Shortly after Television’s first finish, lead guitarist Richard Lloyd stepped out from Tom Verlaine’s shadow with Alchemy, a gem of a solo album. Singing lead on ten of his own songs, Lloyd — backed by Television bassist Fred Smith, Jim Mastro of the Bongos and other New York scenesters — spins a beautiful, understated web. On his own, Lloyd, whose guitar skills remain beyond reproach, also proves himself to be a fine songwriter, a limited but engaging vocalist and a relaxed team player who never hogs the spotlight. The material (especially the wonderful title track and the stirringly pretty “Misty Eyes”) is in the melodic, sensitive vein of late-period Television, minus Verlaine’s rough edges and manic intensity.
Six years and several lifetimes later, Lloyd is a survivor declaring “Don’t call me a liar / I’ve been through the field of fire” on the title track of his second solo album, which he recorded in Stockholm with local musicians. Field of Fire bears scant resemblance to Alchemy — with a few exceptions (“Pleading,” “Black to White”), it’s louder and more rocking, with some songs less dependent on melody than on muscle and grit. Set into deep reverb, Lloyd sings at times with the confidence and resonance of Ian McCulloch (“Watch Yourself”); on “Keep on Dancin’,” he could be Bruce Springsteen fronting the Heartbreakers; elsewhere, he’s too raw-throated to be pleasant. But there’s enough enthusiasm, solo guitar fireworks and sturdy songs to carry the day. And his harmonica playing on “Backtrack” is a delightful surprise.
Lloyd recorded Real Time live at a pair of 1987 shows in the comfort of Television’s old concert HQ, CBGB, with a bass/drums/guitar trio. The song selection draws from both solo records, adding a few new numbers — adapting the resultant diversity without incident — and dredging up an old Television concert favorite, the 13th Floor Elevators’ “Fire Engine,” for a bracing opening salvo. The clearly rendered recording highlights Lloyd’s upbeat and articulate singing as well as the thoughtful and passionate guitar work. (With the inclusion of three extra songs at the end, the CD runs almost an hour.)
After another lengthy gap (during which he played with Matthew Sweet, joined Television for an album and tour and built a career as a guitar instructor), Lloyd delivered his third studio album. The Cover Doesn’t Matter finds him, feet solidly planted on terra firma, in complete creative control, backed by drummer Chris Butler (Tin Huey, Waitresses) and bassist Peter Stuart. Lloyd still has better command of his guitar than his singing, but the complexity and sophistication of his playing, not to mention the calm, adult perspective of his songwriting, make him virtually another musician than the one responsible for his previous records. Here he weaves guitars together like a master, accomplishing feats of six-string daring in personal songs (the dream-telling of “Ain’t It Time,” the romantic “Downline,” the solemnly affecting “Cortege”) that reveal less than they appear to. Perhaps revealing more than they intend to, “Strangestrange” is a very handsome number with a TV-like bridge and a gorgeously constructed solo; “Torn Shirt” revives the band’s old rhythmic pulse, only with far more overt energy and a barrage of finger-twisting riffery that betrays years of careful practice; “Raising the Serpent” uses a lick not unlike the one in Television’s “Call Mr. Lee.” The album’s melodic highlight is “(I Thought) You Wanted to Know,” a song Lloyd gave Chris Stamey to record in 1978. The Cover Doesn’t Matter was worth the wait.