published: 26 /
Erick Mertz examines 'Beautiful Despair', a 'lost' Television Personalities from 1990, which has finally come out on Fire Records.
In 1982, English punk/new wave band, Television Personalities released an album audaciously titled 'They Could Have Been Bigger Than the Beatles'. Curiously, it came early in their career, so the tone of lamentation seems a bit strange. As bold as the band obviously was, sadly, that claim proved true. The Dan Treacy-led quartet kept on releasing solid and satisfying records, but eventually, rampant drug use, subsequent legal troubles fused with the ravages of time forced them into the haze of obscurity.
Television Personalities' latest release, 'Beautiful Despair' (an album culled from re-discovered recordings from 1990) opens on light-hearted jangle rock, 'Hard Luck Story Number 39', a song that should be familiar to anyone who has delved into their catalogue. The breezy guitars on 'Honey for the Bears' or 'How Does It Feel to be Loved?' run the line of folk and indie folk, not exactly gentle but dark and tepid, fitting of the introspective tone on the album’s predecessor, 'Privilege'.
Most noticeable on 'Beautiful Despair' is how this feels like Treacy’s record from the beginning. Gone are the bombastic garage sounds of tracks such as 'Three Wishes' or the art/punk infused British invasion of 'David Hockney’s Diary'. Strident guitars? 'The Boy in the Paisley Shirt' your favourite Television Personalities tune? None of that was captured here. Instead, listeners get the sombre tones of 'I Get Frightened Too' or the buoyant psychedelics on 'Goodnight Mr. Spaceman'. The rhythm section feels less than substantial, meaning the record seems to fall to Dan Treacy and his ability to carry.
And does he? On 'My Very First Nervous Breakdown' there is a tangible melancholy in his voice, a broken man telling his listeners about the feeling of being broken. Over the sparse keys and synth-strings of 'I Don’t Want to Live This Life' (oddly reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s 'I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down') he seems to be singing less about a specific lost love, but instead his lost grip on a loved life. While 'Beautiful Despair' may come out of recordings from the Television Personalities mid-stream, its release now seems fitting, feeling like a late career, late personal exploration. Was Treacy trying to make a statement? I think so. On the last track, 'This Heart Isn’t Made of Stone', the album’s best effort, he feels like he’s grasping for a summary. To his career? Perhaps, but it is more likely an affirmation of what his rough road has meant.
It is hard to believe that Television Personalities are still releasing music. Especially considering the toll their lifestyle took on Treacy, in particular. The band’s one consistent member since 1978, the cruel ravages of well-chronicled drug addiction, shoplifting arrests and brain surgery that befell him were especially cruel. Still, four decades later, the re-emergence of an old recording like 'Beautiful Despair' pays off on the band’s early promise. Remaining mercurial while replacing those charming, garage rock riffs with boldly confessional lyrics, Television Personalities still warrant notice.
No, they never got close to as big as the Beatles, but their endurance leads to forgiveness for their youthful indiscretions, especially baseless, attention-seeking claims. Actually, through a certain lens, we can say that Television Personalities got something the Beatles never did: a chance at longevity, and thank goodness for that.