It's difficult to overstate the importance of Toy Love on the nascent New Zealand indie scene of the early '80s, but prior to the release of the comprehensive anthology Cuts, those who weren't in Dunedin at the time during the group's less than two-year lifespan had to take it on faith; even when it was possible to find a copy of the band's sole album, a poor mix and botched mastering job that robbed it of its low end had caused the band itself to disown it. Regardless, without Toy Love, not only would there have been no Tall Dwarfs (where singer Chris Knox and guitarist Alec Bathgate next ended up) and potentially no Bats (future home of bassist Paul Kean), but it's imaginable that the impetus behind Flying Nun Records and the whole next wave of Dunedin bands, from the Clean to the Chills, would have sounded much different, had they existed at all. Disc one of Cuts contains the entirety of the band's released output: three singles and the aforementioned album, remastered off of a safety copy of the long missing original tapes and completely remixed to the band's specifications. Anyone who has ever heard Toy Love before now understands what the band had been complaining about: these songs have never sounded better, with Kean's bass and Jane Walker's needly garage rock keyboards far more prominent in the mix than ever before. This gives songs like "Death Rehearsal" and the paranoid, chanted "Photographs of Naked Ladies" some much-needed heft to balance Knox's quirky, hectoring vocal style and Bathgate's trebly guitar scratch. The overall effect is very close to contemporaneous records by the Fall. Cuts' first disc also includes the band's 1979 debut single for the New Zealand office of Elektra Records, which presents the band as a more straightforward power pop outfit almost like the Kiwi answer to Shoes. The rest of the disc, recorded for the local indie Deluxe Records, proves how much better the D.I.Y. aesthetic fits this inventive, stylistically restless band. Disc two consists of 19 demos from 1979, only three of which (early versions of the album's "Squeeze," "Toy Love Song," and "Frogs") ever saw release, on the groundbreaking New Zealand compilation AK79. As might be expected, this disc is far less essential: the demos for songs that made it onto the album tend simply to be shorter and less imaginatively produced, and the handful of rejects ("Unscrewed Up," "Lust," "I'm Not Bored," "1978," "15," "Wanna Die with You") didn't make it onto the album for fairly obvious reasons. Still, it's just the sort of thing one likes to see on this kind of archival release, along with the beautifully executed, info-rich 36-page booklet. Cuts is a necessary purchase not just for Tall Dwarfs fans, but for New Zealand indie archivists in general; it's the best such album since the Chills' Secret Box.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2