Captured Tracks isn’t the first label to access the out-of-print archives of New Zealand’s Flying Nun label. In fact, Goner Records has already rifled through the same catalog, and came up with similar results: Both found a trove of forgotten Toy Love material. Goner, however, opted to release one of the embattled late-‘70s band’s final performances in Auckland. You can hear the frontman Chris Knox’s teeth-gritting frustration in the recordings. You can almost see his impossibly scrunched shoulders, sweaty snarl and intensely wild eyes. If it’s transferred well and was a good set, the energy of the show is harnessed, and your ears burn appropriately.
But that doesn’t mean Captured Tracks got Toy Love’s sloppy seconds. Nobody knows who bit whose idea but the labels involved, and it doesn’t really matter. What Captured Tracks has done is sealed a deal for a series of Flying Nun reissues – and Toy Love is the kickoff. The 28-track double LP features all three Toy Love singles, demos, a live track and a radio jingle, the 33-second “Radio Hauraki” that chimes with softness rarely heard on most Toy Love songs.
Formed from The Enemy, which bore a more punk approach, Toy Love bears a sound dually rooted in punk and pop – with a heaping helping of weird. They’re often considered the flagship act of Flying Nun; they’re the predecessors to better-known acts like the Clean and, much later, U.S. bands like Pavement. That whole “Dunedin Sound” thing likely wouldn’t have developed without Toy Love.
And without Captured Tracks’ compiling of Toy Love’s tunes, a lot of people would still be in the fog about the band’s crucial role in punk’s history. Songs like “Squeeze” predate New Wave by so few years but sound so much like the genre, it can’t be denied that it probably helped create the sound. “I Don’t Mind” has the grit of English punk but melds it with the bridge to jangle-pop in mind. It’s a perfectly bipolar tune, the anger in contrast to an occasional break into a lovely little melody. “Fifteen” feels injected with a bit of Oi, while “Wanna Die with You” hops around like a grittier version of an ’80s jam. “Don’t Catch Fire” comes off as a dreary lead-in to what would later become post-punk.
While Goner did its part by releasing the live record, it’s common knowledge that an entry-level listener isn’t going to gravitate right to that version. Live recordings are collected mainly by already in-the-know listeners. Captured Tracks has supplemented the potential pool of new Toy Love fans while still doing a service for the existing ones. It’s a lucky thing they overlapped. It makes it more likely that gems like this can escape the undeserving isolation of New Zealand and, eventually, find a place alongside commonplace genre reference points like the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks or the New York Dolls. Sure, Toy Love didn’t see as much success as those bands – but they should have.