Review Summary: Third time, third shape. A cult classic among fans that today deserves more recognition."That was our f- you record. We didn't want to listen to anybody; we wanted to be a rock and roll band. The label kept putting out the ballads, you know? They put out ‘99’ instead of ‘White Sister’ [...] we were thought of as a pop band."
- Steve Lukather
The quote above speaks for itself, especially considering that about four decades later Toto is still a misunderstood band. Back then, after the release of Hydra
, they wanted to prove to the world that they were more than a singles band, and thus teamed with producer Geoff Workman to record Turn Back
, a robust slice of arena rock enriched by their personal "academic" touch. It was Toto's third fatigue, and again it had a different sound. It brought a consistently harder edge, instantly felt in their classic song "Goodbye Elenore" and its iconic drumming performance. The line-up however was the same, the classic sextet with double keyboardists.
From the get-go Turn Back
sounds fresh and optimistic, with only the stomping title track featuring grim (and oddly fantasy themed) lyrics. The album could be described as guitar-driven, considering the amount of simple but at times really huge sounding riffs balanced by flaming soloing and improv-like touches. However that would be a disservice towards the band and the lavish sound they created. The trademark melting pot of genres this time is much more disguised, hidden behind the arena rock veil, but to define this album as just that would be distasteful.
In that regard, the essential piece of the album is "English Eyes". In its 6 minutes the song goes through different stages, alternating between infectious verses dominated by commanding Queen-like vocals and switching (rather unpredictably) to subdued instrumental passages filled with "hidden" melodies that will pop up listen after listen. There's even the time for a brief symphony-tinged break, before starting again with the aforementioned transitions that will then build to a final guitar solo. "English Eyes" fully embodies the nature of Turn Back
: an eclectic pop rock album that is played just too well to be restricted to that label. Be it a progressive or jazzy nuance, there's a lot that's worthy of attention.
The production also deserves to be discussed, because it brings a lot of character. It's a very masterful craft: the music sounds quite bombastic, especially due to the big sound of the drums, but everything is crystal clear and dynamic, it's an excellent sounding album. Speaking of the musicians, there's so much to praise that it would read just boring. Everyone is exemplary in maturity of execution, resulting in a very colorful collection of songs that flow together well and quickly in 37 minutes. This time, there are only two lead voices. The songwriting is focused on accessibility but entertaining twists are more than enough to keep the attention high, to the point where one could consider "If It's the Last Night" to be the album's only "boring ballad", and even then the song features a cool vaguely latin backdrop.
When all is said and done, Turn Back
may be seen as just another cheesy AOR slice. Point is, it's a mighty creative and well executed cheesy AOR slice. It doesn't blow minds, but it rocks and it has character, considerably more energetic than a good dose of comparable bands - just check the opening song "Gift with a Golden Gun". Sometimes that's all you need, especially when it's spiced up with external influences implemented this smoothly. Unfortunately, it didn't sell as much as the record company wanted. So it came the ultimatum "give us a hit record or you are dropped", and the (in?)famous Toto IV
eventually saw the light.