Review Summary: Indebted to the past, singer Dan Treacy has no trouble writing '60s inspired hooks but a little trouble cutting off the fat.
Hero worship has long been a mainstay in the rock community: Bob Dylan’s homage to Woody Guthrie on “Song to Woody,” David Bowie’s homage to Dylan’s homage on “Song for Bob Dylan” and Patti Smith’s songs “Break it Up” and “Elegie” [sic] from her album Horses
is but a short list of examples. Television Personalities is not immune to this trend and from titling its album They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles
to writing songs that name check artist David Hockney, to covering The Creation, leader Dan Treacy wears his influences on his sleeves.
They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles
is the band’s third release and its first compilation, comprised of 16 re-recorded tracks from its first two albums, early singles and unreleased outtakes. Classifying Television Personalities’ sound isn’t an easy task: is it neo-psychedelia, New wave, indie-pop, or post-punk? Perhaps, Treacy’s songs run the entire gamut. While the band skimps on production value, it definitely redoubles its worth in hooks.
“Three Wishes” is a depressing album opener about a soldier who only realizes why they call it “the sh*t” once he’s in it. A heavenly synth line distracts from the “Dulce et Decorum est”-like horror of the lyrics.
“David Hockney’s Diary” was a downtrodden dirge on Mummy Your [sic] Not Watching Me
but is now repackaged as an upbeat pop song complete with ooohs and ahhhs to give it a Kinks-like sound. It tells the story of a man who dreams of a luxurious life as an artist, which would culminate by being featured in artist David Hockney’s diary.
“In a Perfumed Garden” has a Beatles’ like bass line accompanied by acoustic guitar and a soft synthesizer. The lyrics describe an Eden like garden where romance blooms, however, the fate of the lovers appears to end as acrimoniously as the relationship between God and Adam and Eve.
“Flowers of Abigail” is a whimsical instrumental in 3/4 time featuring marimba and accordion. “King and Country” best exemplifies Television Personalities’ uncanny knack at genre jumping with its post-punk guitar squeals and Treacy’s mumbling anti-war sentiments. He accuses a veteran of romanticizing war and rhetorically asks, “Do you wake up screaming in the middle of the night/ When your mind recalls the firing line?” The song ends with a guitar solo that emulates the solo in The Byrd’s “Eight Miles High.”
On “The Boy in the Paisley Shirt” features the album’s ever present synth strings on its chorus and lyrics about a Mod girl who falls in love with a Mod boy who’s wearing what else but a paisley shirt. “Games for Boys” is a catchy tune critiquing patriarchal gender roles and the confusion of growing up under those prescribed positions.
“Painter Man” kicks off side two and is one of the two songs by The Creation, at the time an all but forgotten British group, which Treacy pays tribute to. Treacy seems to like to do things in pairs: two songs about an artist, two songs about war, two instrumentals and two covers of The Creation. The artist in “Painter Man” says, “Classic art has had its day” and that in order to make ends meat he must sell out. Treacy’s cover is more stripped down than the original but is still a faithful rendition. The fact that Treacy’s cadence sounds like a bad Bob Dylan imitation on this track doesn’t help it though.
“Psychedelic Holiday” is a bad trip, and possibly the worst song on the album. “14th Floor” is a silly tale of a frustrated man who lives at the top of a building where the elevator is out and the he hardly has a view.
The album’s second instrumental “Sooty’s Disco Party,” is heavy on bass and synth and light on any direction, proving side two to be side where, as Yeats’ said, “the centre cannot hold.” Again, the band’s cover of “Makin’ Time” sounds similar enough to The Creation’s begging the question was there any reason for Treacy’s echo laden cover apart from posterity?
“When Emily Cries” is a return to side one’s well-crafted Syd Barrett inspired neo-psychedelia. It is a melodramatic story of the heartbreak experienced by two girls (Emily and Melanie) with forward vocals and sweeping guitar chords. An album highlight, “When Emily Cries” helps pick up the slack brought on by the previous five numbers and ushers in a run of great songs that continue until the album’s end. “The Glittering Prizes” brings to mind a ‘60s pop song reminiscent of The Who and The Zombies. “Anxiety Block” features drums that seem a smidgen off beat and the “Five Years” echo is a little cheesy but the song itself is pleasant and sunny.
“Mysterious Ways,” the album’s closer, is a slow burner that might make a box of Tissues a necessity. It is a meditation on God, faith, suicide and love. The album starts off depressing and ends on the same note but in between Treacy proves he can really write some beautiful pop songs.
Television Personalities may never have achieved the outright mania that The Beatles created, but then again, no band since has been able to match that feat either. The title, much like the rest of the band’s catalogue, is meant facetiously. While the band’s debut …And Don’t the Kids Just Love
It will always be its magnum opus, They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles
offers a nice sampling of Treacy’s disparate style and hook filled songs.