Wednesday, 9 September 2015

7 inch singles collection: Toni Childs - Zimbabwe

Into Africa...


A-Side: Zimbabwe
B-Side: Where's The Ocean?
(A&M 1988)      

There was a glut of female singer/songwriters in the late 80's and early 90's, but rather than languish in the folk tradition of many of their forebears, like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, they expanded their horizons and encapsulated the sounds of rock and pop as well, establishing a new tradition, which in all likelihood can be traced back to Kate Bush as a point of origin. One of the things, though, that does connect back to their folky antecedents is many of their songs were very serious and definitely about something and not just love songs. Toni Childs is one of these performers. As you can tell from the above preamble I know little else about her. All I can say is that I may have bought this single under the assumption that she sounded a little bit like Melissa Etheridge, an assumption gained from a review read in, most likely, Melody Maker. Whether or not there are any similarities with Melissa Etheridge is a moot point now, as I've not listened to anything by her for years and can't remember what she sounds like.

It was very trendy at this point in time to indulge in a bit of ethno-musical tourism and incorporate the music of other cultures into the western sound. Paul Simon had done it incredibly successfully only a year or two before this record with Graceland. Whether this cultural appropriation of sounds is good because it spreads the music wider, or is actually a bit patronising is a debate that can rumble on indefinitely. I'm a bit on the fence myself, I've heard some fine music from non-western cultures because I've investigated sounds I've heard from records like this, but there is also the feeling of being in thrall to the spectacle what the the great white hunter has brought back from exotic climes. Having said all that in a record called Zimbabwe it does seem like a no-brainer to include elements of that country's music. There is some obviously African style chanting and instrumentation on the background of what is otherwise a bit of dullish AOR. As you probably could have guessed this song is about the recurrent and still ongoing problems of Zimbabwe, at least I'm guessing that, because Toni Childs appears to have a strained, and gravelly way of singing that actually obscures half the lyrics. This fact and the lack of any real hook or melody makes me feel like this has all been a wasted effort.

The gravelly voice is apparently not and affectation for the first track, because it's her on the flipside too. To be fair the lyrics are easier to make out on Where's The Ocean? I really hope that's a rhetorical question because on a planet that's 2/3rds it's a bit of a daft question. Acutally I got bored with the song and couldn't really be bothered listening to carefully. It could be about the environment, it could be about drought, it could be a soppy love song - I was just waiting for her to sing the words "Where's The Ocean?" so I could shout back "It's over there", pointing generally oceanwards. Sorry about that. It's a slow, synth heavy ballad, which ultimately bored me.

When I don't like a record by the likes of One Direction or Boyzone, it doesn't bother me, in fact it's something I take delight in. However disliking this record feels a bit like kicking a puppy, because Toni Childs sings so seriously and earnestly, (earnestness is the key feeling that I get from this record), that you can't help but feel she's passionate and committed to cause.

Next time the sister of a more famous musician...

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