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Television Personalities, ‘My Dark Places’ (Domino)

Television Personalities always had heart to spare, even when it wasn’t fashionable. While U.K. punk was raging and Sid Vicious was shuttling between Rikers Island and Bellevue Hospital, the TVPs — fey fanzine- publishing Chelsea teenagers with poorly tuned guitars and scarves — wrote a song lamenting the fate of talk-show host Bill Grundy, whom the Pistols had famously ruined with a lewd guest appearance. Somewhere in Scotland, a young Stuart Murdoch sold his leather jacket for a butterfly net.

Television Personalities may be a bedroom-pop touchstone, but these days frontman Dan Treacy is only doing marginally better than Sid at making good on his legacy. “I’m not your typical boy,” his fortysomething voice cracks on the band’s first album in over a decade. “I’m getting older now, as we all are / I’ve had my share of dangers and I’ve got my scars.” It’s a major understatement from a man who’s long battled heroin addiction and nagging mental-health issues. Feared dead in recent years, he turned up on a prison boat, serving a sentence for burglary. Upon his release, a 2005 Glasgow festival performance devolved into hand-puppet charades, half-played songs, and stage-departing band members. What had become of the twee nation’s favorite Cockney dejectioneer?

Treacy’s charm is in his balance between cheeky satire and endearing whimsy — he may have scoffed at “Part-Time Punks” on the TVP’s classic 1978 single, but he also joked, over the sounds of singing birds, about knowing where hermetic acid casualty Syd Barrett lived. Now he seems to know that haunted existence all too well. My Dark Places is a stark, erratic, and perversely back-loaded collection; with the exception of the generously candid “I’m Not Your Typical Boy,” it’s 36 minutes before a song worthy of Treacy’s tender canon appears. The Pete Doherty-inspired first single, “All the Young Children on Smack, All the Young Children on Crack,” is a babyish shambles, with Treacy caterwauling over a distorted snare; and the boogie-woogie karaoke chintziness of “The Velvet Underground” sounds like a wasted mash-up by Wesley Willis. But eventually the cleverness falls away, and the result is an affecting jolt. Treacy (who wrote, “Why has no one offered me Net sex? Don’t worry, I’ll go punch a neighbor,” on his blog in 2004) simply croons, “I love you, and I’m your friend,” begging you to be the one to take his hand and save him from himself.

See also: Television Personalities, Yes Darling, But Is It Art?? (Atlantic, 1995)