By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
(WRITER’S NOTE: Welcome to the fifth year of The Cassette Chronicles. Thanks for continuing to read the articles in this series. Just a reminder that for the first six months of 2021, The Cassette Chronicles will be on a twice monthly schedule instead of the usual weekly one.)
TOTO – ISOLATION (1984)
In the interest of full disclosure, the only reason I bought the Isolation album oh so many years ago was on the basis of the lead single “Stranger In Town”. The song became a Top 30 hit but the problem with that is that two years after the Toto IV album, both the band and record label had far greater expectations for the song and album as a whole.
The song has a really catchy pop single feel to it and a lively guitar track as well. And since I was 13 years old at the time, the lyric containing the phrase “son of a bitch” was kind of forbidden fruit for some reason. No, I make no claims to being a great thinker at the time!
What I do remember about the album from when I originally listened to it is that I didn’t really care for the rest of the album. It was all about “Stranger In Town” for me and none of the other songs registered with me like that one did. I can’t even say if I’ve ever listened to the album in the decades since it was originally put out. So as I started listening to the album for this piece, I was surprised to find the first side rather entertaining. Funny how time and growing as a music fan alters opinions, eh?
The first four tracks, including “Stranger In Town” are fast paced rocking type songs. While the side ending “How Does It Feel” is more of a ballad and was released as a single, it didn’t make a dent in the charts. As for the songs “Carmen”, “Lion” and “Angel Don’t Cry”, each track might’ve lacked the pop chart bonafides, but they turned out to be perfect “album tracks”. Strong vocals combined with flashy guitar work and amplified keyboards made for a propulsive musical soundtrack.
The album featured three different people tackling the lead vocals. Fergie Frederiksen was the newest member of the lineup after the firing of singer Bobby Kimball (though Kimball is credited with providing “additional backing vocals” in the liner notes). Frederiksen sang lead on seven of Isolation’s tracks. Guitarist Steve Lukather was the lead on “How Does It Feel” and keyboardist David Paich sang lead on the “Stranger In Town” and “Holyanna” songs. He also sang co-lead vocals on the album opening “Carmen”.
The album’s second side started off with with “Endless”. This song was apparently the band’s choice for the first single but they got overruled by the record label. Still, it’s not a bad song and did eventually get released as a single in the UK in 1985.
The album’s title track is a bit more restrained in tempo at the start but the pace soon picks up. And it does pack in a strong guitar sound with a brief but effective solo too. “Mr. Friendly” was a vibrant little number that comes off to me as one of the stronger overall tracks on the album.
I really got into “Change of Heart”, which is driven by David Paich’s keyboards and the song has an uptempo and epic feel to it. I was also captivated by “Holyanna” which has not only a great musical sound but an interesting story in the lyrics as well.
As I said, when this album was first released, I bought it but found myself essentially uninterested in any of the songs other than “Stranger In Town”. But now that I’ve listened to this as a far better formed music fan, I can see that there was quite a few tracks that I should’ve enjoyed the last three plus decades or so. I didn’t know anything of the behind the scenes upheaval that seems to have affected the creation of the music at the time but whatever the reasons for the relative failure of the album’s commercial fortunes may be, I think Toto fans might just have to give Isolation a new evaluation. They just might find themselves as surprised as I was to see just what they may have missed the first time around.
NOTES OF INTEREST: While the Isolation album did eventually achieve gold status in the US, the prevailing school of thought was that the album was a commercial failure. Compounding matters further was the financially disastrous tour in support of the album. Rock Candy Records released a remastered edition of the album in 2015. It’s one of seven remasters the label has done with the band’s back catalog.
Besides the Isolation album, Toto was working on the soundtrack for the movie Dune. That album was also released in 1984. The first attempt at the cover art for Isolation was designed by the movie’s director David Lynch, but it wasn’t used.
The video for “Stranger In Town” featured actor Brad Dourif, who has had a lengthy career in TV and film. Some of his best known work includes One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Dune and Blue Velvet. He also played “Grima Wormtongue” in the Lord of the Rings film series. He also provided the voice of the murderous doll in the Chucky (a.k.a. Child’s Play) horror films. His TV work includes guest stints on Star Trek: Voyager, Babylon 5 and a co-starring role on Deadwood.