If you have a collection of cassette tapes, one listen of TV Set might have you wracking your brain to remember similar songs from that cast aside collection. For me, that collection is boxed up and frozen in my garage, but from the beginning of Regret is for Humans my memories began to unthaw and stir up thoughts of a mid-90s Teen Beat Sampler on which many songs would fit. This is just one comparison among many that could go back at least a decade, which is not surprising since the band (or solo project at this time) began writing in 1987. Yet even if you are not old enough to know what it was like to shop at TapeWorld, but have an appreciation for all that is odd and unique in music, you may also have a place in your collection and $6 in your wallet for "Regret is for Humans."
The disc begins inconspicuously with a drum-machine thumping anthem entitled "This is Chicago," which ineffectively sells any semblance of toughness. The muddy, metal guitar tones might spark a chuckle, especially when the treble-laden solo kicks in, which helps propel this song musically into a great mistake. This mistake would be disastrous if not for the Dead Milkmen-esque singing, which bemoans life in Chicago with images like "black squirrel twitches on the lawn/all my friends are packed and gone." Lyrics that would be the sole quality of the song if not for the amazing line, "When I go into the movies I hold my hand," which sounds so believable from his meek, cynical voice it may result in an immediate burst of laughter. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
The oddness continues with the second track "Hostile," which features lyrics like "distorted by your distortion/I wanna be your abortion," that would be awful by any standards. Thankfully the track ends with a shocking scat, continuing TV Set search for rhyming couplets thus far tendering three results: simple, simply wretched, and simply brilliant. After a long rant during the third song about going to "work like it was any other day," the album takes a surprising turn in "Thylacine" toward musical depths fitting of quality new wave music. The danceability rises to the magnitude of Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself," along with the attitude of the lyrics. TV Set relies more on rhythm than rhyme here, allowing for the beautifully original statement, "you can walk your dogs or eat them/but you can't bring us back." "Thylacine" definitely signifies a turn on the disc, allowing it to "break a sweat" (a lyric on the next track).
The drumbeat synth slows after two songs during "Escort," a song I assumed would be about the illegal escorts, but instead was a tribute to a Ford Escort. I'm sure an Escort many people took to TapeWorld twenty years ago. For those who never heard of an Escort, it was a father to the ever-dependable Focus. Regardless, TV Set sings as if he still has an Escort, which would be a feat unto itself. In fact, my interest in seeing this Escort is a hell of a lot stronger than my interest in ever hearing this song again, except the classic Cure-like intro is a bit mesmerizing. Hopefully life does not imitate art at the end of "Escort," or TV Set crashed one of the few Escorts not victimized by obsolescence.
Following the Ford Motor Company diversion and another forgettable song, the disc picks up again with "Over." This song basically follows the idea of "who cares" through many of life's trials and tribulations, while musically ringing with quality worthy of a key scene in Valley Girl. Other than that the song becomes an apt precursor to one of the stronger songs on the disc, "Walls of Fear." During this song TV Set displays a brilliant guitar progression reminiscent of Robert Smith in early Cure pop like "Boy's Don't Cry," although the texture is quite dissimilar, and the vocals even bend toward B-52's during the "Rock Lobster" era. Given this, "Walls of Fear" really shows the ability of this project.
The disc may end more delectably at nine tracks, although "Nastasia Knew" may be one of the better slow songs. Whenever the disc, which officially marks out at eleven tracks, ends, TV Set can leave you with a variety of reactions. These reactions may range from sincere appreciation to drab distaste, while meeting brief bursts of laughter from both sides. Overall I can't imagine Regret is for Humans in heavy rotation for the masses, though an indie rock fan should find moments for TV Set.