Monday, 10 February 2014

Boston "Life, Love & Hope" Review: "Heaven On Earth? Couldn't We Talk About It..."

...Jesus christ, what a train-wreck.

OK, let me be fair before I give this the flaming I'm going to give it: this is not the worst album I've ever heard. Indeed, if this was a debut album by a band who had nobody with any history in it, I'd have said that it was a passable album that indicated the band would have a great future if they restricted themselves to one vocalist (or got all of them to work together to deliver the vocals a la Amaranthe), got much better production values, focused on writing stronger hooks for their music and focused a bit more on finding their sound. The problems start mounting up when you consider this is the band who released one of the highest selling debut albums of all time and took eleven years to release this album. And that's really the problem: after eleven years, the worst possible thing Boston could have done is release a passable album. And that's really what this is: passable. It's not so bad that you could theoretically get some entertainment value by hearing just how bad it is, but it falls very far short of what you'd have expected when you consider those factors.

OK, now I've been fair, I'm going to tear this apart. I really don't want to do this, as I love Boston's debut album and I wanted this to be an improvement after Corporate America (which I do have a physical copy of). But what Boston have presented is simply unacceptable for a band of their stature and I think that tearing this apart is the best way to explain what the band need to do if they want to recover from the hole they are in now. Assuming they are capable of ever doing that...

First of all, I'm going to have to mention the artwork. I know it's not part of the actual album and doesn't have any bearing on the quality of the material itself, but seriously, Frontiers Records think this is acceptable artwork? This isn't the worst artwork I've ever seen, but it's not exactly the thing that sets up high expectations, is it?
This is brighter than the actual artwork on the album.
Moving to the album itself, you come to the second issue: the production. It's been done by Tom Scholz (who has at least co-produced all of their albums: their debut was co-produced alongside John Boylan and Corporate America was co-produced by Gary Pihl, Fran Cosmo and Anthony Cosmo), so you'd expect it to sound amazing, right? It doesn't. While I will give credit for the fact this isn't overly compressed, as is a popular trend in metal and rock music today, this has no punch to it. Some metal fans complain that metal sounds neutered due to modern (read: clean) production, but I think this might be more deserving of that complaint. As much as I don't want to drag Nickelback into this, I'm going to say that their albums, while arguably overproduced and too loudly produced, at least have some punch to them, which can help you want to rock out to them. This doesn't have that. Heck, Van Canto (an A Cappella power metal band...with an actual drummer) have more punch than this album does! That's not the worst of it: it's also been mixed fairly poorly. The guitars can be heard through everything, which is fine when it's not dominating everything else, but a huge problem when it is. Judging from my tone, you can probably guess which of the two it is. The vocals can be tough to make out at points, the bass can be about as audible as your typical metal bassist is on metal albums and the drums (which are electronic) are generally in need of a bit more punch to them. I've heard some people say that they've heard better demos than this album and...well, they're not too far from the truth. With the ability today to record demos to a high quality sound standard, you have no excuse these days to record something that sounds like this. At this point, I think saying Tom Scholz is a perfectionist is something that should be doubted, as a perfectionist wouldn't release something that sounds like this. They'd release something that sounds...well, perfect!

But, bad production and bad artwork do not necessarily mean the album is going to be bad: there may well be a hidden gem hidden under those layers that merely tarnish the beauty of the gem, not destroy it. Is there? Well...yes and no. There are some enjoyable songs on here, but none of them really reach the heights that you'd expect after an eleven years wait. There isn't anything on the level of "Peace Of Mind" on here. However, there are some songs on here that I see going down well in a live setting and which are at least worth a listen.

On the enjoyable (or, at least, positive) side, we have album opener "Heaven On Earth". While it does lack any real punch, it is also the ONLY song which has David Victor on it, and the guy does a fairly good job. Sadly, when you know that this song was originally going to have Michael Sweet of Stryper on vocals before he left, it does leave a whole lot of speculations open on what could have been, as I think Sweet would have done an amazing job on this song. I also find "If You Were In Love" fairly enjoyable, as Kimberley Dahme (who is apparently no longer in Boston now, although it's not very clear how true this is) manages to make this song a fairly enjoyable listen, although I will admit that it doesn't extend to any real heights. "Someday" has Tommy DeCarlo trading vocals with Tom Scholz (who, surprisingly, spends a large amount of this album doing vocals and, unsurprisingly, doesn't really stand out that much) and has a nice chorus. The closer of the standard edition of the album, "The Way You Look Tonight", doesn't really stand out, but I can't help enjoying the chorus. Go Tommy! I also like the remake of "You Gave Up On Love" (oh yeah, did I mention that three songs on this album were originally released on Corporate America?), although I'll admit that I liked the original version anyway, so that's not saying too much. So, that's five songs on the album that I'd say are at least worth a listen. But what about the others? Oh boy...

The second track is "Didn't Mean To Fall In Love". Some of you will be going "Wasn't that on Corporate America?" Yes, it was. And this is just a remastered version of the original track. No changes to the song whatsoever. I wasn't too fond of it the first time around, so, unsurprisingly, this struck me as only being included to pad out the album, and I don't care if Scholz says it was done to give it a second chance! If someone wanted to hear the song, they could find it on the internet. "Last Day Of School" has a few cool moments, but you can't exactly say it's a great instrumental. Luckily, it's only two minutes long, so it passes you by very quickly. Next up is "Sail Away". Dear Lord, "Sail Away". If you think Megadeth today are far too politically charged, this song will have you appreciate that Dave at least can back it with some solid music and can have some subtlety. This song, however, is dead in the water from a musical front and a political front (it was about Hurricane Katrina, FROM 2005! Bit late to put this out, guys!). Kimberley does her best with the bridges (which get eerily close to a poor attempt at rapping) and Brad doesn't do too badly on the verses and chorus, but this song should have remained unreleased just to how weak a track it is. Save yourself a lot of anger and don't bother with this song. Anyway, next up is the title track. And, I'll be honest, this one does have a good chorus. The problem is that the rest of the song is just so unmemorable that you'll never remember which song has the chorus until you stumble across it. Seriously, I've listened to this song multiple times and I can barely remember anything outside of the chorus! Moving past the next two tracks, as I've already discussed them in the positive section, we get to "Love Got Away", which has Tom Scholz on lead vocals. While he isn't completely bad, it's fair to say that there's a reason he didn't take up lead vocals for Boston in the first place, as he's not a strong vocalist by any measure. Credit for trying, but I'd recommend he stick to backing vocals in the future if he wants to continue Boston. The rest of the song is generally pretty dull, so you're not missing much if you don't hear it. Next up is "Someone". Apparently, this is a rerecorded and rearranged version, but I don't remember the original very well, so I can't tell how much reworking it got. Either way, it's got a passable chorus, but nothing really that great to it. Skip it. The next track is the rerecorded and rearranged version of "You Gave Up On Love". I know I've praised this as a highlight, but I still have to put it into the bad section, as it's still a pointless addition to the album.

So, let's recap the tracklist. In order of the tracklist and, with my thoughts attached to refresh your memory, the album goes like this:
  1. Heaven On Earth (Passable: could have been better if Michael Sweet had still sung it)
  2. Didn't Mean To Fall In Love (Pointless addition to the album and a poor song)
  3. Last Day of School (Has it's moments, but not a great instrumental overall)
  4. Sail Away (BURN! *cough* Sorry, I hate this track...)
  5. Life Love & Hope (Decent chorus, but nothing else is memorable about it)
  6. If You Were In Love (Passable)
  7. Someday (Good chorus and enjoyable verses)
  8. Love Got Away (Skippable)
  9. Someone (2.0) (Passable chorus, but not worth wasting your time on)
  10. You Gave Up On Love (2.0) (Pointless addition to the album, but an enjoyable listen)
  11. The Way You Look Tonight (Nothing special, but I love the chorus)
Not a great album, is it? Well, these are my thought when I ignore how long it took for the album to be released. At that point, those five songs I enjoy might as well become zero, as they simply don't justify waiting for eleven years to hear them. Then you factor in the legacy of the band and, well, you'd be forgiven for being very angry with this album. Then you remember that three of the songs were on the previous album, which basically cuts the amount of original material down to about 29 minutes, and that those are not the worst tracks on the album and, well, it all piles up to make this album almost pointless to everyone who is familiar with Boston and too weak to justify purchasing if you aren't familiar with the band. And then you remember how poor the production is and...then this album flat out becomes bad. In it's own right, it's passable, but there's nobody it can appeal to when you consider all of those factors.

Also, I have to comment on the number of vocalists singing on this album. I don't mind guest appearances by vocalists and some of my favourite metal albums had a lot of vocalists appearing on them (granted, those are rock operas), but I don't think having six (technically: Delp's dead, so it's five, but he's still on here, so I'm counting him) full time vocalists in the band is a good idea, as it makes it hard to feel like this is the efforts of a band. If you're not doing a rock opera or anything where the vocalists are not part of the band (for example, a guitar wizard doing a solo album), you do not need more than three lead vocalists singing as part of a band (and I'd only accept the third if they're doing something like death growls or the like, a la Amaranthe). Thankfully, this can be easily fixed: Scholz and Victor can stick to backing vocals. If Dahme isn't part of the band any more (it's not entirely clear at the minute), then I wouldn't object to only Scholz sticking with backing vocals, as he doesn't have a strong enough voice to sing lead for the band.

This album is just a trainwreck. It's not on the level of St Anger, as there are some tracks which are worth listening to, but there's nobody this album can appeal to and be successful. I recommend saving your money instead of picking up this album and spending it on something more worthwhile. If you're a Boston fan, then I recommend hunting down some AOR that you've not picked up yet (because there's bound to be something you've not heard) and enjoying that, while those who aren't Boston fans might want to pick up Boston's debut and second album instead of this. If you look on the internet, you could probably get the two of them for less than this and both albums will give you much more enjoyment than this album will. I don't think this is ever going to become a cult classic in the future that was much maligned because of how long it took to come out because the songs just don't stand up to the level a cult classic album would require. Basically, this is an album that nobody is going to remember even a few years into the future, except to be mentioned in reviews of the next Boston album if it comes out as a poor album that indicated Boston were in trouble (if people weren't already saying that after Corporate America).

I'm going to split up my final rating, as I think I need to give it different ratings depending on who is reading this review. For Boston fans, you've waited eleven years and basically been given a turd for all your long years of waiting. For non-Boston fans who just want to pick up this album and don't have any expectations, then this is an average album that will maybe last a few weeks before gathering dust in your shelf. Give it a listen on the internet first and see if you think it's worth picking it up. When it finally wears out, go pick up Boston's debut. You can thank me later...

Final rating (Boston fans): 2 out of 10
Final rating (non-Boston fans): 5 out of 10

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