Band's leader airs social concerns on long-awaited fifth studio album
By Mark Pratt
The Associated Press
Longtime fans of the rock band Boston will find some of what they are looking for on Corporate America, the band's fifth studio album.
They'll also find a few departures.
"Before, I was constrained by what a Boston listener wanted to hear on a Boston CD," said Tom Scholz, songwriter, musician and driving force behind the band that first rose to prominence in the 1970s. "But my musical tastes are far wider than has ever appeared on a Boston album. I tried to make a new album that was identifiable as Boston, but wasn't '70s rock."
There are some tracks, featuring Mr. Scholz's soaring guitar work and Brad Delp's tenor vocals, that unmistakably have the band's signature heavy mellow sound from the 1970s.
But the new album features a female vocalist, Mr. Scholz himself sharing lead vocals on one track, and a song inspired by Mr. Scholz's social conscience. All are firsts for Boston.
Another first was releasing the album's title track on the Internet before the CD hit retail stores in early November. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 42 and has sold about 60,000 copies. It's still No. 7 on Billboard's Independent Album chart.
The song, a scathing condemnation of large corporations that put profit and power ahead of people and the planet, was released under the band name Downer's Revenge and went to No. 1 on the MP3.com progressive rock charts.
The goal was to get the song out to college students. "I consider them the hope for the future when it comes to important social change," said Mr. Scholz, a vegetarian who has long been an advocate of such causes as animal rights, environmentalism and fighting child and domestic abuse. "I am trying to reach people who need to get stirred up."
Mr. Scholz had never before let his social conscience come through in his music.
"I tried it before, but was never successful at it," he said.
The effort took a new approach to songwriting. Mr. Scholz usually writes the music first, then comes up with lyrics that match the mood of the song. On Corporate America, the lyrics came first.
The lyrics, including the lines "The reckless ride of modern man/Just took the corner way too fast/Flattened everything that stands," were written before the Enron and WorldCom scandals and had nothing to do with Mr. Scholz's own legal battles with large corporations, including his decade long fight with his former record company, Epic, that was not resolved until 1990.
"My problems were a flea bite compared to what corporations have been doing for decades - pollution, high cancer rates, cutting down rainforests, global warming, species extinctions, holes in the ozone."
Corporate America," 4 1/2 years in the making, was released about eight years after the band's fourth album.
That's about on pace for Boston, whose self-titled album released in 1976 was for a decade the biggest-selling debut album ever. But after Don't Look Back, the 1978 follow-up, Boston has released a new studio album every eight years.
That was partially due to Mr. Scholz's protracted legal battles with Epic, but it is also partially due to his reputation as a perfectionist.
The truth, he said, is that he prefers to tackle every job from every possible angle.
"I get into the studio and I just have so many ideas," said Mr. Scholz, 55, an MIT-educated engineer who still lives in suburban Boston.
"I'll have complete versions of songs, and I'll listen to them later and say `No.' So I'll start it all over again. It's painful, but it's the only way I can do it."
One of the delays on Corporate America was the belated inclusion of Kimberly Dahme, who wrote one song and sings lead vocals on two.
Mr. Scholz had wanted a female singer for years, but had never found anyone with just the right voice. He saw Ms. Dahme perform in a Boston club one night and knew she had just the voice he had been looking for. "It was just dumb luck that we found her," he said.
Mr. Scholz shares the lead vocal duties with Mr. Delp on the opening track, "I Had a Good Time." He was inspired in part, he said, by the singers in the alternative rock bands that emerged in the early 1990s.
"Technically, they may not be the best singers, but they sing with more emotion, more sincerity," he said. Mr. Delp is the only other member of the original lineup on the new album, which also features Ms. Dahme, the father-son singing, songwriting, musician team of Fran and Anthony Cosmo, and Gary Pihl.
Meanwhile, Mr. Scholz, a 6-foot-5 former basketball enthusiast, will spend more time on his latest passion: ice skating. He took up the sport about five years ago and is still trying to perfect his jump. "I still haven't made a clean landing."
But he'll keep working at it, even if it takes another eight years.