Toyah - Ophelia's Shadow 

Tracklist: Ophelia's Shadow (5:54), The Shamen Says (5:23), Brilliant Day (2:39), Prospect (3:13), Turning Tide (5:40), Take What You Will (5:42), Ghost Light (4:28), The Women Who Had An Affair With Herself (4:17), Homeward (5:16), Lords Of The Never Known (4:32) 

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 
Bob Mulvey 

Discoveries magazine
August 2004