Television Personalities - Beautiful Despair - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Television Personalities - Beautiful Despair

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2018-01-26
Television Personalities - Beautiful Despair
Television Personalities - Beautiful Despair

Formed in 1978, the Television Personalities were gloriously out-of-step from the very start. Casting aside the punk rock handbook, bandleader Dan Treacy embraced mod-culture, cult cinema and the paisley shirted psychedelia of the sixties. Treacy’s songwriting wasn’t quite like any of his contemporaries; it was heartfelt, humorous and wonderfully idiosyncratic.

Like many truly great bands, the Television Personalities were always bound for a particularly cult form of superstardom. A name destined to be whispered with reverence across the land by newly indoctrinated followers. As their 1982 album proudly proclaims, they could have been bigger than The Beatles.

The material on Beautiful Despair fell between the cracks sometime between 1989 and 1990. Recorded to four-track in a flat in Stoke Newington by Treacy and one-time Swell Maps multi-instrumentalist Jowe Head, it finds a prolific and unique songwriting mind in full flow. While some of the songs were re-written for inclusion on 1992’s Closer to God LP others were simply shelved. Some twenty-seven years later and these intimate, lo-fi recordings finally see the light of day.  More to the point, what could have been a fans-only curio has actually turned out to be a rather fine album.

It should hopefully be apparent by now, but Beautiful Despair isn’t a smooth-sounding studio recording; the production (or lack thereof) bringing the likes of Daniel Johnston and Jeffrey Lewis to mind. This, of course, is all part of the charm. ‘Hard Luck Story Number 39’ is a great way to start the album; melodic, melancholic and just a little bit magical. Plus, there’s even a nod to The Teardrop Explodes towards the end (see if you can spot that one).

The album revolves around Treacy’s rather personal accounts of love and despair, recalling the more introspective tone of 1984’s The Painted Word. The title, Beautiful Despair, really is quite apt. Just take the dark and achingly empathetic ‘How Does it Feel to Be Loved’ as Treacy sings, “don’t you know that I have been there too/ so don’t you be ashamed”. The genuinely stunning ‘I Get Frightened Too’ is as tender and exposed as a song could be while ‘My Very First Mental Breakdown’ is somewhat self-explanatory.

While there’s plenty of melancholy here, there’s also some brilliantly breezy jangle-pop to enjoy. The effortlessly lovely ‘Love is a Four Letter Word’ has been flying around my head for days while the optimistic ‘Have a Nice Day’ recalls the free-spirited pop of Kevin Ayers.

And now for a little pub quiz trivia. A song called ‘Beautiful Despair’ appeared on the 2008 Comet Gain compilation Broken Record Prayers and while there are quite a few musical differences they share the same lyrical couplet on the chorus. There’s quite a bit of mutual appreciation between the two bands; Treacy having written the sleeve notes for Comet Gain’s debut album Casino Classics and David Feck having cited Treacy as a major influence. 

I’ve also discovered that ‘If You Fly Too High’ is about Evan Dando of The Lemonheads. All my favourite bands gathering together under one, Dan Treacy-shaped roof. Incredibly geeky I know, but these connections brought a pretty big smile to my face.

A long lost album from one of the country’s finest long lost bands, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of hearing the Television Personalities than you really should give Beautiful Despair a listen. It might not be the kind of album to jump out of the speakers but listen closely and you’ll hear something very special indeed.

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Really heartfelt and engaging review, Andy. You've accomplished what a great review should; you've convinced me to get this album and give it a listen. Thanks!!

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks Steve! Really nice of you to say Yeah, the Television Personalities really are great. Well worth hearing the likes of The Painted Word and They Could Have Been Bigger than The Beatles too. Beautiful Despair really grew and grew on me!

Comment was last edited about 4 years ago by Andy Brown Andy Brown
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