Toto – Toto XIV

Toto - Toto XIV

Consisting of session musicians with a resume longer than an arm, TOTO is a band that went through decades with a breathtaking class. Isn’t it the only band that can boast about having Miles Davis guesting on one of their albums? But flattery aside, it’s indeed one of the rare melodic rock bands that hasn’t followed the rules of the genre, thanks to an eclectic vision of their music. Toto means indeed”all” in latin, because the goal of the group was to look over all the styles that touched them. We could therefore hear throughout their albums soul, funk, blues, jazz-rock, progressive rock, reggae (on the compilation of unreleased tracks “TOTO XX”), and hard-rock, in addition to the melodic rock that cements the whole. Besides, and still in a purpose of diversification, the main vocals were always shared between three or four of the band’s members, even if among them, one lent his voice to most of the tracks, and held only this role in the band. This was the case for Joseph Williams on the albums “Fahrenheit” and “The Seventh One”, after the sensational performances of the “soul man” Bobby Kimball on the first four records (among which “TOTO IV”), and the “UFO” Fergie Frederiksen, deceased last year (“Isolation”). However, after Joseph Williams left, and the brief presence of Jean-Michel Byron, Steve Lukather, aka Luke, who had gained self-assurance in the meantime, was determined to perform all vocal parts, before the return of Bobby Kimball in the band helped reshape the share of vocals as in the old days.

On their 13th album, which aims at being a follow-up to the memorable “TOTO IV” (that featured the big hits “Rosanna” and “Africa”), the band sees the return of original bassist David Hungate. Mike Porcaro, one of the three Porcaro brothers, suffers indeed from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which prevents him from performing with the band. Moreover, another member of the original line-up, keyboardist Steve Porcaro, answered to the call of his old mates in the band. Simon Phillips, one of the greatest drummers in the world, who had joined the band after the sudden death of Jeff Porcaro (as great a drummer as Simon and author of the “Rosanna shuffle”), left shortly before their 35th Anniversary Tour. Keith Carlock, a drummer in his fourties and whose talent could already be assessed on TOTO’s last Tour, hands over from him. This is great opportunity for him and he has nothing to be ashamed of in comparison to his renown predecessors, his chops are indeed vigorous and full of assurance, yet granting more importance to cymbals, for a dynamic and briliant result. Although this new offering is supposed to be a follow-up to “TOTO IV”, it’s not the legendary Bobby Kimball who performs vocals, but Joseph Williams, already there during the Anniversary Tour. His voice is as expressive as in his debuts with the band, and keeps on giving chills down our spine. Moreover, the choirs are beautifully arranged. Luke, the most in-demand guitarist in the world and whose influence on guitarists goes beyond our imagination, keeps on delivering solos full of that incandescence typical of the golden era of jazz-rock, yet with a strong emphasis on melody. Keyboards are shared between Steve Porcaro and David Paich, and sail between melancholy and lightness, always with humility, staying far from any showing off. Let’s also pay tribute to the band’s long-time friend, world-renown percussionnist Lenny Castro, who brings a real “Latin” flavour to the whole. So now you get the picture: it’s once again an invitation to an eclectic patchwork. Therefore, next to catchy tunes (the rhythmic “Running Out Of Time” and “Fortune”, the striking “Holy War”), a few tear-jerking songs wait for us (the tribal “Burn”, melancholic and pleading in turn, the aptly named “All The Tears”, as well as the dynamic yet touching “Orphan”). We are also taken by surprise by more complex pieces, which will once again feed the debate about the “progressiveness” of TOTO, that fans of progressive rock like to bring up (the orchestral “Unknown Soldier”, the enchanting “Great Expectations” with many winks to their very first album). Quite conversely to these tracks, it’s a light balad with an R’n'B feel to it that caresses our ears (the sunny and mischievous “The Little Things”). Besides, Black Music is not forgotten since here, an aquatic blues fills us with enthusiasm – surprising for a blues, isn’t it? (“21st Century Blues”), and there a jazz-funk tune sounds like a tribute to the late Jeff Porcaro (the not so aptly named “Chinatown”, where David, Luke and Joseph answer to each other over melodies reminding “Georgy Porgy”, also from their very first album). The japanese pressing presents a marvellous mesmerizing pop-ambient bonus track (“Bend”), with lamented strings and a voice where stressed syllables present an intonation that gives the impression of a search for a ray of hope. This song shows another side of a band that never ceases to amaze us through its open-mindedness.

Many of us probably thought TOTO’s career was put on-hold since the great “Falling In Between”, yet the current context (many “old” stars of melodic rock are back in the limelight, especially on TOTO’s current label, and the band recently toured to celebrate the 35 years of being together), may have reawakened their appetite for creating new material. Bad mouths may always regret the “commercial” side of some songs, those songs deserve all their place on the record, the band having never aimed at performing an all-commercial product nor an all-complex one, but rather boil slices of one aspect and the other one in the same pot, in order to prove that music is not a field of clash but rather a common ground. Besides, the band plans to donate part of the funds obtained from the sales of the album to various Associations. Therefore, please buy the album, you will kill two birds with one stone : on one hand you will be happy, on the other hand you will make other people happy!

Tracklist:

01 Running Out Of Time

02 Burn

03 Holy War

04 21st Century Blues

05 Orphan

06 Unknown Soldier

07 The Little Things

08 Chinatown

09 All The Tears

10 Fortune

11 Great Expectations

12 Bend (bonus track on japanese pressing)

Line-up:

Steve Lukather – vocals, guitars, bass on tracks 5, 6, 11
Joseph Williams – lead vocals
David Paich – vocals, keyboards
Steve Porcaro – vocals, keyboards
Keith Carlock – drums

Additional musicians

David Hungate – bass on tracks 4, 7, 8
Tal Wilkenfeld – bass on tracks 9, 10
Leland Sklar – bass on track 2, 3
Tim Lefebvre – bass on track 1
Lenny Castro – percussion
Martin Tillman – cello
CJ Vanston – additional synths, production
Michael McDonald – background vocals
Amy Keys – background vocals
Mabvuto Carpenter – background vocals
Jamie Savko – background vocals
Amy Wlliams – background vocals
Tom Scott – saxophone

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: