4.5 out of 5 Stars!
Back in the late ’70s while working at a record store, one of the most memorable “PROMO” albums that arrived was the self-titled debut by an act called New England. I distinctly recall hearing it for the first time…it was a long, dreary night with no customers, due to a torrential rainstorm. My co-worker and I, bored out of our skulls and unpacking shipments, tugged this album from the box, saw the lightning-decorated cover art, and decided that on such a stormy evening it would be highly appropriate to crank it up on the store’s sound system. We actually didn’t realize how appropriate until after hearing the lyrics to “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.”
Anyway, just as Side A faded out, then after lifting our jaws from the floor, we simultaneously sprinted to the turntable. I wanted to flip the platter to Side B since I couldn’t wait to hear more, while my co-worker begged to repeat the first five tracks, especially that “catchy song about losing someone during a storm.” She eventually won the argument only since I wanted to once again absorb all the layered vocals and lush keyboard instrumentation (never had I heard an album outside of Prog-Rock that actually featured the Mellotron so liberally). Well, I got to hear Side B soon enough, fell in love myself with the song “Nothing To Fear,” and she and I ended up repeating those five songs before replaying the album in its entirety. And before we realized it, the “quitting hour” had arrived and the thunderstorm outside had also miraculously vanished.
Needless to say, over the course of the following week, she and I “promoed” this album as often as possible and we both purchased it when our next paychecks arrived (with our employee discount, of course). And since those days, I have savored the album more often than I can count and have never grown tired of it. From the rockier tunes such as “P.U.N.K. (Puny Undernourished Kid)” and “Shoot,” to the aforementioned AOR masterpieces “Nothing To Fear” and “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” to the Poppy, Art-Rockish, and Pomp-tastic “Hello, Hello, Hello,” “Turn out the Light,” “Encore,” “Shall I Run Away,” and (another favorite) “The Last Show,” the musicians had created a grand and majestic style all their own.
Although the band hailed from the Boston area, that musical style, however, did seem so damned British, almost as if the groups 10cc and Mott The Hoople had joined forces with Queen and Badfinger, then added perhaps Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz to play Mellotron. Indeed, when he’s not adding full power chords or blazing solos, guitarist/vocalist John Fannon sings with almost a British accent at times, and on piano-featured tracks such as “Turn out the Light,” and the highly theatrical “The Last Show” and “Encore,” Fannon’s voice could almost pass for Ian Hunter’s (only somehow tamed) while various musical passages and chord patterns often remind me of material from Mott the Hoople’s final days, only mixed with those other groups I mentioned…and the abundant Mellotron. And speaking of which, when it came to New England, no one ever had to ask the question “Where’s Waldo?” since keyboardist Jimmy Waldo was always front and center, adding his symphonic flourishes to create some of the most extravagant Pomp Rock on the planet. Meanwhile, bassist Gary Shea and drummer/vocalist Hirsh Gardner set a high standard, their rhythms always tight, punchy, and easily fluid while they shift from one tempo to the next. And adding to the magnificence of it all, Kiss’s Paul Stanley produced the collection along with Mike Stone (of Queen/Journey fame), who also engineered the project.
But after such an impressive release, the question remained—could New England follow it up successfully? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “yes,” with 1980’s Explorer Suite easily matching the same catchy high quality, although with (sorry to say) less Mellotron overall. Oh, well, you can’t have everything, right? Anyway, after releasing a third album in 1981, the group sadly disbanded for reasons unknown to me. I did, however, happily find myself in a situation some years later when one of my own bands opened several shows for Alcatrazz, a group that included both Waldo and Shea, and I got to hang out one evening with these “idols” of mine, so had New England not broken up, that evening certainly would have never happened. (Yes, I know, I’m selfish.)
But one final and happy note: it’s a thrill to know that New England is once again together and touring, so I’m praying for the guys to release new material in the near future. I will never forget that stormy-night-turned-special at the record store when I discovered the band, so New England remains special to me for that reason alone and I can never get enough from this wildly talented team of musicians. So come on, boys, you can do it…you’ve got “noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, nothing to fear.”