March 28, 1988 12:00 PM


Toto has always had a powerhouse sound that seems to have been expanded into a kind of big-band rock. There’s a little epic sweep here: Only the Children. There’s some near heavy metal there: Stay Away. There is even, on You Got Me, a funky sort of Jacksonian touch. (That’s Michael, historians, not Andrew.) Drummer Jeff Porcaro, whose loose-wristed snap is most evident on Straight for the Heart, and flashy guitarist Steve Lukather, the band’s basic propellants, seem to have profited from a new producing collaboration with George Massenburg (Phil Collins; Earth, Wind & Fire; the Harris-Parton-Ronstadt Trio album) and Bill Payne, who is best known as Little Feat’s keyboard player. There’s so much dynamism going on, in fact, that the group’s main weaknesses are all but finessed away much of the time. One of those shortcomings is that Joseph Williams, who handles most of the lead vocals for Toto, is a nondescript pop rock singer; he never embarrasses himself, but he is never very affecting either. The lyrics of the band’s songs—mostly written by Toto members with occasional outside collaborators—are also on the undistinguished side and occasionally on the enigmatically perplexing sub-side. While A Thousand Years, for instance, is (according to the band’s publicity material) about environmental pollution, that’s hardly evident from these, the song’s most explicit lines: “A thousand years/ Lost in the blink of an eye/ If the sky keeps fallin’/ The world will come tumblin’ down.” The album nonetheless seems vigorous in execution, and Toto if nothing else has added substantially to its life list of songs that use women’s names as titles, which already included Rosanna, Carmen and Lorraine and now has been extended by this album’s Pamela, Anna and even the (presumably) South African Mushanga. By their next album, they may be down to using Myrtle and Hortense. (Columbia)

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