JOURNEY – Trial By Fire (1996, Japanese import with bonus track)
The classic Journey lineup (Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain, and Steve Smith) were back however briefly in 1996 with this triumphant reunion album. I remember in the store in 1996, nobody was buying it. How sad. This is among the very best Journey albums. In fact with Steve Perry’s voice showing a little more weathering and character, and the band having a more mature sound, I think it is the best.
It’s a mellow journey, very much suited to Perry’s incredible pipes. The opening track, “Message of Love” storms across the speakers with Perry singing as powerfully as ever with Schon’s patented guitar melodies behind him. Cain tinkles at the ivories at precisely the right moments, while Smith demonstrates the timing and style that makes him a top jazz fusion drummer today.
And that’s just the first song! The slower but equally powerful “One More” follows, and then we’re onto the first signature Perry ballad. “When You Love A Woman” was the single, but to me it’s filler. Much better is the ballad that follows it, “If He Should Break Your Heart”.
“Don’t Be Down On Me Baby” demonstrates Perry’s soul roots. Whether on the ballads or the rockers, Perry nails every song perfect. If anybody else was singing on this Journey album, it wouldn’t have half the impact. As great as the songs are (and I believe they are a collection of Journey’s strongest ever), it is Perry that drives them home with his ballsy, epic delivery.
I don’t want to bother listing all my favourite tunes. Basically all of them, with the exception of “When You Love A Woman” and the mid tempo rocker “Castles Burning”. Everything else is great, and distinct from one another. Each song inhabits its own space, style and sound. Yet it sounds like a cohesive whole, thanks to expert producer Kevin Shirley. And Steve Smith makes the ballads as smooth as butter. Just listen to “Still She Cries”.
The Japanese bonus track is called “I Can See It In Your Eyes”, and is sequenced in the body of the album. This is a straightforward rocker, perhaps compensating for the lack thereof on the rest of the album. While not one of the better songs, it does have its place in appeasing those who think Trial By Fire is too soft.
4.75/5 stars. They should have toured.