THE BITTER & THE SWEET – BEST & RAREST – Toys Went Berserk (Memorandum)
Color Andy Jarvis proactive, the Toys Went Berserk guitarist dispensing with the obvious before the first paragraph of his liner notes to this 42-track double-disc compilation winds down. Namely, that a mutual respect for Goth/punk fence sitters Siouxsie & The Banshees served as a catalyst for the Sydney band’s formation and, much to their chagrin, was a millstone of constant comparison, although it appears singer Coo Bennett went a little easier on the eyeliner and Nazi whim-wham than the self-styled queen of the damned.
Between their first show at the Lewisham Hotel in 1986 and their last at the Annandale in 1991, TWB laid down enough tribal stomp to backdrop a lifetime of Skull Island virgin sacrifices or knock-down-drag-outs between Tarzan and multiple generations of restless natives. Drummer Mark Nicholson’s propulsive navigation of a seemingly endless series of thorny time signatures is the glue which binds the Toys clangor and if he’s managed to duck a raging case of carpal tunnel syndrome, then it’s official: there is a God.
“Worlds Away” is perhaps as close to conventional pop song structure as TWB get, shimmering guitars caroming between dreamy and pealing – even anthemic – a song most would sacrifice a reproductive organ or two for and “Brand New Life,” in a perfect world, is where the Banshees monkey would be swept from their backs forever because – wait for it – Siouxsie doesn’t have Bennett’s pipes nor the ability to convey any emotion warmer than last night’s pizza.
Jarvis, propped up by Steve Turbitt and Carolyn Polley at various points along TWB’s timeline, metes out sonic debilitation with what appears to be sadistic relish, using the tired carcasses of The Edge and Daniel Ash to stoke his funeral pyre of doom, thunderous one moment and ethereal the next. Bill Quarry serves up the four-string equivalent of comfort food, massive and as impenetrable as an alien-based ball of protoplasmic goo.
Disc 1 serves as an overview of various singles, EP’s, and blingers from the “”Pieces” mini album and “The Smiler With A Knife” and “Sensory” full-lengthers and it’s all gravy really, rapidly shifting ‘tween invigorating and mysterious, defiant and reflective, soundscapes surreptitiously chiseled two decades ago but still tarnish-free.
Disc 2 is bumper-to-bumper with demos, live tracks, and castaways like the twitchy “One Day My Head Is Gonna Explode” - a title anyone with kids can appreciate - a blasphemous but much needed bulldozing of “Stairway To Heaven,” Bennett working up a fine lather, nearly hitting the ceiling and tripping over herself to disgorge all of the lyrics before the others come full stop, and a live take of Blondie’s “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear” where she absolutely drips venom.
While the Siouxsie analogies are inevitable (who isn’t comfortable with a touchstone?), they’re best left to those with little or no imagination. Toys Went Berserk’s otherworldly noise is a dish best considered in a vacuum, unfettered by the path trod by those with a lofty public image, hefty promotional push, or just plain dumb luck. - Clark Paull
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR