Popular but shortlived during the 1999-2002 era, British band Toploader and their debut ‘Onka’s Big Moka’ was the touchstone of MOR’s second phase.
Written by: Eric
ALBUM: Onka’s Big Moka
LABEL: S2 Records
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: Joe Washbourn – vocals, keyboards * Dan Hipgrave – guitar * Julian Deane – guitar, background vocals * Matt Knight – bass * Rob Green – drums, percussion
TRACK LISTING: 01 Let The People Know * 02 Dancing In The Moonlight * 03 Achilles Heel * 04 Breathe * 05 Do You Know What Your Future Will Be? * 06 Only For A While * 07 Just Hold On * 08 Higher State * 09 High Flying Bird * 10 Summer Cycle * 11 Just About Living * 12 Floating Away (In The Bath Tub)
With Britpop dying or, depending on your viewpoint already dead on the vine, and prefabricated boy bands proliferating at a troubling level, for a few months between 1999 and 2000 it seemed there might be a glimmer of hope on the pop music horizon.
Looking to American soft rock of the early ’70s for influence, a new crop of bands spearheaded by Australia’s Taxiride, England’s Birth and what would become the most successful of the lot – Toploader lead the charge into the happy world of golden age AM pop with a fresh approach.
The European music press was all over it, looking for the next big thing, but it wasn’t to last. Why? Hard to say, but perhaps there was never a movement at all, just a collection of diverse bands with the same mantra, or a record industry in free fall trying to grab on to something with a little more substance. Links to The Feeling and current critical darlings Midlake can be drawn to the hubbub of a decade back, but Toploader’s ‘Onka’s Big Moka’ was the touchstone of MOR’s second phase.
Taking their name after a joint rolling method, Toploader hit the ground running with ‘Onka’s Big Moka’, a title borrowed from a 1976 science documentary. Indeed, this album deliciously oozes with the sounds of the ‘me decade’ and opener ‘Let The People Know’ is an inspired and soulful take on Stevie Wonder‘s classic early ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ period.
Wonderful stuff and their cover of the King Harvest classic was a brilliant move. This tune has been covered numerous times and too often in most cases but Toploader pulls top prize, capturing the innocent spirit of the song like no other with an equally delightful video.
An international hit, it’s a bit of a surprise ‘Achilles Heel’ charted higher in the UK as a follow-up single and what a song it is too, bringing to mind prime time Elton John while the danceable ‘Just Hold On’ is as catchy heck and a perfect vehicle for the ever versatile vocals of Joe Washbourn.
Even more Elton John influence shows up on ‘High Flying Bird’ and the moody and gradually building ‘Summer Cycle’ is a winner as well. But the piece de resistance has to be album finale ‘Floating Away (In The Bath Tub)’. Starting out very child-like with a touch of Nilsson, the song quickly moves into an all out Queen styled rocker and a perfect close to what was already an outstanding disc.
Indeed, I love this band and their 2002 follow-up ‘Magic Hotel’ was no slouch either and yet it received terrible reviews and Toploader were summarily dropped by their label. Did the critics listen to the same album I had? Ignore what you’ve heard and check it out with ‘Onka’s Big Moka’ especially since the band has reformed and are currently touring the UK. Hopefully a new album is in the works.