Yes, I could’ve placed this self-titled release up against a couple of the others. I decided against that in favor of honoring the anniversary of its release.

What is it?

Toy Matinee is a one-off masterwork of pop music released this week, twenty-eight years ago. In its original form it’s only nine songs long, barely past three quarters of an hour.

How does it sound?

I hope that someone saves a seat for me on the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

For all that Kevin Gilbert’s talents are displayed quite well on his later solo records, I get the feeling that he was best suited to a collaborative effort. Which, of course, makes me sad for the might-have-been outcome if he’d auditioned for and gotten the Genesis gig after Phil Collins left, but… c’est la vie.

And what a collaborative effort this is! It’s catchy, it’s clever, it’s poignant, it’s everything you want from an early ’90s pop album. There’s hardly a dull thud to be heard.

(…sorry about that, Gilbert fans. That pun was unintentional.)

High school best friend Steve and I came across the band due to a little side blurb in an issue of Tower Records’ magazine at the time of the album’s release. The two main songwriters were quoted as having influences that added up to most of the core of our individual music libraries. We had to check this album out!

I’m so glad we happened upon that magazine article. Too bad I threw out the stack of magazines years ago…

Which songs are the highlights?

The lead track, one of only two songs to receive much in the way of radio airplay, is “Last Plane Out” and it’s a great advertisement for the record as a whole. “The Toy Matinee” is rather somber for a title track but that’s fine because it’s gorgeous anyway. Seriously, it’s a go-to rainy-day bit of mood music. If you sample the album online (beyond the above 30-second mix), please check out these two songs first and foremost.

And then there’s the song which is presumably about Madonna, “Queen of Misery,” which largely exists because nearly all of the band’s members worked on one of her records. (I didn’t know about that until years and years later.) All of this is firmly in the pop-rock vein, nothing more and nothing less. Still, it’s all superbly crafted stuff.

Along and between those standouts we get the appropriately absurd tribute to the painter Salvador Dali, “Turn It On Salvador,” and the almost anthemic “Remember My Name.” Closing out the original album tracklist there’s “We Always Come Home,” an odd but endearing slice of aw-shucks down-home life-goes-on.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Okay, “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge” is kinda meh. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly memorable or compelling either. Kind of a foam packing peanut of a song, a state made worse by it being the longest of the songs on offer.

On the flipside, “There Was A Little Boy” is musically compelling and well-written, but the lyrical subject matter is a bit off-putting. “How can you expect a child to understand the sickness of the world / his eyes are blind,” indeed. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It was a coin-toss between this and Thud, Kevin Gilbert’s first solo album. (Hence the pun apology, above.) I decided that Toy Matinee is a better intro to Gilbert than the solo record.

Any final thoughts?

If you do pick up the album, get an edition which includes the bonus tracks. Most of them are just early/reworked versions of songs already on the record but it’s all worth it to get the short, sweet, melancholy “Blank Page.”

I really, really wish that if we hadn’t gotten a Gilbert-fronted Genesis at least we could’ve had a second Toy Matinee release. Sigh.