December 18, 2023

Far from being the musical Yin to Fripp’s Yang in those 1980s days, comparison of their respective works reveals as many creative similarities as there are differences.

The excellent Cherry Red reissue campaign of Toyah’s classic early 1980s catalogue continues here with 1982’s The Changeling, the fourth Toyah studio album in just over three incredibly prolific years. Nowadays it is common for people, particularly those from a prog rock background, to simply regard Toyah as her contemporary incarnation as ‘Mrs Robert Fripp’, and the person responsible for dragging the famously irascible and studiously earnest King Crimson keystone out of his shell and into an ongoing series of light-hearted and often hugely entertaining YouTube video clips of them performing together in a variety of guises. All of which is fine as far as it goes, but there was far more to her wonderfully creative musical side than that – and this reissue series really ought to bring that to the fore in the public consciousness. Far from being the musical Yin to Fripp’s Yang in those 1980s days, comparison of their respective works reveals as many creative similarities as there are differences.

Following an intensely creative 1981, it would have been a very tempting – and indeed understandable – development for The Changeling to follow a relatively commercial and public-pleasing course. Just a year previously, the album Anthem – and particularly its two hugely successful singles It’s A Mystery and I Want To Be Free – had sent her into the world of mainstream TV and media in an easily marketable guise as a sort of ready-made ‘pop-punk with glam’ persona, with subsequent hits such as Thunder In The Mountains continuing that impression. As that whirlwind year came to an end, however, Toyah and her band (led by her chief songwriting partner and musical soulmate Joel Bogen) had other ideas. Indeed, not only did Toyah want to go back to the darker, more challenging template of previous works such as 1980’s The Blue Meaning, but she also planned to base the new album conceptually around how the events of 1981 had affected her on a personal level. The resulting album was certainly not the one which the record company executives wanted or expected her to produce, yet despite, or indeed because of that fact, it has remained one of her key creative statements.

Now, given that Toyah had, by this time, become an accomplished and commercially successful act with significant chart success, there was no way this album was going to revert to the end-to-end post-punk-prog experimentalism which marked the Sheep Farming In Barnet debut, or even its astonishing follow up The Blue Meaning. However, the more anticipated direction of leaning to the Thunder In The Mountains / I Want To Be Free / It’s A Mystery template was even further from the truth, as the band actually went further from that idea than the Anthem album had, rather than refining it and making it still more palatable. For sure, there are great ear-friendly tracks on here – Brave New World, for example, is one of the greatest singles Toyah ever released, while the fan favourite Angel And Me and the lyrically expectation-subverting Dawn Chorus can both lodge themselves into your head without any attendant irritation. That’s an EP worth of good solid yet commercially-savvy music. Elsewhere, however, we go severely off-piste, as the legion of new converts to Toyah fandom surely had their loyalties tested to breaking point with such unsettling sonic mosaics as the opening Creepy Room, the elegantly unhinged The Druids or the dramatic boundary-pushing of The Packt. Run Wild, Run Free sounds precisely nothing like the fast-paced celebration one might expect in its gently melodic poise, while Street Creature is an almost tribal, urban percussive-driven anthem. This was an exceptionally brave album to produce at the time, a fact which sadly has become all too forgotten over time, with it being almost regarded as a sort of Anthem Part 2, which does it a severe disservice.

This being Cherry Red, however the story doesn’t end with the ten songs on the original album, not even close. The first disc of this 2CD/DVD set adds on eleven bonus tracks, consisting of non-album singles, B-sides and EP tracks, along with a few other curiosities. These are a mixed bag as expected, ranging from the sublime (Good Morning Universe, Stand Proud, In The Fairground and a top-notch alternative version of I Want To Be Free) to the less so (Warrior Rock, Urban Tribesmen and the pointless ‘tour intro’ Go Beserk). A nice round-up for sure, mind you. And good to have the whole of the Four More From Toyah EP in one place. Disc Two contains 20 tracks of even deeper diving, with the first ten being almost an ‘alternative Changeling‘, with work-in-progress takes of all ten tracks, in sequence, which is very illuminating and food for thought in places. There are also instrumental outtakes and seven home demos by Joel Bogen, several of which can be easily seen as the precursors of final finished pieces. Chariots, for example, is virtually an unchanged run-through for Good Morning Universe, while Piano Ballad lends much to Angel And Me, and as good as Dawn Chorus is, I cannot help but wish it had retained its formative title of Bus Station For Heroes!

Finally there is the DVD, which is an absolute treasure trove of nostalgia, and a reminder of just how dreadful some of the early ’80s ‘pop’ television actually was! After the real ‘meat’ of the disc in the shape of a couple of insightful interviews about the album from this year, and some 2018 unplugged performances, we head into some wild and choppy waters with appearances on such dubious and not-at-all-missed delights as Top Of The Pops Xmas Party, Get Set For Summer and – God help us – a performance of Brave New World on Cheggers Plays Pop! There are even a couple of songs – including Ieya – on something called Pebble Mill 6.55 Special, which completely passed me by at the time I must add (Pebble Mill At One, I do remember). It’s heady and delightfully entertaining, if sometimes cheese-laden stuff, and an excellent DVD all told.

I know a lot of fans will be eagerly snapping up all of the reissues in this series, and to them I can unequivocally say that this is up to he high standard set so far. In terms of beginners or casual fans, this may not be the easiest album with which to start – of the ones covered so far, Anthem would be the safest bet, while those drawn to the post-punk, spiky early Toyah incarnation would be directed to Sheep Farming In Barnet. Those wanting some classic material delivered alongside some darker and more challenging fare, however, will be excellently served by this, or indeed 1980’s The Blue Meaning. Either way, this is an excellent way to celebrate what was indeed a Brave New World in 1982 – and remains remarkably relevant and vibrant some 40 years later.