Journey (Revelation)

One of the most anticipated albums of the summer (at least for me) hit Wal-Mart on Tuesday – Journey’s Revelation. I spoke about my mini-ordeal in acquiring the album, but now I want to talk about the music. It’s not too bad.

The packaging is very good with the cover artwork one of the best ever from the band. It opens up into four sections housing the two CDs, one DVD and the liner notes. I liked the cohesiveness to the design, which reminded me of the recent Eagles CD. It’s probably zero coincidence since both bands are managed by the same people and they both went with Wal-Mart for exclusive distribution.

I immediately wanted to hear the CD of new material. I’ve been disappointed in the Augeri-era output by the band and hoped for something that would actually propel the band forward but also harken back to their AOR roots. It comes tantalizing close, but falls short.

The new tracks are more Journey-esque than most of their creative output since the failed (essentially) reunion album Trial By Fire and that’s a good thing, but I get the feeling this is a precursor to bigger and better things. In fact, I see it might actually be akin to Aerosmith’s album Done with Mirrors – one decent song, but the foundation for something great the next go ‘round. Aerosmith, subsequently, put out Permanent Vacation and Pump and had huge success. I’m hoping Journey might do the same.

Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain have always been able to write quality music and there are flashes of inspiration on Revelation such as Never Walk Away, Wildest Dream and the sure to be a light rock favorite, After All These Years. The biggest difference is in the flat-out joy new lead singer Arnel Pineda brings to each track. I was an early fan of Steve Augeri’s voice and felt he did a fantastic job live. When I last saw the band, I thought he was in good voice. It was unfortunate he suffered throat problems in 2006 and had to rest his vocal chords.

His replacement on the tour, Jeff Scott Soto, is a fantastic vocalist. I actually thought the band was really pushing an interesting envelope by having him in the band and I was excited by the potential. Unfortunately, he doesn’t sound a bit like Perry and I think after a few months of hearing their classic tracks sounding less like the originals, they parted ways and looked for someone who could sound like Perry circa 1983.

While Steve Perry will always be the voice of Journey, he just isn’t coming back to the band and I honestly don’t think he has the vocal chops to hit the notes he used to hit effortlessly. Enter Arnel Pineda. Pineda can hit all the notes and he isn’t a giant asshole that Steve Perry apparently is.

The second CD has the band re-recording eleven classic tracks with Pineda on vocals and Deen Castronovo on drums. On the classic songs, the band sounds exactly how John Scalzi describes it: the world’s greatest Journey cover band. Arnel hits all the notes perfectly and the band musically sounds incredibly tight. I’d say Perry is probably better on the tracks, but if you close your eyes and just go with the song, Pineda sounds pretty damn good. Way better than Augeri. Although to be fair, Journey never re-recorded their classic tracks in a studio environment with Augeri and I wonder how that might have sounded.

The concert DVD is very good and is a nice primer to the new live Journey sound. I’m going to have to view my Journey DVD with Augeri and compare. My initial reaction is Arnel is much closer to Perry in vocal tone, but Augeri is a more accomplished performer.

Back to the new tracks. The Journey sound is there, but the songs just aren’t quite at the Escape/Frontiers level. Head and shoulders better than anything off of the Arrival/Red 13/Generations trio, but still not quite hits. For their next record, I have a few suggestions for the band. Maybe Jon and Neil might stumble on to the blog and read them. You never know.

Suggestion 1 – Re-record When You Love a Woman. I was incredibly disappointed this was not included in the remixes. With the reunion record, this was the chart topper/Grammy nominated song that should have propelled the band to a second coming but was stalled because of Perry’s hip surgery. This is a song that I’d love to hear live.

Suggestion 2 – Listen to your hits and figure out the formula. Fine, I’ll do it for you. A.) Open the song with a keyboard riff that is haunting (Don’t Stop Believin’, Faithfully, Who’s Crying Now). B.) Add in bass/drums/guitar C.) Vocals D.) Repeat. You haven’t written a song with that signature since Frontiers.

Suggestion 3 – Write a killer keyboard riff for a fast song. There’s a reason why you start your shows with Separate Ways – the crowd goes nuts when they hear the open synth line. May I recommend listening to Bon Jovi’s Runaway for inspiration.

Suggestion 4 – Write a ballad as good as Open Arms. You need to showcase Arnel’s voice and none of your new tracks quite do it like Open Arms on CD 2.

Suggestion 5 – Write more songs with Jeff Scott Soto. Believe in Me is a precursor to Never Walk Away with the former being a much stronger song (and I hate the guitar note early in Never Walk Away that reminds me of the 90210 theme.)

It’s a good start boys. Lets swing for the fences next go ‘round ‘kay?