Columbia Records, 1978
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/01/1998
So what does it take to get me motivated to review a certain group on "The Daily Vault"? Sometimes, all it takes is just asking me to do so.
I've had albums from the pop-rock group Toto sitting in the Pierce Archives (8-tracks? We don't need no stinkin' 8-tracks), but as often as I've thought about reviewing some of them, I've just never gotten around to them. Thanks to a suggestion by reader John Marshall III, who reminded me that 1998 is the 20th anniversary of Toto's self-titled debut, I finally dug through the Archives and found my copy of the record.
They were admired by their fans for their catchy riffs, and reviled by critics for their super-polished sound. Taking some of the better aspects of acts like Steely Dan, Kansas and Boz Scaggs, Toto knew how to write tracks that caught the ear of the listener and didn't let go, but while their debut album features many like this, it did show a few weak links in the chain.
Toto is best remembered for the hit "Hold The Line," a song that I still can remember hearing when it came out. The drumming of Jeff Porcaro, the keyboard work of David Paich, screaming guitar from Steve Lukather and smooth vocals from Bobby Kimball, Toto earned their nomination for the Best New Artist Grammy award on the power of this one song. (Even 20 years after it came out, "Hold The Line" is still, for lack of a better term, a kick-ass track.)
What might surprise first-time listeners is that Kimball is not the sole lead vocalist. Paich, keyboardist Steve Porcaro, and Lukather all take their turns on the microphone. Lukather's vocals are often on the soft side, but are pleasing, while Paich does a better job when he doesn't try to accent his vocals (as he does on "Manuela Run" - it's rather annoying).
Toto also occasionally mimics the sound of groups they've influenced (or been members of) to the point that you wish they'd come up with a different sound. Sure, "Georgy Porgy" is a decent track, but it's so close to the sound of Steely Dan's light jazz that you might swear you're listening to Steely Dan. (Members of Toto have also been members of the often-revolving collective of musicians that made up Steely Dan, so it's not like they're stealing the sound blind.)
For all of this, one wonders why other songs off of Toto didn't become hits. Tracks like "Rockmaker" and "You Are The Flower" are incredibly pleasing, while other songs like "Girl Goodbye" and "Angela," besides being a little saccharine-sweet, are also decent efforts.
For such a collective of musicians, Toto do know how to put together a solid pop song and make the groove capture the ear of the listener, something hundreds of bands would kill to have the power to do. The polish of the band doesn't bother me, but sometimes I found myself wishing they would choose a style - rock, light jazz, ballads, instumentals - and stick with it.
Toto is still a very pleasing album to listen to, especially because the greatest-hits compilation doesn't tell the whole story of this album. It's occasionally trying to listen to, but more often than not will leave you smiling.