1994 – Geffen
Folk/ Pop/ World
Toni Childs’ third album is a windingly personal journey through the world of Child’s inner sanctum. Her voice wrenches froth pain from the very bowels of the listener, and her unconventional musical constructions complement her earthy power brilliantly. Starting out with the vocally driven Womb the listener is instantly gratified with a blast of sincere feeling and truly remarkable vocal technique before the whole thing dissolves into a cacophony of experimental noise. Nothing is here for the sake of looking clever, however. No, Childs’ writing on this album is far too earthy and open to be considered prententious. Really, The Woman’s Boat is one of the most refreshingly honest albums I have listened to in a while. There is no front built up around the singer, no character, just a woman who wants to sing and say what she has to say.
This uninhibited openess, however, does have its disadvantages. Many of the tracks run on for far too long and her lyrical concerns occasionally lean towards the stupidly naïve and hamfisted. I mean the ‘we can save the world if we all give peace a chance’ rhetoric in the over six minute ramble of Welcome To The World does come across as somewhat less than the acme of poetry. And, beautiful as it is, I Met A Man could have benefitted from a harsh editor to cut it down to a slightly more managable size.
On the flipside to this, the actual music behind all of these long winded pieces is phenomenal. Predator‘s seamless blending of dark electronic forms with traditional African rhythms, and Childs’ own bluesy rasp is terribly evocative. It really is like nothing else that floating around the airwaves at that time. The other cuts on the record too are wonderful to hear in the way that they scour the world for traditions outside of the Western and throw them all into the mix coming out at the end with a powerful blend of traditional, classical, and immensly modern.
I think it is also worthwhile to note that Childs’ use of ‘world’ musics (inverted commas intended – what music is not from the world?… a stupid term indeed) has the added benefit of not taking the tragic route of bastardization. I mean, there is none of the Paul Simon about her use of African rhythms on this record. She lets the music speak for itself and doesn’t try to shoehorn it into a Western tradition, and neither does she bend herself in a mimicry of that music. No, she lets the non-Western musical base support her starkly Western senisbilites in such a way as for them to become of sort of unified form that could truly be called a ‘world’ music.
All this praise aside, I can’t pretend like I don’t know exactly why this record was such a commerical failure. It is a record that requires some degree of work to be put in before a real appreciation for it can develop and it is by no means an album that grabs you and draws you in the instant it is heard. But still it is sad to think that 1994 couldn’t (or wouldn’t) become interested in something this intricate and well constructed. It’s certainly not as immediately exciting or impacting as the grunge scene, but nonetheless Toni Childs achieved with this record something that rivalled the early achievements of Bjork or Tori Amos and was yet somehow ignored for it. That, however, is perhaps more telling about the pop audiene than it is about anything else.
So, in summary I will say that The Woman’s Boat is one of the greatest successes to have come out of Toni Childs’ musical career, perhaps not commercially, but certainly artistically. Its intricacies and introspections run so deep that one can readily forgive its minor flaws, and really it is a record that should be cherished much more than it has been.