KEVIN AYERS Joy Of A Toy (EMI)For a first listen to the music of Kevin Ayers, this reissue of his 1969 solo debut makes a tantalising introduction. If Syd Barrett had ever turned his wayward genius to the business of creamy, "Odessey & Oracle"-style pop music he might have created something akin to this fabulous album. Warm and inviting, "Joy Of A Toy" is by no means the difficult, rigorously intellectual listen you might expect from an album with so many Soft Machine members playing on it.
"Joy Of A Toy Continued" kicks off proceedings with a kind of Toytown carnival. "Town Feeling" quells the mood of celebration slightly: Ayers' lugubrious sob of a voice meanders through David Bedford's ornately orchestrated landscape; the song also introduces Ayers' habit of mentioning bananas as frequently as he feels he can get away with it. "Song For Insane Times" is swept along on a joyous, textured tide of Dylanesque wordplay, and resistance is futile. Would it be too much of a leap to suggest that the spirit of R.E.M.'s maligned masterpiece "Fables Of The Reconstruction" can be located within these loose, flowing grooves?
Beginning with the sound of the tape groaning up to the correct speed from standstill in an attempt to simulate an accelerating steam locomotive's gathering momentum, "Stop This Train (Again Doing It)" is all Julian Casablancas-style treated vocals and a fabulous tale of transport-based trauma that once again suggests Dylan, a quaintly English psychedelic equivalent of "Memphis Blues Again". Wonderful, wonderful, it careers away into sped-up chaos at its close. The original album ends with "All This Crazy Gift Of Time", whimsical, fabulously melodic and sparked with the kind of random flights of barely melodic harmonica you'd be hard-pressed to find outside the confines of a (yes, it's that man again) Dylan album.
This immaculately preserved reissue offers, along with impressively informative booklet notes, six extra tracks, many of which are versions of "Religious Experience" a.k.a. "Singing A Song In The Morning" (one of which features Syd Barrett himself on guitar). Glorious psychedelic bubblegum that makes me think of early Super Furry Animals for some reason, it should surely have been a massive hit in the Aquarian age into which it was released. Several alternate versions of "The Lady Rachel", elaborately scripted by David Bedford, are also presented.
"Joy Of A Toy" is a big friendly picnic of an album, one that will sound fabulous drifting lazily over verdant lawns on hot summer days. It seems faintly disturbing that, released at the tail end of an era in which "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" went top 10, it, or indeed any of Kevin Ayers' albums, failed to trouble the charts. This fine reissue offers ample reason to fall under its charming spell.