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Toy Matinee - Toy Matinee CD (album) cover


Toy Matinee


Prog Related

4.48 | 24 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars "You might not know about this band; One of the coolest projects I was ever involved with" - Guy Pratt, Pink Floyd's bass player (1987-1994, 2013-2014).

As one Toy Matinee enthusiast put it: "It's like the Beatles had a baby with Steely Dan." I'd say it's like the baby 10,000 Maniacs could have had with Steely Dan while the Beatles would be the godparents of this baby. This "art project rock band", with its eponymous album which was released in 1990 on Reprise Records, was inaccurately portrayed on the back side album cover as a musical duo consisting of much-in-demand producer/keyboardist/composer Patrick Leonard, and the young, clever singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, but all the TOY MATINEE lineup members proudly proclaim that they were indeed a full-fledged band, categorized here in Prog Archives as "Prog Related". Most of the lineup had been intrinsically involved with Madonna's successful pop albums. The lineup of this band displays like a Who's Who of seasoned session musicians and producers, all of whom were very familiar with Prog. Who would have thought that the musicians/producers/engineers/mixers behind Michael Jackson, or Madonna's "Like A Prayer" album would put out their own album, which also had a couple of Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, both reaching #23, and which would wind up being listed in Prog Archives? A couple of the members of Toy Matinee have said that this one album was the launching pad for the rest of their careers. Listen to this album and you'll understand why.

Patrick Leonard was one of the panel of judges (along with Quincy Jones and some others) at a Yamaha competition, in which competed a young Kevin Gilbert (who later passed away in 1996). Patrick immediately noticed Kevin's Prog underpinnings, and wanted to get a project going with him. The chairman of Warner/Reprise records, so happy with Patrick Leonard (because he helped them earn "about half a billion dollars" with several Madonna albums) that he offered Patrick Leonard anything he wanted as a reward. Leonard just wanted to record his dream project "squeedo" album, i.e. "musical freedom" album, and was given a blank check along with what Guy Pratt described as an "AMAZING" studio (Johnny Yuma Recording Studio) including all the recording studio time he needed, and which included a full workout gym with a world class body building trainer. TOY MATINEE was a band which was not conceived naturally, but instead had its lineup chosen by Leonard, like a barren woman choosing the characteristics of the sperm donor so she could have the dream baby she wanted, or an A-List Hollywood producer choosing who would star in his next epic film. Surprisingly, this corporate, hand-picked lineup immediately gelled, and put in a lot of musical love (and bickering) into what became a great "squeedo" album which was still accessible. Those picked by Leonard, besides Kevin Gilbert, were 1. British bass player Guy Pratt (actually picked first before Gilbert) who had worked with Bryan Ferry, Peter Cetera, Pink Floyd, Madonna, and was scheduled to be the touring bass player for Pink Floyd immediately after recording TOY MATINEE (and who became Richard Wright's son-in-law). 2. Wire Train's drummer, and part-time carpenter/house painter Brian MacLeod, who would soon be involved with the Tuesday Night Music Club, and various well-known performers in the years to come as a session drummer. 3. A much-in-demand session guitarist in the person of Tim Pierce, who in my opinion follows the adage of David Gilmour with "It's not how many notes you play; it's WHAT notes you play." 4. Producer/engineer Bill Bottrell, also a songwriter (and later the producer behind Sheryl Crow's massive pop hit Tuesday Night Music Club album) who also performed in spots on the recording and co-wrote one of the songs ("Remember My Name"). Even Julian Lennon was recruited to sing backup on a couple of the songs. Also guesting is Sal's Clarinet Trio. Bill Bottrell was initially quite skeptical of Leonard just artificially putting a band together, corporate style: " can't just put a band together....what is this, Hollywood? can't do that, Pat." Later, Bottrell is quoted matter-of-factly saying to Tim Pierce: "you guys had a rock band". Guy Pratt said: "We were working in a band format" and "it will always stand as one of...if not the greatest projects I've ever been involved with, frankly." Drummer Brian MacLeod said that Toy Matinee was indeed a band, and that "everybody had something to bring to the table." and "...the bar was so high, yet it was no problem to achieve what we did. Everybody was so tasteful; everybody was just playing the right thing, and I think we wanted to make a record that was interesting, but was music we wanted to listen to. It wasn't about showing off." Tim Pierce said Toy Matinee was "the greatest band I ever joined" and "we cut that record live off the floor...basically most of what you hear was us playing together at once." Bill Bottrell said that Toy Matinee was what gave him the confidence to produce at a higher level. Bottrell, who was a fan of Prog, said he took what was imagined by Leonard and Gilbert as a Prog art project, and that he had to "de-progify" it, due to the popular opinion at the time that Prog had become too pretentious, and although Bottrell laughingly adds that he inserted a Gentle Giant-like intro to one of the songs ("Last Plane Out") he was, for the scope of the album "mostly de-progging all the time."

The music on this album has been compared to Steely Dan and Alan Parsons Project by some. The Beatles and The Beach Boys, or even ELO by others (and 10,000 Maniacs by me). Song writing credits go mostly to Leonard, Gilbert, and Pratt, with Bottrell contributing. Most of the wide variety of subject matter for the lyrics in the songs have creative, sarcastic, serious or deep/intellectual/philosophical lyrics which tell a story of their own:

1. "Last Plane Out" was the first "single" for the album, reaching #23, and had an official music video to go along with it, which you can view online (the link is here on the band's PA page). It's Guy Pratt's fascination with the last plane leaving a war zone. Bill Bottrell discussed the intros and reintros to this song, in which he was channeling Gentle Giant in Pierce's guitar riff, despite performing a general attempt to abate the "progginess" of the album at large. At the middle-end of the song is an eight-bar bridge sequence during which the bass guitar and bass drum do not repeat themselves (an idea Guy Pratt picked up from David Gilmour). The guitars by Tim Pierce tastefully played along with Guy Pratt's groovy/funky, sometimes unhurried bass lines. The tempo change before the re-intro keeps things interesting. Gilbert has a commanding merging of the witty, satirical lyrics with his talented vocal delivery, while Bottrell orchestrates the background vocal contributions expertly.

2. "Turn It On Salvador" is about artist Salvador Dali. The lyrics have playful references to his paintings, so the more familiar you are with Dali, the more you'll understand the lyrics. I had the luck to visit the Dali museum in Florida, which constitutes the bulk of my exposure to Dali's work, besides a documentary movie I saw in a university art class, so there's a lot in the song I don't recognize, but can imagine with Gilbert's descriptive lyrics. He (Dali) was definitely an eccentric, and this eccentricity is accentuated by Sal's Clarinet Trio doing a pro job of installing a strong dose of whimsy into this song to go along with the harmonized singing (including backing vocals by Julian Lennon). Again, Tim Pierce impresses here with his guitar colors he contributes.

3. "Things She Said" displays such skilled prose/lyrics to go along with the tempo expositions in this song. I once led a CEUs workshop for my profession, and used this song as one of the options for my colleagues to address the lyrics and how to portray them in translation of language. Yes, the lyricism is that good. This song could be an example of how a catchy song just doesn't go anywhere commercially because the lyrics are a bit too deep/opaque while combined with tempo changes that just don't go well between songs by Loverboy and Scandal. It's one of the songs on this album to which only half the song can be danced, leaving the couple dancing wondering what to do during the other half of the song. Again, Julian Lennon contributes vocals to this.

4. "Remember My Name" is about Czech poet, playwright, and controversial political dissident/figure Václav Havel, who was the last and the first (the last President of Czechoslovakia, and the first president of the Czech Republic). Although a "liberal social democrat" generally, who was involved with the Green party before his death, he could also appeal to conservatives, particularly because he was anti-communist and did embrace free-market capitalism and some moderate views. After his death he was both praised and criticized by left-wingers, and even American conservatives tried to claim him as their own, so there might be something in this song to appeal to listeners of differing political sides, which is refreshing. The song's lyrics, rich with poetic imagery about disillusionment with Communism's promises, are loosely a memorial to him for his poetry and political activity with an urging for people, including his heroes, to remember him (and other political figures) with the song's emotional, epic vocal chorus, which includes arrangements with not only beautiful harmonies, but some aggressive, passionate vocal expressions.

5. "The Toy Matinee" takes a more somber, cynicism-infused turn with Leonard's reverberating keys taking center stage with mournful guitar by Tim Pierce, while Brian MacLeod knows exactly in what manner, speed, and intensity to sound the skins. The somewhat sardonic lyrics lament the mind-numb state of modern society, putting away higher mental consciousness for its attention to petty entertainment viz a viz the easily manipulated audience, with its sadly dripping, mocking cynicism. Patrick Leonard said he couldn't understand why Bill Bottrell had the band repeat this song over and over in the studio for two days when he was sure it was played perfectly from the beginning. "Bill just kept making us play it, and making us play it, and making us play it until I don't think I've ever felt so angry in the studio in my life...and it was like, 'why are we doing this?'...and then I listen all these years later, and I hear all this 'pissed-offness' in my playing, and it was like 'that's why he did it...he was waiting for all this to come to life.' "

6. "Queen of Misery" is reported to be based on Madonna. With the exception of MacLeod, everyone in TOY MATINEE had working experience with Madonna previously. Her Like A Prayer album was pretty much TOY MATINEE behind Madonna's attention-grabbing persona. The song is a bopping, rockin' number with some scathingly performed lyrics by Gilbert. I don't know how personal Gilbert has made this song, but it sounds like it could be. Tim Pierce is amazing with his subtle fills and embellishments he adds with his guitar, while Pratt's bass is the funky, groove-filled glue holding it all together as his fingers are all over the fretboard, oozing out a bass voice with something to say. Pratt gives kudos to Bottrell for engineering the "perfect, amazing" sound of the bass for this song. This is not bass you typically hear the kids listening to. Pratt also says about the drumming on this song: "Brian MacLeod is off-the-charts superb here." Pratt also said "Everyone...everyone's playing on this album is just insane."

7. "The Ballad of Jenny Ledge" was the first time I had ever heard TOY MATINEE. I still remember listening to the special weekend evening programming art-rock show, "Greg Stone's Stone Trek" on the rock station 98.5 KOME in San Jose, California in the very early 90s. I caught the song in the middle of it and instantly loved it. It was the other #23 charting song for this album. Never thought about it again until I found it sometime later in the bargain bin at the local CD and video store. I had remembered it from Stone Trek, and the price was right, so I took a gamble hoping the rest of the CD was as good as "The Ballad of Jenny Ledge". It was. It's a song based on the former girlfriend of Kevin Gilbert, who actually left him for an Elvis impersonator. Yes, really. This catchy song reminds of Steely Dan, but doesn't sound derivative, so it's quite original. It once again showcases Kevin Gilbert's amazing ability to tell a story that is engaging. This song also has an official (low-budget) video, starring actress Roseanna Arquette as "Jenny Ledge". The video is available here on PA in the TOY MATINEE page.

8. "There Was a Little Boy" is a dark, bleak song about a boy who grows up in a dysfunctional family with an out-of-touch, "crazy" mother, and a step-father who is sexually abusive to his older sister(s). Whatever hope he would normally have as a child has turned to despair. As a release, he gets into trouble and involves himself with, among other secrets, "an older boy", as he leaves home early to only temporarily have his needs satisfied. Again, whatever hopes and dreams he has to improve his lot in life becomes quashed by his circumstances viz a viz the dreary, sick, coarsely fault-ridden world. He lives with personal shame, a weak and unfulfilling relationship with his mother, and hopelessly stuck in his present with no light leading to any future happiness. The lamentful background vocals singing "there was a little boy" is nuanced with some angst in its delivery. Leonard makes expertly tasteful key choices, and Pierce performs in an emotive style to convey this mood into the music, with MacLeod again displaying the skill to provide the correct accompanying drum sounds/patterns to match the mood.

9. "We Always Come Home" ends the album with a warm, touching personal story of Patrick Leonard's family and home town. The song radiates with nostalgia and the positive peacefulness of eternal family connections and hometown roots that never abandon the soul as one is drawn to those connections. There's this quaint, small town imagery in the descriptive lyrics that just make you want to live there with your family and friends. This song so peacefully pulls on those common-to-all heartstrings, with moments in the song during which you think "man, they're truly performing the perfectly emotive, sublime symphony", and you realize in this moment that Bill Bottrell has formed something so reminiscently valuable, that more than 30 years later they look back with that "yeah...this album and band was...special, and we'll never forget our transcendent experience recording this art."

I wholeheartedly give TOY MATINEE five stars for this solitary experience. A true desert island disc for me, and worthy of being in Prog Archives with it's high 4+ star rating. Enjoy it and the other albums featuring the brilliant musical genius who was Kevin Gilbert.

paisanojac | 5/5 |


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