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EXPLORER SUITE

New England

Crossover Prog


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Andy Webb
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP
Admin / Heavy Prog Team
1 stars An average AOR album, a decrepit prog album.

New England was an obscure American AOR band who was discovered by KISS' producer. The band released their debut self titled album in 1979, and this album, The Explorer Suite, the next year. The band has two obvious influences: KISS and Queen. The sugar coated and pop covered production of the album makes for great radio hits, but makes for scratchy ears for any prog fan. It is far fetched to call the band Crossover Prog in general, and this album accentuates any negating argument to the band's progressiveness. Each track would be great for 80's radio, and many were, but each track lacks any progression or relatively any actual creativity in the songwriting at all.

The album opens with Honey Money, a related to prog related pop hit. Although the melodies are eternally catchy, and the cheesy synthstrings and Hammond chords add a slightly interesting dynamic, the song boils down to the same thing: a painfully simple pop song. Although I'm pulling the stereotypical prog purist card, I can't help it; there is very little good to be found in this song or the rest of them.

Livin' in the Eighties is almost identical to the previous track, with different riffs. More belonging on a KISS album than anything else, the song is fantastic for radio play, but lacks anything that I would call true "creativity." Although the instrumental section displays a glimpse of hope with an interesting synth solo, the song still reeks of AOR pop.

Conversation abandons any hope for the progression of the band. The lyrics are a giant ball of cheese, and the instrumental work is so simplistic an elementary band could have recorded it. Overall, the song follows pretty much the same formula as every other song on the album, and displays absolutely nothing special for the album.

It's Never Too Late has a glimpse of hope in the intro, with an interesting instrumental display, before it abruptly ends and breaks into another pop song. The only redeeming quality is the reprise of the introductory theme, which is painfully short each time.

Explorer Suite is one of two of the only songs I find almost enjoyable on the album. Reaching the mind blowing length of 6 minutes (gasp), the song is the one of the reasons I listened to the album more than twice. Deriving the influence more from Yes than KISS, the song has some interesting qualities to say the least. Although is not what I would call Prog, it is the closest the band has come so far. The chorus is still painfully poppish, but the verses and instrumental section do proffer a more proggish output.

Seal It With a Kiss is painful for me to listen to. Although the other song do have some proggish tendencies, this song throws in the towel and goes all out 80s pop. For those who don't know, 80s pop is not what I would call "good," or remotely enjoyable, as is this song is. As the title infers, the lyrics are painfully cheesy, and the entire song is just a musical fluke.

Hey You're On The Run is just like the previous track, following the same formula, with only slightly less pure pop feel. Overall a pretty bad track.

No Place To Go has a nice intro, but again follows a similar formula as almost every other track on the album an breaks eventually into a more ballad-like pop track.

Searchin', just like the previous track, follows that same interesting intro-pop verse-pop chorus-pop verse-almost interesting bridge-pop chorus-outro formula as almost every other song on the album, making this not special in any way.

Hope is my second tolerable track, but just barely. Again a 6 minuter, the track has the heaviest KISS/Queen fusion sound on the album, with some boring but different riffing and an actual guitar solo and not just a crappy little diddy lasting half a second. The synth solo also has some interesting qualities, and overall the song has a more tangible output to contribute to the album.

You'll Be Born Again is a forgettable piano outro, with some mellow melodies and some simple but nice playing. Overall, it's a fine outro, with nothing really special going for it.

ALBUM OVERALL: Prog? That's funny. Pop? Well obviously. The Explorer Suite presents very little material that I find listenable, and even less content that I find tolerable. The album is filled with sugary pop hits aimed at success on AOR radio stations, and the album did have some decent success. The melodies are catchy, the instrumental work is simple, and overall the album is just a very average album, even by pop standards, and by prog standards, well, it's just bad. 1 star.

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Send comments to Andy Webb (BETA) | Report this review (#423336)
Posted Saturday, March 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
progpositivity
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars If there is an AOR-archives website somewhere, this band should certainly be one of their darlings. After all, Kiss guitarist-songwriter-vocalist Paul Stanley "discovered" the band and even produced their eponymous debut. After denting the top 40 with the anthemic rocker "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya'", New England branched out to include more art-rock and pop-rock on their sophomore effort "Explorer Suite". They hired Todd Rundgren to impeccably produce their third album "Walking Wild", a (now dated) collection of songs on the forefront of the move to integrate the cutting edge of New Wave influences into the world of AOR pop rock.

In their proggressive-(ish) moments, they combined the art rock leanings of early 1970's ELO and Styx with the catchy rock hooks of Cheap Trick - briefly tagging it all with inspired keyboard solos some of which would not have been at all out of place on a genuine prog album. Most of the time, they walked a fine line between hard rock, arena rock, pop rock, and pomp rock. Think of a unique mix of Europe's "The Final Countdown" with ELO's "Discovery".

One curiosity to me is how their lead vocalist and songwriter John Fannon (from Boston USA) adopted the affectation of a British accent! Like a USA teenager reciting lines from their favorite Monty Python film or skit, one gets the feeling that Fannon so loved the music of the British invation that he adopted their vowel pronunciations as his own. For some reason I'm still oddly amused at how well he flew under the radar doing this "fake British accent" with such a straight face, semi-successfully selling records along the way!

The highlights of this record are "Explorer Suite" and "Hope". The former alternates between mellotron rich prog-lite passages and catchy pop rock choruses. The latter opens with an expressive acoustic guitar passage before settling into an earnestly pensive groove. Both allow ample time for guitar and keyboard solos to transcend normal pop limitations. "Honey Money" and "Livin' in the Eighties" are well crafted rock radio friendly up- tempo tunes with art-rock around the edges. (Think The Cars, Toto, Boston or Loverboy)

Certainly one of the less progressive items you will find here in ProgArchives. But if you like any of the 70's or 80's output of the bands mentioned in this review, New England may turn out to be a semi-obscure AOR band worthy of "exploration"...

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Send comments to progpositivity (BETA) | Report this review (#496337)
Posted Wednesday, August 03, 2011 | Review Permalink

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