Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Glittering Prizes: My Look At A Bunch Of Television Personalities Albums From Fire Records

The folks at Fire Records are doing listeners of good music a remarkable favor this week by reissuing the first 4 albums from Television Personalities. The band's influence has only grown in recent decades and their early releases were a direct inspiration on Alan McGee and others. Now, all that being said, the music stands on its own and remains remarkably listenable, full of wit and sharply-observed takes on Sixties psych-rock, all dressed up in early Eighties U.K. post-punk trappings.

The first album from Television Personalities was And Don't The Kids Just Love It. Released in 1981, the record's cover shot of Patrick McNee from TV's "The Avengers" and Twiggy made this lot's retro aspirations clear, as did a lovely track called "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives", all English whimsy done right, with tongue only slightly in cheek. Elsewhere, "Diary Of A Young Man" sounds like something the Small Faces would have tossed off as a B-Side, all mournful melodies drenched in rainy London attitude, while "Jackanory Stories" bounces along in the manner of something from The Who if Keith Moon had taken over the entire band. Superb and memorable, it is one of the standouts here along with the Kinks-ian riffs of "Look Back In Anger", and the poppy strumming of "The Glittering Prizes". There's no escaping the Swingin' London-vibe running through this ("World Of Pauline Lewis", "Parties In Chelsea"), but the TVPs inject these tunes with enough unique touches that to call early Television Personalities a "revival act" wouldn't be fair at all.

Decidedly more complicated, the band's second album, Mummy, Your Not Watching Me (1982), is a harder record to entirely embrace. There are moments here (the title cut, "Brian's Magic Car") that succeed admirably in steering the band in a decidedly more psychedelic direction, but some of this ("Where The Rainbow Ends") sacrifices a catchy hook for an embrace of the trappings of that earlier era. Still, there are some fantastic numbers here, notably The Creation-like "Painting By Numbers", and the expansive "If I Could Write Poetry", a track on which the band seems to have successfully achieved the very odd (for its era, at least) blend of Sixties psychedelia and post-New Wave pop they were aiming for all along. There are moments here where the Television Personalities very nearly get into territory that was once occupied by The Move and The Zombies but, of these 4 early albums, Mummy Your Not Watching Me seems the one with the thinnest pleasures.

Album 3 from Television Personalities, the wonderfully-titled They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles, is also from 1982 and it's a good deal more fun than its predecessor. "David Hockney's Diary", a title that's a variation on an earlier number, is here a spry Beat Era rave-up in the manner of early Who, while the superb "In A Perfumed Garden" is a nimble, playful run at the sort of naff-psychedelia perfected by The Move and early Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, "The Boy In The Paisley Shirt" makes clear the band's Sixties fix, in case you couldn't tell from the 2 covers of tracks from The Creation also on offer here ("Painter Man" and "Makin' Time"). This whole, fine record is so retro but it's from an age when the Paisley Underground was barely underway in the USA and in England, music fans with any taste at all were wrapped up in very early singles from The Smiths, or neo-goth stuff from The Cure, as anything like this was rarely on offer. They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles is a blast, a whole lot of fun, and a classic unlike so much of what this era had to offer.

From 1984, The Painted Word is the fourth album from Television Personalities and also a sort of reunion record seeing as how the band had broken up before this only to re-form. Things here are somehow harder, and even a gentle track, like the VU-aping "Stop And Smell The Roses", has more rough edges. If things are tougher here, the sentiments are not; "Someone To Share My Life With" is lovely even as the music prefigures, in a simple way, the kind of thing we'd hear later in countless Creation Records bands just a year or so after the release of this album. Elsewhere, the trippy "Paradise Estate" blends the sort of social commentary Paul Weller had already mastered in The Jam with a more decidedly psych instrumental approach, while album closer "Back To Vietnam" is an admirable attempt to do something serious even if it's unlike so many of the other Television Personalities tracks that I love.

Absolutely essential, the first 4 albums from Television Personalities occupy an interesting place in British alt-rock history sandwiched as they are between the first waves of punk and New Wave and the C86 stuff. Deliriously beholden to a vision of the Swingin' Sixties that is as (possibly) divorced from reality as was Syd's brain, Dan Treacy's talent was at crafting material that was wholly retro and yet entirely original in approach. Like Alan McGee a few years later, Treacy somehow paid his dues to his inspiration points without sounding entirely like them. That quality, and that talent of Treacy's, is why these records are still so listenable 30+ years later. Fans of the genuine article -- meaning fans of The Move, The Creation, and The Kinks, for example -- should be able to enjoy any of these cuts as much as fans of Eighties British indie will. Supremely melodic, full of lyrical invention, and joyously retro in outlook, these 4 records -- And Don't The Kids Just Love It (1981), Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982), They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982), and The Painted Word (1984) -- remain touchstones of the British psychedelic revival, the very same revival that would inspire Creation Records groups like Primal Scream, Biff Bang Pow!, and countless others later. They are also 4 records that stand out as rarities in a rather drab period of British indie, when New Wave bands were ruling the airwaves and fans of the Nuggets era had little to love. Television Personalities created some of the sharpest pop this side of The Move and the Kinks. Grab these and hear why I say that.

And Don't The Kids Just Love It (1981), Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982), They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982), and The Painted Word (1984) are all out on Friday via Fire Records.

[Photos: Fire Records]