Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Toyah - The Blue Meaning (1980)

I fancied Toyah something rotten when I was at school*, knowing her mainly as the punky presenter of Look! Hear!, a Birmingham based yoots programme featuring weekly performances by local acts such as the Neon Hearts, Ruby Turner, and others. Then, following her turning up on an episode of Shoestring, I realised she also had a band so I made my own Toyah badge using Humbrol enamel paints, copying the logo out of Smash Hits. Then, when I finally heard the actual music, it was okay, but somehow wasn't quite so amazing as I felt certain it would be. I mean, it was all right, but, well - you know...

I never heard The Blue Meaning at the time, having drifted away by that point, so I'm only just hearing it now, and incredibly - against all expectation - a couple of plays in and it's actually pretty fucking great. To backtrack, I picked it up as part of a double disc package along with Sheep Farming in Barnet, the first album, but not really an album seeing as it was just a collection of EPs and singles. Sheep Farming in Barnet was mostly the stuff I heard which left me underwhelmed, even at the age of fourteen. Neon Womb was great of course, and Danced and Our Movie, but once you're past those, it all blends into one and the individual tracks really don't work together as an album. She has a great voice, but nevertheless rather than sing she started out overacting to the music, like a sexier William Shatner - whoops, whistles, comedy John Major voices, all manner of funny noises - the kind of sounds which traditionally accompany spooky expressions of surprise made as though trying to convince the audience that you really are subject to the influence of dark forces. Similarly the music of that first handful of discs seems to be some prog band's idea of punk, or at least - cough cough - new wave; so the enterprise steers perilously close to resembling rock opera. I know that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing every single time...

Anyway, I guess once she'd got it out of her system with the stuff on Sheep Farming, whatever it was, The Blue Meaning really comes together as sounding very much like an album rather than a series of weird squeaking noises bearing no particular relation to each other. She's reigned in the overacting, developed a convincingly pseudo-operatic bellow, and the music rocks pretty darn hard, like it really wishes it had been produced by Tony Visconti. In fact I had to look at the sleeve to check that it wasn't, and I can easily imagine Next Day-era Bowie vocalising over some of this stuff. It's not punk, and never really was, and as has been pointed out from time to time, lyrically it's mostly pseudo-mystical horseshit about pyramids, crystal balls, and sphinxes: it's a self-involved teenage girl spending five hours putting on her make-up, making it look as weird as possible just so she can pull a spooky face and make you think she's deep and mysterious; but fuck it - you know all those Beach Boys records? They were just about cars and girls, most of them! Honest! If you've somehow mistaken The Blue Meaning for St. Paul's letters to the Galatians, then you're probably missing the point. I know how these days we're all busily declaring that everything from the eighties was tittersomely brilliant, at least now that we don't actually have to dress up in any of that shit, but The Blue Meaning is a real cracker of a debut album.

*: I recently discovered that the children's show Teletubbies was filmed on the farm upon which I grew up as a child, and of course Toyah was the voice of Teletubbies. I suppose, it might be a coincidence.

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