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.
Anv 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.
Melody Maker 1981