Read anything about the Class of '77 and the Punk movement and there's one singular character who rarely even merits a footnote. I'm talking, of course, about Dan Treacy, leader of the legendary TELEVISION PERSONALITIES: a band whose naïve, often amateurish approach to making music was borne of major pop fandom and taking the 'anyone can do it' philosophy of Punk to its' logical extremes.
Dan has, of course, made up for lack of sales and a non-existent commercial profile with serious recognition from the underground music fraternity. Creation/ Poptones supremo Alan McGee has worshipped Dan for decades, while influential figures as disparate as Kramer, J. Mascis, The Horrors and Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom have waited reverentially in line outside of his dressing room when the TVPS have rocked festivals around Europe. Actually, while we're dropping names, let's not forget that Kurt Cobain also elevated the TVPS to the status of one of his very favourite bands.
It's this groundswell of goodwill which has nurtured Treacy through the sort of harrowing times most of us only read about. The TVPS' often whimsical, psych-inflected pop has told of knowing where Syd Barrett lives or of Dan confessing to a love of The Bomb, but the reality of his life has been way harder. Before his 2006 'comeback' 'My Dark Places' on Domino, he'd endured spells of homelessness and prison for shoplifting offences due to his heroin dependency. If the worrying press release that accompanies this album is to be taken at face value, Treacy isn't out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. It suggests he's recently had further near brushes with eternity via a series of overdoses.
With all this in mind, one can only hope that this won't be the last time we're confronted with an all-new TVPS album. If it is, 'A Memory Is Better Than Nothing' supplies a bleak, resigned epitaph and there are certainly moments here when you do fear critically for the state of Dan's mental health. 'Walk Towards The Light', for example, features a frighteningly shaky vocal which makes Pete Doherty sound focussed, while the confessional lyrical content (“These days, I wish I was somewhere else instead of inside my head”) verges on the uncomfortably honest. 'My New Tattoo', meanwhile, opens with a determined, spangly guitar riff and threatens to be the record's star power pop moment, but ends up churning on relentlessly and jettisoning the plot long before it winds down. If I'm being kind, it recalls scabby, unfinished 'masterpieces' like Syd Barrett's 'Madcap Laughs' or Alex Chilton's 'Like Flies on Sherbet', but if I'm not I'd say it was the sound of an imminent breakdown.
Of course everything's relative. You wouldn't expect 48-track studios and slick session players on a TVPS record and sometimes it's Dan's very lack of professionalism which gets him through. On the title track, he marries his typically seat-of-the-pants pop enthusiasm to a surprisingly beefy chorus and comes up smelling of roses and sporting a massive, shit-eating grin. 'The Girl In The Hand-Me-Down Clothes', meanwhile, is Dan at his wistful best and the brilliant 'She's My Yoko' pits bald autobiographical content (“I've been mad, I've been bad, I've been glad and I've been had...and that's me, that's Daniel”) with an unlikely, air-punching chorus which can't fail to make you smile in spite of yourself.
Hearteningly, the album concludes with a streak of positivity I hope Dan will be able to nurture. 'All The Things You Are' (“it's actually not that far to get to where you want to be”) is a touchingly gentle ode to love and at least something approaching happiness aided and abetted by some lovely cor anglais, but it's the closing 'You Freed My Spirit' that's the one. Rarely have I heard a performer as naked and vulnerable as Treacy is here, but his message of love (“when I felt so down, cast aside like a waste of time/ you came along...you're the only one who doesn't throw in the towel”) is almost beyond touching. If it's the sound of redemption, well it doesn't get more warm and human than this. It does my heart good to hear Dan leave us in this state of mind.
So that's all for now folks. As with all TVPS releases, it's impossible to say when or where Dan Treacy will show up next. Recent reports of chaotic gigs are another reason to fret, but at least they serve notice that Dan remains with us. Next time, I'm crossing my fingers for a TVPS album written and performed by a Dan Treacy enjoying rude health. I hope to God I won't find myself trying to put my arms around a memory.
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