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Toto - Topic

Falling in Between Play

At this point in their career, Steve Lukather and Toto really have nothing to prove to anyone in the rock & roll community. They've accumulated more Top Ten hits with their ballads alone than most bands have their entire career, to say nothing of rock anthems that became cornerstones of arena rock during the '70s and '80s. And while it's been nearly a decade since original material was issued (2002's Through the Looking Glass was an album consisting of cover versions), Falling in Between sounds like a band trying to find itself during a midlife crisis. The title track, while adventurous by Toto's standards with its mixed-metered time signatures and Middle Eastern influences, sounds exactly like the prog rock heroes they aspire to emulate (confirmed by the track-by-track commentary provided in the liner notes). "Dying on My Feet" sounds like a cross between '80s-era Chicago and Foreigner, thanks in no small part to Chicago's James Pankow contributing horn arrangements and playing trombone on the tune. Things do get better along the way. The band finally finds its footing midway through, delivering well-polished performances, and Lukather's voice has stood the test of time surprisingly intact, especially when compared to some of his contemporaries. And while there's no new ground being trodden here, the band sounds fantastic thanks to amazing production values, delivering material that can stand up to some of their best stuff. ~ Rob Theakston, Rovi

The Seventh One Play

Toto attempted to satisfy commercial considerations by loading up the first half of their seventh album with the kind of power ballads that had given the band recognition before, especially songs named after women whose names end in "A" like "Pamela" and "Anna." -- but these thinly veiled rewrites of "Rosanna" earned only modest radio play. The rest of the album rocked harder as it went on, and may have been truer to the band's musical aspirations. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Isolation Play

While Isolation didn't have as many memorable songs as the blockbuster Toto IV, it was an effective continuation of the band's trademark sound, especially the hit "Stranger in Town." ~ David Jehnzen, Rovi

Hydra Play

If Toto's musical advantage was that, since its members continued to play on many of the successful records made in L.A., its own music was popular almost by definition, its disadvantage was that it made little attempt to seek an individual musical signature -- a particular style, say, or a distinctive singer (Bobby Kimball was not it) who could make its records immediately identifiable. "Hold the Line" had been a big hit, but who did it? Boston? Foreigner? As a result, Toto was less well positioned than most to come off a big debut album with the follow-up, and Hydra was unusually dependent on its leadoff single, "99." Maybe it was a tribute to the female lead on the old Get Smart TV show, but many listeners didn't get a song with a chorus that went, "Oh, 99, I love you," and the single stalled in the bottom half of the Top 40. The album went gold on momentum, but the songs, however well-played, simply were not distinctive enough to consolidate the success Toto had achieved with its debut album. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Fahrenheit Play

After the ballad-deprived Isolation failed to meet the marketplace like its predecessor, Toto IV, Toto returned to making lush, mid-tempo tunes of romantic despair on Fahrenheit, enlisting their third lead singer, Joseph Williams, and calling in chips all over L.A. to score cameos from the likes of Michael McDonald, Don Henley, David Sanborn, and even Miles Davis, who had the closing track, "Don't Stop Me Now," pretty much to himself. Williams was a slightly grittier and more identifiable vocalist than Bobby Kimball or Fergie Frederiksen. But while the return to power ballads had the intended effect on the pop and adult contemporary charts (both "I'll Be over You" and "Without Your Love" scored), the album had a relatively low chart peak and failed to go gold. That kind of disconnection always indicates that the radio audience is failing to identify the songs with the group that made them, and it always means a career in trouble. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Toto Play

It's as easy to see why radio listeners loved Toto as it is to see why critics hated them. Toto's rock-studio chops allowed them to play any current pop style at the drop of a hi-hat: one minute prog rock, the next hard rock, the next funky R&B. It all sounded great, but it also implied that music-making took craft rather than inspiration and that the musical barriers critics like to erect were arbitrary. Then, too, Toto's timing couldn't have been much worse. They rode in during the middle of punk/new wave with its D.I.Y. aesthetic, and their sheer competence was an affront. Of course, there's always been an alternate history of popular music not available to rock critics (it's written in record stores and concert halls and on the radio), and in that story, Toto was a smash. Singles like "I'll Supply the Love" and "Georgy Porgy" (featuring Cheryl Lynn) made the charts, and "Hold the Line" hit the Top Ten and went gold. The members of Toto had already influenced the course of '70s popular music by playing on half the albums that came out of L.A. All they were doing with this album was going public. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Tambu Play

Toto waxed philosophical on its first album to be recorded since the death of founding member Jeff Porcaro and his replacement by drummer Simon Phillips. The song lyrics were full of abstractions -- apathy, dignity, faith, freedom, hope, hopelessness, hypocrisy, rage, trust (those are all from just the first song, "Gift of Faith") -- which seemed to indicate that the band members were reflecting seriously, if not too specifically, on weighty issues in an angry, questioning manner. Some of the lyrics couched these internal struggles in romantic terms, but more often they seemed to refer to more general anguish. The group came up with a more focused, harder, bluesier musical style to carry the weight, and Steve Lukather sang expressively, making you wonder why they bothered so long with those cookie-cutter vocalists. Like a patient new to psychoanalysis, Toto went on at length (the album runs over 70 minutes), and without much coherence, about "the pain of my lifetime" and "a world of blind ambition," among other things. You couldn't call the result accomplished, but Tambu suggested that Toto was embarked on a new personal and musical journey that might lead in an interesting direction. (Released in Europe in the late fall of 1995, Tambu was released in the U.S. as Legacy 64957 on June 4, 1996.) ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Turn Back Play

Toto's third album, Turn Back, was a bit of a disappointment. The group's ability to turn out highly competent studio rock was not translating into an individual sound, and since Turn Back had few memorable songs on it, one was left with little but those famous chops that Toto possessed in abundance. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Toto IV Play

It was do or die for Toto on the group's fourth album, and they rose to the challenge. Largely dispensing with the anonymous studio rock that had characterized their first three releases, the band worked harder on its melodies, made sure its simple lyrics treated romantic subjects, augmented Bobby Kimball's vocals by having other group members sing, brought in ringers like Timothy B. Schmit, and slowed down the tempo to what came to be known as "power ballad" pace. Most of all, they wrote some hit songs: "Rosanna," the old story of a lovelorn lyric matched to a bouncy beat, was the gold, Top Ten comeback single accompanying the album release; "Make Believe" made the Top 30; and then, surprisingly, "Africa" hit number one ten months after the album's release. The members of Toto may have more relatives who are NARAS voters than any other group, but that still doesn't explain the sweep they achieved at the Grammys, winning six, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year (for "Rosanna"). Predictably, rock critics howled, but the Grammys helped set up the fourth single, "I Won't Hold You Back," another soft rock smash and Top Ten hit. As a result, Toto IV was both the group's comeback and its peak; it remains a definitive album of slick L.A. pop for the early '80s and Toto's best and most consistent record. Having made it, the members happily went back to sessions, where they helped write and record Michael Jackson's Thriller. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Very Best of Toto Play

Sony Music Media's 2002 release The Very Best of Toto is a solid 15-track collection of hits and highlights from Toto, balancing such '70s singles as "Hold the Line," "Georgy Porgy" and "99" with the group's early-'80s blockbusters "Africa," "Rosanna" and "I Won't Hold Back," adding a couple of post-Toto IV singles like "Pamela" into the mix. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Hit Collection Play

This German Toto compilation boasts a fairly large playlist for its budget-minded price and packaging. Of the 18 tracks that make up Hit Collection, only three ("Africa," "Hold the Line," and "Rosanna") were big enough hits to make the jump from "flavor of the month" to classic rock radio, while the rest reside in the clean and comfortable social rooms of the soft rock retirement community. Fans looking for less or more from the group should check out 2003's streamlined Essential Toto collection or 2002's exhaustive three-disc Greatest Hits...And More. [Hit Collection was reissued in 2008 in a limited edition steel case as part of Sony's Steel Box Collection.] ~ James Christopher Monger, Rovi

Thumbnail The Essential Toto Play

While there have been a bunch of Toto budget-line compilations over the years, 2003's The Essential Toto is the first high-profile hits collection since 1990's Past to Present 1977-1990. At 14 songs, The Essential is one track longer than that compilation, but it shares eight cuts with Past to Present, which, of course, are all the big hits: "Africa," "Hold the Line," "Georgy Porgy," "Rosanna," "I Won't Hold You Back," "99," and "Pamela." What differentiates the two compilations, then, is that The Essential boasts a much better remastering and a better selection of songs, including the single "Make Believe" and a good selection of album tracks from their peak period, like "I'll Supply the Love." While this is missing some hits, they're minor ones that won't be missed by most listeners -- "Live for Today," "Afraid of Love," "Loves in the Night," "Waiting for Your Love," "Stranger in Town," and "Holyanna" -- and what's here is very good, an accurate representation of Toto at their best, making this their best compilation to date. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Thumbnail Hold the Line: The Best of Toto Play

When studio musicians decide to form bands, it can be a mixed blessing. Their talent and knowledge of studio chicanery can produce a catalogue of lifeless, palatable perfection with the odd masterpiece thrown in, granting them an often well-deserved career. Toto's eighth version of its greatest hits offers longtime fans little more than new cover art. Soft rock standards like "Africa" and "Rosanna" are properly placed at the top of the order, while their most recent work languishes at the bottom like the impeccably arranged mid-set concert filler that it is. Sadly, their most daring creation, the soundtrack to the 1984 David Lynch film, Dune, is once again a no show, leaving one to wonder whether they'll get it right the ninth time around. ~ James Christopher Monger, Rovi
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