Review: “Toni Basil” by Toni Basil (Vinyl, 1983)

Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain, is the 1983 eponymous and second album Toni Basil by American singer, actress, dancer, and choreographer Toni Basil. Will this album be hard to Beat, or will it go Over your Head? Read on…

Toni Basil - Toni Basil (1983) album
Toni Basil – Toni Basil (1983) album

This 9 track LP opens with second single Over My Head, which bursts open with a synth line and pop beat that instantly reminds me of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean meets some kids TV cartoon theme. The track bounces along wonderfully, and Toni’s vocals fit right in here perfectly, with the ‘oh oh oh Over My Head‘ lyrics adding a catchiness to the chorus. The duelling between Toni’s vocal power and the chugging 80’s electric guitar works well, as does her breathy vocals alongside the synth breakdowns. This is a great start to the album.

I Don’t Hear You follows this, with a racing pop beat. Here we hear the quirkier playful higher vocals of Toni in the verse, set alongside yet more ridiculously adorably wonderful 80s synths. The track is light and nimble thanks to the beats and the chugging guitars but sadly the track doesn’t quite hold the same catchiness and full-ness of the previous song.

A guitar and shuffling percussive beat usher in Easy For You To Say, and they’re soon joined by Toni on the vocals in what sounds like a mysterious song. The bass guitar has a nice repetitive sequence alongside some flittering synths as Toni’s vocals dance overhead, but the track struggles to hold my attention as it evolves, which is down to its slower nature and weaker chorus.

Ironically, the next song is called Suspense, which might have been a better name for the previous song. This track though, sounds like it could have fallen out of ABBA’s songwriting box, or Steps at least. This has a wonderful structure, tempo, layers and melody. Toni makes light work of this track as it bounces along – the guitar solo works a treat, as does the backing vocals. This was thankfully the album’s third single, but wasn’t released in the UK.

Go For The Burn closes Side One of this LP, and it makes me wonder whether it’s a tribute to cystitis. Thankfully it’s not, and instead we have the return of the vocal trapeze that is Toni Basil’s style (think Björk meets Daphne and Celeste). Here, she’s pitched against yet more waves of deliciously thick 80’s synths, including some wonderful percussive sounds, and some well placed backing singers. There’s a slightly cheesy build up as she presumably really does ‘go for the burn’, before a drum fill ushers the backing singers back and routine is restored… well, slightly. This is a nice and fun ending to this side.

Side Two opens some pounding bass drums of Space Walkin’ The Dog, as some almost-steel drums signal the arrival of Toni on the mic with a repeated little sequence that meanders all the way through the song. This track is a mid-tempo song, and it flows quite easily along, but it’s really only the chorus that sounds interesting thanks to plenty of supporting and warm backing vocals, and this does get me foot-tapping by the end of the track. Toni even talks to you about taking a dog for a walk in space…. like you do.

Next up is lead single Street Beat which opens with whistles and shouty men counting Toni in. Once again, Toni’s vocals are thrown around their scales with speed and ease, and alongside the bass and drums here it works a treat. Stylistically, there does feel like some echoes from Mickey on her first album, but they are fleeting and this song manages to hold itself together to deliver a fairly catchy track, if perhaps a little fragmented.

Fourth and final single Do You Wanna Dance is next, and whilst this track opens promisingly with a burst of energy, the verse sort of saps it all away, resulting in a bitty track of highs and lows. The chorus gives us roaring guitars, pounding beats, and some wonderful backing vocals that help lift Toni’s vocals up even further as the energy flows… but then the chorus cuts this back, and gives us a much more muted vocal performance. A wonder what a later remix might have sounded like. Either way, when it was released as a single, it failed to chart in the USA and the UK.

The album closes with Best Performance, and this is a guitar heavy emphatic track that holds a rockier feel as Toni drops in some dramatic bigger heartfelt vocals There are whiffs of Cyndi Lauper meets Bonnie Tyler here, but sadly, it’s not the best performance on the album, and it just lacks a bit of evolution to give the track some more interest. It starts off well, but just fails to grow.

Toni Basil’s lead single ‘Street Beat’ (1983).

Verdict

Over all, this album is a nice example of early 1980’s rock-pop, but it struggles with its style.

Toni Basil certainly has the vocal skills to leap around pitch and power within a heartbeat, and when she does this, she certainly owns it. When pitched alongside synths or electric guitars it sounds great, but sadly a lack of evolving or catchy songs makes this album weaker than her debut.

Over My Head and Suspense are the strongest tracks here, but there are some great moments within many of the others – it’s simply their similarities or inability to evolve that lets them down as just a little bit mediocre.

Easy For You To Say is the low point here – a victim of weaker songwriting, and Best Performance was just a bit disappointing due to a lack of growth or scaling up as a closing track with that title.

There’s no doubt the vocal gymnastics of Toni Basil could easily have delivered her a hit album, and this has a few glimmering hopes, but it eventually opts to play it safe.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1983 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.00 from a Discogs.com seller.

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