Review Summary: Not Boston's best, but certainly not bad either.
In a genre like arena rock, it was very common for bands to become corporate sellouts and make unambitious records just to go platinum. Look at the halfhearted nature of what Genesis did back in the 80's; it must have been a gutsy move to switch from progressive rock heroism to stadium chanting in a matter of a few years, but it happened nonetheless. Predictably, the old fanbase felt totally betrayed by this move, similarly to what occurred when Yes pulled out 90125 back in 1983. So with the influx of changes, it was nice to see (well, hear) a band like Boston stay consistent with what they were doing. They always seemed fit for that fun, breezy summer atmosphere with classic rock staples such "More Than a Feeling," "Don't Look Back," and so forth... y'know, despite how damn long these songs took to make!
You see, the band's guitarist and songwriter Tom Scholz was a perfectionist; he wanted every track crafted meticulously, never to have even one error in terms of production quality or composition. This essentially led to Boston records being delayed for years upon years; hell, Third Stage actually took eight years to ever see the light of day. Unfortunately, the band's songwriting quality was declining by this point, Scholz music starting to yield many retreads of old ballads and hard rock tunes the band was known for. With all that said, you might be thinking 1994's Walk On would be the absolute bottom of the barrel, especially considering the fact that the legendary Brad Delp has been replaced by a different vocalist. Well, it's not THAT bad... sure, Walk On doesn't live up to the standards set by the band's debut, or even Don't Look Back, but it's a solid slice of classic rock all the same. Vocalist Fran Cosmo does a commendable job at attempting to fill in the hole caused by Delp's absence, and the music, while not always engaging, is performed well and still catches glimpses of that old classic Boston sound everyone knew and loved back in the 70's and 80's.
The album reveals quite quickly to listeners that it's a mix of typical bland retreads and a few new tricks added in. Sure, there are the obligatory ballads such as the string-laden prom-style song "Livin' For You" or cheesy opening number "I Need Your Love," but the heavier songs and entertaining blues jams add some much-needed variety to the experience. The real meat of the record comes in the middle section, with songs like the title track, its revisit, and "Get Organ-ized" leading the pack. They essentially form the climax of the album, and the payoff is pretty great. "Walk On" is a phenomenal rock tune with a groove that could fit it neatly between some of the greatest adrenaline-filled 80's rock/metal recordings. Beginning with a standard (but quite fast, mind you) E Major riff, the drums and high-energy vocal work are really what propel the three-minute rush over the top. The drums create a high-speed swing while Cosmo's vocal performance is akin to that of a musical number in a professional stage production or jukebox film; it's just so emotive and energetic that you might forget Brad Delp wasn't even singing on this thing.
"Get Organ-ized," however, represents a different side of the band: those aforementioned blues jams. Rarely does a mainstream rock group just delve into a random musical tangent, but it actually fits perfectly here. The title track segues into the jam, giving Scholz the ability to show off his keyboard skills (hence, "Organ-ized") in a similar fashion to the long solo segment in "Smokin'" from the band's debut. Later on, there's a guitar/keyboard duel, followed by a dramatically slower and more... well... dramatic section. The soloing becomes more exaggerated and the drum work develops a keener sense of dynamics, building to the reprise of the title track. These songs are so solid that it's sad to see them on one of Boston's lesser-regarded albums and not something like Don't Look Back. Other songs like early-album rocker "Surrender to Me" can capture a good deal of this high-octane energy as well, but the aforementioned trilogy towers over the rest of the album, plain and simple.
The rest of the songs are standard fare, mainly in the form of generic ballads. These ballads are very hit-or-miss, ranging from great ("Livin' For You" may be cheesy, but is very heartfelt. The strings are a nice touch) to downright awful ("We Can Make It" is an extremely plodding, tepid ending to the album). While the vocals are emotive, many of the lyrics are enough to make you want to circumcise yourself with an axe. They get so downright cheesy and awful that the listener has no choice but to cringe at times. That said, there are enough little nuances and instrumental quirks to keep the songs interesting, and they aren't as bad as, say, REO Speedwagon's work.
Despite the many flaws this album possesses, though, certain things still make it slightly above average. Between great vocal work, solid instrumentation, and a fantastic middle-section, the group were still able to make some great material past their prime. Walk On certainly won't be winning any awards anytime soon, but it's a fun classic rock record if you don't take it too seriously going in.