Sunday
Feb212016

"XIV", by Toto

“XIV”, by Toto.

Reviews have already surfaced for Toto’s upcoming release “XIV” and the ones I have read have been very positive. I was hesitant to release “XIV” as our Pick Of The Day in advance of its release, as I am sensitive about releasing too much information prior to an album’s release – especially by a band that I respect as much as Toto. So, I asked for permission and Steve Lukather approved.  

Perhaps it’s not fair for a fan, such as myself, to try and give an unbiased review, so I’ll try to approach this as objectively as possible. So, here’s my album synopsis: “XIV” is Toto at one of its finest moments.

Toto, like most band’s that have been around for more than 35 years, has experienced a variety of changes, such as personnel, management, leadership, financial, etc. We hear their art, but there’s so much more to a band than what happens within the liner notes. Toto has experienced all of these challenges, but has always found a way to overcome them and continue to create music that true fans of the band devour. Having been a fan since I was ten years old when Toto released their first album, I understand this appetite for their music. For me, learning that a new Toto album was in the works was incomparable to the anticipation I felt for any other band. Even as a kid, I would try to imagine what they’d come up with next and how they would thrill me from a musical perspective. Believe it or not, the kid in me still exists. At 46 years old, I had butterflies in my stomach prior to pressing play on “XIV”. In fact, I almost didn’t press play, as I couldn’t decide if it was the right time. I thought, “Perhaps I should wait”, as I felt a little guilty for having the privilege of hearing this new collection of Toto’s heart and soul before the rest of the world. I decided to walk away and be patient.

Thirty seconds later I pressed play and didn’t look back. Here’s what I discovered.

“Just turn around and you’ll be on your way.”

Luke’s guitar intro punched Running Out Of Time into action and I knew I was in for a fantastic ride. I instantly plopped myself onto my couch, cranked the amp up a little more than my neighbors would appreciate and I was simply gone. Chills hit my spine and crept over my entire body. As soon as I heard Joseph Williams’ vocals, it felt as though he had never been away from the band. His voice instantly felt right at home amongst this band of stellar musicians. Simply stated, Joseph sings his ass off and has never sounded better. Lyrically, Running Out Of Time examines societal greed and the chance we all have to slow life down and look at the truth about what’s most important in our lives outside of money, power and possessions. Perhaps this could be taken as a personal or political statement, as either applies.  

“I would burn it down for love.”

The album continues with Burn, an anthemic, power ballad that includes Joseph on lead vocals. The track is filled with building emotion, powerful lyrics and huge, haunting backing vocals. Paich mentioned that this track had been considered as the opening track on “XIV”, but eventually took a back seat to Running Out Of Time.

“All in the name of peace and love.”

Many of you have now heard Holy War, a track written by Steve Lukather, CJ Vanston and Joseph Williams. Lyrically, this track provides commentary about those who use religion to justify murder. This track, along with the 21st Century Blues which was also co-written by Lukather and Vanston, have a musical vibe that resonates with Lukather’s “Transition” solo project that was released in 2013. True to form with any track Lukather writes, there is some very savory guitar work on both of these tracks. I advise you to also pay special attention to Keith Carlock’s skins, as he lays down some very slick drumming.

“You’re never alone in the world.”

Orphan, the first single from “XIV”, is deserving of leading this new album into public consciousness. Musically it’s powerful, memorable and very hooky. Lyrically, it’s an uplifting account that you’re never alone, no matter how downtrodden you might feel in an otherwise brutal world. I can’t say enough about Williams’ vocals, as again he simply nails it on this track.  

“Sail on unknown soldier.”

Steve Lukather and David Paich combined to write Unknown Soldier, a song that they dedicated to their brother Jeff Porcaro, the band’s original drummer who tragically passed away in 1992. This is a powerful, anthemic account of soldiers who have lost their lives fighting the perpetual war for oil and other political greed and the lessons that continue to go unlearned from the sacrifices made by brave men and women that seemingly go unnoticed.

“Through the window I can see sky’s stretched to eternity.”

Steve Porcaro’s The Little Things is one of the most welcomed tracks on “XIV”. Paich and Lukather have always been the Lennon/McCartney equivalent in Toto, which makes Porcaro’s writing presence in the band the equivalent to Harrison’s with the Beatles. I’ve always appreciated his writing style, which has a softer, flowing and eloquent approach. Porcaro’s lyrics are often inspiring and uplifting, such as those in the track The Little Things, a song about how in a world of complications and struggle, it’s the simple moments in our life, such as a smile, a good memory or even an old cassette tape with your favorite song that can make life so much better.  

“Where the nights are always longer than the day.”

Chinatown, a song that was actually written by Paich in 1978 but never made the cut on the band’s early albums, is the track that I most anticipated hearing. This is old school Toto at its finest, complete with the familiar R&B groove reminiscent of Georgy Porgy and straight from that fantastic Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees era. The lyrics had to be somewhat overhauled from their original form in order to update the song for political correctness, so Paich teamed-up with Michael Sherwood for this task. Tom Scott is back with the band on this track adding his sax touches, while Paich, Lukather and Williams share vocal duties on this gem that’s sure to satisfy the appetite of long-time fans of the band.

“Just a fool still in love.”

All The Tears That Shine, co-written by David Paich and Michael Sherwood, is the style of ballad that Toto fans will instantly recognize. Luke and Williams provide backing vocal parts, while Tal Wilkenfeld is featured on bass. 

“Are you prepared for a broken heart?”

Fortune is a mid-tempo, straightforward rock track written by Joseph Williams that lyrically warns about being prepared for a broken heart when love goes wrong. The song features Tal Wilkenfeld on bass and an appearance by Michael McDonald on backing vocals. Another interesting note lies within the lyrics, where Williams interjects the French phrase “C’est tellement”, which means “it’s so”, to form the line “C’est tellement familiar” – a clever means of lyric composition in order to complete the musical phrase.  

“I’ve got one million reasons for us to believe.”

When I first noticed that Great Expectations clocked-in just under seven minutes, I had a feeling that this composition would have a progressive element to it. Reminiscent of past Toto tracks, such as Better World, Parts I, II and III and Dying On My Feet, Great Expectations is a musical journey with several different paths. The song begins with a short, ballad-esque piano interlude performed and sung by Paich that explodes into an up-tempo, powerful and twisting rock anthem that is almost impossible to aptly describe. Everyone plays a huge role on this track, from Williams’ soaring vocals, to Luke’s amazingly diverse guitar and bass work that ranges from blazing solos to delicate strumming, to Paich’s pipe organ sequence that resembles something from Yes’ “Close To The Edge”, to Steve Porcaro’s incredible synth programming and Carlock’s monster drumming. You’re just going to need to hear this one to completely understand, but trust me – this composition is epic and one that will be a sonic treat should the band decide to include this in their set list when they tour this summer. 

“When it breaks, we lose the power to learn from our mistakes.”

For those of you who are fortunate enough to get your hands on the Japanese release of “XIV”, the bonus track Bend is a beautiful addition to the overall palate of this album. This track is sung and performed by Steve Porcaro, with lyrics provided by collaborator Michael Sherwood. At just under three minutes, I immediately harkened back to the final track on the Hydra alum, A Secret Love – a quiet response to an album filled with musical diversity. Ending the album with this track is somewhat of a sweet lullaby that rocks this album to rest in a soothing and somewhat understated manner.  

As I mentioned, “XIV” collectively is one of Toto’s finest efforts. It’s insane to think that this album’s genesis was due to a contractual obligation with the record company that indicated that the band owed them one more album. This happened to Prince prior to his split with Warner Brothers and the material that spawned from that scenario was not his finest work. But Toto isn’t the kind of band that would throw in the towel and generate subpar material. If you know the band, then you already have the understanding that they always put their heart and soul into every note played on every record they have released. Contractual obligations aside, Toto took advantage of the moment and spun a potentially negative scenario into another work of art with “XIV. “ Where will this album stand in the annals of Toto’s history? That’s for you to decide, but come March 24 when you get your hands on the album, be thankful that after nearly four decades since Toto’s inception you still have the opportunity to experience new music by one of the greatest American bands in the history of recorded music.

- Rick Such

Monday
Nov022009

Arif & I

Let me tell you about my very first session with the great Arif Mardin.

It was somewhere around mid-1981. By this time, as a keyboardist, I was definitely the new kid on the block, so to speak. Yet, I was busy, and a lot of sessions were happening all at once.

Arif was producing Aretha Franklin and needed a piano part replaced. His office booked me for a night session. Earlier that day I had been at Hollywood Sound recording Charlie Dore with most of the boys from TOTO. I rushed over for a 7pm start at Sunset Sound, also in Hollywood, and met Arif for the very first time.

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