The incredible perfectionism that went into Boston’s self-titled debut album back in 1976 amazed the ears of the general rock and pop fan base as well as most music critics everywhere.
The writing was top quality and the playing was note perfect; but it was the engineering and recording that were so well done they effectively reset the standard for sonic mastery in the music industry. And don’t forget: in its time, that was the fastest-selling debut album ever. It seemed that Tom Scholz and company had right out of the gate earned a place for themselves in rock history and could probably make a career out of releasing the occasional album with its obligatory tour.
As it turned out, for Boston the term “occasional album” meant years and even decades between releases. Oddly enough, during those intervals, listeners and pundits alike discovered it was the three elements of writing, performing and recording combined that made that first Boston project come to life like it did. But as time went on, the song writing quality dropped; then, most of the band disappeared (leaving Scholz and singer Brad Delp effectively the sound and voice of Boston); and finally, the recording process got so big and overblown it got in the way of performance so totally and completely that besides Scholz, it could have been anyone playing (and singing, too: Delp quit for a while as well). It was easy to think maybe the whole operation had been taken over by robots, or even some kind of zombie life form — the kind that have a vague memory of their humanity, but still don’t qualify for a driver’s license or social insurance.
So it should come as no surprise that Boston’s new release sounds very much like one of the great air guitars that grace their album covers has been commandeered by robotic space zombies, much like the Borg from Star Trek: the Next Generation. Seriously: Are the Borg part mechanical devices and part living beings? Do they harvest and recycle parts to make new Borg? Is it sometimes hard to tell if a Borg is acting like a zombified human or a robot? Yes to all — and yes to Life, Love and Hope.
Yes, it sounds like it’s played by humans, but a lot of the instruments and general effects sound like they would only reproducible mechanically in a sound laboratory. As well, Brad Delp makes a couple of appearances — well, his voice does, anyway — and though it’s easy to realize he recorded those vocals before his untimely death, it still feels a little weird. As for harvesting parts: Two songs from their last release (in 2002) are remade here with different arrangements. And it should be mentioned it almost feels like one could sing “More Than a Feeling” along with it here and there.
Finally, there are places where the drums sound like a poorly programmed machine, or perhaps a real drummer playing an electronic drum kit with no ability to reproduce the drummer’s accenting and dynamics. Listen for the ride cymbals and hi-hats — sometimes they’re just so … perfect. Robotically perfect, really.
So, aside from the really strong opening track “Heaven On Earth,” most of this album seems to miss the winning combination of writing, playing, and producing that graced Boston’s perfect first recording. In fact, it feels more like that old fast food advert from the ’80s: “Parts is parts.”
That would have been a more appropriate title, perhaps. Better yet — well, recently, there’s been a number of mashup books being published where authors simply rewrite a classic piece of literature and then add a supernatural element to the title. (Pride and Prejudice … and Zombies, or, Little Women … and Werewolves, to name a couple of examples.) Knowingly or not, this time Dr. Tom seems to have taken the place of Dr. Victor von Frankenstein trying to create life, only to discover that sometimes the combination of Man and Machine turns out to be nothing more than a case of The Shuffling Undead versus Robots Gone Wild — or, to dress it up as a classic: Life, Love and Hope … and Zombies.
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