New England

Explorer Suite

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This sophomore effort by the Boston-based group New England -- produced by Mike Stone, who also worked with Queen, Journey, and Asia -- is a very large-sounding work by a band that deserved to be as popular as Stone's other clients. "Honey Money" is certainly not ABBA; the song's subject is the almighty dollar and its impact on musicians, and the ethereal vocals wrap themselves around a theme that could be delivered to a girlfriend as well as a fellow rocker. "Livin' in the Eighties" has a hard-hitting melody and keyboards that fall somewhere between Gary Wright and Brian Eno. "Conversation" has Nick Lowe-style guitars (much like "Cruel to Be Kind") -- a nice change from the incessant bombast Stone and bandleader John Fannon splash on these tunes. It emerges as one of the best tracks on this release. "It's Never Too Late" has a great pop hook, but "Explorer Suite" is the big production number, the "We Will Rock You" showpiece that New England and this album are remembered for. "Seal It With a Kiss" is rife with thick keyboards, backing vocals, and '80s guitar. A renegade "Secret Agent Man" for the '80s, the tune "Hey You're on the Run" sounds like Triumvirat meeting the band Boston by way of the Sweet. "No Place to Go" is as elegant a ballad as Yes or Queen could devise, but with more of an edge.

New England has that cosmic edge, making the group truly an "underground" darling among arena rock bands, and having a group with this much talent performing at regional clubs was a treat. Bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist/backing vocalist Jimmy Waldo would eventually join Alcatrazz after the breakup of New England, while Fannon and drummer Hirsh Gardner got into record production. They all remained personalities on the Boston music scene. Managed by Bill Aucoin (who handled Kiss) and with major producers and a great sound, it's amazing that the band didn't sell millions of records. Like another regional band, Riser (produced by Jack Richardson), New England might have just been in the wrong part of the country for this style of music. Had the band become a bit more avant-garde à la Eno, New England might have found the larger audience that Stone helped U2 garner and that this band sought so passionately. And perhaps this album is too much of a good thing. Where a Beatles album has ebb and flow, New England hits you with all its artillery. New England's three major label releases, with bonus tracks, are being sold on the internet (, as is a fourth CD of early material. A reunion album is planned; perhaps on this release the group will find the balance so necessary to finally achieving success.

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