Centered around Patrick Leonard (who has produced and played keys for everyone from Madonna to Phil Keaggy to Michael Jackson) and then twenty-one Kevin Gilbert (who went on to co-write Cheryl Crows first album before his death in 1996), Toy Matinee is surely a work of collaborative genius. Each song is sheer perfection in songwriting, lyrics, arrangement, musicianship, and production. The album opens with "Last Plane Out" as Gilbert intones tongue-in-cheek "We've kept the good old vices/ And labored to invent a few" against a progressive pop groove in this anthem against the wasteland of modern Western culture. "Turn It On Salvador" honors the surrealist painter with a rubbery bass line, eerie keyboards, and a swanky, wobbly, raucous rhythm that fits in perfectly with this artists work. Taking a more acoustic turn, "Things She Said" explores the sad life of a woman stuck in indecision. Likewise, "Queen of Misery" is the sad tale of a woman who's "looking for someone to give the love that I denied" in the arms of strangers and "The Ballad of Jenny Ledge", the song that received local airplay on 103.9, is a true story of a woman who values financial security over love. The closing song, "We Always Come Home", is a heart-wrenching tribute to gritty life in a small blue-collar town with such succinct lines as "Father worked the lifts in the old Tobin mine/ He always loved the saxophone/ But he had to keep us all alive." As you may have surmised, most of the songs are stories dealing with innocence lost, chances not taken, and decisions not made.
Musically, there is outstanding keyboard, guitar, and bass parts ( I have to mention Guy Pratt who is always in the pocket on this CD) but these are arranged such that they never steal the spotlight and detract from the overall song. It's difficult to put this album into a single style although the entire album is quite cohesive in sound and up-tempo despite the often melancholy lyrical subject matter. Progressive keyboard pop/ guitar rock with a groove and great harmonies? How about just plain good! While it only enjoyed limited sales at its original release, I know of no one who has heard this album that doesn't rank it among their favorites. Make it one of your favorites... it's the best music you've never heard.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, July 2000.