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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 155 - 05/09/09

Holy Toy
Warszawa (remastered)
Tatra Records

In last moon's review of the Norwegian synth sampler Maskindans, I claimed Warszawa was the greatest album ever released in Norway. A few weeks later and here is a brand new relaunch of the album. It's been remastered and includes several bonus tracks. Well, the album title and notable band leader and multi-artist Andrzej Dziubek Nebb, usually known as Andrej Nebb, suggest a strong link to Poland. Andrej was a Polish refugee who settled in Norway in the early 1970s and has been a well known character throughout the country (Norway that is) since the release of the debut album Block To Block of his punk/folk/new wave (as we used to call it back then) band DePress in 1981. Before DePress disbanded in 1983, he had started the more experimental new wave band Holy Toy with a loose assembly of Norwegian musicians.

After the promising 12" EP Perfect Day in the summer of 1982 I had great expectations for Warszawa by the end of the year. I didn't have the time to order the album by mail from the record company (and thus missed the accompanying newspaper with photos and background information) but ran to the local store to get the LP straight away. It was quite a surprise, sounding cleaner and more relaxed than expected. After some spins I realised it wasn't relaxed, only restrained. The unrest, anger and anxiety is a little beneath the surface of the music. Listening to the album again today, it still provokes the same feelings. There is something disturbing about that characteristic keyboard sound of many of the songs that I've only heard on the early Holy Toy recordings. Especially in the context of "Dwa Portrety" and "Wojtek" that keyboard gives me the shivers. Well, there are some uptempo and noisier songs here as well. They don't give the same suspense as the restrained ones, but are great all the same.

The songs of Warszawa are mainly sung in Polish but the lyrics have been translated to English in the accompanying booklet. I guess the album is heavily under the influence of the faith of Poland and its capital during the cold war, but draws lines back to earlier periods of oppression from the Russian tzar and German nazi era. The opening song "Down In Japan" sounds a bit out of place and less sincere compared to the remaining nine tracks.

The platter is also to some extent inspired by the use of metal percussion that was popular in the industrial experimental underground at the time (German Einstürzende Neubauten was the leading representative of the trend back then). But apart from the title track the metal doesn't dominate more than Andrej's playful bass and less so than the aforementioned keyboard sound. Some tuned (I guess) oil barrels are used to great effect as a discreet alternative to a bass drum. An even more original treat is the trumpet of Rolf Wallin somewhere between jazz and "serious" music. (He is by now a reknowned serious/contemporary composer.) It is a dominant factor on most tracks and works tremendously well, surprisingly! We also have that spine-chilling guitar lick of "Buntowniki", the distant beats and murmur of "Bells", the playful folky "Niebieska Patelnia" with a little bit of romantic Edvard Grieg and cattle bellows at the start, the funny Russian jokey "Lada Vada" etc. etc.

The seven bonus tracks cover the 12 inch EP and singles released on the same label (Uniton Records) before and after Warszawa. They seem a bit out of place compared to the album tracks. The songs of the debut EP Perfect Day include two early - and inferior - versions of songs on Warszawa, whereas the two others sound closer to latterday DePress than Holy Toy. We also have the remix of "Down In Japan" included on the Maskindans compilation. The two remaining songs "Soldier Toy" and "Meeting II" sound as if they were recorded during the Warszawa sessions, but skipped because they couldn't quite match the standard of the album tracks. They're not bad, though, and all bonus tracks are of course a most welcomed addition to complete the early Holy Toy history.

Warszawa has been available on CD once before, a crap version released by Sonet in 1989 with no improved sound and a lousy cover. Now the album sounds fresh and great and the original LP artwork has been fully restored including the black and white photos of the depressed grey old men of the inner bag and even more translations of lyrics into English than on the back cover of the LP. So, no need to look any futher. I attended a Holy Toy gig in Bergen in early 1983 soon after the release of Warszawa. They started with a noisy improvised set that made many leave the premises. The second set was a lot more structured and, yes, restrained. It's one of my greatest and fondest concert memories. Listening to "Wojtek" again today and I'm back there. The song and the album are modern classics! Can be ordered directly from Tatra Records: tat-p@online.

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You may also want to check out our Holy Toy article/review: Psychic Overdrive.

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