Television Personalities – The Painted Word

Part 30 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

In the mid 90’s Britpop and all things Anglo were all the rage not only in the UK but also among those hipsters in the know. Sure, most people had heard of Oasis, but bands such as Pulp, Cast, and The Bluetones were hardly household names in the US (Blur WOULD become a household name, but it was with their 1st “post Britpop” album). In the midst of this era of a British invasion (some great bands, some..not so much), reissues of old records by then current Britpop darlings Pulp were being prepared. The early records were decidedly…not Britpop. That didn’t concern me so much and I read the liner notes with a focused intensity. Within those words I picked out a few bands that were loosely connected (either through Fire Records or some other obscure fact). The Blue Aeroplanes and Television Personalities were the most notable.

I quickly sought out and bought as many CD’s by both of these bands as I could. Though I loved (love) both of them, Television Personalities entered into my (cue High Fidelity reference) “TOP 5” of all time. Daniel Treacy, Edward Ball, Jowe Head, and other various members from different incarnations of the band struck a chord with me that has remained a constant for over 15 years. Whether it was the early DIY singles making fun of punks standing out – by looking like other punks (ex. lyric “Here they come / la la la la la la / la la la la la la / The part-time punks!”), mod styled pop songs, or songs that struck an emotional chord – Television Personalities spoke (speak) to me in a way that only a few bands have. Their 1984 masterpiece The Painted Word carries a darkness that previous records had not. Though it is painting just one color from the varied palette the band has used, it is a stunning masterpiece of nuanced emotion.

I’d Spend My Life Writing Poetry…(album breakdown) 

Stop and Smell the Roses starts off the album with a funeral like dirge. Treacy is singing in a lower register, his voice laced with emotion. It is hard to connect the man singing with the man who sang in a light-hearted cockney accented voice about “Arthur the Gardener” and “Geoffrey Ingram”. The song is given a dense atmosphere, carried by the bass. Stunning opener. Key lyrics:

Sometimes I
I would give anything
To take back all the things I said
That made you cry

The Painted Word is one of the strongest tracks on the record, as it should be, being the title track. It starts off with a whimsical voice saying “Interesting place this is…I think I’ll stay and see what happens”. Vocals lower in the mix before they suddenly explode in the mix during the chorus. Organ and a repetitive guitar refrain push the song into the deeper recesses of the listeners brain. Key lyrics:

If I wanted to I’d write a book
But it would take some time
I’d spend my life writing poetry
Thinking of words that have to rhyme
I just haven’t got the time
I just haven’t got the

Bass is the focal point as A Life of Her Own begins. Melodic guitar flourishes enter the mix and Daniel Treacy spins a heartbreaking tale of suburban discontent. The dark underbelly of Britpop a few years before it became a movement? Could be – the emotion in Treacy’s vocals is overwhelming and convincing. Key lyrics:

She sits alone in the kitchen
With her memories and photographs
Of all the better times she’s had
When she was young the days seemed short
So much to do so little time
But now the days just seem to pass her by
So she cries she takes a pill
Then another, calls her mother
“Mother can you baby sit tonight?”

The children scream her husband doesn’t care
So many times she’s wished he wasn’t there

Bright Sunny Smiles – This track kind of reminds me of the TVP’s records that came before this one – with a sarcastic tone to the title. Rolling organ, as the song takes on a waltz of sorts. Sing-a-long feel to the drunken styled chorus. Deeper album cut. The song’s coda is a touching organ instrumental piece. Key lyrics:

Sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are sad
When we think of the fun and the laugh that we had
Now it’s so hard to find a bright sunny smile
It’s so hard to find a bright sunny smile

Mentioned in Dispatches – Daniel Treacy as Bob Dylan? Based on this song, it seems so. Harmonica throughout while Dan preaches anti-war lyrics over top of the simple instrumentation. Key lyrics:

He got no ribbons, no decorations
They sent no medals to his sad parents
Just sent a letter telling them their son had died
Killed by a bullet
Now every night his mother cries

A Sense of Belonging – At this point in the record you may be hoping for a glimpse of light, something to break the bleak world view. It won’t come in this song – this is Daniel Treacy looking at the world and realizing it could be hopeless. A Dylan like quality to his singing style on this one. Uplifting music as Treacy’s lyrics try to find some sort of solace before reverting back to hopelessness. Key lyrics:

And you laugh and make jokes about what you will do
When the button is pressed and we hear the four-minute warning
And if you think it’s funny now wait ’till the bomb goes off
You’ll all be in fucking hysterics
You’ll see babies dying, you’ll hear mothers crying
I’m only asking for one thing
Just want a sense of belonging

No more weapons and no more wars
No more violence
What’s it all for anyway?

Say You Won’t Cry – Catchy guitar lick before Treacy’s voice enters the mix and the music settles into a slight march type feeling. Again, Treacy’s vocals are laced with emotion – the kind that feels lived in. His sense of humor (and loyalty to the Mod scene) slips in with some of the lyrics which is refreshing. Vocals are also double tracked at times, giving the song a otherworldly feeling. Key lyrics:

Groovy goodbye
Say you won’t cry when I’m gone

The Painted Word (reprise) – Track fades in, a reprise of the title. Looser feeling compared to the actual title track. White noise assault by the guitar prominent in the mix. Drug vibe to the spoken words throughout. Perfection.

Someone To Share My Life With – There are a few songs that I think “Oh my – I cannot believe he is baring his soul that way”. This is one of them. Deeper toned vocals, with organ prominent in the mix. Acoustic guitar strums along as Treacy sings his heart out. Even though the TVP’s are an obscure band this is a song that would appeal to the mainstream. It is devastating in every way imaginable. Key lyrics:

i don’t want a girl who thinks there’s only me to please
i don’t want a girl who thinks it’s fun to tease
i don’t want a girl who thinks she has to cater for my every need
i don’t want a girl to go down on her knees
i just want someone to share my life with
i just want someone to share my life with

You’ll Have to Scream Louder – On the LP Mummy You’re Not Watching Me Daniel Treacy advised us to Scream Quietly. A few  years later he seems to have changed his mind. This is similar in feel to the earlier TVP’s track, with a groove that is catchy and lyrics that are instantly memorable. Bass propels the song forward with noisy guitar and sound f/x in the mix. Key lyrics:

I’ve got no respect for
People in power
They make their decisions
From their ivory towers
And I feel a hatred
It’s growing inside
And there’s nowhere to run to
‘Cause there’s nowhere to hide
You’ll have to scream louder

Happy All the Time – A whimsical story type song. A song that is questioning in nature, laced with emotional vocals. That in itself wouldn’t carry an entire (almost) 5 minute song – the music has a low-key but catchy feel to it. Depressing mod? Sounds about right I suppose. Key lyrics:

And I’m just looking for rainbows
In a star filled sky
And I’m just looking for answers and the reasons why
I remember somebody told me
That God loves me and you
But I don’t know if they were honestly telling the truth

The Girl Who Had Everything – A phone ringing starts the song before an 80’s (hey, it WAS the 80’s) programmed drum beat comes into the mix. Melodic guitar and Dan Treacy doing his Bob Dylan thing. It all works perfectly on this track as he spins an ultimately tragic tale of “the girl who had everything”. How much emotion can be coaxed out of one man? Stunning. Key lyrics:

She had everything she wanted
Everything but not enough
She never had love
And she threw it away
In a drug filled haze
One sad day
And they called her
The girl who had everything

Paradise Estate – Organ by Dave Musker is simply devastating on this track, giving the song a church like ambiance. Daniel again taps into his inner Dylan as he spins more depressing tales out of suburbia. Key lyrics:

And every day’s the same
On paradise estate
Because paradise came one day too late

Back to Vietnam – Machine guns open the song before an ominous vibe anchored by bass and organ takes over the mix. This is one of the most haunting tracks I’ve ever heard. Vocals are manipulated higher in the mix at key junctures placing the listener in the midst of a Vietnam flashback. A stunning way to end the record. Machine guns fade in and out of the mix as the music takes on a spy theme type feel. Lots of screaming (everytime the lyrics say SCREAMING). A catharsis of emotion after this rollercoaster ride of an album. Key lyrics:

He wakes up screaming
He wakes up screaming
He wakes up
He wakes up in a cold sweat
He dreams he’s going to get a letter in the post
Telling him he’s been called up again
They’re calling up the national guard
They’ll send him back
Send him back
Back to Vietnam
Back to Vietnam

It was honestly very hard for me to pick out a record to feature by Television Personalities for this weekly column – I love all of them. This is the most emotionally harrowing album they have released (though 1995’s I Was a Mod Before You Was a Mod comes close). Daniel Treacy has been involved with some of the greatest records I’ve ever listened to. He made a comeback in the mid 00’s and the records from that time period rival anything he had previously been involved with. He recently suffered a severe health set back, so we can only hope and pray that he makes a healthy return – we need him. You can find out more about Television Personalities here. Join me next week as I talk about an early 70’s classic – America’s Greatest Hits. 

4 thoughts on “Television Personalities – The Painted Word

  1. The Television Personalities had such an impact on us we are doing a 10 volume tribute to Dan and his many wonderful creations. Three volumes have already been unleashed on the world with volume 4 coming soon and volume 5 – a tribute to Edward Ball and The Times coming in a year or two. Please get in touch and I will send you a few samples.

  2. say you won’t cry is my favourite tvps song ever=or at least the one that holds most meaning for me anyway…..nice review x

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