Discipline Reviews: Boston - Boston (1976) [CLASSIC ALBUM]

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"I lost myself in a familiar song / I closed my eyes and I slipped away"


Artist: Boston
Released in: 1976
Genre: Hard Rock / Art Rock (in essence: Arena Rock)
Label: Epic
Producer: John Boylan, Tom Scholz
Length: 37:37
Tracks: 8
Best Track: More Than a Feeling

TRACKS: 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

Ah, the second half of the 70's sure must have been fun, weren't they? Sure, everyone was still listening to prog back then, but by the time 1978 came around, punk's influence will already have grown large enough for post-punk to become mainstream, leading to new wave, etc. It's a story I've told multiple times, but I end up discovering something new every time I have to tell it again. For instance: did you know that, instead of listening to punk, people in 1976 were listening to arena rock two years before Journey?

Boston, formed in the city of the same name (so, Philadelphia), is the brainchild of MIT graduate Tom Scholz. It was during his studies there that he started writing music ("Foreplay" is his earliest track, written in 1969) and met people who'd become members of the group, like guitarist Barry Goudreau. The presence of other members is mostly cosmetic, however; aside from the drums (mostly done by Sib Hashian) and a few parts here and there, the self-titled Boston was entirely written, performed, produced and mixed by Tom Scholz, with the help of John Boylan; according to source-less Wikipedia statements, the latter also tricked their label, Epic, into thinking the album was being recorded on the West Coast when it was actually done in Scholz' basement. Upon release, Boston was a MONSTROUS success; it sold upwards of 17 million copies in the US alone, which was unprecedented at the time for a group that just started off.

Multiple of its songs became hits too, and the most famous of them is, admittedly, the best cut on here. In the realm of 70's/80's classics, "More Than a Feeling" transcends the problem that is being overplayed: it's easily one of the greatest arena rock anthems of all time, equipped with an unforgettable chorus that's accompanied with a guitar hook so ubiquitous Kurt Cobain sometimes started off with it when playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" live. I'd already be ready to praise the song's composition and performance, but the one thing that truly stuns when you pay close attention is how great it sounds: you seriously need to listen to the way the track oscillates between the heavenly, richly produced verses and the crunchy chorus just about flawlessly.

Yes, much like Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Boston is a genre-defining record above all. While the music, on a performance and songwriting standpoint, is of arguable quality, the one general subject of praise is how it sounds, and it sounds incredible. Keep in mind that this was recorded in Tom Scholz' basement, and record companies have spent millions in the 80's to try and replicate this arena rock sound, with mostly soul-less results. That doesn't mean all the music is amazing, -- in fact, some of it is kind of dumb, but more on that later -- but I'd say Scholz managed to kick the quality of these songs as far up as they can go by improving on the production. Add to that the fact that this sound would lay the foundations for arena rock (groups like Queen and Styx already played a bit with elements of arena rock, but they never went the whole way), and Boston is worth its 25-million copies sold.

Well... maybe not. There is a very large divide in the material, and it's very clear that the album is frontloaded: the first side is occupied by all three of Boston's Top 40 hits, and they all have a reason to be so, as they make up the most inspired material on the record. "Peace of Mind" is my least favorite of these three tracks, but it's still a very solid, anthemic rocker, and it's easy to see how much the song's style would be re-used over and over again in the 80's and on. "Foreplay / Long Time" is great also; the first part being a powerful, classical-style instrumental, justifying its pompousness thanks to its face-exploding crunchiness, and the second being a fun, nostalgic mini-epic. "Long Time" indeed; the song is the longest on the album, even without "Foreplay": a good 6 minutes. Three things I like the most about it are its drive, the guitar line, and the amazing synthesizer part that's located in the background for most of the song; the latter really manages to tie the whole track together.

The sad thing is that the second side isn't as explosively creative as the first. I can hardly consider "Rock & Roll Band" a great song, due to its insanely overt (I mean, look at the name) rock and roll elements, particularly in the verses. I wouldn't think of every song that made clear use of 50's rock and roll composition off the top of my head, but those that are good are so because they use these elements in a creative fashion, and in this case, "Rock & Roll Band" ain't no "Boogie With Stu". Hell, it's not even "Rock and Roll". Speaking of Led Zeppelin, I'm not that big on the blues elements in "Smokin'" either, and I'd consider the song a lowlight if it weren't for the excellent bridge about two minutes in, which has the most striking keyboard solo on the album (actually, I think that's just the one, but that still means something).

The most original number on this second side is "Hitch a Ride", which I must admit is a fun, longing romp with a pleasant vocal hook or two in the chorus and one of those endings that try to tug at your heart string and, depending on you, it works. It does for me. "Something About You" is a rocker ballad, and it's yet again a bit prophetic when you consider everything that came after, but I can't give any more compliments aside from that. From an originality standpoint, "Let Me Take You Home Tonight" is the definite lowlight, as it sounds like a Queen ballad according to people who hate Queen, but since I'm such an emotional idiot (not really), I'm conviced regardless, even when it turns into yet another rocker at the end.

Now, here comes the climactic question: why should you get this record? When it comes to Boston, my answer is another question: why not? Yes, I did say the first half is much better than the second, and in the end, this is not even the best arena rock album that I know of, but I feel it does have something to offer as a whole. It is, after all, a fairly "revolutionary" album, and considering its popularity, you'll likely find it on the cheap, so you might as well pick it up for posterity's sake. Even without that, it's admirable for its sound, its overall nostalgic mood... I'd say it's worth putting the unoriginal material. Hell, the worst songs on here aren't bad either.


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