By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Toy-Box is a swell new hit Danish bubble-pop act, already drawing endless comparisons to global-megahitster neighbors Aqua. Anila does the squeaky femme lead vocals, just like Aqua's Lene, and Amir does the entire repertoire of goofy male vocals, just like Aqua's René Dif. And like Aqua's Aquarium, the Toy-Box debut, Fantastic, is 100 percent razor-sharp melodies set in synth-keyboard Eurotechno style.
The biggest Toy-Box/Aqua reference, drawn in all the trades, is that Toy-Box's first big hit, "Tarzan & Jane" (Denmark, Holland, Germany, and Scandinavia so far), evokes immediate "Barbie Girl" flashbacks. Personally, I'm a little hazy on this. . . .Barbie rides in CARS! Tarzan swings from VINES! People, I just don't see the transportation connection. And in the lyric here "I am Jane, and I love to ride an elephant!" not once is Barb-girl's favorite word, "party," used! And fact is, "Barbie Girl" was Aqua's only pop-culture blitzkrieg (they veered off into queens, kings, happy boys and girls, and jungle doctors), where Toy-Box's material picks up from that missed road-fork and goes off into an inspired toss-Hollywood-in-a-Cuisinart loony explosion, making for a conspicuous History 101 revision lesson. For instance: "E.T. is an alien and he is kind of spacey/Coming from the universe to party and go crazy!" As for what the "E.T. dance" is, well, you'll just have to buy the record and find out for yourself. But Toy-Box don't stop there; the critter gets to speak himself (in the voice of Amir): "Dum dum dee dee da da dum dum dee/Dum dum dee dee da da, I'm named E.T.!"
As one who rued the day nonsense syllables (like the early-'60s doo-wop revival acts in the Marcels' "Blue Moon" doofy-bassman style) disappeared from the pop landscape, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to hear such words. "Well-crafted lyrics" (is that what singer-songwriter nebbishes called it)? Folks, it don't ever get better than this! More uptempo snap: "Hey hey Superman, Super-Duper Man!/Flying in to see me all the way from Superland," explains Anila's Lois Lane, "Can I touch your ting-a-ling?" Then Amir (a world-class wacko, if the videos and vocals and CD-booklet pics where Xena warrior princess meets Robocop hall monitor are any indication) as S-Man: "You make Superman go super-schwing!" Sonny & Cher banter channeled through Mike Myers's cultural gestalt the pop potential of girl-boy vocals has finally been realized! Grace Slick and Marty Balin whining love ballads into each other's eyes was never half as fun!
But the best tune of the entire set might just be "Best Friend," right before "Tarzan & Jane" (which I forgot to mention has a totally loopy video replete with George of the Jungleantics and funky monkeys and dancing elephants the only thing missing is having David Lee Roth and Barbie drive by in a convertible). "Best Friend" 's sing-along lyrics cover the beach, summertime, and opposite-sex party pals, snagging mucho Ohio Express bonus points for rhyming "tummy" with "yummy yummy" THREE times. Go Cheetah go!
As with the Aqua album, there are only three ballads, all of 'em strong; "I Believe in You" is particularly dreamy. And the last seven tracks, #7#13, play nicely as a whole 25-minute block, just like #1#7 on the front end. (I have the subconscious urge to reformat all "LPs" into 25-minute blocks à la the Dave Clark Five or the U.S. Rubber Soul, or more to the point the first two Little Richard LPs.) Plus, it wasn't until I punched in "Toy-Box" on eBay that I realized the copy in my hands was a foreign-import thing. . . . People are paying like $28 for this version w/the video game! (Mine's going nowhere, it's the only copy I've got.)
One category where I just might give Toy-Box points over Aqua would be female lead vocals. Anila (no last name) is less severe than Aqua's Lene Nystrom, just a super little pop-voice machine on every track. I remember how one of my very favorite '60s/'70s female rock voices was the Shocking Blue's fabulous Mariska Veres (Holland), and Holland is right next to Denmark, so who knows? (As for Aqua, I watched their 90-minute video comp, which showed their actual snow-condo where they holed up writing their entire LP, and I came out of it with "Sweden." But my 11-year-old niece Rachel insists they're from Denmark, too!) Still, despite slight edges to Toy-Box in vocals and material, plus party-album sequence consistency, Aqua would get the nod on fancier arrangements and production. Tallying the final totals, I call it a pop-genius standoff. Either way: Throw away those lame Spin magazinetype "Top 90 Albums of the '90s" lists, put Aqua and Toy-Box at the top, and you'll be on your way to a real music collection, Jack!