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Pop Weekend : Boston Recycles . . . Madonna Seduces . . . Fans Succumb : The Music At The Forum: Boring Bombast

July 20, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

The best thing about Boston, which will be seen by an estimated 70,000 fans during its current Southern California swing, is that the band takes eight years to make an album. That means we may not have to see all this attention wasted on a group of such minimal consequence again until 1995.

Think about it: The heart of the Beatles' career--from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" all the way through "Let It Be"--was only six years. No wonder Boston fans lined up for tickets to these shows: There could be two presidential elections by time the quintet returns.

The time between albums wouldn't be so ludicrous if the group's latest album, "Third Stage," represented some kind of breathtaking breakthrough. Instead, it merely recycles the pretty but vacant pop-rock that Boston introduced a decade ago. The joke around town is that "Third Stage" is the "reissue" of the year.

I don't know who it was that once described Boston as a cross between Led Zeppelin and Yes, but it must have been a press agent.

This quintet, which played before an adoring and enthusiastic crowd Saturday night at the Forum, offers neither the primitive, pyrotechnic assault of Zeppelin, nor the surehanded instrumental ambition of Yes.

Boston's massive 1976 hit, the wistful and romantic "More Than a Feeling," was a classic exercise in the hard-edged, but forcefully melodic type of escapist music that a large segment of the pop-rock audience finds irresistible.

Rather than expand the approach over the years, band leader Tom Scholz continues to rely on it, usually reflecting the most mundane aspects of two other bands associated with a similar style: the Moody Blues and Electric Light Orchestra.

The recipe is clear: densely layered guitars that add a sense of majesty to the proceedings, shrill, exaggerated vocals (by Brad Delp) that deliver punctuation and urgency, and a harsh drum sound that provides dramatic tension. Scholz's songs--mostly modest statements about reaching for personal and/or romantic fulfillment--aren't much to begin with, but any trace of intimacy is lost in hopelessly overblown arrangements.

At least, Scholz sets an unpretentious tone as he stands on stage in simply a Boston Red Sox cap, T-shirt and gym shorts (the latter may be a comfort concession to the knee brace on his left leg). In the few times he is alone on stage under a single spotlight and playing the guitar with a simple, unhurried and unexaggerated grace, there is even a sense of artistry about him.

Guitarist-keyboardist Scholz is the sole architect of the group's music, and you can picture him in his studio in Boston, creating the music that he ultimately puts on record. But the solo spot is over quickly on stage, and Scholz is again joined by the rest of the band, causing the hint of musical character to be smothered beneath the relentlessly overblown and recycled bombast.

It makes you wonder what might have happened if Scholz had met another musician with a greater sense of artistic discipline and command--someone who could have challenged and complemented his talents, which are considerable, but one-dimensional. With that ally, Scholz may have been someone for whom eight years away from the marketplace would have been cause for regret, not comfort. The Boston tour, also featuring Farrenheit, continues with shows tonight and Tuesday at the Forum and Wednesday at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

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