Ross Valory

#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!

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REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

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With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

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Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

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This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Look Into the Future (1976) #200wordchallenge

200 word


Scan_20160825 (2)JOURNEY – Look Into the Future (1976 CBS)

Journey began life as a progressive rock band that plied instrumentals and vocals.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie (ex-Santana) was in charge of vocalizin’, and Look Into the Future is the second album from this era.  Guitarist George Tickner left the band after their debut, leaving Journey a quartet with Neal Schon (also ex-Santana) handling all guitars himself.  Tickner still has writing credits on two songs.

There are hints towards the rock and roll machine that Journey would one day become, most notably the Beatles cover “It’s All Too Much” which they adapted to their style.  By and large you can look forward to a decent, soulful album with a focus on musicianship.   All songs on this album are vocal, ranging from slower blues ballads (“Anyway”) to long blow-outs (“I’m Gonna Leave You”).  Songwriting is a tricky craft to master, and at this point Journey’s songs were more prototypes than full-fledged compositions.  There are even fledgling metal riffs, such as “She Makes Me (Feel Alright)”, probably the best track on the album besides the Beatles cover.

While this album will never be as highly esteemed as Escape or Frontiers, check it out if you’ve wondered what Journey were like before Steve Perry.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Captured (1981)

Scan_20160722JOURNEY – Captured (1981 Columbia, 1996 Sony SBM remaster)

Captured was a turning point for Journey.  After this, they went from mega to uber-mega.  It was their first live album, and their last with founding keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie (who actually sang lead in Journey on their first three albums, before they discovered Steve Perry).  When Rolie left and Journey hired on Jonathan Cain, they went in an even more radio-friendly direction.  The live album captured (pun intended) the end of the Rolie era with basically every hit they had.  They were more of a rock and roll band back then, and this album shows it.

The scorching heat of “Where Were You” is the perfect track to prime the rock n’ roll BBQ.  Journey’s brand of rock is driving, but polished to a shimmery gleen.  This is partly due to the impeccable pipes of Steve Perry.  I’m not sure if Steve has even heard of a bum note, let along sung one.  But Perry was only one of two singers in Journey, and Rolie has his first lead on the mid-tempo pleaser “Just the Same Way”.  Although he is not comparable to Perry, he’s no slouch and the different singers gave Journey more dimension.

Blazingly fast, the gleeful “Line of Fire” is the hardest rocker on the album. “So don’t go sayin’ Stevie’s a liar!” he sings, and the crowd goes nuts. But Journey are probably better associated in the public eye with tender ballads. “Lights” live is a definitive version. It merges into another beautiful ballad, “Stay Awhile”. Perry’s singing here is so splendid, so perfect, so soulful and powerful that it’s hard not to just be amazed. Not to be outdone is Neal Schon with one of his most memorable guitar solos on “Lights”. A pretty version of “Too Late” makes it a trilogy.

Scan_20160722 (3)One of the coolest treats on Captured is a new song, “Dixie Highway”, that was never recorded on a studio album. Boogie with Journey down the Dixie Highway and listen to that blazing musicianship, more progressive rock at times than radio friendly AOR. Then it’s the Rolie/Perry duet “Feeling That Way”, an out-and-out classic. The combined sheer lung power on that stage that night could not be measured by science. It is said by some that all the canines within the city of Detroit suddenly perked their ears simultaneously at that moment, with a spill-off effect happening in areas of close proximity across the border in Canada. The University of Marysville is currently investigating these reports, hoping to calculate numerically just how much Steve and Rolie sang their fucking balls off that night.

Rolling right into “Anytime” and “Do You Recall”, the listener is treated to some lesser-recognized Journey classics that are as good or better than their biggest hits. “Do You Recall” in particular boasts the kind of melodies and smooth rock grooves that radio hits are made of. With that out of the way for now, they go into a blues jam with “Walk Like a Lady”. According to Steve Perry, “We got two of the best blues players in the whole world here tonight. Two of the best! We got Mr. Gregg Rolie on the Hammond B-3 and Mr. Neal Schon on the Stratocaster!” After a blazing Schon solo, Journey blast into “La Do Da”, another one of their lesser-known rock blitzes.  Bass solos!  (By Ross Valory!)  Drum solos! (by Steve “Machine Gun” Smith!)  And then the listener is rewarded for their patience with a string of their biggest hits:  “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, “Wheel in the Sky”, and “Any Way You Want It”.

That’s a hell of a double live album right there.  No, Journey’s Captured is not remembered on the same level as Live and Dangerous, Frampton Comes Alive, or Kiss Alive (I or II).  Captured is certainly great, but somehow falls ever so shy from achieving the same lofty heights as the aforementioned.  It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why it’s not quite up there.  Perhaps it’s the perfectionist style of the band, because it’s certainly not Steve Perry.

It’s not over though:  Journey included a new song, and their first ever without Gregg Rolie on keys.  Studio cat Stevie “Keys” Roseman filled in, on the ironically piano-based “Hopelessly in Love”.   This unsung classic is one of the strongest Journey songs in the canon.  It’s too bad that it rarely gets pulled out for compilations, instead residing at the end of a near-forgotten live album.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Journey – Live in Houston: Escape Tour 1981 (CD/DVD set)

Christmas gift review!  This one came from my sister and husband Melvin.

JOURNEY – Live in Houston: Escape Tour 1981 (2006 Columbia CD/DVD set)

Released in 2006, the Live in Houston CD/DVD set by Journey chronicles the band at their peak.  This is a vintage MTV concert finally released for sale. Opening with the brand new title track from the brand new album Escape was a good idea.  Its fast paced pyrotechnics fire up the crowd appropriately.  Steve Perry is resplendent in his tuxedo jacket, jeans, and animal-print T-shirt.  Now this is a fucking concert.  If the guy couldn’t sing like the angels, then he couldn’t get away with that shit, but it’s Steve Fucking Perry.  At his peak.  A great frontman with the classic voice.  His vocal acrobatics rival the furious fretwork of his bandmate Neal Schon.  Personally, I think Bon Jovi owes a lot to Steve Perry’s schtick.

Not letting up, the opening salvo is concluded with “Line of Fire” before it’s time for the ballads.  It’s a great little rock boogie that gives the band a chance to play hard.  Perry then informs the band that they are recording a live MTV special (as if you couldn’t tell by Schon’s MTV T-shirt).  If that can’t get a crowd screaming for “Lights”, nothing will.  This kind of song isn’t my thing really, but it is always a pleasure listening to Steve sing.  Live, he’s that much more entrancing.  Superhuman, really.  “Lights” merges with the ballad “Stay Awhile”, which I think is the better song.  Listen to that fucker sing!  Then it’s time for a new ballad, “Open Arms”.  This is where I step out to pee.

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Neal Schon’s favourite new song from Escape was “Mother, Father”, a dramatic heavy ballad.  Perry kicks this song in the ass, but it’s the anthemic chorus that you can’t forget.  And people — Steve Perry hits every single one of the high notes at the end.  Every. Single. One.

New kid Jon Cain takes a moment for a piano solo, while Steve Perry no doubt drinks something cold and soothing!  I like that Jon tucked his sleeveless animal print shirt into his jeans.  Gotta look presentable, of course.  New ballad “Who’s Cryin’ Now” is greeted by high pitched screams, indicating the crowd really know this one.  Perry has lost the tux jacket, revealing that he is not a T-shirt tucker.  Schon’s solo is epic, in how it builds from one simple melody into something completely different and blazingly fast.

The crowd goes nuts for the rocker “Where Were You”, on which drummer Steve Smith absolutely blows the doors off.  I love watching him play with classic grip.  He’s the next member to get a solo, and I can’t help but notice he has tucked his T-shirt into his jeans.  Interesting.  I didn’t expect that from the drummer.  The solo is a scorcher, leading directly into the new rocker “Dead Or Alive”.  Steve Perry looks a lot more awkward dancing to this one, but his voice leaves no doubt.  Nobody else could sing the song the way Perry did.  Nobody.

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Steve announces from the stage that Escape just went #1 in the US a mere three weeks before.  The crowd then goes insane for the opening keys of “Don’t Stop Believin'”.  As on the album, I love Steve Smith’s cymbal work; it’s just overpowered by the live sound of the band.  You can tell that the sound wasn’t tampered with, as Neal hits a bum note in the solo and it was left in.  The lush backing vocals seem to be provided live by Schon, Valory and Cain.  Then it’s time for “Stone In Love”, another newbie.  This hard rock classic features Jonathan Cain abandoning the keyboards and joining the frontline on guitar.  This allows Schon the ability to throw in more solos and licks; meanwhile when piano is needed, Steve Perry jumps behind the keys!  Then it’s time for “Keep On Runnin'”, again with Cain up front on guitar.  It’s another solid rock song, although a bit of a throw-away compared to the rest of Escape.  Schon then gets his chance to solo, as a lead in to “Wheel in the Sky”.  It’s a note-perfect live version, and full of energy.

For encores, it’s the annoying “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “Anyway You Want It”.  The only good thing about “Lovin’, Touchin'” is the guitar solo with some tasty slide for added flavor.  “Anyway You Want It” is ragged.  It’s a hard song to sing to begin with, but Perry is running around so much that it’s bound to fall apart at times.   It’s a magnificent finish.

The CD version has a bonus track: “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  I don’t know why it’s not on the DVD version.  I think it’s one of Journey’s best also-rans.  Maybe the film had deteriorated too much to use for that one song?  Who knows.  Anyway (you want it), you can get it on CD.

It’s also worth pointing out that three songs (“Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Open Arms”, and “Who’s Cryin’ Now”) were all re-released on the remastered Escape CD.  So if you’re browsing at the store thinking, “Hey, look, it’s Escape with bonus tracks, I need that,”…no you don’t.  Just get this.  Always better to have the full concert!

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The bonus interviews are pretty neat.  Members discuss how they found their way into Journey via manager Herbie Herbert.  Neal Schon is almost hilariously young looking.  Perry sports the shadow of a moustache, appearing as if he would have had trouble growing a full one.  Bassist Ross Valory speaks of the band’s earlier preference for instrumental music, supplanted by a switch to vocal songs.  The interviews are broken up topically and are made up from a variety of sources. In the section about touring, Steve Perry reveals that after being driven around everywhere in a limo, when he gets home from the road he feels like he’s forgotten how to drive!  It’s worth it, though: all their best songs were written on the road.

The DVD also includes a photo slide show that nobody will watch.  It’s only a minute or two long.  Some of these pics, I’ve seen before.  Neal Schon does make great “guitar faces”, possibly the best ever.  The original TV ad for the Escape album is hilarious in its 80’s cheesiness.

4/5 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.

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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