KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

TOTO Part 4 – Let’s Make This A Better World

Toto was on an impressive roll as they approached the end of the millennium. Pared down to a quartet of guitarist/lead vocalist Steve Lukather, keyboardist David Paich, bassist Mike Porcaro and drummer Simon Phillips, they re-established themselves on 1992’s Kingdom Of Desire and 1995’s Toto Photo (circa 1999)Tambu as a kick-ass progressive hard rock/fusion band who could still bring a tear to your eye with an emotional ballad, never abandoning their signature knack for catchy melodies and tight harmonies. Although they maintained a loyal & passionate fan base overseas, they were virtually ignored in the US & UK. There wasn’t much they could do to remedy that situation, as radio stations were unlikely to play a “heritage” artist that hadn’t had a hit single in more than a decade. I doubt that the band expected to reignite the commercial success they had during the ‘80s at this point, but bringing back original lead vocalist Bobby Kimball as a full-time member for the first time since 1982’s mega-successful Toto IV was a step in the right direction that would enable them recapture the sound of those early records.

The first album released by this reconstituted version of Toto was Mindfields (1999), a sprawling 14-track, 75-minute opus that travels through many musical styles and moods, and would have been a double-album had it been released during the vinyl era. The cover art only hints at the Toto - Mindfieldspsychedelic imagery featured throughout the packaging, which includes a lineup of yellow umbrellas emblazoned with infinity balls emanating from a topless Eiffel Tower, a bellhop named Martin with some kind of root vegetable for a head, a lion-zebra hybrid, a squadron of aircraft firing at a giant butterfly, and numerous other bizarre & thought-provoking images. The music throughout Mindfields is just as interesting as the visuals, and it’s clear by the diversity as well as the extended running times of most tracks that they were not interested in mainstream success anymore. In aiming to please themselves they created another high-water mark in their already impressive discography. I expected the continued high quality of their musicianship but Bobby Kimball is the real surprise here. Already in his early-50s by the time this album was released, my jaw dropped numerous times as I marveled at the power of his voice, which was just as expressive & distinctive as it was during the band’s early years.

The Essentials:
♪ “Cruel” – The album opens with this bouncy midtempo tune with a chugging guitar riff, half-note piano and horn blasts. It immediately sounds like the Toto of their hit-making years, with a little Chicago mixed in (there was always a little crossover between the two back in the day). I love the softer pre-chorus (“Lift your head up babe, pull yourself together”) and the brighter, harmony-drenched chorus (“It’s such a cruel world when you have to think twice…”). It could/should be shorter than 6 minutes but that doesn’t keep this from being an essential addition to their catalog.
♪ “Caught in The Balance” – Another song whose extended running time nearly kept it from being essential, but the more I heard it the more I liked it. The one-minute intro features soft synth washes on top of a Stewart Copeland-esque reggae-inspired groove with Lukather guitar blasts. The upbeat, shimmering chorus puts this one over the top: “It’s a crime to live my life without you…and when I close my eyes I’m caught in the balance.”
♪ “High Price Of Hate” – The longest song at more than 9 minutes, this slow blues number features massive performances from everyone. It may not break any new ground but it’s still a high point in their career. Kimball is in fine form and the interplay between guitar & organ is a key reason that it had such an impact on me.

♪ “Better World” – This 8-minute progressive epic starts with nearly 2-1/2 minutes of instrumental brilliance: synth, electric piano, light percussion and searing David Gilmour-esque guitar shifts to a syncopated driving groove with incredible accented drumming from Phillips. There’s also an outstanding 90-second instrumental outro, and between these two sections of musical excellence lies some beautiful melodies and strong vocals, especially during the chorus (“Oh…let’s make this a better world”).
[Toto – “Better World”] [audio http://k003.kiwi6.com/hotlink/brre6n2p0v/Better_World.mp3]

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “After You’ve Gone” – A moody, atmospheric & dramatic ballad with Lukather up front. They combine elements of Led Zeppelin (the “Kashmir” vibe in the pre-chorus) and The Beatles (the psychedelic outro with sitar) along with pretty melodies, most notably at “Now I believe…alone doesn’t have to mean lonely after you’ve gone.”
  • Toto Photo (from Mindfields)“Last Love” – This one has a similar rhythm & melodic structure to The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but the synths add a more modern texture. Lukather channels George Harrison for his killer guitar solo & his vocals are strong (and once again remind me of Jeff Healey, a similarity I mentioned in my previous post).
  • “Selfish” – Super-catchy, bouncy & infectious. Nothing groundbreaking but solidly written & performed, and notable for the stomping glam beat, fuzzy organ, searing guitar and the call-and-response vocals between Kimball and the harmonized “You’re so selfish.”
  • “Melanie” – A Lukather ballad with a programmed rhythm track & bouncy bass line. His smooth voice is perfect for the lovely melody, especially during the beautiful chorus: “Melanie, nothing but the touch of your hand can rescue me.” Not a classic but certainly one of his best ballads.
  • “One Road” – One of the shortest songs here at under 4 minutes, all choppy guitar, haunting piano and staggered yet steady rhythm. The verses are tight but I absolutely love the chorus: “One road…to the promised land, I have to get there any way I can.”
  • “Spanish Steps” – A bonus track on the US & Japanese editions of Mindfields, and the only one with David Paich on lead vocals. It has a great atmosphere; the subdued mood captured by Lukather’s Spanish-style acoustic guitar and Paich’s haunting voice. At times he reminded me of The Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward, particularly at “On the Spanish steps of Rome.”

The subsequent concert recording Livefields (1999) is a much better representation of the Toto live experience than 1993’s Absolutely Live. While the latter had an impressive set list, the lack of at least one of their two best lead singers (Bobby Kimball and Joseph Williams) impacted their overall sound. Also, Simon Phillips had been a last-minute replacement for the recently departed Jeff Porcaro, so the band was only beginning to gel as a unit. By the time Livefields appeared, Kimball was back and Phillips was their full-time drummer, making it their first definitive live album. Between the Toto - Livefieldsmain CD and the 3-track bonus disc they delivered 19 songs and 3 solo showcases (by Lukather, Phillips & Paich). Only a handful of these tracks would appeal to casual fans who only know Toto’s biggest hits (“Rosanna,” “Hold The Line,” “I Won’t Hold Back”), but for those of us who have enjoyed their entire discography there’s one highlight after another. The sound quality is perfect, with every nuance of their performances clearly audible. They throw in a few surprises, including a long-lost track from Toto XX: 1977-1997 (“Tale Of A Man”) and even an acoustic version of one song from the short-lived Jean-Michel Byron era (“Out Of Love,” which appeared on the Past To Present compilation), although they skipped everything from the Fergie Frederkisen and Joseph Williams eras. The acoustic section also features “Mama,” “You Are The Flower” and “The Road Goes On,” offering a nice contrast to the full electric power of the rest of the show. Even the songs I didn’t love from the original albums become standouts in the live setting, proving just how deep their catalog is. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, this is a spectacular live album that should appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed their music.

There comes a time in just about every artist’s career that they release a “covers album,” a collection of other people’s songs. Very few are essential listening and most are aimed solely at their most ardent fans, with the worst offenders offering up the dreaded “Great American Songbook” (only the Toto - Through The Looking Glassbest of the best can truly pull that off). Fortunately Toto didn’t go down that route for Through The Looking Glass (2002), instead focusing on a diverse collection of artists that inspired them during their formative years. The recent lineup of Lukather, Paich, Kimball, Porcaro & Phillips continued their winning streak, even though some of the choices (The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Elton John’s “Burn Down The Mission,” Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next To You”) are either a little too faithful to the originals or the re-workings lack a spark of inspiration. In most cases I would have preferred to hear the originals, since I’m a big fan of a majority of these artists, but they put their own stamp on a handful of tracks that deserve special mention.

The Essential:
♪ “Maiden Voyage/Butterfly” – A combination of two Herbie Hancock songs, one from his acoustic jazz years with Blue Note Records in the ‘60s and the other from his ‘70s funk/jazz-fusion period at Columbia Records. With light percussion & a programmed rhythm track, the other musicians take a back seat to Steve Lukather for this 7-1/2 minute instrumental excursion. His sweet guitar tone and dynamic soloing are reason enough to hear this album.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • Toto Photo (from Through The Looking Glass)“Bodhisattva” – A faithful adaptation of the Steely Dan classic with some added muscle. Kimball & Lukather do a great job sharing lead vocals, and Lukather does original guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter proud.
  • “Living For The City” – This Stevie Wonder gem is transformed into a stomping rocker with a huge guitar sound, powerful organ washes & synth squiggles, and Kimball’s expressive voice is full of soul.
  • “House Of The Rising Sun” – A moody, slow, intense version of the traditional song popularized by The Animals in the ‘60s. The production may be a bit overblown but the musicianship is stellar and Kimball really shines.

Released only four years (and one studio album) after their last live album, 25th Anniversary – Live In Amsterdam (2003) is every bit as essential as its predecessor. Of the 19 songs included here, only 4 are repeated from Livefields, and there are more deep cuts featured this time. It’s heavily weighted toward their Toto - 25th Anniversary Live In Amsterdamfirst four albums (for a total of 14 tracks), but we also get to hear Kimball handle a couple of songs originally sung by Joseph Williams: “Home Of The Brave” and “Till The End,” the latter squeezed into a medley that begins with a full airing of “Waiting For Your Love” (with an incredible acoustic guitar solo by Lukather) followed by sections of “Georgy Porgy,” “Lion,” “Hydra” and “English Eyes.” I love how they stretch out some songs, such as “Africa” and “Rosanna,” into interesting directions without being over-indulgent or overstaying their welcome. There will be a couple more live albums discussed next time, but I highly recommend the two covered in this post as definitive statements of Toto in concert.

Toto Photo (circa 2002)

I will be temporarily suspending this series as I await the release of their latest studio album (and first in 9 years), Toto XIV, at the end of March 2015. This record marks the return of Joseph Williams and is being touted as the “true follow-up to Toto IV.” Comparing their new release to their best-seller from three decades ago is likely a result of record company hype, but I have high expectations that I’m sure will be met or exceeded. For my next post I’ll revisit the other studio album released since Through The Looking Glass along with two live albums and Toto XIV. Until then I will write another artist series which should begin within a couple of weeks.

If you’ve been enjoying these Toto posts and want to learn more from an insider’s perspective, I urge you to read this informative interview with Steve Lukather from October 2013, conducted by Ultimate Classic Rock:
http://ultimateclassicrock.com/steve-lukather-interview/

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24 comments on “TOTO Part 4 – Let’s Make This A Better World

  1. Heavy Metal Overload
    February 8, 2015

    Another excellent post Rich. I think I mentioned before that Caught in the Balance is one of my fave Tototunes. Inspired by your posts, I’ve been watching some live Toto footage, mostly from the era with Kimball that you cover here. His voice has astounded me every time. What a voice to have at his age! Unbelievable.

    Like

    • That’s right, I had forgotten that “Caught In The Balance” was one of your favorites. Now that I’ve spent more time with Mindfields I realize what a great song it is, but I think it was the live version from Livefields that really won me over. So glad we agree about Kimball. In addition to his age, I think he also had some addiction issues over the years, so the strength of his voice is even more impressive.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. deKE
    February 8, 2015

    Great stuff Rich. I know how excited your about the new Toto and I hope,they deliver for Ya! I can relate with VH when they released A Different Kind Of Truth with Roth there first in like 27 years or so and for me personally they delivered a top notch rock record that I totally enjoyed and still do!
    I hope Toto delivers just like VH delivered for me!

    Like

    • Thanks. I was very skeptical about A Different Kind Of Truth for various reasons…DLR’s voice, the use of 30+ year old material, the lack of Michael Anthony, the spotty nature of VH’s music for many years…but it far exceeded my expectations. I feel confident that Toto will deliver the goods in a similar fashion. I just hope they’ve written quality songs…that’s what it’s all about…and that Joseph Williams’ voice is still strong.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ianbalentine
    February 10, 2015

    Hi Rich. Another excellent post, once again forcing me to open up my wallet to test the waters with something new and intriguing, this time Mindfields, which sounds right up my prog/psychedelia alley! Hey, on a different note, I ordered the Hall and Oates box set “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” as an alternative to purchasing the individual early albums, but I don’t seem to remember reading about this in your discussions on them. Did I miss it? If not, do you have any opinions on it? Thanks, Rich, looking forward to your new series already.

    Like

    • Hi Ian. Sorry for the delay in replying. I’ve been on vacation. Hope you’re doing well. I’m glad you’ve been intrigued by some of this recent Toto material. If you end up getting Mindfields I hope it lives up to my hype.

      As for the H&O box set, I never got a copy. It was one of the few things missing from that series. I’ve read good things about it and it’s probably a great alternative to owning their discography. One of these days I’ll order it to fill in a few gaps in my collection. Thanks for reminding me about it.

      Like

  4. Daddydinorawk
    February 11, 2015

    Man, there is a lot to discover here. I have to say I’m liking this later period more than the earlier period stuff, starting with The Seventh One. Thanks for helping me with this, I never liked them to be honest but I am finding them to be a singular, uncompromising band. They will probably never be one of my favorites, but they have a varied and rich (if you will, Rich) catalog with many vital moments.

    I never, ever thought i’d say this, but I am actually looking forward to their upcoming album. I like Joe Williams voice way better than Kimball’s fwiw.

    Like

    • I’m really thrilled that you’ve found so much to enjoy in the later Toto discography. Even if they never become one of you’re favorites at least you appreciate them more than you did before. I love Kimball’s and Williams’ voices equally but I’m very excited about Williams’ return to Toto for the new album.

      Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        February 13, 2015

        Yes, in fact yesterday I was listening to Livefields on my way to work and I had an epiphany. For years I thought why is a legit Mofo like Simon Phillips doing touring with Toto? When it hit me, in fact, Toto are some legit Mofo’s. Paich write some great tunes, Luke is a bitchin’ guitar player, etc. They all play and sing. They are real. Yeah some of the material isn’t working for me, but overall I’m liking it lots.

        Like

      • That is one hell of an epiphany. There’s no doubting the level of musicianship in Toto and Phillips was a phenomenal choice to take over for Jeff Porcaro. Glad you’re enjoying Livefields. That’s a great one.

        Like

  5. Danica Piche
    February 13, 2015

    Hi Rich,
    Thanks for another excellent post! I like their blues sound in “High Price Of Hate” and didn’t know they covered such diverse territory.
    I’m already interested in their upcoming release and looking forward to the next instalment of your series.
    I’m also curious about your next artist series…:)

    Like

    • Hi Danica. Sorry for the delayed response. I was out of town in a much warmer climate for a few days and blissfully away from technology. Thanks for checking out this post. I’m glad you enjoyed “High Price Of Hate.” That was a great re-discovery for me. I’m getting very excited for their new album and returning to this series soon, probably in early April. I’m currently listening to the first album by the next artist I’ll be covering. It’s a slightly newer artist whose debut came out 20 years ago.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

      Liked by 1 person

      • Danica Piche
        February 16, 2015

        Hi Rich,

        Welcome back! I’m glad you were able to get away and enjoy some warmth and sunshine.

        It will be interesting to see what Toto releases next, especially given that they can do just about anything.

        Lovely hint! Could it be…Dave Matthews? I don’t want to spoil the surprise so don’t answer that :).

        Looking forward to it!

        Danica

        Like

      • Thanks Danica. It was great to get away and, conversely, painful to return. The temperature differential between the two locations was 100 degrees. My body is currently in shock…but I’ll survive.

        Good guess with Dave Matthews*. The next series should start by the end of the week if I can find the time to gather everything together.

        Cheers!
        Rich

        * I should clarify that your guess was incorrect, but a good one. I only own a handful of Matthews albums so he likely won’t be the subject of a series here.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Danica Piche
    February 16, 2015

    Hi Rich,

    That does sound painful! I hope you have some hot tea (or coffee, if you like it) to help you make it through the adjustment.

    Hmm…okay, my next guess is Elliott Smith.

    Danica

    Like

    • Not a coffee drinker so tea or hot chocolate are my drinks of choice this time of year. In Cancun it was beer, scotch and various tropical drinks.

      Another good guess with Elliot Smith but another miss. Believe it or not I don’t own any of his music. He just kinda slipped under my radar at the time and I’ve never gone back to hear what I missed. He has, however, been on my list of artists to check out, so I will get to him eventually. Feel free to post more guesses but I won’t say yes or no going forward since I’m likely to give it away. I like to keep some kind of mystery here. Haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Danica Piche
        February 16, 2015

        Doesn’t it make you wonder how much of your work (and rest of your life) could be set up and performed remotely from your laptop in Cancun?

        Really? None? I am surprised.

        Oh…now I’m really intrigued! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Cancun work/life thing popped into my heads many times last week. I do enjoy having changes of season so I’m not sure I could handle full-time tropical weather, but once I’m there I think it would be an easy transition.

        Yep, no Elliot Smith. We all have holes in our collections, and the fun is in discovering artists we previously missed at just the right time. I’m sure my time with his music will come soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Danica Piche
    February 16, 2015

    Maybe an nine-month three-month split is the way to go. All the beauty of the changing seasons minus the harshest part of winters.

    I’m guessing Ben Folds Five. Not a singular artist, strictly speaking, but maybe close enough….

    Like

    • Hmm, 9-month/3-month split. I will consult my lottery agent & look into that. Hehe.

      Another good guess (and I own just about all BFF and Ben Folds albums). However, “good guess” will be my only response for now.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Danica Piche
    February 16, 2015

    Or, could it be…Ron Sexsmith?

    Like

  9. Danica Piche
    February 16, 2015

    Ben Harper? Okay, I’ll try to stop now 🙂

    Like

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