Toto, “Isolation” from Isolation (1984): Toto Tuesdays

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Following the massive success of Toto IV and time away writing the Dune soundtrack, I heard somewhere that the rationale behind the title of Isolation was that Toto felt like they had been in “isolation” working on their follow-up studio effort.

So, the title track off this album (written by Fergie Frederiksen, Steve Lukather and David Paich) carries some significance and is an apt representation of where the band was at in 1984.

Opening with sparse keyboard chord stabs, “Isolation” doesn’t take long to kick into gear. As typical of mid-1980s rock fare, the track propels itself along with a steady pulse of 8th notes from Mike Porcaro’s bass, punctuated by some squealing guitar harmonics and muted crunch, courtesy of Luke. The most noticeable element, perhaps by contrast with the style of Toto IV, is just how forceful and direct the drums sound. Jeff Porcaro had the best pocket in the business and his fills and feel were unmistakeable – but the urgency and tight fills in this track are atypical of his signature style and cast a reinvented Toto in a straight-forward rock vein.

For the verses, Fergie owns centre stage with a commanding and crystal clear vocal delivery. I always felt the hard edge and driving beat of these tracks was the best way to showcase his voice (see also “Carmen,” “Angel Don’t Cry” and “Endless“) and this is a great example of Toto playing to its strengths with their new frontman.

The pre-chorus is strong, not just from a vocal perspective, but also in terms of arrangement. It’s an educated guess, but I’d posit David Paich’s learnings from Dune came to the fore. It’s a stellar showcase of restraint to build contrast: the rhythmic pulse disappears and there is a pronounced drop in intensity, before launching into the chorus.

Within which there is nothing about being in the studio for too long. It’s all about a guy not being able to live without his girl:

Can’t go livin’ without you, girl
It doesn’t matter what you say or do, girl
Can’t go livin’ without you, girl

The bridge is a nice respite; a slower half time feel with some tasty synth embellishments from Steve Porcaro. Fergie Frederiksen laments and soars here but, for mine, this is the weakest part of the song. That said, the exit with the syncopated unison run leading into the guitar solo is inspired. Accentuated by silence, it brings to the forefront Steve Lukather’s new sound. Luke once reflected that he was accused in the past of having used “too much grease” and this is an example of that slick sound, but it’s still a blistering lead break: Lukather never fails to deliver.

The song continues with the chanting chorus and some truly powerful and stratospheric Fergie ad libs interspersed with locked keyboard and guitar riffs before a fade out.

Toto’s “Isolation” is a catchy track with some clever musicianship, but it doesn’t really reflect the cohesive nature of a band at their creative peak – a fact many by now must have begun to realize.

Toto Tuesdays is a song-by-song feature that explores the rich musical history of Toto. The group returned last year with ‘Toto XIV,’ their first album since 2006.

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