|4. The Show|
|5. Dream House|
|6. Home Craft|
|8. Let The Power Bleed|
|10. Falling To Earth|
|11. Jazz Singers In The Trees|
|12. Vale Of Evesham|
|13. Ghost In The Universe|
Fripp: "Do I improvise this?"
Toyah: "Just be obscure."
This engaging dialogue introduces Prostitute, one of the more bizarre projects to have emerged in the progressive field of the late 1980s. Given the nature of the work which follows, it is difficult to believe that this choice of wording was entirely spontaneous.
Prostitute is an elaborate concept work by the individual sadly known to many prog fans only as Robert Fripp's wife. This work, written from a consciously "female" perspective for the majority of the songs, is alternately direct and metaphorical, tragically clear and wilfully obscure, amateurish and polished to near-perfection. It seems to have been Toyah's intention to capture a mode of consciousness (almost invariably based on a woman's perspective) from as many perspectives as possible -- if some seem more prosaic or debased than others, that was probably the idea. As such, the album is somewhat of a bewildering triumph; even if some of the tracks are slightly sub-standard, the transparent manner in which they are presented as such deflects most of the criticism. Moreover, some of the tracks on this album are extremely good by any standard (as will be discussed).
A few 'suspicious' aspects of this album should be noted, however. Prostitute was released only two years after David Sylvian's Gone To Earth, which chronicled the liberation of a masculine psyche via a path towards discipline and enlightenment. Given that Robert Fripp makes an appearance on both albums, and given Fripp's occasion philosophizing on male and female psyche differences (see the Elephant Talk archives for details... I personally consider some of this to be a bit patronizing, though perhaps unintentionally), one might almost wonder if the idea behind this project was a component part of a greater Frippian idea (a hidden trilogy, perhaps? but what would the third album be? could it be The Lady Or The Tiger?). This is not to diminish the value of Toyah's authorship of Prostitute, in and of itself -- but one must wonder if her husband might have suggested something of this sort as a 'counter- balancing' of an earlier project (the presence of tracks with titles like "Falling To Earth" and "Let The Power Bleed" may, of course, be seen as further evidence of this).
One might also be somewhat suspicious of the identity of "Steve SideInyc", Toyah's musical partner on the album. "SideInyc" looks a little too much like "Side1NYC" for comfort, and the fact that much of the drumming sounds pre-programmed doesn't add credence to his identity either. One wonders if this might be a 'hint' of some sort. Any theories would be welcomed, at this stage.
As regards the album itself...
The work begins with a brief, semi-novelty track entitled "Hello", consisting of a dialogue between Fripp and Toyah laced with absurd double entendres, eventually resolving with Fripp's definition of the term "libertine". This is accompanied by Toyah's voice repeating the word "hello" with the assistance of various vocal manipulations. Brilliant, if perhaps somewhat elusive.
"Prostitute" is the first of the "deliberately flawed" tracks -- a gaudy number lacking in all subtlety, and with a complacently "in your face" drums/bass punch dominating the piece (whether or not Toyah was deliberately revealing her vocal limitations in the chorus may be a matter of some debate). The sections of heavy breathing are a bit of an irritance as well. The primary feature of the track, however, is Toyah's lyrics, and the track is able to stand on its own as such. For unexplained reasons, the sampled "hello"s return as a segueway between this track and the next.
"Wife" appears to be a similarly "deliberately flawed" track -- the drum line is quite similar, for instance. Toyah's voice is mixed rather oddly on occasion, with a low sampled voice apparently representing the male partner in the arrangement. The narrative within this track is an intentionally prosaic description of "home life", accompanied by vaguely disturbing lyrics ("I want war and you want me", for instance). Irrespective of the perspective taken in the song, Toyah's decision to incorporate rather rude noises at the end of the track must be considered rather questionable; aside from this, however, the track is as engaging as that which precedes it.
"The Show" begins with another return of the vocal sampling, including a possible "O Superman" reference at one point. From a musical standpoint, this track is notable for the addition of a guitar line, which is far from baroque but nevertheless adds quite a bit in terms of texture. The percussion line is fairly good, as is Toyah's vocal line (which adopts a more "serious" position in this track, causing the repeated "ready to take, willing to receive" line to attain an extremely haunting quality).
"Dream House" is perhaps the first of the "wilfully obscure" tracks on the album -- an extremely poetic description of a 'kept' female form of some sort, from the position of an outsider (whether this refers to an individual female or a more general idea is not spelled out, and probably doesn't matter). Using strongly Byronic language, Toyah describes a form which takes the overt form of a landed UFO; the metaphorical language is not difficult understand, however. The music of the piece is extremely moody, in an "80s Fairlight-prog" manner, and the percussion/guitar texture is fairly good as well. Toyah's operatic vocals may not be world class, but they serve their role extremely well in this context. A subtlely successful track.
"Home Craft" is more of a return to the character of the earlier tracks, features a return of the by-now-infamous drum beat along with a rhythm which almost appears as proto-electronica. The lyrics, in this case, reveal a litany of repressed desires to disobey the character's role within her house; Toyah's "pouty" singing is almost surely deliberate, in this case. Not a highlight, but still fairly good.
"Obsession" begins with mock-ballroom music and radio distortion; the song which eventually develops contains some truly bizarre musical additions. The drum quality could be improved, and the structure of the song seems a bit unfocused at times, but the lyrics (revealing a possible inspiration from Dylan Thomas) make up for this.
"Let The Power Bleed" (and obvious response to an earlier Robert Fripp title) is perhaps worthy of praise for the mere fact that it's menstration-based theme is kept to a high level of subtlety (the Dylan Thomas reference is equally appropriate here). Musically, the track is extremely good, based on an odd rhythm and accompanied by assorted additional sounds (birdsong, tribal percussion, some electronics, storm clouds, a curious buzzing at the ending, etc). With the combination of tasteful lyrics and excellent music, this is an easy highlight of the album.
"Restless" may be a leading candidate for a "female equivalent of Peter Hammill's lyrics" award, should one ever be offered. The lyric, in this cases, concerns the theme of global destruction (this was the late 1980s, after all), sung from a "Mother Earth" perspective. While the litany of disasters is perhaps a bit too long, the theme is thankfully not presented in a terribly overwraught manner, and the archetypal theme is at least handled fairly well. Musically, moreover, it's another great track.
One wonders what Fripp might have done to inspire "Falling To Earth", Toyah's tale of her own descent into the terrestrial sphere in order to enter into union with a vaguely Christlike husband. The song takes very much the form of an initial moment of liberty (signalled by the suddenly 'released' drum lines), soon becoming submerged amid sudden realization of the consequences of her actions (signified by a telephone call, and, at the end of the track, the sound of church bells). Irrespective of any relation to the Fripp/Wilcox domestic life, however, this is another excellent track from a musical standpoint, and the lyrics are quite good as well.
From here, any suggestion of a direct narrative becomes a bit more elusive. "Jazz Singers In The Trees" is a superbly mixed montage, sometimes featuring so much happening on the level of individual performances that judging the collective is a rather difficult process -- this is clearly a conscious attempt at displaying a situation of "too many variables". The lyrics seem to suggest the destruction of a "Prospero's Island" of some sort (I would imagine that the sampling of motorcar history at the end of the track was meant as a deliberate absurdity in the absence of such control). As a glimpse of chaos, this track is remarkably successful.
"Vale Of Evesham" is also a successful track, but seems to have little direct relation to the track which precedes it (although it is possible that it's relatively simple recollection is a direct response to the chaos before it). This is a much more "song-oriented" track than many other works here, with more Hammillian lyrics and a detailed reflection on the sub-culture of 1973. The track also seems to be an updated version of David Bowie's "Five Years" in terms of its resigned look towards the future.
And, finally, we have "Ghosts In The Universe", a bewildering conclusion to a bewildering album. Commencing with a sampled Fripp guitar line from the League Of Gentlemen album, the track then commences into an (obviously parodic) dance-based number, with odd sonic changes and demented lyrics (which almost seem to be an excuse for Toyah to include as many profanities as possible). The track finally leads to a brief sample of a lecture on St. Paul (against the body, of course), and resolves with a single pulsating tone at the very end of album.
This is an extremely ambitious project, and a generally successful one at that. While some may balk that the sheer complexity of the project, this is certainly recommended to all who would be interested in such ambitious ventures.
(By the way... am I the only one who thinks that Toyah missed a golden opportunity in not giving the title of The Ewe Lies Down On Broadway to this obscurantist/female-perspective/disjointed-narrative work? But I suppose there could have been copyright problems...)
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 16 September 1997)