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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Toto

XIV

Review by Larry Toering

Toto are back with a vengeance and then some on this Frontiers release. Man, what a killer comeback to the studio this is. We’re talking full of everything this band is all about, in an updated package that is sure to make some serious noise and place them firmly back on the AOR prog map where they belong. I have to emphasize this is definitely a prog effort, as where I wouldn’t say that about everything they’ve done. On this release they go further into that territory than ever, without losing their overall radio sensibility, which is the hardest thing to balance about this genre. But on this great release they evenly capture both essences so well, that neither can be denied. This beauty comes highly recommended as it already contends for the best of what might just be a banner year of music, so far in the 2000s. Either way, this won’t be instantly forgotten, like a lot of what’s been going around the last five years.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Running out of Time

No time is wasted as this upper mid-tempo paced opener glides firmly on the cutting edge of mid-80s radio rock, just as Toto once did. It’s as if not a year is lost, except to say that it translates perfectly into the modern landscape. This establishes the vibe and instantly you know the rest is going to be a gravy train. This is everything in which their standard demands.

Burn
What a killer ballad which manages to perfectly contrast the previous track, this is. And what an excellent delivery is presented, once again retaining everything that is great about Toto, bringing it into the future with an effortless ability. So far it’s two for two, evenly. AOR prog is defined here.
Holy War
A typical album track for them gets underway here with a great chorus until some wild guitar from Steve Lukather takes over and it goes on to actually succeed to be epic. They just bubble along so well together that you can’t deny this track any more than the previous two, but at first you think it’s going to be just okay.
21st Century Blues
This one is a groovy little number with a slower pace to even things out. It doesn’t defeat the purpose that way, and also doesn’t lose any classic Toto factors. It is great stuff, very dreamy, but also the least proggy number, but still AOR, crossed with a bluesy/jazzy vibe and some more superb guitar. The great piano and organ runs that go with it just top the whole thing off. 
Orphan
Things get a lot more rocking on this one, after they set up you up for what you think is going to be of a slower nature. It revisits that same slower speed in the breaks throughout the track. Things appear to be about never being alone in the world. This is undeniably awesome, a modern Toto masterstroke! 
Unknown Soldier
The prog factor takes over here with a narrative power ballad with more war subject matter. This is somewhere between Toto and Pink Floyd, with remarkable bursts of awesomeness, acoustic flashes and overall epic brilliance throughout. The album is definitely beginning to peak on these last two numbers.
The Little Things
A smooth island feel kicks in on this one, with a mellow pace and a cool vocal. It completely changes the whole atmosphere but in a good way. It’s just not a contender for the best thing on offer here. It enters a more smooth jazz territory but not devoid of AOR either, pure radio friendly stuff, but not sure it will fall on such ears, even though it should. The track fits its title very well and doesn’t fail to keep that interest.
Chinatown
Now this is completely different, probably the most proggy number on the disc, as it drives the storyline the album sort of follows, being one of the war themed variety.  They really sound a lot like Alan Parsons on this number, and that’s not the only nod to others on this release. This is pure Toto, leaning heavily on the soul side, like “Georgie Porgy.” I love this one most of all. It’s classy and spooky at the same time, with a contagious piano riff and some sweet saxophone embellishments.
All the Tears
More piano carries this one, and once again I am reminded of Alan Parsons, but it’s Toto, really, just that side of them.  It is akin to the AOR prog nature of the album, which anyone knows isn’t hardcore prog by any means, so it’s sometimes hard to nail if it’s even really prog or not. This definitely is, but ever defining as that type of radio prog, like groups such as Styx can also be considered more often than not. This is just one of the less interesting of the slower numbers but still a very compelling piece of music that shows they have lost nothing. It’s actually very soulful, a tad gospel-ish in the vocal department, and quite pretty.
Fortune
Again the “Georgy Porgy” feel is revisited, but almost combined with the island vibes also previously visited here. This one is very atmospheric and full of hypnotic content, but not a highlight of the disc. Great vocals and guitar are offered here. Those are what holds the number together. Toto are just so remarkably inoffensive you can listen to this ten times over and almost not even know it’s repeating. Once again some lovely piano work is featured too, and a bit of low register vocal, slipping a bit of Steely Dan/Michael McDonald feel in there.
Great Expectations
Things go out with quite a bang on this track of many ups and downs. It’s an epic spacey track that pulls not one punch as it blasts through the speakers. It’s fantastic because regardless of the title itself, it exceeds all expectations. I love how this is achieved, and it works every time you play the disc. This has everything, searing guitar, killer vocals, excellent piano and by far the best percussion on the record. They really nail it home, and all you want to do is play the whole thing over.
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