Bittersweet might not be a totally accurate way to describe Toto's first studio release in almost 10 years, but it has to hit pretty close to the mark.
Not because of the music contained within Toto XIV -- it's spectacular.
Rather, because Toto XIV's release date of March 20 comes less than a week after longtime bassist Mike Porcaro passed away at age 59 after a lengthy battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Although he hadn't been an active member of the group since 2007, Porcaro's spirit was still vibrant within Toto -- and just as with his brother Jeff, who passed away in 1992 -- Steve Lukather, David Paich, Joseph Williams and brother Steve Porcaro will make sure his legacy is never forgotten.
As mentioned earlier, the music on Toto XIV is, to sum things up neatly in one word, spectacular. It is most definitely a worthy addition to the Toto canon. For full disclosure, I will admit that I have been an unabashed fan of Toto ever since their debut album sprang to life back in the late-70s. As such, these tired old ears of mine have always heard Toto as a progressive rock band with hints and bits of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis and Yes running deeply through the band's songs (up to and including 2006's Falling in Between).
But on the flip side of the coin, instead of creating 15- or 20-minute suites of epic music (which they could easily do), Toto has always had the enviable ability to craft four- to five-minute masterpieces that leave every bit the impact that a marathon tune delivers. Plus, Toto's songs are catchy as all get-out and are instantly memorable and hummable (Heck, "I Won't Hold You Back" is probably the best rock ballad in the history of mankind).
So where does that leave Toto XIV?
In very good company with Hydra, Toto IV and Seventh One.
The song-writing is top-notch, the production is warm and crisp (take a bow, CJ Vanston) and the world-class musicianship that has long propelled Toto is once again present and accounted for. Knowing the passion and precision that Lukather, Paich and the Porcaros have always approached their music with is a given. But what really makes Toto XIV such a treat is the return of vocalist Joseph Williams, who back in the day took over for original front-man Bobby Kimball and sang on the lion's share of Seventh One, after making his debut on 1986's Fahrenheit.
Williams is an expressive and powerful -- yet very soulful and melodic -- vocalist that is hopefully back in the Toto fold to stay.
Toto XIV is stocked to the brim with all the elements that Toto have been bringing to the table for almost four decades now. There's the afore-mentioned prog-rock (album-opener "Running Out of Time") and heartfelt ballads ("Unknown Soldier (for Jeffery)"). There is the stirring and uplifting "The Little Things" and the jazzy, Steely Dan-ish "21st Century Blues." All-in-all, Toto XIV certainly checks off all the boxes.
Rounded out by the return of original bassist David Hungate and drummer Keith Carlock (who took over for longtime drummer Simon Phillips), Toto called upon some of its friends for help in recording Toto XIV -- a who's-who of some of the best players on the planet -- including percussionist Lenny Castro; saxophone player Tom Scott; bass players Tal Wilkenfeld and Lee Sklar; and vocalist Michael McDonald. That is some heavy-duty friends and firepower.
The individual accomplishments of the members of Toto outside the band have long been the stuff of legend; playing on over 5,000 albums that have sold half-a-billion copies and have garnered over 200 Grammy nominations. The track record that Toto as a collective has amassed since 1978 is also an impressive one and Toto XIV is ample proof that the band is as valid and relevant in 2015 as it was back then.
Are you listening Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame?