TOTO is one of the longest running touring bands on the globe and it has had an off and on line-up change of former vocalists reuniting with the bands founding members Steve Lukather, David Paich and/or Steve Porcaro. Alongside vocal masters Bobby Kimball and Joseph Williams, TOTO has had several front-men handling vocal duties over their long spanning career, including Luke (Steve) himself. With Joseph Williams closing the ranks on this reunion, the band grips back to their acclaimed "Fahrenheit" and hit spitting success of "The Seventh One." With this being set, stakes are extremely high and "XIV" cannot fall short of being a miracle recorded by one of melodic rock and AOR's finest.
Let's start by saying that this new album is exactly what anyone, fans and music aficionados, do have expected it to be. "XIV" is the embodiment of the grandeur of TOTO's albums, whether they featured alumni's Kimball, Jean-Michael Byron or the late Fergie Frederiksen. But it is above all a celebrational return of Joseph Williams marking the return to the bands most fruitful period sprouting hits by the dozen. To make the everlasting TOTO sound as gripping as during their "The Seventh One" days, the band also reunited with recording partner Michael McDonald who provided the underscore in many ear mingling choirs and choruses per se. Alongside McDonald, the band also reunited with original bassist David Hungate.
"Running Out of Time" opens full-blown with the typical neo-progressive hooks and twists working towards the larger than life chorus pleated by the swirling keyboards of Mr. Paich himself. Lukather spits his riff into the airwaves establishing one of the trademark sounds of TOTO instantly. "Burn" enters with an ear mingling verse accompanied by piano towards an explosive pompous hook line on which Williams' vocal supremacy is highlighted. The semi-ballad is furthermore powered by sublime guitar drops and Paich' layers of keys and awe's and ooh's making it feel all fuzzy and warm. With "Holy Wars" Lukather steps up to spit some sublime licks to the front, driving the song forward as one of those convertible classics. Feel good vibes contrasting with the lyrical content of the song. The eclectic midsection features a jaw dropping solo by the master over progressive twists and turns. "Holy Wars" is the second song the band made available to fans paving the way for the album. "21st Century Blues" touches base with the title with a bar blues groove opening towards the slick chorus that features the typical TOTO gene. It hints the classic "Africa" era with Williams' crystal clear and warm voice drenching the song in the present. "Orphan" debuted as the band's single and made clear aside the TOTO trademark sound there was a lot more to be expected. The song features a stop and go motion with impressive drum breaks by new drummer Keith Carlock. The beat and drive of the song make Williams pushing the envelope and TOTO manages to break the boundaries of the genre. "Unknown Soldier" is as confronting lyrically as it is musically. The song has a mesmerizing and powerful resonation in the bridges and choruses, which are dense and powerful, reminiscent to Kansas' early classics. Musically there's a lot happening on the song without ever coming across forced or eclectic. It's exactly that art mastered by TOTO, which makes them so beloved.
"The Little Things" hooks onto the subtle mood change with light footed guitar and drum interaction over a vivid bass lick propelling it forward. Again Joseph's voice highlights the ear-mingling sugar coated chorus. His vocals are appealing and warm, even in this (near) whispering mode. The interaction between Lukather and Williams' vocals gives the song an excellent momentum. "Chinatown" is an utterly cool prog outburst with a seventies feeling to it. The song grooves along a jazzy hook, stokes by Paich' piano swirl and the blazing withheld power of Lukather's guitar licks. "Chinatown" keenly unites TOTO's frontline singers in close harmony stepping forward for some excellent interaction and features some of the better Paich-Williams vocal interaction in TOTO history.
"All the Tears" instantly has me stoked. Jazzy warm piano tones balance with the high tech keyboard swirl from Paich, creating a subtle tension in the warm environment by the slick guitar lick in the background. Vocally Paich challenges Williams once again and the chorus is slick and comfy revealing the band's unmatched feeling for sentiment and drama.
"Fortune" is opened by a steep cornered distinctive guitar lick directly from the band's "Hydra" (hello!) era. A seventies prog inflicted song with on-going thrive and slick vocal interaction.
"Great Expectations" perfectly sums up the feeling I had surrounding this mythical reunion. The epical, almost 7 minute spanning song features the bands key ingredients. Eclectic neo progressive hooks and breaks perfectly timed by Porcaro and Carlock, vibrant and subtle guitar twists topped off by towering keyboard pasting it all solid. Mid-section Luke fires one of his elusive solos paving the way for a dose of mathematically timed progressive complexity that melodically blooms towards the end. It's the ultimate way to end this varied new album.
TOTO managed to break the boundaries and live up to the great expectations surrounding their fourteenth studio release. The band manages to surprise without lacking the typical TOTO DNA, and step up with multi layered bedazzling song structures in the best TOTO manner. Larger than life hooks and choruses contrasting with the band's varied musical spectre, providing tension and untimely thought provoking melodies and musical twists. The band consistently keeps pushing the envelope and tests the outcome of their collaboration at an unmatched high level. Never cutting corners or any sign of laurel resting is to be found on this classic. Because that's what "XIV" is: an instant TOTO classic.
98 out of 100