I know it's fashionable to like lyrics that are oblique or vague enough to fit your life experience, but I've always been a sucker for songs with lyrics that tell a story. Especially when those lyrics are spoken, e.g. The Gift by Velvet Underground, River of Money by the Go-Betweens. And if those lyrics also detail some kind of injustice, such as Silver and Gold and Bullet the Blue Sky from U2s Rattle and Hum, you've got me hook line and sinker. If you're in the same boat, then have I got an album for you......
The Toll are another band that emerged from the post-hair metal pre-grunge era. They primarily played an appealing, competent, but not particularly unique gothic hard rock. What distinguished them from the masses was their penchant to stretch out some of their songs with passionate and compelling spoken word narratives. Their debut album, The Price of Progression, features three such songs, each exceeding 10 minutes, interspersed with shorter straight rock songs. I used to think the two distinct song types were some indication of musical schizophrenia! I later came to realise the shorter songs were a form of light relief - an album full of these longer songs may have come across like being on the frontline!
Jonathan Toledo, the first of the narrative songs, describes the persecution of the American Indians. It starts atmospherically, with sparse drumming and reverberated lead guitar, with the drums kicking in for the chorus. At the 5 minute mark the guitar drops out and the narrative begins, describing the authors trip to a reservation: what right do I have to walk confidently?
Anna-41-box is about a dispirited middle aged woman in an unhappy marriage and the indignity of having to satisfy her husbands sexual urges - the crucifixion of womanhood. It starts with subdued arpeggiated guitar, and slowly builds until the music drops out, leaving a lone voice singing, before the narrative starts.
The third narrtive song, Living in the valley of pain, starts with lone vocals for the first minute. It tells the story of Jameson Rain, the creative child of orthodox religious and close minded parents Vincent and Dorothy River, who wouldn't follow the rivers meander.
The narrative songs are worth the price of admission themselves. They are all immense.
Of the shorter songs, opener Jazz Clone Clown is a catchy and raucous opener, with the short narrative towards the end giving some indication of what is to follow. Soldiers room, Tamara told me and Stand in Winter, featuring the mighty Mick Ronson on guitar, are more commercial, but still have teeth.
For more info on The Toll, check out the cool fan page at http://www.gregsvoice.com/toll/, from where the above photo was liberated!
The Toll - 1988 - The Price of Progression
1. Jazz Clone Clown
2. Jonathan Toledo
3. Smoke Another Cigarette
4. Soldier's Room
5. Word of Honor
7. Tamara Told Me
8. Living in the Valley of Pain
9. Stand in Winter