There’s a new Journey album on the horizon dropping in late August. Although I know the band is giving away copies at shows (Prince did the same thing), I’ve “acquired” a copy for review. Don’t worry, I’ll buy the real deal later this summer. Sheesh.
It’s been 24 years since Journey Escape was released. Can Journey still sound relevant today? Lets see, track by track.
1. Faith In The Heartland
The opening track starts off with an instrumental quite reminiscent of the Journey Red 13 mini-album. It almost has a “Where the Streets Have No Name” feel at first, but then the trademark Neal Schon guitar kicks in and we are in Journey-mode. I almost wish he didn’t overdub his licks before the vocals. I like the melody, but the chorus is disappointing. The guitar is nice, especially the solo, but it isn’t a strong enough lead track. I also think its being played a hair too slow. Maybe live they’ll kick up the tempo a bit.
2. The Place In Your Heart
The first single and very Journey-like. I’ve heard some of this track already and thought it was a nice extension of Arrival. The chorus is memorable and Augeri’s voice is strong. What this song is missing is a strong keyboard to accompany the guitar. I wish Cain would write an interesting keyboard riff. Probably one of my favorite tracks.
3. A Better Life
Moody guitar and background vocals makes this track stand out. The lyrics are poignant and will no doubt speak to a great many people. A good song, but nothing that would break through the mainstream. I’d rather have had Augeri sing instead of Castronovo, but he’s quite good. It’s almost as if they are trying to avoid writing songs simliar to Escape and Frontiers. Where’s Cain?
4. Every Generation
Now here’s a surprise: Cain sings! I like the line, “all dressed down with no place to go.” While Cain can sing, I’d much rather have had Augeri bring back his Tall Stories/Tyketto voice to this track. I think the song needs to be played just a bit faster. Cain is playing keyboards, but they are mostly lost in the mix.
5. Butterfly (She Flies Alone)
Finally some lead keyboard! The melody is boring and Augeri is singing too soft. He needs to project much more. I hesitate to say this, but someone with much greater range than Augeri shows could pull this song off. It needs a much better arrangement. Disappointing.
Featuring the most boring, simplistic lead keyboard that I’ve ever heard from Cain, this song is a throw-away track. It’s supposed to be uplifting, but it just doesn’t work. The rocking guitar seems out of place. I’m on track six and I have heard only one possible single and nothing that would make anyone but diehard Journey fans take notice.
7. Knowing That You Love Me
Slow song 101. The chorus is nice, but nothing to write home about. Boring. Are they deliberately NOT listening to Frontiers/Escape songs when writing? There’s no hook, no keyboard/guitar exchange. There’s very little weight to the song. This isn’t “Open Arms.”
8. Out of Harms Way
The first song that sounds like it could have been from Frontiers or Escape. Nice guitar and keyboard work here. I’ve decided that the producer dropped has Augeri’s vocals in the mix througout the album and I think it hurts the overall feel. While more representative of the signature Journey sound, it’s still a throw-away track.
9. In Self-Defense
Did Neil just play “Fillmore Boogie?” I like it when Neil sings, but only as a counterpoint to the lead singer (listen to “Chain Reaction”). I’m sure it was fun to have everybody sing a song, but it’s just ok.
10. Better Together
I love the guitar intro here. I guess Cain is taking a coffee break cause he’s nowhere near this track. The melody is interesting and the chorus is catchy. It reminds me of Sammy Hagar era Van Halen. An extremely metal-like solo, maybe one of the least melodic solo I’ve ever heard from Schon. My favorite track so far, but could we please have some interesting keyboard on this album?
11. Gone Crazy
Did ZZ Top sneak a track on here? The vocals by Ross Valory take center stage and that’s a mistake. Valory has an interesting voice, sounding rather like James Young from Styx without the range. The song simply isn’t rocking enough though. Ross, listen to “Miss America” and “Snowblind” and try again.
12. Beyond the Clouds
Here’s the “Still They Ride” style slow song. Augeri just isn’t projecting enough though. He’s singing competently, but it feels too overproduced and safe. I bet this track sounds wonderful live. It might get some airplay if it’s the second single released. It sounds the most Journey-slow-song-like.
13. Never Too Late (Bonus Track)
I like this track. Sung by Castronovo with lots of back-up help from Augeri. I would have lead the album with this track with a reversal on the lead vocals. It’s nicely upbeat. I would have punched up the harmony back-up vocals a bit more. I like the dual vocals in the middle of the song. Neil is really playing well here. It sounds a lot like something off of Raised on Radio.
Overall, Cain must not have wanted to participate in the writing because there’s no interesting keyboard riffs anywhere. Schon has clearly taken over the songwriting duties and that’s not a bad thing since Journey needs his guitar, but listen to all the “classic” Journey songs. They have one thing in common – a mix of keyboard and guitar. Most of the songs here don’t feature a keyboard lead anywhere and that’s a shame.
It will sell about as well as Arrival. My suggestion is for the band to bring in the producers Kevin Elson and Mike “Clay” Stone and make an album that will break through. Otherwise, the only way I see Journey having a true hit record will be if Steve Perry rejoins and the chance of that is pretty slim. Don’t get me wrong, I love Augeri’s voice, but they have yet to really capture the vibe of their live show. Maybe a live album would help?