Long-awaited albums face a double-edge critical sword. Anticipation often gives the benefit of the doubt to record that is less than spectacular, on the other hand, expectations can be raised unreasonably high and a solid effort becomes "disappointing." The inclination is to choose the latter for Boston's "Dont't Look Back."
There's more to the story than simply the new album, even though "Dont't Look Back" is a major release in a summer already filled with major releases. Boston has come to epitomize the era of instant rock'n'roll success, the quantum leap from obscurity to triple platinum that is now semi normal industry fare.
In 1976, Boston's self-titled debut album spread across the country like the swarm. "More Than aFeeling" was a custom-made hit single and Tom Scholz's supersonic guitar and Brad Delp's gut-wrenching vocal choruses propelled it to chart success. But soon the starmker machinery began to run a bit out of control.
Boston was not ready to be a monster act, yet a tour was hastily arranged and the band hit the road. The reviews ran from average to negative and the arena bookings seemed awkward and premature. While the album continued to climb, the band tried to put itself together on the job and came up just short.
Once back in the studio, Boston decided to take all the time needed to complete an album that would satisfy everyone, including millions of record buyers already hungering for new product from the overninght sensation. Under that kind of pressure, Boston nearly disappeared.
Singles were released from the first album while a stream of information - both real and inflated - leaked from the studio. Rumors fed the grist mill: the band had dumped one album's worth of stuff and were starting over again; the record company was forcing it to release something - anything - before people forgot who Boston was; the material was poor.
Amidst all this, ads appeared announcing "Boston 11," but did not lease a release date. This past April, the ads got a little more specific, (". . . coming soon"), but there was still no record. The campaign intensified in May, but by June a lot of publicity on the non-album had been deep-sixed and it looked like Boston never be heard from again.
To the delight of many rock fans,"Dont't Look Back" proves that Boston has managed to crawl out from under the weight of early success. Unfortunately, the music does not show the kind of growth you would expect from a band so intent on its own development.
On the first album, Boston established its own song formulas, and though they were derivative and basic to the point of elementary, they sounded fresh when placed in new guises. On "Dont't Look Back," Boston plays it safe and simply extends, rather than expands, the same old tricks. The group doesn't sound nearly as fresh the second time around.
Not that Boston is completely a victim of the sophomore jinx. Its cosmically-inspired, powerchord sound is still grabbing, and it is difficult to argue with a style that's responsible for selling over six million records It's just that this Boston album sound a lot like the last Boston album; in the nearly two years since its debut Boston has taken a giant steps sideways.
The title cut is technically mixed so that Tom Scholz's guitar practically obliterate the vocal and makes all of the song's lyrics fuzzy. And, despite the overall appeal of the piece, there is a striking similarity between "Dont't Look Back" and tunes from the first album.
"A Man I'll Never Be" and "Used to Bad News" are slower and more lyrical, but "The Journey" and "It's Easy" follow the same pattern and use some of the same riffs as the first album's "Foreplay /Long Time." "Feelin'Satisfied," "Party" and "Don't Be Afraid" are solid rockers that display tight ensemble playing playing, but very little imagination.
What Boston has done is improve its technically prowess and produce a deep-sounding, clean record that is practically sterile. The band has energy to burn, but lacks the inventiveness to put its talent into newer contexts.
This summer has been a rash of truly significant albums. There is a fine line separating "significant" and "eventful", but the division is critical to an understanding of the perspective from which "Don't Look Back" should be viewed.
New records by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Who, the Rolling Stones, and probably Patti Smity will influence musical trends and younger players and writers - either directly or indirectly - for many years. Releases like those of Bob Seger, Foreigner, and Linda Ronstadt are singularly important and will show up well at year-end profit meetings, but they probably won't mean nearly as much artistically in the long run.
Boston falls in the second group and is far more dependent on previously proven work than any of the others. For a band whose catalog of material consists of one other album and who then took such a long time adding to it, that's far more disappoint than if it had failed in the pursuit of new ideas.