Review Summary: The Toy Dolls' - gasp! - maturity album starts off sounding sub-par, but eventually grows on the listener, becoming a dignified entry to the band's vast discography.
Sunderland's Toy Dolls are to punk what Motorhead and AC/DC are to rock'n'roll, and Iron Maiden to heavy metal: one of those bands that refuses to grow old, stubbornly clinging on to their personalised vision of the genre they helped create, or at least perfect, and not letting the wrinkles get in the way of a good time. Ever since their inception in 1978 (a whopping thirty-four years ago!), the trio led by skinny singer/guitarist Michael "Olga" Algar has survived through countless changes in both their own formation and the music world, and kept on making cheeky, cartoony, typically English fun-punk.
Through good times and bad times, the band soldiered on, until in 2005 they put out what many fans feared would be their last album. The reason" It was called Our Last Album"
. It seemed Olga and his revolving door of musicians had finally run out of ideas, and let age catch up to them. Thousands of fans honoured the trio on the eponymous tour, and fondly went back to revisiting the classic old albums, all while ignoring that tentative question-mark on the album's title, and Algar's claims that that was "our last tour..maybe
Cut to 2012. There is a new Toy Dolls album, and it is called The Album After The Last One
. Yes, Michael Algar trolled his entire fanbase - and they could not be happier.
Conceived and recorded - unsuprisingly - by an entirely renewed trio, The Album After The Last One
follows along the lines of the Dolls' two previous releases - the aforementioned Our Last Album
and 2000's excellent Anniversary Anthems
– but sees the group adopt a peculiar new outlook on life. For you see, while outwardly time seems to not have affected Olga, bass player Tommy Goober and drummer Mr. Duncan, some of their lyrics on this album show that the band may finally be letting age catch up to them.
Make no mistake: most of the songs on Album After…
follow the pattern that made the Dolls famous: cheeky stories about the everyday life of working-class Britons. The cheating wife in Molly Was Immoral
, the sex-crazed OAP in Dirty Doreen
and the drunken lout in lead single Decca’s Drunken Dilemma
are all familiar characters for someone who has followed the group for any span of time. However, the approach on other songs is a bit more serious, and indicative that maybe Olga is not up for quite so much partying anymore. Back in the day, Marty’s Mam
would be a cheeky account about sleeping with a mate’s mother; here, however, it is a heartfelt eulogy to said deceased lady. Similarly, while B.E.E.R
extols the virtues of that beverage as a party enhancer, Decca’s Drunken Dilemma
sees Olga warn his titular friend that he is “drinking way too much” and expressing concern over that fact. Touches like these give the album a degree of maturity surprising for men who basically dress like cartoon characters.
Musically, the story is somewhat different. Anyone who has ever heard a Dolls album will immediately find a huge grin plastered on his face upon listening to Credit Crunch Christmas
, the first “proper” track after the mandatory Olgamental Intro
. Its cheeky lyrics and the citations to White Christmas
on the solo reassure the fans that, yes, the Toy Dolls are still their same old selves, and usher us right into the first standout, Molly Was Immoral
. At this point, Album After…
seems to be another above-average entry in the group’s catalogue, edging out Our Last Album
slightly and representing a worthy purchase for Dolls aficionados.
, however, things take on a slightly different slant. After B.E.E.R
gives us the absolute standout of the album – and perhaps one of the best straight-up rock’n’roll songs ever written – the album falls into a pattern which sees every odd song be a standout, and every even song a piece of variably turgid filler. How Kevin’s Cotton Wool Kids
can sit side by side with B.E.E.R
on the tracklist is a mystery, as is the fact that the group chose perhaps the worst song on the record – Decca’s Drunken Dilemma
– as the lead single and video. Elsewhere, tracks like Dirty Doreen
and Marty’s Mam
assert themselves as nothing more than harmless filler, continuing a pattern that has sadly been present in nearly every Toys album to date.
Fortunately for the listener, the odd songs save the day, and lift the sense of boredom the odd songs threaten to bring on. B.E.E.R
is the absolute standout, but Molly Was Immoral, Down At The Old 29
– the lyrics to which include fan-baiting references to characters and musicians from the band’s past - and the oddly political – but absolutely hilarious – Gordon Brown Gets Me Down
bring up the rear quite nicely. Don’t Drive Your Car Up Draycott Avenue
. a rollicking track in the vein of B.E.E.R
, is not quite as good, but stands out for a different reason: it is the first track in perhaps 30 years that sees someone other than Olga take the mic. In this case, drummer Mr. Duncan “pulls a C.J.” and does not embarrass himself, his raspy tone lending the song some personality, and the album some variety.
Rounding up the album – and after Olgamental Outro
has kept with Dolls traditions – the three acoustic re-recordings of seemingly random old hits make for a nice bonus, even if they add nothing to the album overall. Of the three, The Sphinx Stinks
is probably the best, turning a drab song off the turgid Fat Bob’s Feet
Into a fun acoustic ditty. Fiery Jack
and Cloughy Is A Bootboy
bring nothing new to the table - even if it is nice to finally understand the lyrics to the latter!
In short, then, what starts off as a seemingly sub-par entry to the Dolls discography ends up growing on the listener, and becoming a dignified addition to an already vast catalogue. It may not be as good or essential as Anniversary Anthems
or A Far Out Disc
, but it is certainly better than the likes of Fat Bob’s Feet
– the nadir of the band’s discography – and Orcastrated
. Dolls fans will probably have it already; curious parties could do worse as far as starting points go, although they might be better off starting with Anniversary Anthems
Molly Was Immoral
Down At The Old 29
Gordon Brown Gets Me Down