Review Summary: You learn from your mistakes.
Toto didn't need the formula to gain success: take a look at their first four albums and you'll notice yourself. You should have heard the chorus from "Hold The Line" one way or another, and you should have heard "Africa" too. Their work screams "radio-friendly" from every pore. The main problem is clear after the first time you listen to one of their older records: consistency. Take out the hits from them, and not much will be left. But now, for the fifth full length, it seems they have understood that the not-so-casual listeners want something more.
Isolation begins with "Carmen", which turns out to be a good opener. It's catchy and engaging thanks to the duet between David Paich (keys) and Fergie Frederiksen (the new singer hired after Bobby Kimball got fired), and it provides a good idea of what is about to come: the songs won't really slow down except for "Lion" (which is simply slower paced) and for the single true ballad of the album "How Does It Feel", making the entire work energetic and pleasant to listen to. Considering the high number of ballads Toto provided with some of the previous albums, having just one here feels strange. If we also consider that the song manages to be unforgettable, we find what makes this album better than all the previous ones: again, consistency.
Every song manages to get stuck in your head. If I could use only one word to describe this album, it would be "catchy". Everything, from the vocals to the instrumentation, is catchy. Speaking about the mentioned consistency, Toto keep firing one killer track after another. The first and only "letdown" arrives with "Mr. Friendly". While by no means a bad song, it's not catchy as the ones before. Don't get me wrong, this is not the reason why a song is worse than another. Simply put, "Mr. Friendly" can feel less inspired than the rest of the album because of its grower and more complex nature, but it should not be underestimated (the term "letdown" doesn't fit the song, but it should give the idea of what I mean). The two closing tracks can again count on an instant catchiness. Therefore, "Mr. Friendly" is only "penalized" by the fact that it's a little grower in an album filled with catchiness.
At this point, it may seem that Isolation is just catchiness. Sure, catchiness plays a huge role here (thanks mainly to Fergie Frederiksen's range), we are still talking about an AOR band, but the goodness of the instrumentation must not be forgotten. The bass (played by Mike Porcaro) gets the job done well, though it can get overwhelmed by the other instruments, especially in the choruses. Still, it provides a good punch to the songs. Listen to "Stranger In Town" and "Isolation" to have an idea. Speaking of the guitar work, Steve Lukather shines through the entire album and provides driving riffs ("Change Of Heart", "Carmen") and solos. Actually, the solos are often short, but have the right punch and are carried by the keys. A mention of honor goes in fact to the keyboardists: David Paich and Steve Porcaro not only help at giving an identity to each song, but often end up being the stars instead of Lukather ("Mr. Friendly", "Change of Heart" or "Endless"). Last but not least, Jeff Porcaro provides a good performance with the drumming, keeping it catchy yet aggressive without being overly minimal. Let's also mention that Frederiksen isn't the only vocalist. He not only gets backed by Lukather and Paich, but at times he even gets replaced ("How Does It Feel" is sung mainly by Lukather, for example).
There isn't much to complain about. Their lyrics are cheesy as always, but that doesn't mean they are bad. The tracks are ten, and the longest one ("Stranger In Town") lasts less than five minutes, making the lot not tiresome (just listen to "Endless") and giving it a lot of replayability. The only complaint one may have is that from Steve Lukather (called "the greatest guitarist on Earth" by Eddie Van Halen himself) one may expect more. But still, this is an AOR band and you should approach this album knowing that you are diving into something very radio-friendly.
In conclusion, we probably have the most consistent album of the band's career. It's catchy, it's energetic, it's highly replayable, it's solid, it's well played, and it provides a lot of rock anthems to sing to. Plus, it provides zero forgettable tracks. Singularly taken, the songs won't make a mathematical rating of 5, but after listening to them as an album (and after letting them grow properly) I feel that this work can really be described as a classic one.
Highlights (all tracks are recommended):
Stranger In Town
Angel Don't Cry
Change of Heart