From afar, a very small bell rang when I read the name DeCarlo. I thought I must have read the name in some review, article or interview somewhere but I couldn’t figure out from where. It was first when I read the press-release for DeCarlo’s debut album that I found out that lead singer Tommy DeCarlo is the lead singer in Boston – and has been so since 2007. I admit, I’m not the world’s biggest Boston fan, but it’s hard to look past the fact that the band’s 1976 debut album is nothing short of a true Rock classic. I quite like the two follow-ups as well and the fact that the band has sported numerous of great hits is indisputable. But when it comes to Boston, I’m not that well-informed and that’s probably why I really wasn’t aware of DeCarlo being the Boston singer. I did however reviewed Boston’s latest effort Life, Love & Hope (2013), but that was seven years ago plus it did include several other singers and I didn’t like the album at all, so I had probably just forgotten about it.
But since Boston isn’t exactly the most active band in the world, Tommy DeCarlo has decided to go out on a trip of his own under his surname, and he brought with him his son, Tommy DeCarlo Jr on guitars, Brent Nelson on bass, Dan Hitz on drums and Peyton Velligan on keyboards and guitars. Since Tommy Sr cites Boston leader Tom Scholz as his biggest musical influence ever, it’s not hard to – without judging the book by its cover – figure out in which style this album comes, something that is stated when the press-release tells us this album is for fans of bands like Boston, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner and Survivor. So if you think AOR blows dog, there’s no point in reading further.
Released as an official audio a couple of months ago, “A Better Day” opens the album in both an expected and unexpected way. It’s a very smooth and slick number, closer to Pop or West-coast than actual AOR and very FM-friendly. That much was expected but there’s also a flavour of Country added which is the unexpected part. That it’s released as a taster is a no-brainer as the tune is filled with hooks and an almost annoyingly catchy refrain but it’s a bit too sweet for my taste. Not bad, though. If the opener was a sticky song, it’s nothing compared to the Boston-smelling soft-rocker “You Are The Fire”. What we get here is Pop and AOR in a blender, very clean and silky. It’s also upbeat and straight forward with a massive chorus that leaves the listener helpless to its catchiness. It’s on the verge of a sugar-rush but I can’t resist this – very good. Must be a single at some point.
It’s ballad time when “Give Love A Try” comes around. Soft, mellow and laid-back but with a darker outlook and a rhythm that actually brings on some grooviness. The melody arrangement is gorgeous, the chorus is over the top and the held-back guitar solo is bloody fantastic. A bit saccharine, yes, but still a good song. An atmospheric, keyboard based intermission called “Into The Storm” takes us into the leading single and title-track which brings a more riff-happy and heavier kind of AOR. It’s slower in pace but holds both a quite punchy groove and a big soundscape with a big, direct and catchy refrain. Of course, this is the single – it should be. Very good. “Still In Love” is a big, slick and smooth power-ballad, something its title tattled of. The tune is beautifully arranged and the chorus sticks right away. But it’s too syrupy for me, very much in the vein of late 80’s/early 90’s AOR.
The band takes a different turn when “Rock N’ Soul” shows up. A straight-forward rocker, the tune brings on some edgy and crunchy guitars, Classic Rock style. The big groove says hallo to both a raunchy saxophone and an organ to give the tune more edge. This proves that DeCarlo is also capable to rock for real – a much needed break from the slick fluffiness that preceded it. A great rumbler! They continue on the upbeat route with the straight ahead pre-album taster “There She Goes”, a smooth AOR-rocker that contains lots of Pop and a feel-good vibe. It’s a catchy number and it’s ok but passes by a bit unnoticed – a bit too standard. Still very much an AOR track, the uptempo “Stand Up (Play Ball)” brings on a grittier feel, more focus on the guitars and is rhythmically chunky. The guitar melodies hold a clear Boston influence and the song brings on an in-your-face outlook which in turn increases the live-feel. The chorus is infectious enough as well so for me, this is a winner.
Another slick AOR ballad in “The One” joins in and even though the Alias resemblance sounds like a good thing, the tune is so sweet and sugary you run the risk at catching diabetes. The refrain is annoyingly sticky, impossible to get ride of when it has stuck. I don’t hate the song but it’s way too cheesy for me – a skipper. “Gotta Go” starts with rough guitars but when this uptempo straight-forward AOR-rocker gets going, a mountain of synthesizers joins in, smoothes things up and takes all the edge off the track. That said, it’s a well-written tune, full of hooks and a huge chorus so I put my thumb up for it. Closing track “I Think I Fell In Love With You” is a guitar-driven yet smooth AOR-number with a slight Boston vibe all over it. On a pop-groove and in a mid tempo, the song is full of memorable melodies, both verses and chorus and is catchy yet a bit sugary but nevertheless a good enough track.
It’s really hard to write anything negative about this record per se because everything on it is very competent – and there’s no doubt that the band has recorded a record they love. Tommy DeCarlo is a magnificent vocalist, the rest of the band is made of musicians of the highest quality and the album is very well produced with a crystal clear sound plus the are some really, really good songs on it. But I really can’t get into it to the full. Firstly, there are a couple of fillers too many and secondly, it’s way, way too safe and streamlined. I wrote well produced and that’s partly the issue here – it’s too well-produced. It’s slick, clean, glossy, polished and perfect to the point of being sterile. There’s no edge. No power. And that’s where they lose me. That said, I do think the album is too good for a beating – AOR hardcores will probably adore this record – but the high score is a few steps away from ’round the corner.
1. A Better Day
2. You Are The Fire
3. Give Love A Try
4. Into The Storm
5. Lightning Strikes Twice
6. Still In Love
7. Rock N’ Soul
8. There She Goes
9. Stand Up (Play Ball)
10. The One
11. Gotta Go
12. I Think I Fell In Love With You