After nearly 40 years, with members coming and going (including one-time bassist Mike Porcaro, who passed away on March 15), Toto is a musical force to be reckoned with and still in business. Yes, there have been periods of inactivity, solo projects, even the suggestion of retirement in 2008. But the band has forged ahead on the road and with XIV, the band's 2015 studio album, their first since 2006.
A chunky "Running Out of Time" features a locked-in-deep rhythm section, notably drummer Keith Carlock slipping and sliding under the concoction. We get a grooving opener that sees guitarist Steve Lukather sailing with the main riff and quick leads, along with those distinctive Toto layered vocals led by singer Joseph Williams. "Burn" opens with David Paich on piano and tom work from Carlock (where I wish it would have stayed), then flows into loud Asia-like choruses. It's an effective cry for love.
The mix of plucked guitar, short arpeggiated keys and piano make the opening of "Orphan" especially good under Joseph William's stunning lead vocal. The lyric may be a little too trite and the whole song is too kinetic, whereas keeping to the softer subtler beginning would have been better.
"The Little Things" is a solid MOR ballad about those little things in life that we sometimes miss and how loving someone can make them more apparent. Lenny Castro's added percussion and the synth strings under those perfect Toto harmonies create the perfect pop confection.
With "Chinatown," we're in that familiar Toto hit formula soundscape of layered keys and a funky bass beat between different lead vocals into a catchy chorus. The deceptive jazz modalities with cool pop stylings is a mixture that Toto, Steely Dan and only a handful of others really can pull off, and it's no surprise that we hear a horn solo. Lenny Castro once again provides effective percussion and Lukather plays some of his best (certainly most restrained) leads.
This 11-song collection ends with the album's most complex piece, "Great Expectations." Built on a flicking piano and acoustic shift-and-stuttering main verse, Steve Lukather drops big notes while Williams flies high above bobbing and weaving to big thick synth strings punctuations. It's a thick brew that moves at a steady heady beat until we get to the changes. Lukather slips into some slower guitar lines with a church organ throw in to the mix, taking the song to a completely different place. The intertwined keys lines from Paich and Steve Porcaro with walking bass behind it gets a little swirly before we return to the original verses, but there is no doubt these guys can play through it all. Soaring vocals, catchy tunes, stellar playing - really what else can one ever ask for from our heroes? You're not going to beat XIV for what we all love most about Toto.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.