By Jay Cocks
On the second pass Tom Scholz's crew still flies high
Enough of this overnight sensation business. Or course, no one had heard of Boston before their first album came out two years ago. Not even heavy corporate types around the record company who got interested when this virtually unadvertised debut by an unknown group sold its first million albums. Interest grew keener when Boston doubled those sales, then doubled them again.
Nearly 6.5 million copies have now been sold. The success of Boston was so left field--as abrupt, decisive and cleaving as one of Leader Tom Scholz's guitar breaks--that the group came to be treated as if it had been freshly cloned for stardom. When Boston went back into the studio to make their second album, much hope was raised, but many doubts lingered. The new album, out a little more than a month, could settle the score. Don't Look Back shot to the upper regions of the charts; the album's title track, released as a. single, is staking out heady territory in the Top Ten.
Boston does not make the kind of music that moves writers to darken the page with excerpted lyrics that snake through the columns like trenches. Scholz himself admits, "I never thought I was too good with lyrics," and the results of his struggles are at best serviceable (And it gets harder every day for me, To hide behind this dream you see, A man I'll never be"). It's the music that is, well it not wholly memorable, at least for the moment unique.
A typical tune will start with a strong melodic hook--sometimes tough, sometimes close to lilting-- then build in volume and intensity, the instruments laying under and layering on one another until the song shatters around your ears like a sheet of glass falling off a fast-moving truck. This is heavy-metal music with easy-listening inflections, rock fierce enough for the FM stations, flighty enough to fit right into Top 40 AM radio.
"I guess the sound is three things," says Scholz. "Power guitars, the harmony vocals and the double-guitar Leads." He was heavily influenced by "raunchy stuff like Cream and Led Zeppelin." He first heard a dual-guitar harmony on an old Zep cut, How Many More Times, and expanded the Boston sound from there. But Scholz slips his music through so many acoustical refinements that the result is one part raw energy, another part applied science. "I was really annoyed about the first album," Scholz told TIME's Jeff Melvoin. My primary love of the sounds of rock 'n' roll-- guitars didn't come through the way I wanted." So this time out Scholz, who has an M.S. in mechanical engineering from M.I.T. and six years working at Polaroid behind him, started asking questions. 'Engineers would tell me, "This mike sounds good on a snare drum," and I'd ask why. They'd say, "I don't know. It just sounds good." Scholz bought some analyzing equipment and started studying Boston's sound and changing the frequency dispersion of the instruments.
The music is too raucous to be antiseptic, even if Scholz does sometimes talk like the star pupil on Mr. Wizard. The other members of the group, Vocalist Brad Delp, Guitarist Barry Goudreau, Drummer Sib Hashian, Bass Player Fran Sheehan, are all suburban kids from the Boston area who played the local bar band circuit. Scholz, who comes from Toledo, began his recording career with some elementary equipment in the basement of his Boston apartment. He stuck sandbags in the windows to protect the neighbors from acoustic aftershock, drafted Delp as vocalist and enlisted Goudreau for second guitar, then rolled the tapes. The resultant demos were repeatedly rejected even as he continued to scan his VU meters and twist the dials on his sound board.
When Epic Records finally accepted a demo tape, Scholz. had been playing an exclusive engagement in his own basement for some two years. He corralled pals Hashian and Sheehan, hastily formed Boston and thrust them all into snug celebrity. "We get the best of both worlds," says Delp. "We're not that recognized offstage so we can pretty much live our own lives."
Scholz is currently at some pains to shake off any air of the laboratory that might undercut Boston's music, even inserting a sort of consumer advisory on the inside cover of Don't Look Back: "No Synthesizers Used. No Computers Used." The band now travels between concerts in a four-engine Viscount, but their live show's still bear as much resemblance to the scruffy bar bands they sprang from as to the intricately wired megagroup they have become. Crowds, however, respond to each song with the heat of partisans and the heady spirits of inveterate partyers. "It's not like the old hippie days, though" Scholz Says. "when you had to be into drugs to be into music. The group's not into hard drugs either. Compared to the heavymetal groups I know about, we're completely clean. Hope that doesn't lose us too many hard-drug users."