trial by fire

#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 – 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

REVIEW: Journey – Trial By Fire (Japanese import, 1996)

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.