When Little Angels called it a day in 1994, singer and main songwriter Toby Jepson was left feeling heartbroken, confused and betrayed by his band. What do you do when your whole world has crumbled in front of you? How do you find the strength to carry on, when everything you have worked so hard for is taken from you?
Well, Toby retreated to a cottage in Guilford, set up a makeshift studio in a derelict Oast House with money from Sony and recorded his first solo album ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’. While he didn’t know it at the time, the set of songs he wrote, recorded and self-produced were a direct reaction to the break-up of Little Angels and would result in an album so steeped in retrospection and soul searching it would resonate so strongly some 25 years later.
To me, the mid 90’s was the best period for rock music, period. The musical climate had changed, the glory daze of Hair Metal had been wiped out by Grunge, yet even that genre itself was fading fast following the suicide of its main protagonist. Bands had to adapt to change or die, Alternative was the new mainstream and everything seemed just more edgy.
Many great songs and many great albums have been born from heartache and break-ups and Toby Jepson’s coping mechanism was to channel his feelings into ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’. It’s a dark album, ironically the complete antithesis of what Little Angels were all about. In trying to make sense of where it all went wrong, who to blame and what to do next, Toby found himself stepping back and looking inside himself for the answers, whether it be examining his recent divorce (‘Better Off Without Me’), class divide and struggle (‘Some People Are More Equal Than Others’) and in the case of most of the songs, directing his anger and confusion towards his former band mates.
What strikes me about ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ 25 years down the line is how remarkably current it actually sounds. From the crystal clear production to the dark, questioning lyricism, it sounds like an album destined for release in 2020. Take opening song ‘Some People Are More Equal Than Others’, a slow burning, sombre opener that sets the mood, exploring the struggle of class divide to a background of crisp drums and weaving, sonically seductive guitars.
Co-penned with songwriting legend Russ Ballard, ‘Slipping Through Your Fingers’ not only continues the exploration of his marriage break-up but also the demise of Little Angels. Production-wise Toby creates space, the instrumentation at a bare minimum, the song riding on melody and a sense of determination. The dampened guitars build during the verse to be let loose as the anthemic chorus breaks out.
Anthemic choruses have been a Toby Jepson trademark over the years and album centrepiece ‘I Won’t Be With You’ is a prime example. This is the big rock song and an even bigger ‘middle finger’ to his former band mates. The guitars are maxed out and the passion overflows as Toby channels his anger and confusion into a song that stands the test of time. In stark contrast, the acoustic-driven ‘All Heal In Time’ is Toby’s Led Zep 3 moment. The heartfelt lyrics work perfectly with the interestingly, offbeat drums, and the beautiful folk inspired guitar picking. A great melody carries a song that offers a ray of light in troubled times.
The influence of the 90’s alternative musical climate is prevalent throughout this album. The grungy ‘Haven’t Got Your Strength’ is the sound of a man defeated, laid bare over Jerry Cantrell guitar riffage. The euphoric, radio-friendly ‘Save Me From Myself’, almost certainly a cry for help. Toby cites Lenny Kravitz as an influence on this album and this is certainly obvious on the tripped-out, psychedelia of ‘Open Your Mind’ and the funky, unfinished demo version of ‘Get Your Feet On’.
While ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ is a snapshot of Toby Jepson’s mindset in his darkest hour, it is a testament to his songwriting prowess and a true example of the fact that anger truly is an energy. Toby channeled that anger in the right direction and produced an album that stands the test of time. And while he continues to enjoy great success with his band Wayward Sons, ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ remains a lost gem of an album he is rightly proud of and arguably, it is his finest work.
Author: Ben Hughes