The Canadian rock band Toronto never gained mainstream success here in America. Overshadowed by fellow arena-rocking Canadians Loverboy, Toronto’s straight ahead melodic arena rock gained them considerable success north of the border. But label trouble forced the band to call it a day in 1985.
Lead singer Holly Woods went into the studio and recorded these tracks, which were never released. Now after 22 years in a warehouse, they are finally seeing the light of day, and just in time. With bands like The New Pornographers now considering them a big influence, Toronto’s reputation has gone through a resurgence of late.
Lead singer Holly Woods had a commanding voice, drawing the inevitable comparisons to Heart’s Anne Wilson. The irony in that is Toronto originally wrote the song “What About Love” but never released it, instead offering it up to the Wilson sisters. On the radio-friendly track “Only for This Moment” you can catch glimpses of Woods’ passion and power. Anchored by a simple keyboard line, the song also features that most ubiquitous, and not always desired, sound of the 80s, the snare drum that sounds like it was recorded in an airplane hangar-big, booming, and annoying.
Those occasional touches remind you that this is a mid 80's album. It sounds dated at times, because it is. But listening objectively you could see how some of these songs (especially the aforementioned “Moment”) could have become radio hits had this album been released back then. It has to be somewhat bittersweet for Woods knowing that this could have been a big breakthrough for her.
The title track “Live It Up” cribs the main keyboard riff from Don Henley’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance,” but keeps things simpler- it’s a toe-tapper every bit as good as “Footloose.” “Only When We Change” is hampered by too much cliché – big drums, overreaching guitar solo, simple lyrics. “Win” has Holly channeling Cher for a catchy mid-tempo rocker, complete with Christopher Walken’s favorite instrument…cowbell. “Where Are We Now” is the obligatory power ballad.
Part of Toronto’s appeal is that you can listen to a few of the songs now and at the same time laugh at the 80’s production, but also admire the songs themselves. Good tunes transcend bad production, mostly. Wood’s Live It Up! certainly falls into that category. This is not a classic album, nor does every song gel. But there’s no pretense of this being anything else but a straight ahead rocker with enough nostalgia to make every Gen-Xer smile, and for that, it delivers.