The first thing that jumps out about Tambu is the rather original design of the CD sleeve, giving off the appearance of a classic dime store pulp novel. But it's not just the design of the CD sleeve that makes the album pop. This album marks Toto's first studio effort following the death of founding member and drummer Jeff Porcaro.
Perhaps what is most admirable about Jeff's "replacement" is that Toto didn't try to replace Jeff. They chose the well-established, Simon Phillips, a drummer with a style and sound all his own and struck out in a new musical direction.
Listening to 1992's Kingdom of Desire and Tambu back to back one can scarcely believe these two albums are products of the same band, so disparate are they in style, tone, production, and overall sound. Where Kingdom of Desire was hard driving, gritty, and raw hard rock Tambu is a more polished and melancholy affair. It's a band saying goodbye and seeking closure after the death of Porcaro-- a closure they needed to find before being able to continue in a different musical direction.
Toto has never been known for their lyrics, where in the past their lyrics were light fluff, Tambu is probably the band's strongest album to date (at least in the lyrical sense). There's an emotional honesty to the lyrics that many of their previous albums were lacking-- the lyrics often getting sacrificed at the expense of the band's musicianship and composition-- an afterthought. But this time around the lyrics weave seamlessly with David Paich's piano chops, Simon Phillips soothing beats and rhythms, and Steve Lukather's gravelly voice which had become a mainstay on the previous album.
There's a recurring theme of time-- time lost, time running out, time that's passed, and trying to hold on to time throughout the album. And while many of the songs come across as romantic love songs, that romantic love is merely a metaphor for the love this band felt for Jeff Porcaro. There's also a natural progression to the songs as you hear the band dealing with crushing grief and a desire to move on with their lives and careers. The album does end on the very promising The Road Goes On which has become a staple of Toto's live shows in recent years:
"Now I see it all through different eyes
Where I'm going, where I've gone
All I know-- I'm still surprised
That the road goes on and on"
While this isn't Toto's best it is certainly one of their better albums, it shows a band in transition, in flux, and generally maturing and is certainly worth a listen.