I've been a melodic rock fan for a long time. However, as much as I love the classic mid-eighties stuff, a lot of the later releases don't always do much for me. Back in 2005, I got bored with the genre’s predictable nature. Every week, there seemed to be small armies of bands signed to small labels who seemed to think that just because they’d heard some of the genre’s classic albums from the 80s and could reproduce that style, it’d make for a great album. Many fans seemed to lap it up, but for me, it often felt a little forced and lacking in real heart. Couple that with the average fan’s attitude of ‘our music is better than yours’ (even when most of the music churned out between 1994 and beyond is distinctly production-line stuff...), and you might understand why I distanced myself from AOR for a time.
However, even when things aren't as rosy as they used to be, there's always the odd decent album coming through. Most of the old guard can be relied upon to make an enjoyable album and Steve Lukather is no exception. There’s already a comfort barrier, as you know whenever he releases an album he’ll rarely let you down. On ‘Ever Changing Times’, he’s surrounded himself with some of the best session guys – John Pierce, Abe Laboriel Jr, Leland Sklar, Randy Goodrum… If you've ever been a fan of Westcoast style AOR, these guys will require no introduction.
The title track opens up proceedings with a riff that’s slightly heavier than the norm, but not altogether out of character for Luke. By the time the chorus comes, you know what you’re in for. It’s pretty much by-numbers melodic rock, which coming from one of the best, is precisely what you’d want from this album. Fans of Toto’s slightly edgier ‘Kingdom Of Desire’ tracks will enjoy this a great deal, as well as a couple of tracks further on. It’s topped off with a faultless guitar solo. ‘Without Letting Go’ is softer; Luke is at the top of his game on a song which for all the world sounds like it was written with Toto in mind - a soft ballad, soulful but not quite syrupy. ‘Never Ending Night’ falls into the same category and highlights Lukather’s great vocal style. ‘Jammin’ With Jesus’ leans towards the harder, slightly bluesier sound explored on Lukather’s ‘Candyman’ album, but here, it’s probably the closest the album gets to filler. Some of the guitar work is notable as usual, but the (I assume) tongue-in-cheek lyrics are a little grating.
‘I Am’, again is soft, but nowhere near as effective as ‘Without Letting Go’. There’s a part of me which feels Lukather is on auto-pilot here. There’s something about this track which sounds like Toto’s ‘I’ll Be Over You’, but with the notes played in the wrong order. An absolutely beautiful, soaring guitar solo hits the mark though. At first, the jazzy intro of ‘How Many Zeros’ lead the listener into thinking it may be another ‘Dave’s Gone Skiing’ workout (still one of my favourite moments from Toto’s ‘Tambu’), but it soon settles into another piece of guitar-led AOR, complete with well placed, big backing vocals. It’s definitely another stand-out. ‘New World’ is at once both tough edged and melodic. There’s not the usual smoothness here, but there’s something unmistakably Toto about it, until the chorus when things speed up just a touch, but just enough to make the song not quite work – it’s probably the only skipper here; from eleven songs, that’s not so bad.
At the time of making this album, Lukather says his son has helped him stay youthful and up to date musically, but unsurprisingly, most of this album sounds exactly how you’re expecting. One track may surprise, though: ‘Tell Me What You Want From Me’ comes with a few sharper edges. Luke claims that “if you blindfolded rock critics, they wouldn’t tell who the artist was”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, as Luke has a very distinctive sound and most of the track sounds like Steve Lukather of old. The only difference is a really heavy and – dare I say – unnecessary guitar riff which kicks in occasionally. It spoils the track for me and sounds like a man trying to prove a point which doesn’t need proving. Most people know Luke can play in pretty much every style. Sadly, as is often the case with old-school musicians, their fan base will enjoy new material but it’s a struggle to win new fans – and even if he is trying to win new fans, I’m not convinced that trying something uncharacteristic is the way to go…Definitely one of the weaker tracks, alongside ‘New World’. ‘Stab In The Back’ has a jazzy groove which is an obvious tribute to Steely Dan, whom Lukather played alongside when he was young. Great stuff.
‘Ever Changing Times’ is a decent enough album. It showcases most of the different styles Luke is capable of. Even if not as good as his ‘Candyman’ masterpiece from the mid-90s, it’s a welcome addition to his back catalogue - an album from a man whom in ever changing times (mostly) knows what works for him and has pretty much stayed the same.