[28 September 2005]
In the midst of the UK punk explosion of the late 1970s, when everyone and their little sister were throwing together a bratty vocalist with some cheap guitars to make noise, bands lived faster and died younger than their members. And it would have been practically inconceivable at the time to think that of all the bands out there, the one to last 25 years and continue cranking out tunes would be the Toy Dolls.
Practically nothing exists of the original act that Michael “Olga” Algar put together in 1979 except Olga himself. The history of the Toy Dolls reads like a hotel entrance, with Olga the shaft around which a revolving door of band-mates continually revolved. A mere quarter of the line-up changes that Toy Dolls have seen would probably do most bands in, but Olga has stayed true for the duration and, if anything, the presence of fresh faces on stage and in the studio seems to have kept Olga going all these years. What’s more, the band’s recorded output seemed to increase over time, and judging from the pictorial record available online, Olga’s maintained the rail-thin, youthful appearance he had when the band first took to the stage. The trademark grin that became the band’s symbol seems to be defying time.
However, rather than concentrating on the Toy Dolls as a story of survival, Cheerio and Toodlepip invites us to relive the band in its larval stages, when a punk band pressing a 7” was still an event. The disc lives up to the subtitle by offering every single and most of their backing tracks in a chronological history of the band’s releases between 1980 and 2000, but even though most of these tracks were later collected on or re-recorded for the band’s full-lengths, the compilation focuses on the original 7” recordings, making it a completist’s dream.
The problem is that makes it seem like the Toy Dolls are a band meant to be taken seriously, and a part of their longevity rests on the exact opposite. This is a band whose main claim to fame is the 1984 hit novelty song “Nellie the Elephant”—which was actually a re-recording of an earlier 1982 version, both of which appear here—not the Clash. In reality, the Toy Dolls catalogue is a reflection of the fun side of punk. Although the group made its name early on in association with the Oi scene, there’s really nothing so serious or political as most of Oi’s strident adherents. Rather, the Toy Dolls are like the punk version of pub rock—great to sing along to and pogo and grin and revel in the bratty and slam-danceability of punk, but hardly a political statement.
At two discs and 34 tracks, it might seem like you’re being asked to swallow a large gob of the band all at once, especially when these songs were intended to be one-offs, and essentially it’s true. This is a collection that will mostly appeal to fans of the band that haven’t been able to find one or another of the singles on the collector’s circuit. But as a career retrospective, it also offers a solid view into the punk scene that doesn’t get covered by the serious stuff. Songs like “Dig That Groove Baby” and “Idle Gossip” are populist anthems of the short, punchy, everyday sort, and as such they’re pretty easy to listen to and enjoy if you have any interest in first wave punk.
Additionally, this album gives a lot of credence to the notion that Olga found his niche and rocked it for the duration of his band’s career. Comparing songs like “We’re Mad” and “Dierdre’s a Slag” to “Sod the Neighbors” and “Her With a Hoover”, separated by 15 years in the latter case, shows a linearity that could be seen as a remarkable consistency or a single-minded narrowness, depending on your point of view. Sure, there are a few missteps—the attempt at kiddie hipness in “Turtle Crazy” flopped for a reason, and “Olga… I Cannot” is just too off to really sink in—but overall this set proves the Toy Dolls to be a band that never deviated from a simple-minded blueprint for fun, shout-out choruses and rat-a-tat-tat rhythms and all.
In the end, even for the casual fan of the Toy Dolls—or the casual fan of punk in general—Cheerio and Toodlepip turns out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience. Sure, the combination of lightweight hooliganism and novelty songs is hardly life-altering, but there’s nothing in this vein of punk that was ever meant to change the world. And that might be the key to Olga’s longevity, as well as the steadily quiet but consistent success of the Toy Dolls. Because if you can’t enjoy “James Bond (Lives Down Our Street)” just a little bit, then you need some help, mate.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/toydolls-cheerio/