By Shain Shapiro
Wow, the first Television Personalities album in nine years. Many stories must have been culled from being apart for so long, especially from lead personality Dan Treacy, who apparently disappeared off the face of the earth for two years, ending his trip on a prison boat in the English Channel. Drugs, booze, homelessness, and infighting have been reported, but what really happened to Treacy is a mystery, even to him. After reading a few interviews, Treacy is reputably lost as to how he became a prisoner in a floating correctional facility, but that is rock and roll for you.
If the Television Personalities is a new name to you, here is a quick summary. Formed in 1977 in London, the band, centered on kook and principle songwriter Treacy, has released eight albums featuring a slew of rotating membership and has become, over time, a sort of UK-bred cult answer to the Velvet Underground - brash, cockney as all hell, and musically abrasive. Never once has Treacy minced words in his music, which floats between Warhol-era early punk, nascent electro-clash, and heroin-abetted folk. Their music has quietly, in North American at least, became the underground voice of a disillusioned British youth in the Thatcher-era when every media outlet gushed over the Sex Pistols. The sordid songsmith maintained a cult persona until 1989, when the band abruptly disbanded and Treacy disappeared. Consistent in their own unique way, the Television Personalities' craft is truly British - loud, sweaty and rude, full of disenfranchised, panegyric tones, effervescent anger, and lots and lots of alcohol.
So after being rescued, or released, from the prison boat, Treacy apparently regained whatever consciousness he had left, reformed various incarnations of the band, and released the 7" All the Young Children on Crack, followed by the full-length LP, My Dark Places, featuring the former 7" as its single. Like most Television Personalities albums, for the most part, My Dark Places is barely listenable - bear with me – and Treacy's insane brilliance will eventually unveil itself in the last two songs, "No More I Hate Yous" and "There’s No Better Way To Say Goodbye." However, alongside the ridiculously over-the-top single that flirts more with lager-fuelled beat poetry than it does music, this album is extremely difficult to listen to. Filled with arcane, obtuse melodies, if they are actually melodies at all, My Dark Places is an utterly confusing, meandering listen that seems to mirror the mind of Treacy and the life that has befallen him since 1977. For example, "Velvet Underground," an obvious tribute to a band that Treacy and company inherently sound like, pays homage to the great New York collective by trying their hardest to emulate them. Yet, it comes off even more eccentric than the Velvets, which in my opinion is one hell of a feat in its own bizarre way. Furthermore, "She Can Stop Traffic" sounds like a vocal tuning session that repeats one note over and over lugubriously, without inspiration or excitement. While the song contains many moments for exploration, Treacy stays put, either from reservation or a simple hangover.
Yet, I fully believe that there is a formula here, like much of the Television Personalities catalogue, and if I listen to it a few years down the line, hopefully with a colonic by my side, I may understand. Right now, however, I am just fucking confused. I wonder how Treacy feels.
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