Thursday, October 16, 2014

TV Eyes Omnivore Release Review

Great songwriting, production, and the ability for an album to feel as relevant and fresh now, as it did when it was released are the foundations of what make an album great.  Obviously that’s a condensed description and there are other factors that go into it as well…but for all intents and purposes that pretty much sums it up for me.

When it comes to the reissue of the self-titled offering from TV Eyes, if we ask the question, “Is this a great album?” the answer is a resounding YES.   Whether it be the relevant Orwellian theme (which we seem to be faced with now more than ever), or the meticulous effort put into the detail of the arrangement of the songs, or just the impeccable songwriting, the lone release from TV Eyes is one hell of an effort that begs to be considered in the great album category.   It’s a crying shame there is only one album from this power pop super group consisting of Jason Falkner, Roger Manning, and Brian Reitzell.  These guys were way ahead of their time when they conceived this project yet sadly, missed the 80’s revival train when the album finally came out in 2006 as a Japanese import.

I can remember back in ’99 and ’00 scouring the various Jellyfish fan pages for anything to do with the project that was, at one time, dubbed Softcore (Or Softkore depending on which site you were reading).  You could find articles, posts, and hearsay about what was in the works for a while but then the information and news dried up.  The next thing I knew, No Doubt released Rock Steady, and I couldn’t have been happier because a big name jumped into the 80’s/synth pop space and hope was in the air that their album would ignite the perfect launching ground for TV Eyes to release their album to the masses.  But it never came to be.  Yes, there were a couple of shows that materialized for those lucky enough living in the LA area - but that was it until...2006 when the Japanese import was released.  Finally, we had our taste of TV Eyes, and a satisfying taste it was!  But at $35-$40 and being a Japanese import, you really had to be a hardcore fan to want to grab this nugget of synth-pop genius and unfortunately it would never make it mainstream.

Fast-forward to October 2014, and the masses now have a proper (And affordable) release on CD and double vinyl of the brilliant album TV Eyes through Omnivore Recordings.  The reissue stays true to the original for the most part.  The packaging remains the same – including the album art and the cardboard case with a pocket for the book of lyrics and liner notes to slip into to.  The CD now has a white face instead of the standard silver the original had.  (Unfortunately my CD has a small speck of white missing so my CD stops on one song – hopefully this wasn’t a quality issue for a large majority of discs)  They also added a few bonus tracks to the album that include: remixes by Falkner, Manning, and Reitzell, and a fourth song that originally appeared on Manning’s solo album, (released under his DJ moniker Malibu) Robo Sapiens, called “She Gets Around”.  Hardcore fans will be wondering why a few more songs - namely, “Stop Me”, “Assimilation Process”, and “Won’t Last Forever” didn’t make it onto the album.  But have no fear if you want to hear them, apparently they can still be found on on a Japanese import.

The reissue also adds an essay written by Jason Falkner that gives a very brief overview of the history of the project.  I won’t get into all of the specifics – but I do want to point out one thought he lays down in the essay.
It was a tricky proposition, this concept, because we didn’t want it to come off as jokey or emulating the originals too much, and so deeper songwriting was necessary.  We could come up with heavy synth or metallic guitar riffs all day, but the songs needed to be great.  I remember laboring over the lyrics and melodies for months prior to and during the recording.

This project oozes a certain passion and effort that you can hear in these songs.  It’s evident that these guys spent a great deal of time making this not just a good retro-influenced album, but a GREAT album that has a character all its own while still giving a nod to their influences.  The beautiful thing about this album is that it never feels forced or like it’s trying too hard to emulate the genre it pays homage to.  Sure you get the references to their influences like the Gary Numan “Cars” synth line in “Fascinating” around the 3:12 mark, BUT if you were to strip the album down to it’s core – removing all of the synth work, etc., what you’d find is that the songs are outstanding.  All these amazing compositions add up to make an album that reinvents the synth-pop sound in a completely original way and kicks ass the whole way through.  It’s a complete album.  Their efforts and laboring paid off handsomely as this record sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released almost 10 years ago.

Song Highlights

It’s hard to pick out only a few songs to discuss because there isn’t a bad song on the album.  TV Eyes does a great job guiding the listener through different elements of the synth pop sound even tastefully weaving in bits of punk to the mix.   If I had to choose some standout songs they would be:

“Over The City”
The album opens with “Over The City”, a driving, upbeat song that is a GREAT opener…every band wishes they had an opener like that on their album.  An opening song sets the tone for the listener and when a band gets it right, it adds another layer of depth to the listening experience.  It engages the listener right off the bat.  TV Eyes did a great job selecting this number to welcome the listener and hooking them into wanting to hear more.

“She’s A Study”

My vote for best song on the album goes to “She’s A Study”.  This could’ve been the opener on the record as well because it drives like “Over The City” – though a bit more melodic than “City”, which is why I love it so much.

“Mission Submission”

George Orwell is mentioned in the “thank you” section of the liner notes.  For me, this is the most Orwellian song on the album.  Lyrically, it couldn’t be more relevant today as people are being sucked into social media, crony capitalism is running amok in our country, and the NSA is spying on everyone and their brother…one can’t help but feel like big brother is always looking over your shoulder.  That essence is captured in this song so vividly in the lyrics and then tied altogether with a perfect soundtrack behind the lyric.  
“Time’s Up”

On the original album, and before the remixes start on the reissue, “Times Up” closes the album.  What a great closer this song is.  The song moves into the trippy space-aged realm pushing the listener into a more relaxed mood after the ride you just went on.  TV Eyes really does an excellent job bringing the listener back down to earth and thus, the album winds down in perfect fashion.

The Remixes

I found the remixes to be enjoyable.  Each band member adds their own unique signature to the song they reworked.  I’ve never heard a remix from Jason Falkner before, and was impressed with his version of “fascinating”.  Manning adds his “Malibu” spin to “She’s A Study” reworking the song with some awesome new synth work.  This would have been my favorite remix but the addition of a voice grunting “Uh” throughout the song took a little away from the remix for me.  Rounding out the remixes, Reitzell stretches out and adds a cinematic touch to “Times Up” that feels, well, very Reitzell!

All in all I can’t say enough about how fantastic this album is.  It’s probably my favorite vocal performance from Jason Falkner – including all of his solo work.  If you dig 80's synth pop / punk / CBGB type sounds, I highly recommend that you pick TV Eyes up from Omnivore ( at your earliest convenience. 

One more thing… this album deserves to be listened to with headphones at least once.  You will do a disservice to yourself if you don’t take the time to hear all of the detail they put into the project – especially how beautiful all of the analog instruments sound in this recording!

Thanks for reading.

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