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December 5, 2023

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Corporate America (Artemis Records)

By: Vinnie Apicella

Their first album of new material since "Walk-ing On" back in '95, their sixth overall finds the former Arena Rock innovators in a contemplative though thoroughly non-"corporate" mood. Yes folks, it seems every so often, say, six or seven cycles around the sun, the timeless flying Fender's got to touch down for a spell to greet the hesitant onlookers, leave another legacy or two, then off to the ozone for another journey in self-discovery. Interestingly enough, for as much as Boston's thought of as an "old" band of Classic Rock heroes, with the technically inventive Tom Scholz at the helm as creator, curator, and one whose written, rewritten, and basically redefined the way we listen to recorded music, we lose sight of the fact of how far advanced they were back when it began some 25 years earlier. So to even suggest a sound like theirs sounds old or dated; think of how many other bands have ever approached either their sound, or better yet, think about the difficulty in maintaining it; it's almost mind-boggling that Boston still sounds like Boston after all this time and technology! The return of original vocalist Brad Delp certainly helps in the maintenance thereof, though he's not completely replanted as the true voice behind the band. Backpedaling through a record like "Walk On" or a few of the newer "Greatest Hits" studio tracks was awfully difficult -- it's like, okay, how do we maintain the vintage sound without losing our identity and not fool the fans? Right, ease in Air Supply to sing the songs and hope for short memories! Sorry, no slant meant for Fran Cosmo, but the Delp "yelp" is as synonymous with Boston's iconography as anything's ever been -- you can't listen to the first album and then get a rise out of "I'm All Out Of Love" or something thereabout. Anyway welcome back Brad-- Boston also welcomes aboard two newcomers, female vocalist Kimberly Dahme and Anthony Cosmo, Fran's son, on guitar. And each make significant contributions to the nine new tracks -- tenth turns up as live version of "Livin' For You." So welcome back Brad, now have a seat-- actually he turns up doing lead on a few but is usually to be found lurking in the shadows of the big verse, of which they are known and where there are many. Musically, the sound is completely Bostonian, heavy on the luxurious guitar fed effects and high tech post op - dare we say "progressive", though only where a band like Boston's concerned without getting lodged in the yellow teeth of a bygone Yes era of keyboard heavy fodder and confusion. Yes Boston is still a guitar Rock band though considering the integration of new artists and the not so subtle female harmonies, advanced adulthood, and the appreciative effects of life away from limelight, the album is a less dense and lighter product of its environment -- a from the inside, from the heart-like affair that's sometimes uplifting, occasionally preachy, and unfortunately a little weak at the extremes. The album's ranking achievement arrives with an unexpected head start as's number one Progressive Rock download, "Corporate America," which was initially billed under the "guise" of Downer's Revenge, rather than the decidedly un-categoric Boston, who as we now know, is the real culprit. "Corporate America" makes perfect sense from the viewpoint of a serious-minded songwriter with the downcast glance from above, peering into the eye of a self-destructive world below, led by big wigs in black ties and blatant misappropriations. While the first two tracks, "I Had A Good Time" and "Stare Out Your Window" are undeniably Boston, catchy, a little syrupy even, "Corporate America" comes storming through with an intriguing reverb of guitar and pedals, harmonious yet dysfunctional, the calm and storm in one, stacked on vocal layering and crashing chorus over the Scholz six string blare -- an combustible combination of "Don't Look Back" revisiting and advancing on "Higher Power" for an immediate effect that's nothing less than magnetic. It proves a tough act to follow. "With You" is actually a beautifully sung Dahme piece done over acoustic guitar, which if nothing else is questionable for its positioning; "Someone" is a return to salvation with Delp never breaking stride from something like "Long Time" wailing over a "Third Stage"-style ambience that's among the catchier features; "Turn It Off" also figures prominently on the album's depth chart, again digging deep into the decades for this FX heavy return run to the land of riff rock and organ-ic enthusiasm. Of the album's ten tracks overall, and the nine new in particular, there are three or four that are terrific, so they ultimately weigh down most of the rest, decent enough songs but without the strength to jump the wake left behind by the emissive output of the others. Then there are a couple that are just out and out lazy, clocking in somewhere between Burtnick-era Styx, 38 Special, a stool, and Don Henley without drum sticks -- read: wearisome. I cannot impress enough, however, the magnitude of the "Corporate America" standout, in both sound and lyric, the most serious and maybe most intense song they've ever done to date; after 25 years, that's saying a lot -- and they do there, in word and deed. And yet can we really expect better than 50% efficiency from the rare breed of returning classic Rockers anyhow? While Boston's prime era came and went in the '70s and part of the '80s, they've done some remarkably timeless work, and sometimes they've fallen short and dated themselves. The infusion of new blood goes far to broaden the band's character and offset the unilateral expectations of the faithful few who've agonized over the appearance of the next air guitar album of otherworldly night flights; this may or may not be a good thing, but then "artistic freedom" can go a long way to revitalizing an otherwise overdrawn and formulaic way of doing things. Overall, "Corporate America" is a bold core statement and decent, if not great, "return" album -- and aren't they all once you do the division -- painted with multi-instrumental brushstrokes, a myriad of tracks and dubs, at times suffering from patchwork production and sunken shoulders.
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