Review Summary: An excellent, multi-faceted compilation that's but a few minor flaws away from perfection.
Sometimes, it’s the most unlikely candidates who survive in any given situation. For example, who woud have thought that in the midst of the dead-serious British punk scene – more concerned with defending the rights of the working man and/or insulting authority – a band with a cartoon concept and droll lyrics would be the one to remain standing after 30 years?! Introducing…The Toy Dolls. Centred around singer and guitarist Michael Algar (“Olga” to his intimates), the band has been a veritable revolving door of bass players and drummers - the best-known and longest-lasting formations were those with bass player Flip Dugdale, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and the one with K’Cee and Marty, a decade later.
However, despite this inconsistency in cast, the group’s music has remained unchanged throughout the years. Much like with groups such as AC/DC or Mötörhead, it doesn’t really matter who
’s there, as long as the mastermind remains on board. And with Olga as sole composer and constant member, coherence was assured for the Toy Dolls’ speedy, melodic and cheeky fun-punk. Cheerio And Toodlepip: The Complete Singles
is proof positive that, even if the quality hasn’t always been the highest, the group’s sound remained personal and unmistakable throughout the years; at the same time, this compilation serves as both a good starting point for Dolls newbies and a worthy collector’s piece for more rabid fans, as it presents something to satisfy both worlds.
The gist of this two-disc release is simple: collect all the Dolls’ myriad singles and EPs in a single album. This simple but worthwhile objective simultaneously provides a public service – many, if not most, of the original releases are devilishly difficult to find – and makes for a great summation of the group’s work, thereby satisfying both Dolls connoisseurs and possible curious onlookers. Which is not to say the tracklist is perfect: the “singles-only” concept is a double-edged sword in this aspect, as it automatically excludes such relentlessly amusing non-singles as Ashbrooke Launderette, My Wife’s a Psychopath, Melancholy Margaret, Dorkamania
or the cover to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Any Dream Will Do
. Still, most of what is indeed here is undisputable as far as vintage Toy Dolls material goes, and the release itself stops only a few minor flaws short of perfection.
One of these flaws is, of course, repetition. For those not initiated, the Dolls’ sound s based around simple, fast riffs, catchy lead guitar work, gang choruses and cheeky lyrics about British ’oi polloi
. But where The Clash or the Sex Pistols were more concerned with denouncing the proletarians’ poor living condition, Olga and his peers choose to focus on small, local-scale stories of cheating women (Tommy Kowey’s Car, She Goes To Finos
), trend-following teddyboys (Dig That Groove Baby
) or untidy spouses (Her With a Hoover
). Throw in a couple of covers for cartoon theme songs (Rupert The Bear
and one-hit wonder Nelly The Elephant
) and you have a pretty good idea of what every album by the group sounds like. The strict and unwavering adherence to this formula does, of course, eventually lead to similar-sounding bits on different songs. But while it may seem as though Olga is playing the same solo on many of the songs – and sometimes they are, indeed, similar – the fact is that it works every time, never ceasing to amuse the listener.
A weightier and more important problem has to do with repetition. The concept of offering the releases as they originally were, B-Sides and all, leads to the appearance of slightly different versions of some of the same songs. And while a few of these are valid – Tommy Kowey’s Car
is considerably speeded-up in its latter incarnation, and, with Nellie The Elephant
being based off an earlier version, it is logical for both to appear here – the presence of Japanese and karaoke versions for a couple of songs clearly stretches the line a little too far. This effect is heightened when one realises that the space taken up by these repetitions could have been filled with some of the missing songs. Sure, it would have deviated from the concept, but it would also have made for a better Best-Of.
However, all these gripes become moot while listening to the actual songs. The Dolls’ music packs such a fun-loving punch that one can’t help but look past the flaws and just enjoy the tracks as they appear. This is particularly true of the first disc, where precious little goes to waste, apart from the few seconds’ delirium of Teenager In Love
(was that really a single?). Tracks like She’s A Worky Ticket, I’ve Got Asthma
or We’re Mad
may be less interesting than the rest, but even they are perfectly bearable and, at times, even fun.
And then there are the standouts. Reigning supreme in this disc is H.O.
, a scorcher of a punk ditty with an insanely amusing and catchy chorus that the Buzzcocks might not have scoffed upon. Coming in at a firm second is She Goes To Fino’s
, another incredibly dumb, incredibly fun chorus backed by pacey guitars and amusing lyrical content. Rounding up the trio of recommended songs is Alfie From The Bronx
, whose faux-melancholy tones raise a smile every time. However, most any song on this disc could serve as a perfect example of what the Dolls were all about, from the mandatory Dig That Groove Baby
and Nellie The Elephant
to Tommy Kowey’s Car, Ev’rybody Jitterbug
or Cheerio And Toodlepip
itself. All in all, a near-perfect disc where even the reprises are justified.
For whatever reason – maybe because the Dolls themselves entered a less inspired phase – the second disc seriously gets the short shrift. Sure, it has its moments, but its first half is virtually worthless, with tracks like Griefsville
not living up to their Disc One predecessors, and an unnecessary “Extended” re-recording of She Goes To Finos
not even approaching the original. The second half seriously improves on things, with the turning point being the instantly sticky chorus to Turtle Crazy
, probably the only good thing off the otherwise unremarkable Fat Bob’s Feet
. Incidentally, this is also probably the best song in the entire compilation, next to H.O.
and She Goes To Finos
. Rounding up the disc are the amusing and welcome Cloughy Is A Bootboy
and three songs from the excellent Anniversary Anthems
, with Her With a Hoover
being probably the best – that solo will get you to do a jig no matter where you are! However, at the end of the day, one must face the facts – about half of this record was expendable, and in no way does it live up to its illustrious companion.
Still, as a whole, this compilation works. With a few songs more and a few repeats less, we would have been in the presence of the definitive Toy Dolls Best-Of; but considering that wasn’t the concept, but merely a side-product of it, one must laud the idea, recommending Cheerio And Toodlepip: The Complete Singles
to anyone who is interested in the Dolls, whether they already know them or not.
: She Goes To Finos, H.O., Alfie From The Bronx
: Turtle Crazy, Cloughy Is A Bootboy, Her With A Hoover, Alec’s Back