The Painted Word
Released 1984 on Illuminated
Reviewed by Vox Phantom, 21/04/2000ce
The 1980’s are currently foundering in critical and popular estimation in much the same way the 1970’s did until recently. Much as the 70’s were long remembered chiefly as a time of shallow disco or pompous prog, so are the 80’s seen currently as an era of vapid synth pop and by the numbers rock. Because of this many of the truly brilliant works of art then created have yet to be fully reclaimed. One such brilliant LP is Television Personalities "The Painted Word." This harrowing and emotionally raw record brings together the band’s strengths in one cohesive work. The band is in top form, with a constant mood of bleak, echoing psychedelia. The theme throughout is alienation in all of its forms and the struggle for community and love. Much like Ray Davies before him, Dan Treacy’s lyrics explore the humor and tragedy of human experience through snapshots of people’s lives. The record begins with "Stop and Smell the Roses," with the narrator half-heartedly telling himself to do just that, but unable. Throughout the song guitars, organ and violin drone and echo over a Ronnette’s beat; it’s like some lost Velvet’s track. Next is the title track, an anthem of artistic defiance on the verge of being crushed. The narrator is an artist seeking an audience, sure of his skills and with something to share, yet his confidence is becoming isolationist after being stung too often. "A Life of Her Own" is a portrait of a woman who’s given up a life of promise for an unhappy marriage and motherhood, and chooses to escape in a haze of pills. Similarly, ‘Bright Sunny Smiles’ follows idealistic children as they age and lose their smiles, and look back on happiness as transient. Another theme throughout is war, or the threat of it, and it’s soul crushing power. ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’ follows the story of a young man killed in the Falklands. He hadn’t joined out of patriotism, rather it was the only job available. All that returns is a form letter. "A Sense of Belonging" looks at the existential toll of the Cold War: optimism is killed, hope is stifled, paranoia and fear rampant. Worse yet, it’s impossible to find the one thing our narrator craves, a sense of belonging, of human community. ‘Say You Won’t Cry’ is a touching farewell to a love. He doesn’t want to see tears, knowing full well that this love is the antidote to all the alienation of the previous tracks. Next ‘The Painted Word’ is reprised, suggesting that making art could be another antidote, even if it is a constant struggle. ‘Someone to Share My Life With’ is the apex of these songs in search of community. He doesn’t want a girl who shows him off, laughs at his jokes, or puts on an act; just someone to share his life with. He seems to have even found her, too. At the end of the song however, just as he’s said "that someone could be you" we hear a car crash and yet another dream is deferred. Defiance returns in ‘You’ll Have to Scream Louder,’ a Jam-like song of rage, though as the title implies, impotent rage. ‘Happy All the Time’ shows characters crying behind their smiles, wishing to be happy again, and looking to childhood as the last truly happy time. Happiness isn’t found in wealth, either, as ‘The Girl Who Had Everything’ discovers. Like Edie Sedgewick, the title character has money, lovers and parties handed to yet she dies in a haze of drugs. No one is fulfilled, either, in the dead suburbia of ‘Paradise Estate.’ Laid off from work, ill and with no pride left, life goes on. The final track "Back to Vietnam" finds a veteran flashing back to the hell of war. It’s a grueling end to a bleak and uncompromising record. The modern world's failings are laid out and lacerated. As Alan McGee says in the liner notes: ‘The Painted Word,’ alongside Big Star’s ‘Sister Lovers,’ and any one of Nick Drake’s LPs, is one of the most emotionally introspective records I’ve ever heard. Dan Treacy’s songs tear me apart.