Toto: Toto XIV

They’re back with more of the same, 14th time round.

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Toto invariably exemplify professionalism, and XIV maintains the tradition. Harmonies are tight, production slick and Running Out Of Time’s energetic opening anticipates a developing melodic structure comfortingly reminiscent of their earlier work.

It’s similarly gratifying to hear Joe Williams, the singer most identified with the band through their various incarnations, back on vocals. So far, so predictable. However, the mellow 21st Century Blues adds a jazzier edge that sweeps through its chorus, it could almost be an outtake from Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, with its smooth harmonic interjections, slick synth and unadulterated funk.

Just as 1986’s Fahrenheit had I’ll Be Over You, XIV has The Little Things – a perfectly positioned, engagingly melodic, relaxing ballad to effortlessly delight the AOR mainstream. Chinatown is the track that smacks most of the band’s 80s work – with vocals switching between Lukather and Williams, with prominent piano interludes and the unmistakable Toto harmonies, it’s a lost track from The Seventh One.

The album concludes with Great Expectations, a surprising number that somehow combines folk with distorted AOR, it should sound wrong, but somehow sounds right. Probably because it’s executed by several top quality session musicians. No problem there.

Toto have always showcased world class drumming (Jeff Porcaro, Simon Phillips) and in Keith Carlock they’ve secured the services of yet another well-seasoned session veteran. Despite a style less distinctive than that of Porcaro, Carlock brings the groove to XIV, particularly on Holy War and Orphan (not surprising considering a percussive CV that includes Diana Ross, Steely Dan and Paula Abdul), and is a more than adequate addition to the proud pantheon of Toto drummers.

Lukather remains at the forefront of most of the tracks; producing an intrinsic infusion of distorted charm over the faultless combination of blues and rock, his playing is just as recognisable as always. The pillars of Toto lie in Paich and Porcaro. As long serving Toto members and providing backing vocals and synth sound which has given the band their instantly recognisable sound, the two keyboard gurus tie the band’s new album together.

However, it’s the distinctive vocals and production sheen of XIV that ultimately serves to reinforce the impression that Toto remains a by-word for quality, musicianship and pizazz./o:p