Every path you opt for in life, there’s a reason. Whatever roads have lead me to where I am today, the reason may well be Tonio K. His 1978 album, Life in the Foodchain showed me that yes, everyone I had to deal with in high school was a wanker, and no, the world didn’t have to be like that. From the dadaist lyrics to the rock solid licks of Earl Slick on guitar, I can honestly say that album changed my life. Thank god.
Which brings up an interesting point. In some circles, Tonio K is known as a Christian songwriter. I hazard to say the song “16 Tons of Monkeys” from this album won’t be sung in church anytime soon. “You take the little baby and fill it up with fear/ And a blinding insecurity then sell him/ cigarettes and beer/ He’s a consumer/ Then you shovel in the nonsense shovel on the lies/ Guns and information drugs and bad advice/ Meet your new neighbor.” Nope, not that one. Now I have nothing against songwriters of faith, but I don’t hear it in his stuff.
Okay, moving on. When he operates as a cynical world observer, Tonio K is without equal — part Hunter S. Thompson, part Dorothy Parker. Great stuff, bitter and realistic, all delivered with a weary, time-worn voice of the ages. Songs such as “16 Tons,” “Dangerous Machines,” and “Practically Invisible (Tales of Modern Psychosis)” from his new record are brilliant. Wish the whole album was like them, but unfortunately, it’s not. To pay the bills, he also pens sappy love crap — he wrote “Love Is,” the dreadful, but most played song of 1993. About half of this album is in this vein, but thankfully we can just hit “skip” and ignore the flotsam. Backed up by Charlie Sexton, Greg Leisz, Peter Case, and Gary Mallaber, the record sounds great. Pick it up and start to change your life. Gadfly should enter the Hall of Fame of record labels simply for re-releasing this great American’s work — support them in it, okay?
Gadfly Records, P.O. Box 5231, Burlington, VT 05402; http://www.gadflyrecords.com