BOSTON: BOSTON (1976)
1) More Than A Feeling; 2) Peace Of Mind; 3) Foreplay / Long Time; 4) Rock & Roll Band; 5) Smokin'; 6) Hitch A Ride; 7) Something About You; 8) Let Me Take You Home Tonight.
«Good taste» rarely agrees with rock'n'roll when it becomes too bombastic, and even more rarely when it becomes happily, rather than tragically, bombastic. In choosing between Boston's debut record and, say, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, the latter will win unequivocally on the grounds of good taste, since, in essence, it is a deeply personal, troubled, heartfelt collection of fervent prayers, where the bombastic arrangements merely serve as catalysts, pulling the audience inside the spiritual world of the artist rather than bombarding them with thunderous awesomeness from above. The sound of Boston, in comparison, represents superficial bombast, like a carefully orchestrated shiny parade — grand, complex, and breathtaking upon first sight, but shallow and trivial in the afterthought.
In other words, the music of Boston deserves our negative response if we find too many people looking to it for spiritual guidance. But if we do not, or if we manage to close our eyes on the issue, the music of Boston deserves plenty of respect and admiration. Like anything by Queen released in those years, their self-titled album represents a certain peak in the evolution of the «symphonic rock guitar sound», and even if the moods and individual impressions generated by these songs give little ground to judge them as «progressive», the sound that Tom Scholz and his pals engineered here had not had any direct precedent in the earlier history of prog-rock.
ʽMore Than A Feelingʼ is one of the most deceptive hits in history — beginning as a rather ordinary acoustic ballad in the California singer-songwriter vein, thirty seconds into the song it sends out this double guitar blast, almost literally lightning-and-thunder, as first comes the high-pitched melodic line, and then comes the grumbly distorted power-pop riff, and «arena-rock» as a separate genre is almost singlehandedly invented in a flash, or, at least, the ultimate formula for it appears before our eyes: loud guitar riffage in major keys, grand harmonies, catchy choruses for the entire stadium to sing along to, the perfect blend of bombast and simplicity. But not too simple — the colorful blend of «thunder» and «lightning», improved by Scholz's constant experimentation with guitar tone, ensures that Boston sounded like nobody else at the time. (Brian May would be the closest analogy, and May is a much more inventive and technically endowed musician than Scholz could ever hope to be, but the self-educated Scholz still has plenty of pedal-related and mixing tricks of his own — let us not forget that he holds a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT itself. Then again, Brian May is a frickin' astrophysicist. Is it a coincidence that they both invented their own «cosmic guitar» styles?).
Anyway, there are two big deals with Boston. First, it is a record filled to the brim with catchy, unforgettable pop songs. Second, it is a record that has some of the juiciest electric guitar sounds to come out of the Seventies as a whole. If we have to take this in tandem with hokum lyrics, an annoying pseudo-operatic lead vocalist (Brad Delp), and a total lack of emotional depth, then so be it — but if we want to go further in our despisal and draw a straight line from here to Bon Jovi or the like, I would deem that formally impossible, because Boston's brand of arena-rock surmises that complex craft comes first, and bombast comes second, or, rather, that bombast should not be pushed onto the public unless it is carefully and complexly crafted. Scholz holds personal responsibility for every single note played on this album — ensuring that even the longer tracks never get boring, with all the different guitar dialogs and trialogs and quadrilogs. Boston's favorite formula consists of three parts — base acoustic rhythm, overlying low-pitched distorted electric riff, soaring high-pitched soloing — and although these three ingredients exhaust almost all of the songs (keyboards being almost always secondary), they are combined in such different ways that all these anthems continuously hold my interest.
All the big hits are on Side A, and they are probably more interesting from a hook-based point of view, but even songs like ʽRock & Roll Bandʼ and ʽSmokin'ʼ, which seem to rely on traditional rock'n'roll clichés rather than original ideas, still sound exciting because of Boston's unique sound base — without inventing a single new chord combination (I think), Scholz shows a grasp of technological trickery for which most of the glam-rockers of the early 1970s would have killed. It only falters on the last track, ʽLet Me Take You Home Tonightʼ, which is mostly a sentimental acoustic ballad and shows how trite the band really is without its electric makeup — but then, Boston is supposed to be just that, a triumphal celebration of man's victory over electricity. What would that electric jellofish spaceship on the front cover be about, otherwise?
It is also ironic that, although today it is all to convenient to think of Boston as one of the turning events in the history of «corporate rock», due to its huge commercial success, influence on mainstream rock, and annexation of a huge segment of the radio waves on classic rock stations — in reality, the entire album was recorded in Scholz's homemade basement studio, not to mention the band spending about two years running around and offering demo tapes to disinterested music industry businessmen before finally striking a deal with Epic. ʽPeace Of Mindʼ says it all about their stance — "I understand about indecision / I don't care if I get behind / People livin' in competition / All I want is to have my peace of mind". Of course, this does not mean that we should be praising the band for stark humility, but it makes sense to view the album in this particular context all the same.
All in all, a strong thumbs up here along the same lines of intuition and reasoning as in the case of ABBA or any other successful act that can be suspected of vying for «cheap mass appeal». All that is left is shed a single tear over Boston's subsequent inability not only to top this record, but even to properly «advance» in creativity — which only goes to show that one must not place one's trust exclusively in the sphere of technology. After all, technology, unlike art, is limited, and even a degree from MIT can only help you get that far in revolutionizing musical standards.