Unrivaled with the top-selling debut album in U.S. history, and with songs part of the very fabric of a generation, Boston’s got a lot to live up to: welcome to the band’s predicament in 2013. Led by sole original member in guitarist/founder Tom Scholz, Boston takes a leap of faith with “Life, Love & Hope,” their sixth studio album. Exactly how the listener perceives this offering requires splitting camps into either comparing Boston to itself or simply kicking back and enjoying the ride.
First off, “More Than a Feeling Part 2” is nowhere to be found on this album. There are glimmers of that famously soaring chord progression throughout, though, most notably on “Heaven on Earth.” The songs are voiced by a variety of different singers, including original Boston vocalist Brad Delp, who sadly committed suicide in 2007. There are similarities in the pipes of guys like Tommy DeCarlo and David Victor, but none reach the heights of Delp’s legendary wind on 1976’s “Peace of Mind” or even 1986’s No. 1 single “Amanda.”
The revolving vocalists are puzzling, yet the songwriting is solid, if perhaps a tad stagnant – but that’s the damned if you do, damned if you don’t angle of a band of this stature. The lushly synthed “Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love” embodies this issue, as the specter of Delp’s voice and compression-laced power chording of by-now “one-man band” Scholz lays a sweetly familiar AOR zen. How stunning, then, it is to hear “If You Were in Love” sung by Kimberly Dahme (a female-fronted Boston?) with classical piano interludes and thinly programmed drum machines: different, yes, but is it close to jumping the shark?
Elsewhere, “Someday,” a slice of power pop straight out of Badfinger’s playbook and sung by Scholz, may lose longtime loyalists, but should gain points with those sympathetic to Scholz’s forward-thinking embrace – the soul is still Boston, even if the superficial skin has undergone extensive makeovers.
While there’s no danger here of rivaling an iconic sound that defined a decade, “Life, Love & Hope” proves there’s more than enough inspiration to keep the mothership in the air indefinitely.
Boston ‘Life, Love & Hope’ Rating: W W W V