Beautiful Despair offers plenty to make for a welcome “lost” release worthy of many listens.
Recorded nearly 30 years ago, Beautiful Despair has been touted as the long-lost album by British post-punk indie greats Television Personalities, a somewhat shambolic outfit known for their rather “loose” style—so loose, at times, they made Pavement sound like math rock.
Led by troubled frontman Dan Treacy, Television Personalities have released several albums since their 1981 Rough Trade debut …And Don’t the Kids Just Love It. There was a long gap between 1998 and 2006, and their last release was A Memory is Better Than Nothing, which came out in 2010. Not exactly a comeback, but then TP never seemed to follow any templates. On the contrary, they have themselves been the stylistic template for so much indie music of the past decades that it’s hard to properly assess their legacy. Beautiful Despair can only help in this regard, further cementing their reputation as one of the most original bands around.
This album features just Dan Treacy and Jowe Head, who played bass and other instruments on 1989’s Privilege and 1992’s Closer to God. Here, he contributes all manner of instruments, including drum machine, synthesizer, bass, guitar and percussion, while, in addition to songwriting, of course, Treacy limits himself to guitar and vocals.
The songs alternate between more pensive, melancholy efforts and more whimsical material. As one might expect, much of it is out-of-tune (but who would have it any other way?), and it has a lo-fi dimension that reminds one of early Magnetic Fields, Sebadoh’s less abrasive moments and even Ariel Pink. For every ridiculous song like “Razor Blades and Lemonade,” which sounds not unlike a demented musical, one finds moments of earnestness like the title track, replete with autoharp, New Order-style bass and as basic a drum machine beat as can be imagined.
Ultimately, the latter category of song wins out and makes for the most memorable material, though humor has always been an undeniable component of the TP aesthetic.
“How Does It Feel to Be Loved” is a stand-out track, reminiscent of bands as varied as Suicide, Pulp and Young Marble Giants, with great post-punk guitar playing, emo lyrics and singing that is uncannily similar to the Arctic Monkeys. “I Get Frightened Too” has a Neil Young-meets-goth feel that makes one think of Galaxie 500, whereas janglier numbers reveal the band’s influence on Camper Van Beethoven. Rounded out by songs like “I Don’t Want to Live This Life,” which is begging for a dance remix and “My Very First Nervous Breakdown,” one of the best songs Daniel Johnston never wrote, Beautiful Despair offers plenty to make for a welcome “lost” release worthy of many listens.
Dan Treacy, if you’re out there—we hear you. And we (still) love what we hear.