Television Personalities: Privilege (1989)

Since the late 70s, Television Personalities has been the on-again/off-again project of troubled Brit Dan Treacy. Ranging from smarmy post-punk to whimsical Syd Barrett-styled psychedelia to Jonathan Richman's playfulness to full-on Daniel Johnston-like derangement, the band's work is all over the place, challenging albums with intermittently drop-dead brilliant singles. The sound can be ramshackle and lo-fi, though some formations of the band have managed relatively solid, tight little rock numbers. It's of a piece with fellow English eccentrics like Robyn Hitchcock and particularly Martin Newell's Cleaners From Venus, though lacking Hitchcock's consistency and power pop chops. Along the way you'll get fascinating snippets of clever wordplay and pop culture observations, not to mention a faithful cover of Barrett-era Pink Floyd single "Apples & Oranges" or a trainwreck take on the Killers' "Mr. Brightside"(!). Weird as fuck, basically.

Curious newbies are probably best off checking out the recent singles retrospectives, Some Kind of Happening (1978-1989) and Some Kind of Trip (1990-1994). Both are pretty inclusive, and probably all the TPs one really needs to get by, sticking with the infectious pop tunes and passing over the more overtly challenging efforts (particularly those from more recent years).

That said, when it comes to full-length LPs, I'm partial to 1989's Privilege, the closest they came to a straightforward, eminently listenable rock album. The record includes stand-out single "Salvador Dali's Garden Party," highlighting Treacy's ability to craft a deliriously infectious tune when he puts his mind to it (hell, the video even made it onto MTV's 120 Minutes) while emphasizing his delight in pop culture name-dropping. "Paradise Is For The Blessed" is upbeat guitar jangle with a touch of the Smiths or Jazz Butcher; "A Good And Faithful Servant" is an unusually affecting ballad from the band; "The Man Who Paints The Rainbow" is more exuberant, quirky pop; and album closer "Part One: Fulfilling The Contractual Obligations" is wonderful Hitchcock-like absurdity.

There's some pervasive darkness in the lyrics (see, e.g., "All My Dreams Are Dead") and a few pretty stark tunes, hinting at Treacy's demons. Still, it's an amusing package. And this formation of the band would stick around for a few more winners -- 1991's Strangely Beautiful EP is fantastic, mostly included on the 1990-1994 compilation; and 1995's Closer To God is at least as consistent as Privilege. After a few more releases, Treacy would disappear for a few years, plagued by drugs, mental illness, and homelessness, but he returned in the mid-2000s for a few albums that had some highlights but were significantly more difficult.

Here's the video for "Salvador Dali":
And an audio rip of "Rainbows":
Here's a live version of "Paradise Is For The Blessed," quite nice:
...and an audio rip of "Contractual Obligations":