...and Don't the Kids Just Love It (1981) ***1/2
Lo-fi, amateurish, and shambolic, but it's not punk, it's pop, and thus we witness the beginnings of twee indie-pop: this may or may not be the album that launched a thousand bands from Beat Happening to Belle & Sebastian to Apples in Stereo to whatever flavour-of-the-month Huggy Minus the Be(a)er is getting raved about in the hipster blogosphere, because who knows whether any of those bands actually heard the Television Personalities? Like the Ramones a half decade before, the TV P's showed youths starting bands that you didn't need traditional musical expertise to make good music. The songs employ efficient one-hook construction and winsome nursery cryme/pub sing-a-long melodies, as the band shambles along on charmingly sloppily strummed acoustic guitars and thumpy little bass line hooks and trapkit drums. The Personalities aim at mid-'60s scooter-mod pop for the post-punk age (just look at the Avengers cover! Retro, 'tis) succeeds with surf-spy guitar hooks and a Village Green-Kinks/softer-folkier side of early Genesis sound, if not entirely spirit (much too self-conscious and post-modernistically ironic). That is, the TV Personalities aren't just wimps, they are self-aware wimps self-knowledgable to use their average-schmuck wimpiness to play to the advantages of wimpiness. Thus the fey, laconically sung vocals, absence of macho rockist aggression, and a rewrite of "David Watts," in "Geoffrey Ingham".
If anything lets the album down, it's the songs, which even at their best reek too much of slightness, which is to say that there are an awful lot of good to average songs on their first longplayer (14, in sum) and not a single what I'd call classic. The most famous track here is "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives," which is kinda lovely and all, but also kinda gonowhere, and let's face it, really only famous because of the novelty of its subject matter and title. Yes, it's nice to know that leader Dan Treacy (writes all the songs, you see) sips tea with Syd in Cambridge under the willow-in-the-wind trees, but if you're going to write a title like that, I'd expect something a bit more relevatory the name of Syd's pet. Anyway, it's one of the weaker tracks, for all its fame: "Jackanory Stories," "Look Back in Anger," (which isn't very convincingly angry), "Silly Girl," "Glittering Prizes," and maybe a couple of others, are much better, and they're all bouncy, bright, simple, and one-hookily memorable. That's the most I can say of'em; I mean, I could say more, but the effort expended on analyzing and then explicating these slight, throwaway-ish tunes seems an inefficient expenditure of mental energy. In toto, an utterly wonderful album with a delightfully enjoyable sound that's piffle-weight meaningless, and not just English but "soft Southern fairies" English as those hard northern Englishmen put it.