Toto, “Kingdom of Desire” from Kingdom of Desire (1992): Toto Tuesdays

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Moody, brooding, and somewhat self-destructive in tone, Toto’s second-to-last track and title cut from Kingdom of Desire powerfully closes the chapter on this era’s hard-rock theme.

In an album where nearly all of the songs were credited to the band, “Kingdom of Desire” is the only track written by an outsider, Danny Kortchmar. Fans of 1989’s Lukather, Steve Lukather’s debut solo project, will recognize the name, as Kortchmar co-wrote and co-produced “Drive a Crooked Road” and “Steppin’ on Top of Your World.”

“Our great friend Danny ‘Kootch’ Kortchmar said he had a few songs he wanted us to hear and [‘Kingdom of Desire’] was the first one,” Steve Lukather told me. “He had written it, but I remember loving his demo. Danny and I had worked on my first solo record, as we co-wrote and he co-produced with me two great tracks, so the precedent of us working together with him producing was already there – and we had all done a ton of sessions together, and the friendships were already deep. He had introduced me to Stan Lynch of Tom Petty and Heartbreakers fame and we were working together, and Danny and Stan had written “Kick Down the Walls,” which Danny also produced.”

Toto’s introduction for “Kingdom of Desire” begins simply, with a distorted guitar and echo. As it builds, sparse drums and a purposeful bass are added; like a man of few words, this song does what it needs to without affectation. Subtle keyboard tones later provide an eerie bed, foreshadowing the nihilistic story to follow:

You used to be on fire now you chill me to the bone
We used to fly like angels now we’re sinking like a stone
You say you’re trying to help me but that ain’t the way it feels
I think you’re trying to kill me with those stiletto heels

It’s a collection of contrasts, masterfully constructed: Kortchmar’s expertise as a lyricist is clear. In fact, that last line has to be one of my favorite ever, in terms of Toto lyrics.

“I think you’re trying to kill me with those stiletto heels” is rich in imagery and metaphor, yet so finely honed. Compare it to another line, also rich in metaphor, from Toto’s monster hit “Africa” from a few years prior: “Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” One of these metaphors is easier to sing!

As “Kingdom of Desire” continues, the chorus hits hard and the band delivers.

Going back to the kingdom of desire
Going down to the valley of the gun
I’m gonna stand too close to the fire
I’m gonna fly too close to the sun

“Back,” “down,” “stand,” “fly” – these action words function like anchor points, and are punctuated by cymbal crashes, synth blasts and chanting backing vocals. Steve Lukather’s vocals are on point too, rounding out a superb tour de force on this album. His vocal performances are perfectly matched to the material throughout Kingdom of Desire.

If we consider the narrative, this is a man who is now throwing caution to the wind – somebody who has had enough and is willfully tempting fate. His relationship in tatters, he intends to do things he knows are dangerous, rather than make sane choices. That Danny Kortchmar is such a masterful storyteller should come as no surprise, not after he helped define the singer-songwriter era with work alongside the likes of James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Carly Simon, among others.

In perfect support of the story, the solo that follows is pure Lukather genius. It superbly conveys a tortured man: The tone is anguished, stretched, pulled, bouncing off the walls, and crying with wah. In live* sets this is a feature spot.

The result is an epic Toto track. If you want to hear the band reveling in their darker side, while also hearing Jeff Porcaro playing with more power and emotion than normal Toto fare, “Kingdom of Desire” is for you.

As for the title, Lukather tells us that “it’s L.A. Kingdom of Desire. It was a no brainer to call the album that to me.” I’m pretty fortunate to be where I live – Australia is known as the lucky country – but I think a visit to Los Angeles has to be on the cards now. I need to see the kingdom of desire.

*-If you’re interested in experiencing “Kingdom of Desire” in the live setting, you’re in luck as it has been captured on a trio of Toto’s recommended concert recordings: ‘Absolutely Live’ (1993), ‘Falling in Between Live’ (2007) and ‘Live at Montreux 1991’ (2016).

Toto Tuesdays is a song-by-song feature that explores the band’s rich musical history. They returned with three new songs on 2018’s ’40 Trips Around the Sun.’

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