often quite emotional. “Monkey,” the opening track, has “junky/monkey” rhymes lifted from the Stones’ inane but great “Monkey Man,” croaky, mad-dog Jim Morrison vocals and a bridge that’s straight out of Led Zeppelin. Yes, it’s something of a hodgepodge of well-worn rock tropes, but the final product is uniquely Lloyd’s own. He plays the shit out of these songs with a vigor that’s astonishing.
“Glurp,” in the angular precision of its single-note riff, sounds like Television, but it’s far more upbeat and open-hearted than anything they ever recorded. “There She Goes Again,” is pure, sunny Who-style rock ‘n’ roll with a coda reminiscent of the end of Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone.” “Big Hole” and “One for the Road,” combine funky Hendrix licks with the New York rock swagger of Lou Reed and Richard Hell. “Wicked Son,” with its start-stop rhythm and heavy backbeat, wouldn’t be out of place on Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy.”
There are few weak moments on the record, and these are due to dumb lyrics at which one cannot help but wince, like “There she goes again/ I don’t know her name/ As she walks on by/ Like a funny game.” But let’s face it: Nobody goes to Television, or, for that matter, Richard Lloyd, for profundity. Half the time you can’t even really hear the poetic nonsense that Tom Verlaine is whining on the Television records. It’s fortunate that Lloyd is so straightforward as a singer and lyricist. His words, with their mixture of earthiness and streetwise grit, suit the songs well. And his subjects are the juicy ones: sex, drugs, love. But we’re here for the music. And the music proves that Richard Lloyd is making some of the hottest rock ‘n’ roll today.