The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist: Why?
Label: Alliance Music
Length: 14 tracks / 52:54 minutes
With a string of line-up changes to rival Petra, this latest album from Why? sees them down to one founding member, vocalist/guitarist Ant Parker. Anyone who's let their attention slip will be surprised to hear no violin, a lot less mandolin, and plenty of keyboards in the mix this time around. And that's just the start of the changes.
For their tenth release, Why? have brought in the production talents of Craig McLeish (Fat and Frantic), a producer whose own output actually competes with that of Why? for zanyness. Together, they've moved away from the folk-rock sounds of older material, bringing in a touch of swing and big band, and perhaps even a pinch of ska influence. That does not mean that the folk-rock days are hung up for good--the mandolin and whistle of Jamie Hill betray his Eden Burning influences-- but there is no mistaking this album for older material.
Lyrically, the gap left by the loss of Nick Parker to pastures more commercial has been filled by the involvement of Andy Davis (drums), Jamie Hill (keyboard/whistles/mandolin/what you will), and Craig McLeish alongside Ant Parker. The lyrics are as much humour-informed as faith-informed, but the latter is definitely well represented. Strongly moralistic, the band manage to avoid sounding too preachy with their trademark wordplay.
"The Vicar" is an obvious example of a song which could easily be misinterpreted; it is introduced by the band live as a song about a man in a dress. A number of lyrics seem to contain an attack on religiosity, and the band are well motivated in this, but some listeners may be concerned that the band not take this too far and lose the benefits that tradition can bring.
"Rock Idols of the 21st Century" could be read as the band's mission statement, confessing their lack of a high profile:

We haven't got a 20 sleeper tour bus
We haven't got a 20k PA
But we hope we've got a sense of humour
We'll share with you the consumer
And if there's people there to share it we'll keep singing
Singing this song
And if there's people there to listen we'll keep them smiling
Smiling along
And that's what Why? do best. The arrangements are not as slick as they could be, but they give music fans a fun time. As an album this is very different from previous offerings--perhaps more interesting--but as entertainment it's simply continuing the tradition.
James Stewart (8/11/99)