In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is pronounced a genius by theartistic community as his botched attempt to build a barbecue is hailed as apiece of “outsider art”. “It is art that could be done by a mental patient,or a hillbilly or a chimpanzee,” the art dealer explains. “Hey!” says Homer.”In high school I was voted most likely to be a mental patient,hillbilly or chimpanzee!”.
Dan Treacy, also known as Nicholas Parsons, leader of The TelevisionPersonalities, is perhaps the greatest living example of an outsider artistin the music world. He disappeared eight years ago, and was presumed dead bymany of his fans (although not by the police who’d put him in prison off theDorset coast). He has returned to record this collection of songs that hewrote while incarcerated.
Rather like Homer’s barbecue/sculpture mishap, the difficulty withoutsider art is telling whether it’s actually any good, or just theramblings of someone disconnected from society. This is where assessing thecultural contribution of Treacy, or wannabe Treacys such as PeteDoherty, gets a bit tricky. Do we like them because they’re a bit mad orbecause they have a genuine talent for expressing the hopes and fears oftheir generation? The jury may still be out on Doherty, but Treacydoes at least seem intent on being honest and direct, rather than(ironically) a television personality.
Sometimes this honesty can be unpleasant, if not unlistenable. The singleAll The Young Children On Crack would be a depressing thought if it weretrue, and against a fragmented, improvised backing track it feels as ifTreacy really believes what he is saying. For the listener, the snatches ofacoustic guitar are a blessed relief from the relentless, monotonic drumbeat and disturbing faux-infant backing vocal.
The other slightly perturbing factor is the deliberate leaving in of badperformances. This is what makes “My Dark Places” so striking. Who wouldever think of putting out a record nowadays where the band can clearly notkeep time (aside, that is, from The White Stripes)? This makes therecord grab the attention, and means you have to listen to, rather thansimply hear, it.
And listening certainly has its rewards. The gentle pianoballads I’m Not Your Typical Boy and Tell Me About It wear their badlyplayed hearts on their sleeves to great effect. Equally, there is a ring ofjoy around the carnivalesque They’ll Have To Catch Us First which iscaptivating.
So is the out-of-tune singing, bad playing and making-it-up-as-he-goesalong lyrical style art? Pop art, maybe. Television Personalities fans willbe overjoyed with this collection of new songs. Newcomers will wonder howmusic like this ever got recorded, but bored of Mike Skinner, mightrejoice in its working-class accented good humour and honesty. Others mayfind its affected, one-take-and-that’ll-do-yer attitude too punk for theirears. Me? I think it’s possibly one of the most exciting records of2006.