When talking about the original late ‘70s UK Punk scene, 999 seem to be one of the most overlooked bands of the era. Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Jam, and The Stranglers are usually the bands that many folks think of first when praising the virtues of Punk and how it levelled and changed the musical landscape. While those bands grabbed the headlines, there were plenty of equally-worthy bands that deserved fame and fortune. As you would probably guess, 999 was one of those bands. 999 made music fueled by Punk yet firmly rooted in classic Rock ‘n’ Roll. The music they recorded may have been born during the Punk era but 40 years later, it remains timeless and essential. If you need proof of that statement, Captain Oi/Cherry Red’s four CD box set THE ALBUMS 1977-80 is exactly what you need to make you believe. Again.
Looney tunes, indeed!
The chaps in The Dickies have a wicked sense of humor and The Adicts know how to have fun as well… but The Toy Dolls are the true court jesters of Punk Rock. So, if you are looking for a good time, you can either call one of those phone numbers written on the bathroom wall or you can do the right thing and hustle on down to your local Pop shop and grab THE ALBUMS: 1983-87, a delicious five CD box set that gathers together the first four albums by The Toy Dolls as well as a fifth disc of rarities!
Led by the always excitable Olga (AKA Michael Algar), The Toy Dolls has gone through several line-up changes over the years but they’ve never lost the spunk ‘n’ spittle that made them so fun when they released their debut album DIG THAT GROOVE BABY in 1983. While some may have thought of the band’s music as a parody or a humorous homage to Punk, there’s no doubt that Olga and the boys are true Punk rockers. However, they just chose to take Punk – and everything else for that matter – a lot less seriously than everyone around them. This debut includes classic tracks like “Glenda And The Test Tube Baby,” “Dougie Giro,” “Up The Garden Path,” “Stay Mellow”, the title track and “Nellie The Elephant.” While some may be put off by the over-the-top goofiness of the band’s approach to Punk, their catchy melodies and exceptional musicianship cannot be denied.
Two years later, the band released A FAR OUT DISC, another hook-filled Punk fiesta. Highlights include “My Girlfriend’s Dad’s A Vicar,” “We’re Mad” and so many others. IDLE GOSSIP was released in 1986 followed a year later by BARE FACED CHEEK. On both albums, Olga leads his crew through some thrilling and entertaining Punk nuggets. No matter what, The Toy Dolls’ music was always refreshing, exciting and inspiring. The first album may be their most popular full-length but the band are always reliable when it comes to making great records and each and every one of these albums needs to be experienced.
The fifth disc here is chock full of non-album tracks including 7” version, songs from compilations and so much more. This final CD includes the ‘hit’ version of “Nellie The Elephant” that received the most airplay over here in the U.S. There’s more fun involved including the smile/dance/sweat-inducing “Everybody Jitterbug.” Crazy, cool and fun, The Toy Dolls may never get the same respect as bands like The Clash, but they certainly deserve your attention!
Look, if you prefer your Punk political and/or pretentious, go elsewhere. If you want some hook-filled, shout-along Punk anthems with a sense of humor, then THE TOY DOLLS will satisfy all of your cravings. Ten fold. Captain Oi and Cherry Red have given us yet another set that should occupy a very sacred place in your collection!
(NOTE: The first four discs in this set represent the original albums when first released. They do NOT contain bonus tracks. However, all the bonus tracks from previous CD reissues of these albums are gathered on Disc Five).
Keep on truckin’,
Stephen THE CHANCELLOR Schnee
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to send off a few questions to David Brewis, who graciously took time to discuss the band’s new album OPEN HERE and more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your self-titled album is about to be released. How are you feeling about the journey to make this album and the reaction to it so far?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Well, the people that normally like my records like this one, so far. And that’s it really – if you like this one, you’ll probably like the others. If not, I’m not your flavor. That’s why the record is simply my name. The journey? Well it was the lucky coincidence of my moving to Nashville at the same point that Brendan Benson was getting in touch, asking if I’d like to come and record with him there.
CAN’T TOUCH US NOW
We all grow up. Some of us try to live in the past while others are happier living in the here-and-now. Our favorite artists have it far more difficult, though. They grow older and move forward, maturing like the rest of us, yet they have fans that prefer them to stay exactly the same as they were when they first started having hits. British sextet Madness has certainly had their fair share of dealings with these types of expectations from their audience. The young adults that recorded their first two albums in ’79 and ’80 – ONE STEP BEYOND and ABSOLUTELY – began to mature by the mid-‘80s and as soon as that happened, the band’s sound evolved. Their 7 and RISE AND FALL albums signaled their new-found confidence and each of them contained some big hits (most notably, “Our House”), but their audience wanted the band to remain the Ska-influenced nutty boys of old while the band just wanted to experiment and expand upon their sound. They were still selling a lot of records six years into their career but nobody seemed to really accept that the band that recorded “Yesterday’s Men” (a fab single in 1985) was the same gang that gave them “House Of Fun,” “Baggy Trousers,” and “One Step Beyond” just a handful of years before. By 1986, Madness called it quits. Each member had personally outgrown the ‘image’ that people had of the band and they needed to shake those shackles before people could take them seriously… Thankfully, they reunited for live shows in the early ‘90s and have remained together ever since (although there have been solo and side projects released since they’ve been back). Not as prolific as they once were, a studio album from Madness is definitely cause for celebration.
Incredibly, the same six man line-up that recorded ONE STEP BEYOND in 1979 is the same line-up on their latest album, CAN’T TOUCH US NOW. That, in itself, is pretty damn impressive. This is only their fourth all-original album since WONDERFUL – their first studio ‘reunion’ album in 1999 – and their second since the critically acclaimed THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE (2009). Like RISE & FALL and NORTON FOLGATE, CAN’T TOUCH US NOW finds the band taking off their rose-colored glasses and revealing the shady underbelly of London (and British life in general). From religion and politics to lost souls in turmoil, CTUN is a trip through the darker side of jaunty. This is a raw look at the real world by middle aged men who still know how to easily craft Pop gems that ‘feel’ like classic Madness songs but reveal different layers with each listen. Lee “El Thommo” Thompson’s sax still blurts and swings; Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman’s guitar still twangs and stings; Mike “Monsieur Barso” Barson’s keyboard work is so highly under-rated; Daniel “Woody” Woodgate and Mark “Bedders” Bedford are still one of the most creative rhythm sections in Pop/Rock; and Graham “Suggs” McPherson remains the ultimate front-man – you’ll always get an equal mix of tongue-in-cheek and heart-on-sleeve.
“Mr. Apples” is a worthy first single but the real meat in CTUN reveals itself over repeated spins. “Good Times,” “(Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying,” “You Are My Everything,” and the title track are the ones that hit you first, slowly giving way to a host of other gems like “Pam The Hawk,” “Blackbird,” and “Soul Denying”. While a slow-burning album may not be welcome in a digital-on-demand world where everyone feels like they are entitled to their instant gratification right now, CTUN ultimately pays off big time for Madness fans and those who love thoughtful, well-crafted albums. If you’re looking for “Our House,” “It Must Be Love,” etc., go buy the old albums. This is an album created by six guys who gratefully acknowledge their past but prefer to move forward. For the record, I kept getting a feeling that this might be the band’s studio swan song… but I hope not!
NOTE: While I haven’t mentioned it above, I did want to address one issue: Although not an “official” member of Madness on their debut album, Cathal ‘Chas Smash’ Smyth became an integral piece of the Madness puzzle from 1980 onwards. Sadly, he has chosen to take a break from Madness and his presence is most certainly missed on this album – much like when bassist Bedford and guitarist Foreman took separate brief sabbaticals from the band in the past.
Super, the 13th studio album by British duo Pet Shop Boys, is a prime example of why the Electronic/Dance act will never be part of a nostalgic ‘80s package tour – they are too busy moving into the future to live in the past. When they scored their first big hit 31 years ago with “West End Girls,” PSB were a delicious mixture of smarmy Pop and then-modern Electronica. Vocalist Neil Tennant’s deadpan (and slightly campy) vocals and Chris Lowe’s melodic, percolating Euro/Electropop backdrop made for some exciting records back in the day, earning them worldwide success and hits in every corner of the world. By the ‘90s, their star had faded a bit in the U.S. although they still released innovative and exciting albums that were snapped up by audiences In vastly different time zones than the States. Thankfully, PSB have continued to make fresh, forward-thinking records over the years. They’ve kept on top of Dance and Electronic music trends and have embraced them wholeheartedly. You’ll still find elements of their ‘80s and ‘90s sound on Super but you’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re looking for “West End Girls 2016” because Neil and Chris have moved on.