Are We Nearly There Yet?
an Treacy is the subject of recent pop hagiography. Clothed in a hairshirt and black cowl, the indie saint declares London water too abrasive for his morning shave and quite unsatisfactory for mixing with scotch, so he drives his crozier into the gum-spotted pavement and up bubbles a crystal spring! Perturbed by a nightingale’s melodies while he trilled his own song, an adolescent Treacy commands none to ever sing again—and his Kings Road neighborhood has been absent of the creatures ever since! More to the truth, Treacy is credited with penning the tune that directly / indirectly established the genre of indie pop: Television Personalities’ January of 1978 single “14th Floor.”
Perhaps the spark for such veneration is three decades of indie guilt, scribes and sell-outs obliged to belatedly recognize a pop nonpareil, one whose influence extended all the way from D.I.Y. tottering to Britpop serial. More likely it’s the practicing of our mavens’ established tenets: Build ‘em up, knock ‘em down, then build ‘em up again. And let’s face it: Treacy was down for some time, everyday existence reduced to scratching for quid so he could pay his hostel bill and the neighborhood heroin grafter. Rock bottom was an extended tour of various English prisons: Brixton, Pentonville, the HMP Weare.
Amid his canonization comes TVPs’ 10th studio album, Are We Nearly There Yet? , which continues the prodigal lad’s comeback from feeding the pigs, an album serried with all the bleak genuflecting and Bless-me-Father-for-I-have-sinned confessionals found on last year’s My Dark Places. Treacy has always been unflinchingly honest, but ever since 1992’s Closer to God, the TVPs’ most accessible album to date (featuring as close to a BBC Radio 1 single as the band could ever manage: “Hard Luck Story Number 39”), the singer / songwriter has grown increasingly more so—his tiny, exposed wounds giving way to rib cage-cracking autopsy. A fitting example being “Ex-Girlfriend Club,” where Treacy archives all the victims of his bankrupt love affairs. The only thing missing was the distant shriek of a Stryker saw.
The vivisection continues on “You Are Loved” and “All the King’s Horses” (“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men / Couldn’t put Daniel back together again”), tracks choked with Treacy’s ever-twisting coils of self-defeat and self-doubt. The lo-fi hip-hop number “The Eminem Song” features just a smidge of braggadocio, as Treacy could never allow himself any more. The rest is raffish, bedroom prose originally featured on his Pepys-like online diary.
“The Eminem Song” is also indicative of where TVPs are sonically. Treacy still understands a good pop hook; now he understands when not to use one. Still churning out ditties with a psychedelia / garage rock stripe (“I Get Scared When I Don’t Know Where You Are” and the instrumental “It’s All About the Girl”), the frontman is more apt to flake away the surface of his mica-like songs and polish with synthetic constructs (like a drum machine). His spiders-in-the-head poesy and increasingly childlike voice do the emotional heavywork, like on the title track: Filled with the sounds of Fisher-Price instruments culled from a child’s toy chest, Treacy’s wounded calls of “Mum!” transform this station-wagon jeremiad from a snatched Windermere memory into a fanciful portrayal of boyish longing and vulnerability.
“If I Could Write Poetry,” a track from 1981’s Mummy Your (sic) Not Watching Me, is rehashed with Victoria Yeulet on vocals. “If I could write poetry,” she laments, “I would write a thousand poems / To tell the world that I love you.” Sung from a female point of view (and with a jolly electronic beat), it portrays Treacy as the one being itched for—refreshing, since he’s the one typically doing the itching. And on “If I Should Fall Behind,” Treacy covers Bruce Springsteen to produce one of his most poignant efforts to date. With nothing more than his bleeding voice and a guitar, Treacy sounds like he’s planted his no-good arse on an overturned milk crate, busking for indifferent commuters at London’s Liverpool Street station.
The backstory to Are We Nearly There Yet? is nearly compelling as the material itself: Back in 2005, the NYC-based Baskervilles arranged a benefit gig in lieu of Treacy’s release from prison. All the proceeds (over £1,000) were presented to Treacy with instructions that he use the cash to buy studio time (and no chemicals). The TVPs’ captain insists the new LP is not a “dodgy batch of outtakes and fillers,” but the album’s provenance (recorded before My Dark Places, yet released afterwards) and spate of covers seem to hint otherwise.
All that aside, it only takes an original like “The Peter Gabriel Song” to indirectly suggest Treacy’s power. “And it all goes wrong,” he sings, “no worry / Peter Gabriel will write a song.” When it all goes wrong, Dan Treacy writes a song, too, and more often than not, it’s saintly pop brilliance.
Reviewed by: Ryan Foley
Reviewed on: 2007-05-21