SHEEP FARMING IN BARNET
Toyah Willcox is a classic example of a new-age hippy. An all purpose self improving dilettante, one minute acting, the next singing and the next reputedly picking up vast sums for services rendered to the advertising world.
Her one or two oddball singles and EP of the same name as this album are all included here on a package initially released abroad to meet the excessive demand (!). Well maybe the Europeans didn't realise that there aint no sheep in Barnet (I can vouch for that, I only live up the road) or perhaps they retain a fond fetish for that phenomenon affectionally known as acid rock.
For it is into these realms that Toyah and her not inconsiderable cohorts take us, the narrow lipped lady herself coming on like some post punk Grace Slick. Titles like 'Neon Womb' obviously have an ecological element which goes with the excellent sleeve photo of the early warning "golf balls" on the Yorkshire Moors and the likes of Pete Bush and Joel Bogen on keys and guitar are adapt enough to flesh out the ideas with some ambitious instrumental arrangements
Toyah's voice is certainly better on record than it is live, but that doesn't mean there isn't a fair bit of frenzy obliterating the lyrics. Maybe mood is more important than words, hence 'Elusive Stranger' where the sense of mystery is enhanced by sea breeze effects conjuring up memories of 'The Prisoner' TV series.
While the first single is sub-titled 'Heaven', the reverse is 'Hell', although the music isn't necessarily anymore, er, fiery. 'Danced' is pretty enough to make daytime radio, whilst 'Last Goodbye' befits one with aspiration towards the (melo)dramatic world.
Elsewhere things get sorta spacey, but if there's a message of concept I'm afraid it eluded me. Still, there are plenty of ideas here and even if few of them appear to be fully realised, Toyah's career still has extensive voyeur potential. ***
With her fourth album in well under three years, one might have expected a resting on the proverbial laurels or just a straightforward decline in quality, but 'Anthem' quickly establishes Toyah as growing ever nearer her best work and unlikely to disappear from sight for a long, long time (not until she actually wants to I suspect), it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there are several different styles contained within the album; yet all variations on the Toyah theme. As a marketing move, it's highly successful. On a musical level very hard to ignore.
With any recognisable sound first impressions are one of mixed beguilement. Certain things remain primarily the same, and give convenient points of observation. The voice still remains the most potent force, revealing her wide range of abilities, often alternating between hard and soft in the course of one verse, button this album there seems to be more. thought in the actual presentation, instead of going overboard as on some of 'Blue Meaning' Toyah herself remains quite restrained, singing more for effect than pure show.
The music has both improved and changed in parts, for which the band must be humbly applauded. Joel Bogen takes a backseat role and on some tunes appears to be completely absent, as the songs shift towards a topically tribal bent, with keyboards and drums the main instruments. More often than not the songs appear almost subdued in nature, occasional bursts of life intruding on the sublime and dreamy arrangements that show the mature side of Miss Willcox's imagination. Nigel Glockler's drumming and Adrian Lees keyboards realty do steal the show, but Phil Spaulding on bass plays perfectly, adding impetus when required, but mainly lurking in the background oozing supremely.
Joel Bogen who co-wrote half of the songs plays consistently well when he does appear, generally on the more straightforward songs. Very much a band effort.
Toyah herself refuses to keep to one vocal style and it can plainly be seen that her work is improving. No needless bellowing, no overdramatic whispering. On this album she realises the perfect role.
All this praise doesn't necessarily mean that every song is a bona fide classic; far from it. As a collection of songs it is genuinely impressive, but no songs stand as instantly memorable, and a couple appear well dodgy. 'I Want To Be Free’ the current single is her most crass commercial tune to date, and although I enjoy it I wouldn't say it was a particularly wondrous item. Likewise 'Elocution Lesson' doesn't appear to work at all, with it's messy stop/start arrangement.
The main highlights within this 11-track offering include the slowly building 'Pop Star' with the alternating vocals (one minute sharp and deviant, the next soaring ambivalence), the doomy bass-ridden 'I Am', 'Marionette' with its sparse opening, and thumping ending, and the bustling bracing 'We Are' which features the band at its flowing best, similar in many ways to 'It's A Mystery', which is also included here. Any of these tracks are as good, if nor better than their previous work. -
Where the difference really shows is in the likes of 'Masai Boy' and 'Jungles Of Jupiter'. The former has the sparsest arrangement of all, with tribal drum intro, keyboard intrusions and strangely rising vocals. The latter gives Joel Bogen a chance to fling out a memorable guitar motif whilst all around the band build slowly upon the quiet start, to roar along and then forsake, the expected explosive finale In favour of a cunningly designed climax. Both songs are simply stunning.
Despite the one or two unworthy items, the album strikes me as an overtly musical work, much needed these days as a refreshing alternative, well deserving of your attention. Toyah's certainly got a brain up there, and her ideas are now meeting accord with the band. A shame the cover designer wasn't similarly equipped, having come up with a poor man’s Roger Dean painting. Who cares anyway? The music is 90 per cent faultless and the wait for the next album should be well worth it, because she’s not even at her peak yet.
WARRIOR ROCK (LIVE)
It’s a DOUBLE live album that you can play all in one go! Maybe I’m dreaming. Oh go on, hoot all you like but even with the drawback of Toyah's alarming Top Of The Pops performance still clear in my mind I can safely predict many hours with this to company in my little room. Green light, let’s go…
It's going to make Safari an absolute fortune, the main reason for if existence I should imagine, because that's what all live albums, except bootlegs, are for. Bloated foul smelling things purchased in hotheaded moments, played once and then thrown out two years later. The lot of the live album is not a happy one. But this... this one is different.
It’s released at a curious time in relation to the career step the live album generally represents in most bands' traditional schedules, especially so recently after "Anthem" and "The Changeling". But it does offer alternative versions of many songs that were forged in certain situations (steeped in stillness), and the live experience brings a certain transformation. Such as...
‘Good Morning Universe’ (hello old fart!). It sounds great, a frisky little nothing that . bids us enter and keeps us well entertained. Where once slop washed over the heads of the, listener, there now exists a freshness and a vital step; definitely not the things of which live albums are normally made. Straight away I am up on my haunches, eager to investigate.
A jaunty ‘Warrior Rock’ and a reasonable ‘Danced’ . A vastly improved ‘Jungles OfJupiter’ and a stunning ‘Castaways’. that was always in the realms of dodgy before. And so it goes on! Indeed only a ramshackle "’Thunder In The Mountains’ dribbles through and draws a grimace, the rest just coasts along and builds in power as a celebration of joy, the four sides flying by.
What is a mystery to me, and one which has festered over the last couple of years, is the curious role that guitarist Joel Bogen has in this band. The most stalwart of aides to Toyah, he is capable of startling work but onstage, as this album shows with an accurate portrayal of their sound, he is slowly drifting away from our ears.
Instead of cutting or soaring (as of old), embellishing both strident and smooth passages alike with his invigorations, he now seems content to go ping. I can't understand it. He is, or was, as much a part of Toyah as Toyah herself, but with strangely drum/keyboard dominated sound mixes, the strength is sapped. Next tour he'll stand there minus guitar looking extremely silly. Snap out of it boy. Be Loud. BeProud, etc.
Anyway, there's always the brilliant Willcox vocal staircase for us to enjoy. A cackle and a whoop. A snarl and a sigh. Don’t let her pass you by. There's so much there, but everywhere people pour scorn.
Toyah has a distinctive voice, an unmistakeable fact I would say: a voice rich in capabilities, although a trifle short of emotion in her latest material. The tension jaw that squeezes sharp breaths and the full throttle howl are there to relish. And it won't go away.
On ‘Brave New World’, beautifully infested with echo, she booms away, and then cuts back. On ‘Angel And Me’ it’s a potent yearning in magnificent surroundings (with the pimple on the angel’s nose being the wholly unnecessary backing vocals that come over just a little too Sound Of Music for my liking) and in ‘I Want To Be Free’’ it’s the central core of a slipshod but unavoidable melee.
‘Ieya’ naturally leads things out and tug, tug, tug… you sense the end. I attended the tour this was recorded on and it remains as something much more than short range nostalgia fodder. It s an alternative "Greatest Hits” from the last two years in the Toyah reign. Even the drum solo (whoops!) is short and leads into a song, so you can nip out top the loo and return just in time for ‘War Boys’.
None of that sneering either, you know you like them really. Tapping your feet as you knit. It's a rare little beast and that’s more than enough for me.
Mumble, mumble, mumble…
Oppressed by the ordinary - and her own ordinariness - Toyah, bless her, keeps on declaring that the extraordinary exists. Fundamentally good natured, completely non-cranky, a conformist in the sweetest kind of way, the lady Hayot forces upon herself an unlikely confused romantic pessimism "The most merciful thing in the world", she tries to say, "is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."
All her songs - and they bleed into the world with formidable consistency - are based on the basic lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who in practising black magic lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again. Those of you who recognise the saggy skin of HP Lovecraft hanging around Toyah's waist are of course correct: Toyah bursts open and collapses in on herself in a terribly vain attempt to mimic Lovecraft's "guerrilla warfare against civilisation and materialism". Life, she wants so much for everyone to believe, is for her a hideous thing - when really she's truly the content cat.
At times during 'The Changeling' it seems as if Toyah is cultivating a defiant self mockery, as if she is totally aware of her own delightful phoniness - there are glimpses of someone at work setting themselves up as a perverse pop-art object and taking a surrealist delight in watching people's over-serious response to it. Most of the time, though, it's obvious that Toyah is a daft, happy young girl who is beginning to seriously believe that she has a meaning all of her own - 'the world can be transformed by play acting and ideals.'
Whichever way - cheeky and knowing or simple-minded and desperately over-ambitious - 'The Changeling' by Toyah reaches the type of irresistibility her previous LPs never did: of the second rate new pop entertainers, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Classix Noveaux, it is Toyah that is the most likeable, because her arrogance is beautifully stated and maintained, never limp. The best song on the record, 'Run Wild, Run Free', is classic Toyah: massively over compensating, done in a way Bauhaus wouldn't know how, and featuring a type of arrogance that doesn't cause titters as it usually does but a strange dizziness: "I'm devious / I'm small / I'm impeccable / I'm a warrior / I'm immaculate / I'm imperial / I'm unique / I'm inscrutable / I'm gonna break free."
Now that's lovely. I could almost believe her.
As a singer Toyah has been a great actress - straining for effect, jaunty when she wanted to rock. Well, Prostitute could be the start of something else. Dumping pop band and format, she builds on bare rhythm, mostly machine made and jerked around by bursts of found sound, then layers on the vocals. Being sung at by a whole troupe of Toyahs may seem a fearsome prospect, but the way she whispers,
giggles, shrieks and belts it out you'd have to be really scrooged up not to give her an even break.
The Prostitute in question is tart and a wife, but also everyone selling their lives cheap. Although it's a theme
both difficult and done before, there's a certain extra frisson to the sexual politics. And she must be onto
something when she can entwine the influences of Dylan and Prince Charles in one lyric about Ghosts In The Universe who are "hiding in the architecture building up big plans, bang to bang designing...it's cowdung Disneyland".
OPHELIA'S SHADOW (1)
It's been a decade since Toyah Willcox lisped her way hitwards with the likes of 'It's A Mystery' and 'I Want To Be Free'. Since then she has carved out a bizarre showbiz career, appearing almost simultaneously at the National Theatre and on children's ITV, playing Sally Bowles in a West End production of Cabaret (where the orchestra walked out, leaving Toyah to sing her way through the entire show acapella), and becoming a rock wife to Robert Fripp. Meanwhile LPs like 1987's 'Desire' and 1988's 'Prostitute' have slipped out unnoticed and unchartbound.
Clearly, Toyah Willcox has not been idle and said lack of idleness is reflected on her new album. Liberally salted with playing by the lies of Fripp and top pianist Keith Tippett, 'Ophelia's Shadow' is several galaxies away from the clunking sub-Diamond Dogs pop of 'Thunder In The Mountains and its crazy-coloured ilk. 'Ghost Light' and 'The Shaman Says' glide and shimmer in a manner similar to recent work by Kate Bush or even David Sylvian. Willcox's voice is a more thoughtful instrument than of yore and - despite a far from operatic range - wraps itself effectively around the snakey (and even occasionally African) rhythms of her band's playing and she even feels confident enough to give us a wedge of Hamlet at one point. What these songs are actually about is something of a mystery but the're always slinky and interesting. Future outings may prove fascinating.
OPHELIA'S SHADOW (2)
When gifts of musical credibility were being handed out, old Toyah was a fair way down the queue. From her nascent days as brash new waver to the woman warrior who belted out a string of hits in the early '80's, her success was always dogged by critical sniping.
But 'Ophelia's Shadow', her third album for the esoteric EG label, sees her long disenfranchised from the pop mainstream. Gone is the kitsch melodrama of old. 'Ophelia's Shadow' sounds like a marriage of convenience between the vocal eccentricities of Danielle Dax and David Sylvian's ambient soundscapes.
The mood is calm: keyboard and guitar lines weave a subtle, spacious mesh around the songs. On 'Turning Tide' the rhythms reach a CAN-like syncopation. The playing is neat and accomplished throughout but what's missing is a shot of inspiration. There are signposts towards some promising experimental directions, but frustratingly Toyah ends up stuck in a musical cul-de-sac.
The highlight of the whole shebang is pianist extraordinaire Keith Tippett's scintillating coda on 'Lords Of The Never Known'. Unfortunately, it merely underlines what's lacking elsewhere.
OPHELIA'S SHADOW (3)
We recently received three CD's from the Voiceprint Label, two re-releases and one new album, which span Toyah Willcox's (more serious musical) career. To say I struggled with these albums would be an understatement, but sadly not for the right reasons. Pre-conceptions and bias clouded the issue rather than any appraisal of the music. How could Toyah feature in a serious progressive rock Ezine? How might our readers view the inclusion of her material? Will I ever be taken seriously again? So when I say that each time one of these CD's found their way into my CD player, I was less than enamoured with the prospect of repeated listenings or even committing my time to evaluating the music. However mindful that the general view of progressive rock is surrounded by ignorance, bias and narrow-mindedness I delved into the music with (hopefully) a more open mind.
Eventually and after much listening, I reached the conclusion that only one of the three albums contained enough "progressive elements" to be of possible interest to our readers - Ophelia's Shadow. I was mindful that it may be viewed that I had selected this album because much of it had been co-written with Robert Fripp, or that it featured fellow King Crimson bass man Trey Gunn and although I cannot discount this as a major factor, it was in fact the material that eventually made my decision - and yes it does sound very much like a King Crimson album albeit with female vocals.
Robert Fripp's engaging and uniquely fluid guitar style, off beat rhythms are nicely counterbalanced by Toyah's voice.
The arrangements although instantly recognisable are less aggressive than those employed in KC and again more suited to the Toyah's vocal tones. Toyah's voice works extremely well in the main, my only criticism is when it drifts back to those more commercial 80's phrasings as in Brilliant Day, Prospect and Lords Of The Never Known. Contrasting this would be the more fluid performance in Ophelia's Shadow, or the more theatrical vocals of The Women Who Had An Affair With Herself. Worth noting here that at the time of Ophelia's Shadow life was somewhat more settled and happier time for Ms Willcox, and this is reflected within the lyrics - gone is the anger of Prostitute, but drawing from her acting and literary skills the words still remain observant and thoughtful.
As with any album that features the writing of Robert Fripp there is no way in which his influence can be disguised and it was therefore difficult to view this as a merely a Toyah solo release - and it does make you wonder whether this album was the pre-cursor to an ongoing 'live' and recording venture. If we add Trey Gunn and Paul Beavis into the melting pot this could well have been an extremely interesting project.
The tracks that appealed least (mentioned above) were those which echoed back to the more commercial 80's vocal performances, with the possible exception of Homeward, with its more unique combination of styles - a funky Camel-like rhythm bordering on a 70's disco groove and with touches of KC's eccentricity. The strongest songs for me were the percussive Turning Tide, The Shamen Says and the title track Ophelia's Shadow.
Briefly before concluding this review, mention of the other two CD's which arrived. The re-released Prostitute (1998) was a landmark album for Toyah full of pent up emotions and lyrically a savage backlash at those who were manipulating not only her career but also intruding upon her private life. Musically I found it to be very indicative of the 80's albeit without the usual crass commercial production and although two tracks were co-written with Robert Fripp I deemed it of little interest to our readers. The Velvet Lined Shell [EP] her latest offering brings us up to date and sees a maturity of writing style, commercial but with a distinct edge. Instantly recognisable as Toyah but a far cry from the singer I remember. Again the straightforward song structures and overall writing style suggested that this would be of minimal interest to DPRP readers.
Ophelia's Shadow has not been available for quite some time, its re-release marks the return of a pair of albums to Toyah and as part of the "settlement between Robert Fripp and Virgin after a lengthy legal battle between Robert and his former label and management company - the label and Management company shared by Toyah".
In conclusion, it could be all to easy to say that Ophelia's Shadow would mainly be of interest to King Crimson completists, but there is more to this album than just this. Granted a liking for the music of KC would be almost essential if you were to consider purchasing this CD, however, it is an album well worth investigating further. Conclusion: 7 out of 10
VELVET LINED SHELL
Fans of Toyah's will already know three of the six songs presented on this mini-album from Toyah's 2002 limited-edition 'Little Tears Of Love' ep, but it's good to see them finally get a more public airing alongside some long awaited new material.
Accompanied by a press release that promises the influences of artists as diverse as Marilyn Manson, Elbow, Mogwai and Nick Cave it is with some trepidation that I first listen to 'Velvet Lined Shell' and fortunately fears are unfounded - those artists may have been influences on Toyah, but the sound sidesteps them and is very much a continuation of Toyah's past rock style.
Opening track 'Every Scar Has A Silver Lining' is a bombastic rock track based around a simple guitar riff, and overlaid by Toyah's distinctive vocal although her voice has deepened since her heady days of pop stardom, is less aerobic in range and has just an edge of the awkwardness of someone trying a little bit too hard to please. No such criticism for 'Velvet Lined Shell' however; the title track fares much better with a slow and dignified vocal that make the atmosphere far more dangerous and prickly than all the rock energy and attitude of the opener. 'Little Tears Of Love' continues in this vein, vocals breathy and slightly distorted over a staccato guitar backing. 'You're A Miracle' and 'Mother' are the closest tracks to the Toyah-sound of the eighties; 'You're A Miracle' finds Toyah upbeat and in fine voice whereas 'Mother' is a surprisingly fast song that manages to sound slow and passionate. 'Troublesome Thing' rounds off the set with some ponderous and slighly cliched nu-metal guitar riffs saved by a Kate Bush vocal and a strong Toyah chorus.
An interesting addition to the Toyah catalogue, 'Velvet Lined Shell' nonetheless manages to sound like a work in progress - but given time to live and breathe, and with decent production rather than the heavy handed and muddied sound achieved here they could be the start of a very exciting new musical chapter for Toyah.
This weird one is coming out on Cherry Red any day and has deserved a release on CD having long been a collector’s item, originally issued by Safari in the mid-1985 but I must admit that I missed it. It’s a weird mixture cobbled together. ‘Clapham Junction’ is certainly daftly enjoyable, taking a lightly euphoric spin on her earlier, darker style and it’s a sumptuous opener. Unfortunately ‘Change Of Scenery’ is high-falutin’ garbage. (‘I live in London town, and I like to get around’? Please!) From Barbara Dickson to an agitated Bonnie Tyler in mere minutes, she crawls through a fluffy ‘Problem Child’ which isn’t a Damned cover. Equally grand in its slick nonsense is ‘You’re My Hero’ all mock-dramatics and wibbly drivel. Given that this gets an airing they should have dug up an old live tape of the days when they apparently covered ‘Freebird’ – I bet that would be hilarious.
‘Cotton Vest’ is older, so these must be the demos. This is flat post-punk doldrums, with far more life than the above. ‘Gaoler’ finds an eager, roaring Toyah, with twitchy guitar, and a rockier feel. ‘Paradise Child’ is an early song with a big commercial hook, which seems odd, timewise. Toyah blazes through this which is a good indication as why labels were prepared to pounce. ‘Israel’ is slower, with farcical lyrics and delivery, then we tumble into a simple, charming ‘Christmas Carol’ which has nothing Yuleish about it, just chomping keyboards, skinny guitar and odd sounds gliding beneath the woozy vocals.
'The Merchant And The Nubile’ is playfully epic, with ponderous drum tones, and a measured mood which Toyah controls in a masterful, swishing fashion. It gurgles and throbs superbly, leading into a cool demo of ‘Danced’ which starts fresh and innocent and then bounces off into the distance with cute, curly keyboards everywhere and a magnificent vocal performance.
‘I Believe In Father Christmas’? Yes, that thing, done with a simple gloss, passionately. ‘Guilty’ is a bit ropey, sounding like a second-rate ‘Run Wild’, ‘Three Sided Face’ has an angular frothy poise, sidling along sternly, but ‘Island Race’ is quite ghastly, and that’s the point about cobbled together compilations, where the good and bad mix together. Overall the quality shines through and keeps the rubbish is respectful shadows.
It's a strange thing to be a fan... once you've nailed your colours to a particular mast it's very difficult to be objective and back in 1985 when Toyah released 'Minx' I was perhaps at the height of my obsession with her and her music, but even then I knew that 'Minx' wasn't the album I wanted it to be and now, twenty years later it's an uneasy listening experience...
The album kicks off postively enough, rattling through 'Soldier Of Fortune, Terrorist Of Love' which neatly bridges the gap bewteen 'Minx' and preceding album 'Love Is The Law', but the pace falters with 'Don't Fall In Love (I Said)' which to my ears is still a disappointment even now, all these years after the original release... it's a pleasant enough track but isn't 'pleasant' a bit of a dirty word? It's a track that sounds like all traces of personality, passion and excitement have been meticulously removed in order to leave a track that is likely to appeal to the widest possible audience. The result in fact is a track that is sadly bland, middle of the road and tame, but likely to be utterly inoffensive to the widest possible audience. Things don't improve markedly with the next track - and second single - 'Soul Passing through Soul', similarly polished to a high sheen of production this is a track with every production device known to man - saxophones, chimes, and liberal use of what sounds like those shakers and scrapers that used to be the staple instrument in junior school music lessons - set to maximum and any true soul or grit set to minimum.
It's a relief therefore when things pick up massively with 'Sympathy', a slow, searing and impassioned song, dripping with strings which features perhaps Toyah's best vocal performance and which benefits from such shiny eighties production... one of Toyah's best torch-song moments for sure. 'I'll Serve You Well' sees Toyah on more familiar ground musically and lyrically (it's about S&M) and is probably my favourite Minx track - the production here is still polished but there is a starkness to it which gives the track depth and substance which makes Toyah's tense, clipped delivery shine. The next track 'Over Twenty-One' I'm going to skip... it's my second to least favourite Toyah track ever (pipped to the post only by 'Love's Unkind' on the next album, 'Desire', in case you were wondering) and given the strength of some of the project's b-sides (more of them later) I still can't believe that this track ever made it onto the album. Thank god then for 'All In A Rage' which is a fantastic upbeat track and a welcome moment where Toyah's middle-of-the-road mask slips and she gleefully careers through one of the albums true hightlights.
'Space Between The Sounds', with it's faux-mystical pretentious lyrics, and darkly swirling atmospherics could be something from 'The Changeling'... in the (excellent) sleevenotes Toyah readily acknowledges the pretentions of the song, but I liked it then and I think it has stood the test time better than many of the other tracks here. Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' is next... not a terrible version but just a weird song to include - it sounds odd in the context of the album and unfortunately it's a bit of a karaoke version with Toyah seeming to give little of herself to the performance which makes the experience rather flat and uncomfortable.
The third single to be taken from 'Minx' comes next. 'World In Action' is to my mind one of the strongest tracks here and would have made a great lead single... it's distictively Toyah with it's theme of alienation and futurism, but it's an updated version of the Toyah people would have expected at that time. The production is rockier and slightly grittier than much of the album and the pop-rock delivery would have certainly made it a more palatable single for Toyah's fanbase than 'Don't Fall In Love'. A version of Latin Quarter's 'America For Beginners' is next and it's great... precise, measured vocals and lush, minimal backing makes it a slightly unnerving, menacing and eerie listening experience. 'Vigilante' then relaxes the mood and is an enjoyable closer to the original album.
That this release is an expanded version of 'Minx' allows Toyah to present some of the strongest b-sides and bonus tracks of her career - 'Snow Covers The Kiss' the b-side to 'Don't Fall In Love' could so easily have been the single that Toyah's fanbase wanted to hear, like 'World In Action' it's distictively Toyah, but an updated version, ditto really for 'Kiss The Devil' also a b-side to 'Don't Fall In Love', both these tracks owing more perhaps to the 'Love Is The Law' project than the more grown-up 'Minx' campaign which is perhaps why although they are without a doubt strong tracks in their own right they didn't make the final album tracklisting. Twelve-inch versions of the three singles make up the rest of the bonus material presented here - 'Don't Fall In Love' and 'Soul Passing Through Soul' both benefit from the extra room to breathe that the format allows, but it's 'World In Action' that pushes the 12" format the furthest, the two mixes presented here each taking the song to new heights and fuelling my opinion that this could have been a better first single choice.
'Minx' is the sound of Toyah at a career crossroads - and you can almost hear the tension between the two directions crackle across the album; whether to deliver the fan-friendly album that would perhaps be the safer option, or to persue a wider audience that would take her to new career heights, albeit as a slightly different kind of artist. Ultimately though the album fails on both counts and is a compromise left uncomfortably struggling somewhere between the two.
A worthwhile release for collectors, the packaging is excellent, the sleevenotes are interesting and entertaining and it does feature some great tracks, but this album made me uncomfortable for Toyah when it came out and I have to say it still makes me uncomfortable now...
LOVE IS THE LAW
My passion for Toyah is well documented throughout this website. To me she is a chameleon character who has constantly evolved; from the punky near-jazz experimentation of her early work, through the well known pop-punk years of 'Anthem' , into an altogther darker, artier, gothic place with 'The Changeling' and then onto this album... 1983's 'Love Is The Law' which is now available on CD for the first time.
It's obviously nearly impossible for me to nominate a favourite Toyah album, but if someone was to really push me then I would probably choose 'Love Is The Law'. Where 'The Changeling' was dark and brooding 'Love Is The Law' is celebratory and upbeat and although when it came out I would have bristled at anyone who tried to dismiss this as 'pop' music, hindsight reveals it to be a great pop album!
'Love Is The Law' gave us two singles - 'Rebel Run' and 'The Vow', the first a solid, pop-rock song that checked all the necessary boxes for a Toyah single - upbeat, singalong and with an undertone of rebellion. A safe choice for a single but still a surprising one given the wealth of stronger tracks available on the album. As far as the charts were concerned it peaked in the twenties and vanished pretty quickly. 'The Vow' is definitely one of the Toyah classics that never was... an emotionally charged ballad that exhibited a more mature side to Toyah and which showcased her voice to great effect over a wash of strings. It bothered the charts not at all, entering at around fifty and disappearing immediately.
But the singles are only the tip of the iceberg here - this is an album sparkly with great songs, from the searing and plaintive epic rock of 'Broken Diamonds' to the balladry of 'Martian Cowboy' and it's an album that sounds bright and polished and confident, even now it sounds modern and (mostly) contemporary and twenty-two years later I find myself seduced back into the glittering sci-fi world is creates.
I don't know if this will make any sense to anyone else but for me it's an album of light... the imagery is of stars and planets and space travel, of lights and lasers, of love and yearning over vast star-filled distances. A modern, even futuristic album unlike anything Toyah had done before.
'I Explode' is an irresistable, fizzing, timebomb of a song, it's brash and upbeat and Toyah's voice is fully utilised from the growling pent-up aggression of the choruses to the moment of release where the song takes off and explodes in a flurry of synth tones.
Where some of Toyah's albums seem to feature Toyah using different voices to give the songs drama and tension 'Love Is The Law' s tracks seems to be from one... one voice exploring futuristic visions with an optimism and enthusiasm that is sometimes absent on Toyah's early work. 'Time Is Ours' is one of my favorite tracks and, along with the sleek hypnotic 'Dreamscape' and 'Remember', sounds sure and confident, comfortable in this new direction. Toyah herself is is great voice and somehow sounds relaxed and happy... typical of Toyah the songs are full of drama; slow bits against fast bits, lyrics softly crooned against screams and shouts.
The one track that doesn't quite work for me is the slightly dischordant 'Rebel Of Love' which sounds like a hangover from the more angst-charged 'Changeling' and seems out of place on this sleek album.
This CD edition of 'Love Is The Law' also features five bonus tracks... one single, 'Be Proud Be Loud (Be Heard)' which bridged the period between 'The Changeling' and 'Love In The Law' but was never included on a studio album, with it's b-side 'Laughing With The Fools' and the b-sides of 'Rebel Run' and 'The Vow', all strong tracks in themselves which make this a fine album with decent extra tracks and no fillers.
There was once a point in my life where I knew these songs so well I didn't actually need to play them... I could just think of them and hear them in my head, and although that time has now gone I've already played this CD edition enough times to start to think of these songs as old, and very good friends who I know I will never lose touch with again!
I have to say first of all that if you're looking for an unbiased review of this album then you'll need to look elsewhere.
You see this is a live double album recorded at London's infamous Hammersmith Odeon in 1982 and I was actually there. At the time it was, without any shadow of a doubt , the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me and if I'm honest it's still up there with the best of them. It wasn't my very first gig although it was certainly one of the first, but it was my first Toyah gig and in 1982 Toyah was at the very heart of my life... obsession is an ugly word but in retrospect having 400 or so Toyah press cuttings and pictures on my bedroom wall back then speaks volumes!
I can remember the thrill of buying this album when it was first released... the very weight of the double vinyl and the new ink smell of the gatefold sleeve, and then the perilous journey home - my heart in my mouth in case I dropped it, scratched the vinyl, bent the corners, left fingerprints on the cover... then getting home and putting the vinyl on the turntable, a rumble a couple of crackles and this...
The album opens with the noise of the crowd chanting for Toyah and then simply exploding as she comes on stage in the wake of strange pulses, sounds and drum rolls... the euphoric rush as 'Good Morning Universe' kicks in still makes the hairs on my neck rise twenty-three years later and I'm instantly drawn into Toyah's tribal world of colour and drama and excitement...
Immediately the strength and talent of the live band is apparent, notably the contribution of Simon Phillips on drums who puts on a fantastic show, underpinning every second with his precision drumming, and Toyah herself is in great voice - her voice soaring - and evidently enjoying every moment of the night. This is the sound of a band coming together as one and to this day 'Warrior Rock' remains one of my favourite live albums ever.
The title track 'Warrior Rock' is up next, originally a b-side on the 'Brave New World' single, the song is a true call to arms and has been adopted as a clarion call by the Toyah faithful and they welcome it here with open arms and the hysteria mounts as Toyah goes into one of her very greatest tracks 'Danced', a true crowd pleaser. The mood softens and mellows as Toyah romps through Anthem's 'Jungles Of Jupiter', the obligatory 'It's A Mystery' and The Changeling's 'Castaways' before leading into one of Toyah most overlooked and sublime songs 'Angel & Me' which starts off quiet and fragile and explodes into one of the albums finest moments.
Exhausted after this frenzy we have 'Brave New World' which slows the pace back down and has never sounded more plaintive, the band giving his live version fresh verve and aspect as they add swoops and twirls of their own that showcase the power of this often forgotten single. I've never really been a fan of 'The Packt' which comes next but Anthem's 'We Are' is a jubilant build-up for the inevitable 'I Want To Be Free' which, complete with audience singalong, brings the excitement to dangerous levels before moving into 'Dawn Chorus' which is another tribal audience singalong number.
Penultimate song 'War Boys' allows Simon Phillips to step into the spotlight opening with an awe-inspiring drum solo which by taking the tribal elements of the song by the scruff of the neck and puts it on a new level and makes this live version an album highlight.
As any Toyah fan knows, a Toyah show has to close with 'Ieya' (it's the law!) and 'Warrior Rock' is no exception, again the band throw in new details and styling and turn an already powerful song into a vast epic and this recording is possibly the best version of the many that are available.
As the album finishes I actually feel drained by the experience, not as draining as actually being there I admit, but this is a record that immediately and effortlessly transports me back to my early teens when nothing was more important than music and no-one in music was more important than Toyah and that's a great feeling...
Briefly I feel like I touched the pure power of music again, and it's exactly those feelings that made me start RememberTheEighties.com in the first place ... Toyah, here's to you, with thanks!
TAKE THE LEAP! (1)
Myssstrey solved as 1994 Japanese album gets UK release
Toyah's long-lost album is neither a Smile-style tale of artistic exasparation (despite its slightly schizophrenic new and old content) nor, sadly, much of a mystery. All the same, fans will be delighted it's finally seen the light of day. Originally sold at shows on her 1993 tour as a cassette-only album (simply called Leap!), a CD version was released in Japan the following year, but shelved in the UK in favour of Dreamchild's ambient noodlings.
In contrast, Take The Leap! is straight-ahead (and at times borderline goth) rock, recorded in the wake of a tour with youthful backing band, Friday Forever. The mish-mash album features six (predictably indie) new tunes and eight reworkings of older material, including the ubiquitous I Wanna Be Free and a woefully weak It's A Mystery. If anything showcases the super-tight backing outfit, it's Toyah herself, whose often weedy vocals don't always fit the music. Things work better on the ambient Requite Me and Tears For Elie, two exceptional demos that appear among this expanded reissue's four bonus tracks. Steve Adams
TAKE THE LEAP! (2)
Toyah's 1993 album 'Take The Leap!' is a bit of an oddity in that it's a heady mix of the old and the new, featuring six new songs alongside eight re-recorded versions of classic Toyah tracks. This edition, 'Take The Leap... Plus!' adds a further four tracks - two demos and two alternative mixes of the tracks presented here - which adds to the general schizophrenic nature of the release.
'Take The Leap!' has only ever been commercially released in Japan although cassette copies were onsale at Toyah's live shows in 1994. I bought one (of course!) so it's good to see this coming out on CD, particularly given the quality of the artwork, the bonus tracks and the excellent sleevenotes.
The six 'new' tracks open the album with 'Now I'm Running' leading the assault and setting the tone for the album as a whole... this is a rock record, guitar-heavy and a little rough and ready around the edges. The track also sees Toyah in fine voice and takes some interesting twists and turns along the way. 'Lust For Love' is a more inventive and exciting track which showcases some clever guitar work which sets off Toyah's breathless vocals perfectly, put simply this is a classic Toyah moment! 'Invisible Love' is up next - the second of three love-themed tracks in succession - and although it's not a slow song by any means it takes the pace down a couple of notches and allows Toyah to demonstrate the sweeter and more melodic facets of her voice, offset by a catchy 'where have I heard that before?' chorus and fading to a dramatic and plaintive close. A salvo of chunky, rock guitar opens 'Name Of Love' which is a a dark and contemporary-sounding song, with effective guitar squiggles and sees Toyah using her voice to great effect as she sings, growls, teases and swoops through a fine performance, another great Toyah moment and further evidence that some ten years after her commercial peak Toyah had lost none of her edge and. 'Winter In Wonderland', perhaps the most accomplished song of the six new tracks, sounds deceptively simple and melodic and Toyah's voice is pure and controlled; a pretty hypnotic performance which showcases yet another facet of Toyah's vocal abilities. 'God Ceases To Dream' completes the set of six new tracks and is easily my favourite of the set. Toyah's vocals sound very controlled - giving the impression that at any moment a torrent of emotion is about to boil over, yet instead of taking that explosive path the song sweeps towards a yearning that reminds me of Toyah's best-known album, 'Anthem'. If I had been in the studio I would have pushed for the track to be maybe a minute shorter, but at the end of the day you can't have too much Toyah!
Toyah's anthemic 'Ieya' - perhaps her definitive song and a true crowd-pleaser - kicks off the selection of re-recorded versions of her classic tracks and vocally it's very similar to previous versions but the band's work on the song, in particular the swirling and juddering guitar, is what updates it and makes this a very worthy version which can stand proudly alongside the many fine versions already out there. 'Waiting', 'Neon Womb', 'Elusive Stranger' and 'Our Movie' dig deep into the pre-'It's A Mystery' Toyah catalogue and it's brilliant to hear them updated so competently and effectively. The quartet serve as fine reminders of the power and inventiveness of Toyah's early work and her delivery is effortless, confident and proud. Later on the album there's also a great 'Alternate Mix' of 'Waiting' which takes the track in a spikier, vicious and distorted direction which is an effective, unsettling and experimental.
The section of the album dedicated to updating the hits kicks off with fairly pedestrian versions of 'Thunder In The Mountains' and 'I Want To Be Free', Toyah's delivery is faultless but at times, and particularly in the choruses, they lack some of the passion they deserve. The 'Take The Leap!' version of 'It's A Mystery' is much more successful and takes the song in an edgier, less poppy direction, personally I prefer other versions but it's a brave experiment which I think owes a lot to the way Toyah performs the song live although her, to my ears it doesn't quite live up to it's potential. This album also include another version of 'It's A Mystery' as a bonus track; entitled the Weybridge Mix this takes the song in what I can only describe as a 'baggy' direction... imagine Toyah singing while the Happy Mondays provide the backing and you'll have an idea of what I mean. The echoing backing vocals on this version are a nice touch which hint at African influences but it's somehow at odds with the song as a whole but again it's a interesting attempt to take a well-worn classic in a new and creative direction.
'Take The Leap!' also contains demo versions of two new tracks; 'Requite Me' and 'Tears For Ellie', 'Requite Me' is a very stripped back song, almost acoustic in feel which displays a new maturity to Toyah's voice, an impassioned song of warmth and beauty and a brilliant addition to any Toyah collection. 'Tears For Ellie' is another gem, a mid-paced song where Toyah's vocals are layered effectively over echoing beats and piano hooks, offset by dramatic violins which gradually builds momentum. Distinctively Toyah but it's a very different Toyah, a hint of a Toyah to come.
'Take The Leap!' is an oddity of an album, but put into context as a kind of coming-of-age record, the updated versions of old songs bridging the gap to the new songs, it's an essential chapter in Toyah's fascinating and ongoing story.
TOYAH! TOYAH! TOYAH!
Another slice of Toyah's back catalogue - with jam on
In the liner notes to this reissued live album (recorded in Wolverhampton in 1980), Toyah claims it represents 'one of the last gigs I did as a club act. Three months later I was the biggest thing in England since sliced bread'. The diminutive singer-cum-TV presenter was never one to hide her light under a bushel, but this claim is as fatuous as it is conceited. OK, she made a crust from the odd chart hit, but it was crumbs in comparison to 1981's real breadwinners (Adam Ant, The Police, Human League... Shakin' Stevens, even).
Ego-related niggle aside, this comprehensive reissue will delight fans by adding eight tracks to the original 10-track release. It's a crisply-recorded (though undeniably dated and somewhat lacking in crowd dynamic) live effort showcasing much of the singer's then-current Blue Meaning album. Single Ieya is probably the best-known song of the lot, and Toyah takes to it in suitably anthemic fashion.
By the time It's A Mystery made the Top 10 the following year a new backing outfit was in situ. As a result, Toyah initially dismissed this live album as irrelevant, though completists revelling in the additional live tracks (two originally appeared on B-sides) and 1982, will doubtless disagree. Steve Adams
Victims Of The Riddle
Toyah's backdrop is a quirky maze of fixing electronic and electric sounds, an intelligent sub-disco underlay. Toyah herself screeches and howls and makes the simple art of reviewing something of an endurance test. Angry and powerful, that's what it is, riotously and genuinely performed. But painful and disappointing too, after all the pre-release build up, the reviewer concludes. "Is there a heaven?/Is there a hell?/Do both exist?/Who can tell?" runs the deep intellect on the sleeve front. Theatrical froth.
Bird In Flight
Surprisingly gentle song by the banshee from Birmingham. It has an insidious quality that slowly gets under your skin and is a good pop song. The effective keyboards give it a desirable spacy atmosphere. Also more than a nod in Patti Smith's direction.
Brave New World
What Can I Say? She seems such a nice girl when she's on the box or talking on these pages. You can't help but admire her energy and utter professionalism. But as soon as she sings I get this awful feeling that she's somehow, er, exaggerating. All her songs have to be about some grand matter and sung with talent competition gusto. Knock 'em in the aisles, sock 'em in the back row of the balcony, grab 'em and shake 'em. My first instinct is to duck. That said, this is relatively restrained and should get on fewer nerves than the likes of "It's A Mystery".
Be Proud Be Loud (Be Heard)
A mere bop around the studio, shaped into something more substantial by means of an ear-bending synth riff and an arrangement that does a lot to hide the fact that Toyah, umpteen hairdo's on, remains much more a performer than a singer.
Fresh from her part as a wrestler in the play Trafford Tanzi, Toyah grapples with the knotty problem of trying to get a hit single. There hasn't been one for a while and this might just solve her problems. She sings well and I bet her visual presentation is up to her usual wacky, weird but high standard.