Toto – Toto XIV (2015)

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“Running Out of Time,” my ass. Toto is not running out of time; they’ve gotten a second wind.

The return of Steve Porcaro, Joseph Williams, and even David Hungate set the expectations high for the upcoming Toto XIV. I daresay I was even a little fearful. As fans, were we setting the bar of our expectations too high? As much as I loved Falling in Between, how could they possibly top that?

Then I heard Toto XIV. (Cue atomic blast.) Toto didn’t just hit the high bar of expectations, they cleared it with plenty of room to spare. I’ve loved most of their albums since Toto IV — and some of them even more — but even when I temper my natural enthusiasm for this band with a healthy dose of objectivity this is easily Toto’s best album since then, and perhaps their best album bar none. The band borrows from their own past and legacy with subtle musical flourishes that pay homage to their past but they also keep their music firmly in the 21st century.

While I do prefer some songs over others, there is not a weak track on the album. Each member gets his chance to shine. Joseph Williams’ voice has only improved with age. He has a level of control that surpasses that of his more youthful original 1986-88 stint in the band and gives his vocals more consistency as well. Perhaps Williams’ strongest song on this particular outing is “Burn.” There is a slow build to a Jim Steinman-esque over the top epic anthem, and Joseph Williams totally brings it.

Even the weakest track on the album, 21st Century Blues is very strong and I’d argue it’s not so much weak as it’s out of place. It’s a strong track, but it just sounds more suited to one of Steve Lukather’s solo albums than it does to this Toto album. Unknown Soldier, the other Lukather sung-gem on XIV sounds decidedly more Toto and fits the album considerably better than “21st Century Blues.” Perhaps the biggest piece of irony to the album is the biggest surprise is “The Little Things.” For the first time since Toto IV, Steve Porcaro lends his voice to a song. I honestly wasn’t a fan of Porcaro’s earlier vocal endeavors from his prior stint in the band, but “The Little Things” is absolutely brilliant in its beautiful and subtle simplicity.

“Chinatown” is unique in that it’s possibly the first time that the lead vocals have ever been shared by David Paich, Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather. Paich and Williams have shared vocals before, and Lukather and Williams have shared leads in the past, but I don’t recall ever hearing all three of them having a crack at lead vocals in the same song. It’s a study in contrasts, as their vocals and vocal styles are decidedly different from one another — but they make it work. Musically, it almost feels like a sequel to “Without Your Love” from Fahrenheit. The other big surprise is the David Paich-sung “All the Tears that Shine.” Paich’s voice fits the song perfectly. There’s a mournful yearning in his vocal delivery, and the lyrics are woven with beautiful imagery.

Toto XIV closes with another beautiful and subtly understated Steve Porcaro contribution, Bend. My only complaint of the song is that, at 2:48, it’s far too short. Porcaro’s vocals are more reminiscent of his earlier Toto contributions (“Takin’ It Back” comes to mind), but I’d argue that his voice and his songwriting have both benefitted tremendously from the gift of maturity and life experience that he gained since his original stint in the band.

If Toto XIV ends up being Toto’s final studio album, and I sincerely hope it’s not, they will be going out with a bang. They will be able to depart with their heads held high, knowing that — despite their rich musical legacy and several brilliant albums — they managed to save the best for last, and end on the highest possible note.

Perplexio

Perplexio

Perplexio also maintains a stand-alone blog called The Review Revue, where he explores music, movies and books. He spearheaded 'Saturdays in the Park,' our weekly multi-writer, song-by-song series focused on the music of Chicago. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Perplexio
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