Dean Treacy’s an interesting sort of chap. For nearly thirty years he’s haunted the margins of British music, inspiring others who’ve gone on to bigger things — TVP were Kurt Cobain’s favourite band — but never quite breaking through for himself, despite an abundance of talent. Part of the reason for that lies in his talent for self-destruction, and part of it seems to be from his sheer innocence. He’s been called the original Pete Doherty (which is an interesting concept in itself but this isn’t the time or place for metaphysics) but it’s a poor comparison. For a start he has talent. And instead of the tuneless, charmless bollocks that is Babyshambles, Treacy writes songs that brim with emotional honesty and melody. Even his addictions and crimes are a more interesting tale than Doherty’s weekly appearances in front of Bow Street Magistrates Court.
After a sustained period of drug abuse in the mid-90s Treacy disappeared without a trace for five years. It was only after Treacy googled his own name while serving a prison sentence for drugs offences and made contact with a website dedicated to the band that anybody even realised he was alive. So My Dark Places represents the overdue return of a truly great songwriter and, perhaps, an antidote to the melodrama of Doherty et al.
from angular indie to gentle acoustic lovesongs to house-inflected grooves.
The oppressive lo-fi of opener “Special Chair”, with its tale of a violent boyfriend absent in prison “doing eighteen months for aggravated burglary” is a fine introduction to Dean Treacy’s world. Clanging piano notes, scratchy, distorted guitars and and hauntingly breathless vocals combine to produce a dark, hopeless tale of woe. Followed up by the similarly unsettling “All The Young Children On Crack” the album seems set to live up to its name, while the brooding blackness of “Sick Again” sends a shiver down the spine. But, just as it looks like tales of unleavened misery and black humour are par for the course, My Dark Places twists and turns down some odd paths to emerge at some unexpectedly light patches.
Synth trumpets, nursery-rhyme refrains and boogie-woogie piano pop up all over the place in seemingly random order. My Dark Places swoops from angular indie to gentle acoustic lovesongs to house-inflected grooves. By rights it should sound awful. But it doesn’t, and therein lies the genius of Treacy and TVP. There’s a lightness of touch and an authenticity of sentiment that turns every song into a masterpiece. Whether he’s musing on former loves (“Ex-Girlfriend Club”) or the frantic partying of a night out (“They’ll Have To Catch Us First”) Treacy manages to capture moments and feelings effortlessly. The simple, unaffected innocence and of “I’m Not Your Typical Boy” is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s reveries of childhood.
In their lighter moments, The Television personalities produce witty, affectionate pop that’s far removed from the darkness of Treacy’s biographical tragedies. “Velvet Underground”’s fifties rock ‘n’ roll stylings shows a wit and a will to move beyond the obvious, with its awed question “shit…how did the Velvet Underground get that sound?”.
My Dark Places is all heart and soul.
In lesser hands, something like “I Hope You Dream The Sweetest Dreams”, with its sung/spoken duet, could have been twee and saccharine. A forlorn narrative of love lost but not forgotten, shattered with regrets and pierced with moments of pathos, it’s heartbreakingly tender. This endearingly helpless quality pervades the whole album and holds together what is, at times, a shambolic enterprise.
In addition to the mixture of styles that TVP weave together, Treacy’s retained the ability to write straight down the line punk songs. The album’s title track “My Dark Places”, with its playground refrains and snarling guitar lines, puts most of the contemporary crop of post-punk bands to shame. Though given that Treacy was there the first time round, perhaps this isn’t so surprising.
There are weak moments on the album, most notably the anaemic lo-fi of “She Can Stop Traffic” but even these aren’t entirely without an earnest sort of charm. Dean Treacy’s wit, vulnerability and sheer talent somehow holds this ramshackle affair of an album together. It’s shockingly badly produced, but again, the songs themselves turn this weakness into a kind of strength – the lack of polish is frustrating but the songs sound more authentic for it. My Dark Places is all heart and soul, full of songs that are tragic, affectionate, depressing and hilarious by turns. For an album that is, largely, built on the theme of heartbreak it’s strangely uplifting, promising redemption for both Treacy and his audience. It’s a fine return, and promises good things for the future.