It aroused horror among critics worldwide when it won the Grammy for album of the year, but Toto IV stands up well as an album of jazz inflected pop/rock, demonstrating the difference between being a critic’s favourite (the group peddle vapid love songs) and being a muso’s favourite (the group’s playing is fluid and sophisticated). Formed by a bunch of studio musicians who figured they’d played on so many hit songs that they’d be capable of creating their own, Toto surfaced with their 1977 breakthrough hit ‘Hold The Line’ before languishing in obscurity until this record broke them into the big time. Toto followed up IV with a soundtrack for Dune and a subsequent nosedive back into obscurity.
Yet Toto IV holds up well, and even the double synthesiser attack is mostly restrained and tasteful. Book-ended by the ubiquitous ‘Rosanna’, a lovelorn plea to actress Rosanna Arquette, and the even more ubiquitous ‘Africa’ with nonsensical lyrics, and the middle is mostly filled by competent pop songs that could have been hits if necessary. ‘I Won’t Hold You Back’ is delivered well by guitarist Steve Lukather, whose more vulnerable tones contrast well with Bobby Kimball’s manly bravado. The group also ride funky grooves like ‘Make Believe’, ‘Good For You’ and ‘Waiting For Your Love’, all with memorable choruses and inventive chord sequences. Toto IV only ever loses momentum with the ‘It’s A Feeling’, which turns into a mushy synth-fest, and ‘We Made It’ which dispenses with the melodies that make the rest of the album so great.
Toto IV is soulless and meaningless, but it sure sounds great while it’s on.