Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"There Is No Journey Without Steve Perry..." (1998 - Present )

...Is the mantra of many a Journey fan since The Voice's dismissal in 1998. And who could blame those fans, in my entirely biased opinion Steve Perry is simply the greatest singer who ever lived in the history of the planet. And many fans like me became Journey fanatics thanks to his soulful, soaring vocals. However, I differ from some Perry fanatics in that when it comes to Journey I wasn't just a fan of Perry, but the whole band. Jon Cain's structured songwriting and cascading keyboards, Neal Schon's revved up guitar riffs and flamethrower solos, Steve Smith's understated and classy drumwork and Ross Valory's rock solid bass were other pieces of the Journey puzzle. Sure, Perry was a BIG PART of the successful phase of Journey's career but for me he wasn't all of it. And after Perry had solo success and the clout to stop Journey from rockin' anymore, I really saw Perry and Journey as two different entities from that point forward. Perry seems to want to do ballad after ballad after ballad and that's fine, he's great at it, but the Journey I became a fan of was a ROCK band. So I wasn't totally sad when Jon Cain and Neal Schon decided their wheel in the sky needed to turn a little longer with a brand new singer (even if it was kinda cold to kick a guy out because of a physical injury. It's not like they're a football team. But I bet Ross Valory was like "Yes! I'm not the one getting canned this time!")

Armaggedon Soundtrack (1998)

On the same movie soundtrack that Steven Tyler didn't want to close his eyes or fall asleep, Journey debuted a track ("Remember Me") with ex-Tall Stories singer Steve Augeri. How did I know it was Steve Augeri? The CD jacket told me so. I eagerly bought this disc just to see how Journey was going to sound and I was impressed with the cut. Augeri did sound a lot like Steve Perry except with more of a rock edge than r&b. Even though Deen Castronovo's heavy drums made them sound more like Bad English, I was happy that my favorite band was back and they were gonna rock again. I caught Journey in '99 on the Vacation's Over tour and when Steve Augeri took the mic at the start of "Separate Ways" I thought "Damn this guy is nailing it!". While Augeri didn't have as much energy as Perry did in his hey day, Steve mach 2 had plenty of cool moves and knew how to work the crowd well. By the end of the show I was sold that Augeri was a good pick.

Arrival (Japanese version 2000)

Journey hit the studio with producer Kevin "Caveman" Shirley, a guy who would come to produce a lot of their stuff from this point forward. I was plenty psyched to hear this new album, so much that my wife was nice enough to order it for me as an import. And so I heard the new disc and in the words of ex-member Randy Jackson, "They slayed it dawg." Though I was surprised that it didn't rock quite as much as I thought it would, there were still more rock tracks here than the prior two albums combined. "To Be Alive Again" and "Higher Place" blew me away, as well as the quiet piano ballad "Loved By You". Ditto the swaggering "I Got A Reason". Neal Schon had room to get all bluesy on "Livin To Do". And even the soft rock cut "I'm Not That Way" stood out. The only song I didn't like was "All The Things" because it was just too hard rock in this context. And I was lukewarm on the lead single "All The Way" because it seemed like a rewrite of "When You Love A Woman". But in one of the biggest bonehead marketing moves of the new century, they released Arrival to other countries ahead of America. In the age of Napster. D'oh!

Arrival (American version 2001)

With many fans downloading the album without the alternative of buying the CD domestically, Journey had to go back to the drawing board for the American release. I'm glad they did 'cause Schon used it as an excuse to punch up the Rock, adding new tracks "World Gone Wild" and "Nothing Comes Close" changing the character of the disc. My only complaint was the switch to a fade out at the end of "To Be Alive Again", I like that song better on the Japanese version. Saw them live again this tour and they were still going strong.

Red 13 (2002)

For their next release Journey went the EP route with the oddly titled Red 13. Which makes me think of Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men "Did you order the Red 13!!!" (I know, it was code red in the movie). Journey or probably Neal Schon wanted to get less commercial so the songs here aren't very catchy. Despite some good moments I didn't care for this disc. It just kinda bored me.

Generations (2005)

Two Captains. One Destiny. Wait, that's Star Trek. On Generations rumors abounded that Steve Augeri's voice was starting to burn out on Perry-esque high notes. The resulting album, Generations, fanned those flames by having a disc where every member sings lead at least once. This gave the album a multiple personality disorder with weird shifts in tone. It was also one of the laziest written things they had done. "Faith In The Heartland" sounded like u2's "Where The Streets Have No Name". "Knowing That You Loved Me" reminded me of a Boys II Men song. Schon sung "In Self Defense" was a retread from his '83 album with Jan Hammer. And the ZZ Toppish "Gone Crazy" with Ross Valory singing seemed like they had gone just that. Surprisingly, drummer Deen Castronovo came off good by sounding more like Steve Perry than Augeri ever did on the midtempo "A Better Life" (my favorite from this album) and rocked out "Never Too Late". By the time they hit the road more rumors spread about Augeri claiming he was doing an Ashlee Simpson miming to prerecorded vocals in concert. A surprise appearance by Steve Perry at the Hollywood Walk Of Fame induction ceremony led to a rash of "Is Perry back in?" theories. Eventually Augeri left to have throat surgery and was replaced by Jeff Scott Soto who had a good response from the fan base. Went to their concert where they were opening for Def Leppard on this tour. I thought Soto was OK but not great (though that W.E.T. album recorded later on was awesome) and had a stage presence that reminded me of Leroy from Fame (lots of hip shaking and exaggerated dance moves). The internet fan base seemed deflated when Soto was let go with the band stating they wanted a singer that sounded-how did they put it? Heritage? Legacy? I think it was Legacy. Anyway, it was code for someone who sounded more like Steve Perry.

Revelation (2008)

Journey surprised everyone (including the person they picked) when they revealed their latest lead singer selection was Arnel Pineda of the Phillipines. Pineda injected some much needed soul into the vocals making the band sound more like they did with Perry. They signed a big deal with Wal Mart and with Kevin Shirley back at the board recorded their best effort since Arrival. And it was here where the "There is no Journey without Steve Perry" mantra got really really LOUD. Like a small scale President Obama, Pineda was warmly received by many while a significant number of people questioned whether he should have any right to do the job at all. Until the release of Revelation I took a wait-and-see approach to Pineda, I wasn't sure if he was a great vocalist or great mimic (I posted this a few years back and got the most negative comments out of any post I ever did.) Revelation was a strong disc that convinced me Pineda's vocals could stand on their own merit and in a live setting he's pretty damn amazing. Running all over, leaping to prime DLR heights and unleashing wailing high note after high note with perfect accuracy, Pineda is a beast in concert. Seeing the band live with Pineda was fantastic. His minor short comings were shown on the Revelation companion disc of re-recorded greatest hits. Pineda sounded stiff (the opposite of how he sounds on the album of original material) in this setting and it didn't help that creatively there was no point to doing new versions. Nonetheless, Revelation was Journey's most successful album since 1996's Trial By Fire. They also got an Adult Contemporary hit with "After All These Years".

That brings us to the present. Journey's got a new album out called Eclipse. Just like the name of my favorite breath mints. Just got it this week, so I've decided to make the rest of this week Journey week on the blog. Though they piss off some fans, I'm glad Journey has decided to...corn ball drum roll please...don't stop believin'!

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