Deen Castronovo

#673: Message of Love

GETTING MORE TALE #673: Message of Love

The old saying goes “Better late than never”.  This is often true, especially in music.  It is never too late to discover an old band.  Be it Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, or Queen, it has been pretty easy for me to catch up.  As is my modus operandi, when I discover a band I tend to jump in headfirst and not look back.

I took a similar path with Journey.  Journey were never considered “heavy metal”, and although metal magazines did cover them, I was never exposed to their music as a kid.  If they were not on the Pepsi Power Hour in the 1980s, then chances are, I didn’t hear them until later on.

Prior to official “discovery”, I think I only knew two Journey songs.  “Any Way You Want It” was used on the Simpsons in a memorable scene.  I also remember hearing “Wheel in the Sky” on the radio while eating out with my sister and my grandmother.  “Who is this?” I kept asking.  The song was incredible!

I didn’t find out for many years that it was Journey, although I did form an idea of what Journey sounded like otherwise.  Dream Theater covered “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” on their Change of Seasons EP.  “I hate that song!” said T-Rev upon seeing the EP.  I didn’t care for it either.  But I was still curious why Joey Belladonna from Anthrax counted Journey as one of his favourite bands.  Something to do with the singer?

I really had no idea who Steve Perry was.  I heard of him.  I didn’t know he was one of the most influential singers of the 70s and 80s!  In 1994, his solo album For Love of Strange Medicine was released.  It was my first year at the Record Store and I still didn’t really know who he was.  I remember stocking the CD, but I kind of blew it when I sold my first copy to a customer.

“This is supposed to be great,” said the lady buying the Steve Perry CD.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to make conversation where I shouldn’t have.  “He’s a great guitar player.”  Wrong guess.

“He’s also an amazing singer!” said the lady with class, trying not to embarrass me.

I will never forget calling Steve Perry a great guitar player.  What a clueless poser I was!

My moment of discovery finally came in 1998.  T-Rev, Tom and I were in a mall in Burlington, as I recall.  The new Journey song came on:  “Remember Me”.  This was one a one-off track from the Armageddon soundtrack.  It was credited as “Journey (featuring lead vocals by Steve Augeri)”.  As I would later find out, Steve Perry quit the band and was replaced by a similar sounding Steve.  I didn’t care about that, because the song was incredible!  I looked forward to eventually getting the CD, which I would have been buying anyway for new Aerosmith and Our Lady Peace.

That was my gateway:  a soundtrack song with a replacement singer, from a shitty Michael Bay movie.  Embarrassing yes, but the truth it is.

My bosses and co-workers cringed as I jumped right into my new favourite band.  First up:  Greatest Hits, remastered of course.  Bought it, loved it.  It was a little light, with all those ballads, but I expected that.  It was songs like “Only the Young” and “Separate Ways” that slayed me.  To me it sounded as if Bon Jovi ripped off every trick he had right from Journey.  Early Bon Jovi, for sure.  Not everyone agreed with me on that, particularly Bon Jovi fans, but I don’t think it’s a stretch.

Next I acquired their Time3 box set, at which point I finally got a proper Journey education.   From their progressive jam band beginnings to a bitter ending at the close of the 80s, the Time3 box set got me up to speed.  Almost.

One thing was missing:  Journey’s 1996 reunion album with none other than Steve Perry.  Fortunately for me, one of my regular customers (whom the bosses hated because he chewed gum when he spoke) brought me a mint condition Japanese version of Trial By Fire, complete with bonus track.  Something about the album clicked with me, and to do this day — do I dare say it? — I think it’s my favourite Journey.  Trial By Fire is exceptional.  It is diverse, perhaps even more so than prior Journeys.  It is passionate, and Steve Perry’s seasoned voice is the real journey.

Of course all this new Journey love meant I was playing them in store, constantly.  One kid named Matty K absolutely loathed every time Steve Perry sang “Whoa-oh-oh oh” in any form.  Everybody else probably thought I lost my shit.  What can I say?  Journey’s music actually made me feel good.  Of course I wanted to play it often, and I’m sorry the others hated it.  And hate it they did!

Steve Perry didn’t want to tour after Trial By Fire and so was replaced by Steve Augeri for a couple releases…who was then replaced by Jeff Scott Soto in a killer lineup that didn’t last…and Soto was replaced by current singer Arnel Pineda.  His remarkable story is the stuff for a whole other article, but I still love Journey.

Since I missed out the first two times around, I would love to hear a Journey reunited with Steve Perry once again.  It doesn’t matter that his voice has changed.  There is nothing quite like hearing him sing.  Or play guitar?  I can’t remember!

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Alien Love Secrets (1995)

STEVE VAI – Alien Love Secrets (1995 Relativity)

You can always count on lil’ Stevie Vai to deliver something completely off the wall…except when he’s trying to play it straight.

Compared to Passion and Warfare and Sex & Religion, Steve plays it remarkably straight on the stripped back mini-album Alien Love Secrets. Remarkably straight for Steve Vai, that is. This is a guy who is known to make his guitar sound like anything except a guitar.  There’s plenty of that here (check out “Bad Horsie”, which sounds like some kind of bad horsie at times), but there are also actual grooves and riffs too.  Alien Love Secrets is an instrumental mini-album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Steve’s music has always been an alternative to the mainstream, but grunge and heavy rock play an influence on “Bad Horsie”, one of the heaviest Vai riffs in existence.  Former Ozzy/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo is there to help cement the grooves (Deen also played on Ozzy’s Vai-written song “My Little Man”).  Alien Love Secrets is the ideal starter for people who don’t think they’re Vai fans.  The heavy rock continues on “Kill the Guy With the Ball”, featuring Deen doing some serious steppin’.

It’s wall to wall shred, but if you’re looking for something even more straight-ahead, you’ll dig “Juice” which is just a classic Van Halen shuffle done a-la Steve.  What about ballads?  From the very beginning, Planet Steve has included ballads.  “Die to Live” is a stock Vai ballad, melodic with tricky lead parts.  Some of the licks remind of “Hina” from David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper.  “The Boy From Seattle” would also be pegged as a ballad, but it’s definitely a bit more challenging.  Then there’s the beautiful closing track “Tender Surrender”, which is blues for the intergalactic age.

People who don’t like Steve’s goofy side will loathe “Ya-Yo Gakk”, a duet between infant child and lead guitar.  Steve has always experimented with guitar imitating the melody of a human voice, like “So Happy” from Flex-Able.  This is more of a song, but still a matter of taste.

Alien Love Secrets will still be incomprehensible to some, but it’s probably Steve’s most accessible release overall.  Without the layers upon layers of tracks, you can get in there and just listen.  If you want more, there is a cool DVD release, with a video for each track on the album!

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzmosis (1995, remastered)

Scan_20160727OZZY OSBOURNE – Ozzmosis (1995, 2002 Sony remaster)

It is fair to say that Ozzy’s solo recording career post-No More Tears is not considered as classic as the music from before. Admittedly it was a confusing time. Ozzy finished his “No More Tours” tour while all the talk was about a Sabbath reunion that never happened. Retirement wasn’t in the cards, so Ozzy re-teamed with a few former members of his band: Zakk Wylde on guitar, and Geezer Butler on bass. Joining the band behind the drums was a pre-Journey Deen Castronovo. Ozzy sat down to write with a number of talents including Steve Vai, and eventually produced the “post retirement” album Ozzmosis.

Ozzmosis was considered by some fans to be inferior to No More Tears, although song for song, No More Tears isn’t as great as people seem to remember it.  Ozzmosis has a heavier, more bass-centric sound and certainly boasts at least four Ozzy classics in its grooves.  Osbourne has gone on record as preferring the demo versions of some songs better than the album tracks, but Ozzmosis boasts a hell of a heavy sound.

Ozzy was also struggling with his public image.  He didn’t want to be seen at the bat-biting madman anymore.  I suppose that’s why we see songs like “Perry Mason” on Ozzmosis.  Not a bad track, it was chosen as lead single.  But the subject matter?  Not sure why, but:

“Who can we get on this case?
We need Perry Mason,
Someone to put you in place,
Calling Perry Mason.”

Certainly a far cry lyrically from “Bark at the Moon”, but musically it’s still Ozzy prowling in the shadows, warning you of the dangers.  It’s delightful to hear Geezer’s trademark slinky bass all over it.  (I have often said that Ozzy’s best solo band, post-Randy, had Geezer and Zakk.)  Ozzy was sufering from some vocal issues at the time, but “Perry Mason” isn’t one of the songs you can tell this from.  Only Ozzy Osbourne & Co. could make a song about Perry Mason this cool.

“Perry Mason” would be one of the four album classics.  Also up there is “I Just Want You”, which he wrote with Canadian songsmith Jim Vallance.  Ozzy was rightfully proud of this heavy ballad.  Rick Wakeman provided keys, classy and absolutely perfect.  At times he’s playing synth parts that sound like mellotron, at others like a big fat Hammond organ (bigger than Orlando Bloom’s wang).  At all times, it is awesome.  Zakk Wylde plays an effects-laden solo that sounds underwater, but in a good way.  It’s haunting and not robbed of its power.  He utilises this “watery” sound on a number of tracks on Ozzmosis.

Standing with these songs is “See You on the Other Side”, another fab ballad from the dark side.  Ozzy’s preferred demo version (with sax solo) can be found on his Prince of Darkness box set.  There’s nothing wrong with this version though, haunting as it is.   It was written by Ozzy, Zakk, and Lemmy Kilmister, who helped Ozzy out with the words.

The fourth and final classic is the album closer, “Old L.A. Tonight”.  As one of Ozzy’s piano ballads, it has been largely forgotten over the years.  The piano and Zakk’s very emotive playing only amplify what Ozzy’s singing.  Zakk’s solo is one of his finest.  Why some things become hits and not others, I don’t always understand.  “Old L.A. Tonight” is superior in almost every way to a track like “Mama I’m Coming Home”, or “So Tired”.   This is one of the tracks that does reveal cracks in the Ozzman’s voice, as he reaches for very high notes and quavers.  I can’t hit the notes he’s hitting, though.

You’ll notice that of the four album classics, three are ballads, and that’s a problem.  Yes, even as far back as “Changes” or “Planet Caravan”, Ozzy has been a master of the art of the heavy ballad.  His core audience tends to buy albums for his heavy metal songs, and the heavy material on Ozzmosis is lacking.  Few of those songs really congeal into something solidly memorable.  The album sounds heavy on effects, and while that strategy worked on the four classics, it tends to choke and strangle the other songs, inhibiting Ozzy’s voice with a nasal muffler.  It’s surprising how much time he spends singing higher than what sounds comfortable, and that too is a weakness.

Sony tacked on two bonus tracks for this 2002 reissue — a rip off, and I’ll explain why.  The album includes two B-sides:  “The Whole World’s Falling Down” and “Aimee”.  (That makes two songs about Ozzy’s kids on this CD, including “My Little Man” about Jack.)   There were however four B-sides released for this album, and two are not included for no good reason.  Missing are “Living With the Enemy” and “Voodoo Dancer”, but fear not.  None of Ozzy’s B-sides this time out were really keepers.  “Aimee” isn’t bad, but Ozzy has done much better stuff for his B-sides in the past.  Songs like “You Said It All”, “Don’t Blame Me”, and “Liar”.

Zakk Wylde didn’t do the tour for this album, even though he co-wrote and played on it.  Zakk seemed to be trying to establish himself separate from Ozzy at the time, and so Ozzy toured with Joe Holmes who had finished up a stint with David Lee Roth.  (Though Ozzy stuck with Holmes for five years, I never thought he sounded right playing the Ozzy or Sabbath material.)  After a brief leg, Ozzy fired Deen Castronovo and re-hired his previous drummer Randy Castillo.  Ozzy made a backhanded statement about Castronovo being a talented session drummer, and that’s what he should continue to do.  Ouch.

It’s a mixed bag, but when you hit a gem in the grooves of Ozzmosis, it is worth the price of purchase. Shame about the stinky cover art.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Journey – Red 13 (2002 EP)

Welcome to the end of Week of EPs! We checked out some famed and obscure EPs all week:

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
TUESDAY: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)
WEDNESDAY: AC/DC – ’74 Jailbreak (1984)
THURSDAY: Marillion (as “Remixomatosis”) – You’re Gone (2005)

JRNY RED 13_0003JOURNEY – Red 13 (2002 Journey Music)

I chose an obscure, semi-forgotten release to end the Week of EPs.  Time seems to move slowly in Journey-land.  Their first track released with “new” singer Steve Augeri was in 1998, and the album Arrival was released in 2000. (2001 in America.)  Generations wouldn’t come out until mid-2005.  There was a lot of upheaval at the time for classic rock bands like Journey who were lacking key original members.  No longer on a major label, Journey tried releasing a self-produced EP on their website in 2002.  It came and went without a lot of people even noticing.  Fans who knew what was going on were interested in what Journey might sound like now, free of the constrictions of a record company.

I don’t know where the title Red 13 comes from, but if you add up studio albums including the soundtrack Dream After Dream, Red 13 would be the band’s 13th studio release.

The fact that there’s an intro (simply called “Red 13”) tells you that Journey are at least stretching their wings a bit.  It’s an interesting intro, with programmed techno beats, new-agey prog keyboards, and noisy, exotic Schon licks.  Even though I loathe these kinds of beats, I am at least excited by the sound of Journey experimenting with their sound again.  This intro takes us directly into a song called “State of Grace” which expands on the exotic vibe.  It’s one of the heaviest things recorded by Journey to date.  Augeri lacks the vocal superpowers of Steve Perry, but he fills the role acceptably well.  “State of Grace” combines anthemic Journey with experimental, guitar-dominated hard rock.  It is a successful mix.  Red 13 is off to a promising start.

JRNY RED 13_0001The track simply titled “The Time” is a Zeppelin-esque slow groove, with nary a keyboard to be found.  Instead, Schon and Jonathan Cain lay on the rhythm guitars, complimenting what the other player is doing.  While something like “The Time” is an admirable achievement to a listener such as myself, I don’t think average Joe Six-pack Journey Fan will appreciate what the band are doing here.  They might consider it a “piss break” song.  Meanwhile I’m hanging on waiting to see what Schon’s going to do for a solo.    (Answer: he does what Schon does!)  I’ll also single out drummer Deen Castronovo as an MVP on this song.  I’ve always been candid about my preference for Steve Smith in Journey, but this song is a different kind of Journey and Deen’s frenetic fills are more than ample.

The third song “Walking Away from the Edge” was co-written by, of all people, Geoff Tate.  This is a solemn piano-based ballad.  It resembles some of the things the band did in the past with Steve Perry.  Unfortunately it’s not as memorable as, say, “Send Her My Love”.  It does boast a powerful chorus but at 6:17, the song is a little too long.  It fades abruptly, and then the final song is “I Can Breathe”.  This one is little more than a standard sounding Journey rocker.  It is not particular special unfortunately, until close to a 3-minute mark when a horn section kicks in.  They should have had the horns there from the start!

Red 13 is not a bad EP, but the production is sub-par, as can happen when bands self-produce.  However, had a producer been there in the studio the songs would undoubtedly turned out differently so that’s the trade off.  The worst thing about it is the band photo, which just looks cheap and bad.  What is that on your face, Neal?  Dirt?

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Journey – Revelation (2008 2CD/DVD edition, import with bonus track)

JOURNEY – Revelation (2008 Nomota)

It’s funny to surf the reviews on Amazon for this CD. “Super and Awesome” says one. “Best Journey album since Escape” says another. (Really? Better than Frontiers?)

OK, cutting through the glowing fanboy reviews, let’s be dispassionate here. Journey hasn’t truly sounded like Journey since Steve Smith and Steve Perry left for good in the late 90’s. In my unassuming personal view, Trial By Fire from 1997 was the best Journey album since the glory days. They tried to replace Steve Perry with a clone singer named Steve Augeri on three releases (Arrival, Red 1, Generations) and the result was a generic band that sounded like (guess what) a Journey tribute band. The fact that the smooth-as-butter Steve Smith was gone didn’t help.

REVELATION_0006

Journey did what I thought was a really smart move afterwards. They brought in the brilliant veteran Jeff Scott Soto to sing, and there are some pretty awesome bootlegs out there of Journey with Soto singing. Soto was no Steve Perry, but a unique singer in his own right, loved by his own legion of fans for his powerful voice. But he was no replicant; no duplicate.  The band actually fired him to bring in someone more Perry-like.

That person is Arnel Pineda, who has an incredible set of pipes. I mean this guy can sing! Unfortunately, Pineda’s been singing Journey pretty much his whole life. He’s a Perry clone. He’s Perry-lite. He’s an imitator. And you can tell. He lacks the character, the grit, the personality, the soul, and the experience of Steve Perry.

Also, let’s not forget that Steve Perry was one of the major Journey songwriters, and without him Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain are left to their own devices. The soul is still gone, the heart of Journey is still ripped out. Revelation is no comeback album. It’s another Journey-lite album, it sounds like the best Journey tribute band in the world, but still…just a tribute band.

Having said that, it’s not bad. It’s not a comeback, it’s more of the same. There are good songs here – “Never Walk Away” being the strongest. “Like A Sunshower” is a nice, generic ballad. “The Journey (Revelation)” is the most adventurous tune here, an instrumental where Schon gets to show his stuff, shredding and classing up the place several notches. The rest of the tunes are just nice. Pleasant Journey-esque ditties where you can tell Cain and Schon were saying, “Let’s write a Journey rocker,” or “Let’s write a Journey ballad”.

The album is roughly half new songs, half old. The second disc is entirely re-records with Arnel singing classic Journey tunes. It’s nice but certainly no replacement for Greatest Hits. It’s great that they tackled “Stone In Love” and “Be Good To Yourself” on here. The rest are the hits, and you know ’em and love ’em already so I won’t talk about them too much. Except to say, this is where you notice first and foremost that Steve Perry is missing. The nuances are not here, rendering this disc nothing more than a novelty.

There are two other re-records, both (oddly enough) from the Augeri era. One is the Japan-only “The Place in Your Heart” which I don’t have so I can’t comment on it. The other, which is on all versions of the CD, is “Faith In The Heartland”, one of the better songs from Generations. I’m guessing they did these two re-records because nobody heard Generations. “Faith In The Heartland” is probably better on Generations, sung by the guy who actually wrote it, Steve Augeri.

There is also a great bonus track on the Mexican edition: great song, loaded with atmosphere, called “Let It Take You Back”. It’s about nostalgia, ironically, but I can relate and it’s a great tune backed by a strong riff. One of the best tunes on the album. Track it down, you won’t be sorry.

REVELATION_0004

The Walmart exclusive edition has a really good DVD: live (in Vegas) performances with Arnel singing. “Mother, Father” shows that Arnel can sing. Man, can he sing! I think Journey at this point are a stronger band live than in the studio. Live, Arnel has more character and you’re just in awe of the man’s pipes. This is a good DVD. And for free, it’s worth the price of admission.

So there you have it. Ignore the fanboys and let’s be unbiased here. This isn’t the Journey comeback we hoped for. It’s just another medium-rare Journey album. Until Perry comes back (and let’s face it, he has to one day) and records an album as great and progressive as Trial By Fire, this is a tired band spinnin’ tires.

3/5 stars

DVD:

  1. “Sky Light”
  2. “Any Way You Want It”
  3. “Wheel in the Sky”
  4. “Lights”
  5. “After All These Years”
  6. “Never Walk Away”
  7. “Open Arms (Prelude)”
  8. “Open Arms”
  9. “Mother, Father”
  10. “Wildest Dream”
  11. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”
  12. “Faithfully”
  13. “Don’t Stop Believin'”
  14. “Be Good to Yourself”

REVIEW: Journey – Eclipse (2011 Japanese import)

JOURNEY – Eclipse (2011 Japanese import)

You gotta give ’em credit for trying. Three (!) singers since Steve Perry left, and Journey still refuse to patch it up or pack it in. Arnel Pineda is still the singer, back here for his second Journey album, and now contributing songwriting to the mix.

ECLIPSE_0003Otherwise, Eclipse (stylized as ECL1PS3 on the cover art) is heavily dominated by Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain, and you can tell that this is Neal’s album. Upon playing Eclipse, you will be inundated by colossal Schon riff after colossal Schon riff. This is backed by some dramatic synth by Cain. It’s a much heavier Journey album than any in recent memory. It’s a good mix, and producer Kevin Shirley captured it. I’ve been skeptical in the past when Journey puts out a new album and says, “This is us being heavier.” Stuff like the Red 5 EP…they were just underwhelming and were missing the soul of Journey.

I would argue that the soul of Journey belongs to Steve Perry, but Arnel Pineda turns in a stunning performance this time. Not that he didn’t last time, but this time it sounds less like he’s trying to be Steve Perry. This time it sounds like he’s more himself, and it’s better that way. Incredible set of pipes on this man by the way.

As long time fans know, Journey did three albums before Steve Perry joined the band. These albums had their roots in more instrumental, progressive rock.  One or two of the guitar passages on Eclipse sound a like stuff from those first three albums. It’s fleeting but it’s there.

Fave track: “Edge of the Moment”.

Most Journey-esque song: “City Of Hope”. (It even calls out an older Journey song title called “Message Of Love”.)

Meanwhile, the fine “She’s A Mystery” (co-written by Pineda) is a great little epic acoustic/electric song with some sweet Schon overtones that sound like gulls flying overhead. It captures the vibe of the more atmospheric material from Trial By Fire that I liked so much.

The extra thick case of the Japanese CD, can't replace it if you break it!

The extra thick case of the Japanese CD, can’t replace it if you break it!

The Japanese bonus track is a live cut of “Don’t Stop Believin'”, from the DVD Live In Manila.  No live album was ever made of that live concert, so this is a CD exclusive.   The Japanese CD also comes in an extra wide case, housing a lenticular cover insert.  Very similar to the recent “3D” Kiss Monster cover.

The thing about Journey albums of late is memorability. Your brain says “this is a good song, it has a melody I like,” but a day later you can’t remember how the song went. Eclipse is also like that.  All the songs are strong, melodic workman-like Journey songs.   They just seem to lack whatever it was about the classics that made them stick in the head.  Maybe I need to listen to it more, but I rarely have the craving to do so, when I can spend the time with Trial By Fire.

3/5 stars