On Tuesday, a couple of Toy Dolls compilation albums arrived from Amazon, namely "We're Mad!" and "Covered in Toy Dolls". The latter is, as you might expect, a collection of some of the cover versions that they've done over the years. "We're Mad!" contains some of the same tracks, but also quite a number of their own compositions. Excluding the duplicates, the two compilations together amount to 56 tracks. OK, the shortest runs for 17 seconds, and the Toys are definitely three minute heroes, but even so, that's not bad.
There are two aspects to the Toy Dolls - the style and the substance. There's a fair chance that if you're in the UK then you're familiar with their hit, which was a cover of Nellie the Elephant. It got to number four in the single charts in 1984, only kept off the top spot by a few minor third rate acts who got lucky - Band Aid, Wham and Madonna. Whatever happened to them, eh? If you're familiar with "Nellie the Elephant", then you're familiar with much of the style: light-hearted, hammed-up, occasionally falsetto punk with some quite good guitar work actually.
As for the substance, well, that consists of short punky ditties, with a grounded but left-field sense of humour. The band are from the North-East of England and aren't afraid to be constructively parochial. In fact, although this is something I'm not so appreciative of, there are a number of songs about Coronation Street!
At its best, the Toys' humour combines with their showmanship and musical skill to make for some excellent and memorable songs, such as "James Bond Lives Down Our Street", "Fisticuffs in Frederick Street" and (sadly, not on either disk, though I have it the B-side of a single) the wonderful "Olga... I Cannot!".
Having said that, I also have to say I am more of a fan of the style than the substance, so of the two albums I prefer "Covered in Toy Dolls". Michael "Olga" Algar's guitar-playing makes for very enjoyable versions of - to give you an idea of what they sound like - "Sabre Dance", "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", "Wipe Out", "Lazy Sunday Afternoon" [official MP3] and, in the same vein - even though you might not think so - "Rupert the Bear", "Toccata in D Minor", "Eine Kleine Nacht Muzik", "Livin' La Vida Loca" and of course "Nellie the Elephant".
If you think it's funny to punk up "Nellie the Elephant", and to sing about being skint in Tyne and Wear (their version of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America"), having asthma, and Coronation Street plot-lines, you may enjoy "We're Mad!". If you're less fanatical in your appreciation of fairly schoolboy humour, "Covered in Toy Dolls" might still be quite enjoyable. Play it loud!