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Journey

ALBUM REVIEWS:

Journey (1975)
Look Into the Future (1976)
Next (1977)
Infinity (1978)
Evolution (1979)
Departure (1980)
Dream, After Dream (1980)
Captured (1981)
Escape (1981)
Untold Passion (1981)
Here to Stay (1982)
Frontiers (1983)


Journey (1975)

Album Score: 11/15

Journey might be remembered best for their pop radio hits and the flamboyant, bold vocal stylings of Steve Perry, but that's not how they started. Perry wouldn't even join the group until their fourth album. Rather, Journey had formed initially as a progressive-rock outfit that was begot by former members of Santana, as well as a little-celebrated '60s psychedelic band called Frumious Bandersnatch. (Which also happens to be the birth name of famed British actor Benedict Cumberbatch.)

Instead of aiming for pop-radio hits, this early incarnation of Journey concentrated on complex song development and jammy instrumental solos. Needless to say, if you're listening to this album expecting arena-rock hits like “Anyway You Want It,” that will not be the way you need it. Rather, this album is recommended more for fans of early Santana albums.

...I tried reviewing this album once before, about 10 years ago, when I was still in my music-reviewing infancy, and I didn't go for it then. God knows I was wrong. Thus, I correct the assessment: This album is, in fact, excellent. Taking up lead singer duties was Gregg Rolie, a former singer/keyboardist and vocalist of Santana who would eventually cede the role of lead singer to Perry (while still retaining keyboard duties). Rolie is a good lead singer for sure, but … well … he wasn't anything like Perry.

So, the star of this show is truly the work from lead guitarist Neal Schon, who was another import from Santana. He, along with bassist Ross Valory, would also prove to be Journey's only permanent members--they were here in the beginning and they stuck around all the way till their geriatric phase in the 21st Century.

Now, while there are clearly progressive inclinations of this album, it might be better to think of this album as jam-based. Because true egg-heads like me, when we listen to progressive rock albums--or even albums that might be categorized as “art-rock” from the likes of The Moody Blues or Procol Harum--we demand storytelling lyrics, thick illustrative atmospheres, and classical chord progressions. There's really not much of that here. If this album is progressive rock, it's the sort cool kids could enjoy. Sort of like Traffic's The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Except it's not as good. Or like Santana's Caravanserai. Except it's not as good. Moreover, there's no studio trickery present in this album; virtually all of this could have been played live. (An exception being an electronic vocal effect during “To Play Some Music.” ...Yeah, I was paying attention.)

This album quite entertaining, though, and in ways that is different from their classic stuff. Be rest assured of that. Schon's blistering guitar solos and Rolie's blistering keyboard solos are flung all through this thing like silly string, and it's entertaining as anything. If you like the electric guitar, within the context of complexly developed songs, this'll be your bag for sure. If you don't care for those things, give this a miss.

The opening song here is probably the best, “Of a Lifetime,” orchestrated with standard electric guitars, electric organs, bass, drums and nothing else. But the song, seven minutes long, is complexly developed and features a memorable guitar theme that gets recycled throughout the piece. “Kohoutek” and “Topaz” are the closest things we get to prog here, two more unusually developed tunes, although the atmospheres don't strike me as terribly exotic. The closest thing we get to pop here is “To Play Some Music,” a three-minute song with a simple and quick but catchy organ riff that you could dance to, if you were so inclined.

Anyway, I doubt Journey's debut will blow anybody's mind, apart from those who didn't know that Steve Perry wasn't an original member of the band. It has some nice grooves in it, so I'd give it a quick listen, if I were you.

Read the track reviews here!


Look Into the Future (1976)

Album Score: 12/15

Look into the future, what do you see? ...Anyway you want it that's the way you need it! Anyway you want it! … Da-da-Da-da-Da-da...

Until then, we have another Journey album with lead vocals provided by Gregg Rolie. Journey, at this point, might not be hit making machines. But to you know what? This album is excellent. I might even consider it my favorite of their albums. Though when I say that keep in mind that I generally prefer this style of acidic, frantic groove-rock to the polished stadium-rock Journey would eventually become most famous for.

There's quite a variety here, too. Probably the greatest variety any Journey album has to offer. The first half contains shorter, poppier tunes, while the second half contains heavy groove songs featuring some more blistering electric guitar and Hammond organ solos that the world has to offer. And, for sure, some of the best Schon or Rolie have ever given in their careers.

Rolie's vocals have certainly improved in this album to the extent that I almost don't even think about Steve Perry when I listen to this. Or, rather, Rolie was perfectly suited as the type of lead singer Journey needed at this point; his rough, heavy and soulful vocals might not be world class, but they are capable and they are entertaining. Be sure especially to hear him during the eight-minute title track, a true epic, a song that subtly catches my interest as it starts out, and it never lets go of me as it meanders through a series of crescendos.

The opening song “On a Saturday Night,” they appear to go a Supertramp route. In fact, it sounds exactly like a Supertramp song, featuring catchy, bouncy piano and a lively vocal melody. Quite a catchy tune, too, something I would be prepared to sing along with just as much as I'm prepared to sing along with “Don't Stop Believin'.” The follow-up tune “It's All Too Much” isn't that far away from that, which sports a heavier atmosphere and more catchy pop hooks.

The closest these guys ever got to heavy metal can be found here, “She Makes Me (Feel Alright)” which has a catchy riff--just as good as any other riff I hear. “You're On Your Own” sounds like it was based on The Beatles' “I Want You (She's So Heavy),” except it's faster paced and contains some dazzling electric guitar solos. The flawlessly executed crescendos throughout the song are so exciting that I honestly can't think worse of that experience.

The album moves from pop to more groove-oriented songs (more in the vein of the previous album, except devoid of any obvious prog influences), and … Wow! They're amazing! The title track (which I'd mentioned earlier) is more laid back. “Midnight Dreamer” is heavy and fast. And then “I'm Gonna Leave You” is an acid-tinged epic.

Journey and their fans more or less seem to forget about these early albums, and I wouldn't say that isn't for good reason, as they would seriously polish and streamline their sound once Steve Perry joined up. However, the level of songwriting here is just as strong--if not stronger--than their signature albums. Do take a moment to listen to them, if you don't believe me.

Read the track reviews here!


Next (1977)

Album Score: 11/15

Listening to these early Journey albums, it really isn't a wonder how these guys would become immediately popular the second they would streamline their sound. They really were excellent songwriters. There isn't a weak song in sight. And Neal Schon knew how to infuse everything with exciting guitar solos--albeit at times they do tend to be more show-offey than some other guitarists would choose to make them. But, you know, this was Journey.

Also, even though the shift to Infinity was unquestionably an abrupt one, there was at least a little bit of a shift in that direction. The first album had similar stylistic relations to Santana, which was the band these guys had spun off of. The second album contained roughly half of those kinds of songs, while the other half were pop tunes. By this third album, we get almost exclusively pop. That's also the main reason I dropped this album rating down a notch, as those acid-drenched, heavy songs of the previous album were terrific, and I miss them here. And the pop songs--while they are good--aren't quite as good as … um … they would be in Journey's next album.

While I might describe these songs as pop, it's still decidedly different than the sort of pop they would be cutting in their classic period, for reasons beyond just the lead singer. Maybe I shouldn't even call this pop. The presentation of these songs tend to be relatively rough and unkempt. That is with the exception of the charming, Elton-John-esque space ballad the album opens with, “Spaceman.” There's still not even a hint in this album, really, of the glistening symphonic pop magic of their classic period. The sound here is dense and earthy. Rolie's vocals tend to be rough and soulful, a stark difference than the glammy wailing of Steve Perry.

I do love “Spaceman.” It is the first of many Journey ballads, but they're rarely ever as charming as that, even if it's very obvious they took a lot of hints from “Rocketman.” Also, the melody is gorgeous. The follow-up, “People,” starts to actually seem like a classic Journey song, as it sports a tighter, more streamlined sound. The only thing missing there are the flamboyant vocals. I like it, though, especially as it does create a compelling atmosphere.

Points against this album include a couple of relatively underwhelming songs in the first half, “I Would Find You” and “Here We Are,” that don't quite generate the steam that songs did so consistently in the previous album. With that said, the former is interesting, as opens with a bendy Middle Eastern themed synthesizer, which was incorporated well. However after that point, the song develops too slowly for my tastes.

Another beef I have is probably a trivial one, but it's that the album is four minutes shorter than Look Into Tomorrow. That was precious time that could have been used to extend the album's terrific closer, the dark and powerful “Karma.” ...Come on! Doesn't a song like that need an extended jam session? I'm not even that much of a jam guy, but considering how entertaining it has been hearing Schon and Rolie go at it in the previous Journey album, why not bring it there? Oh well.

Anyway, this album might not as a whole thrill me like Journey's previous one did, but it's nonetheless among the group's finer releases. That is, except the terrible cover art. (But isn't it nice to see what these guys looked like for a change? ...Or not?)

Read the track reviews here!


Infinity (1978)

Album Score: 12/15

Even though I am forevermore going to go against the grain and claim that Look Into the Future is the best Journey album of all time, how could I not also have a soft spot for a song like “Lights?” That is the band's signature, majestic ballad about genuine love for one's hometown. (...Or, not I'm reading now that Steve Perry originally wrote that about L.A. but ended up changing it to “The Bay,” because it sings better. ...Well, it's all West Coast, right?)

Oh, hello. Steve Perry is here! I probably should have opened this review with that, but I'm sure everyone knew that anyway. Here is at long last the first album Journey would cut with their signature lead singer, and therefore this would be considered the first real Journey album for the vast majority of listeners. While Rolie was a fine lead singer and probably could have continued filling that role indefinitely, they needed someone who could sing past the stratosphere, if they were ever going to become the ultimate arena-rock band. And Perry was perfect for that role, of course, unquestionably one of the finest vocalists in all rock 'n' roll. His high-pitched soaring vocals seemed to have known no boundaries.

And this album really is good, and I like all the songs here. As far as ridiculously melodramatic arena-rock albums go, this is just about as good as it gets. (Topped only by Boston's eponymous album.) The best song here? While “Lights” is majestic in that perfectly maudlin way, I'm going with the fast-paced rocker “Wheel in the Sky.” I mostly like it for its catchy melody, but I also like it because it seems unusual for an arena-rock song, particularly with that choppy bass arrangement that I'd normally associate with country-western. But of course its power chorus, heavily dramatic vocals, and glistening studio polish is pure arena-rock.

There isn't a whole lot of diversity on this album--or the rest of Journey's career for that matter. They would only really know two modes: Fast arena-rockers and melodramatic ballads. For that reason, Journey's discography becomes somewhat tiresome to sit through. But, at least on this album, no matter what mode they're in, they always manage to find a vocal hook or an instrumental texture to engage my ears.

For instance, check out that rumbling guitar texture that starts off “LA DO DA!” The rest of the song has a toe-tapping rhythm, power chords and Jerry Lee Lewis piano, which is a lot of fun, but the vocals from Perry cut through all that perfectly, soaring high into the stratosphere, and he's even singing an engaging melody. ...However, that isn't quite as engaging as the melody he'd sing during “Patiently,” which is one of the catchiest power-ballads of all time. ...Man, there are more power-ballads here. And as much of a scientific improbability that it is, all of them be good. “Winds of March,” is almost just as catchy as “Patiently.” The album closer, “Opened the Door,” also manages to draw me in and proves to be an engaging way to end the album.

While I can't say I'm a particular fan of Journey's uber-flashy, exaggerated, and polished style that much, I do appreciate it when it's done well, as it clearly is here. This album, if nothing else, is fantastically entertaining. If you already love this album, then I'm sure your thumbs already have decades worth of flame scarring. However, to those of you who wouldn't generally go for this kind of thing, give it a try. It might just surprise you.

Read the track reviews here!


Evolution (1979)

Album Score: 11/15

By the way, once Steve Perry joined the band, Journey's diversity was lost. This album seems as much of an extension of Infinity as Queen's A Day at the Races was an extension of A Night at the Opera. And like most sequels, this album pales in comparison, unfortunately. On the other side of that coin, however, that means Journey is consistent.

What's really missing here is something that riles me up quite like “Wheels in the Sky” did, or a power-ballad that works as well as “Lights.” There are still a few signature moments here, though, particularly their hit single “Lovin', Touchin' Squeezin',” which legitimately could have been a Motown hit from the '60s. Except we have growling electric guitars and piercing, glammy lead vocals instead of a hazy Hammond organ, ringing electric guitars, and the smooth lead vocals of Smokey Robinson. People love that song, and that's for good reason: It's enjoyable.

There's “City of the Angels,” a song Perry wrote to not be confused for anything but Los Angeles. I guess to make up for the fact his producer prompted him to change the setting of “Lights” from L.A. to San Francisco because it sings better. It's not as good as “Lights” but the chord progression is interesting, and those dense vocal blasts of Perry-voices singing “City of the Angellllsssss” sticks with me.

Another song I like is “Daydream,” which starts out generating a remarkably pleasant, dreamy, synthesizer haze. It becomes more standard power-pop fare during the chorus, where some flashy power chords start to dominate and Schon takes the opportunity to deliver one of the more blistering solos of the album. I also like the album closer, “Lady Luck,” which--with perhaps a little less studio polish--wouldn't have been so out of place on Led Zeppelin IV.

Most of this album, though is just good. “Sweet and Simple” is a perfectly fine R&B ballad which is as well written as any of them, and I do like the gospel-tinged chorus. However, I wish it would do a little more something to dig into me. “Too Late” is the album's opening ballad, in the same style of “The Lights.” While it does pick up a little steam, it doesn't really pick me up with it.

Since this album is a direct apples-to-apples comparison to Infinity, it makes the assessment quite definitive that this album is mildly inferior to the predecessor. There are plenty of good songs here presented with a level of consistency such that any good Infinity fan should get this one right afterwards.

Read the track reviews here!


Departure (1980)

Album Score: 10/15

I used to hear this album's lead-in single in the '90s, it seemed, every time an advertisement for a used car dealership came on the TV. And as long as you haven't lived your life beneath that proverbial rock, you've probably heard it other places too. I'm talking about that dense, anthemic AOR classic that goes a little something like this: "ANY WAY YOU WANT IT, THAT'S THE WAY YOU NEED IT, ANY WAY YOU WANT IT! Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah!!!" That is one of the few powerful stadium-rock classics that actually gives the genre a good name.

And God knows there aren't too many I can say that about. Its chorus is a pure rush of adrenaline, directly to the head. And the melody is catchy, catchy, catchy. That's a song I would listen to while I'm working on my hot rod. Never mind that I don't have any skills whatsoever as a mechanic. Nor do I have any particular interest in driving a hot rod. But by golly, that song makes me want to!!

Other than that, I have a hard time wrapping my mind how this album isn't another extension of Infinity, except it's even paler this time. Apart from the lead-in single, not too many of these melodies seem to rise to the occasion to give my ears many great things to listen to.

They've certainly given me many good things to listen to, however, and I've enjoyed myself fitfully well listening to this a few times at work. (Don't worry; I am a very productive employee.) Journey were truly pros at their craft, and the song production here is perfect. I gave all the tracks at least a B.

One stand-out song in the second half is a ballad, “I'm Cryin'.” Journey were no strangers to ballads of course, but that one brings the intensity to a new level. Steve Perry might have a tendency to come off like he is over-singing everything, but he went completely hog-wild with that one. “Precious Time” is also a pretty great rocker; it has a solid pulse all throughout it, and there's some great harmonica at the outro.

Of course, Schon's big-stadium guitar is on-point in that song—and throughout this whole thing, for matter. I gotta say, though, I'm probably taking that guy for granted, and maybe I shouldn't be. The title track is a 30-second instrumental that reminds me of David Bowie's “Moss Garden.” I kind of wish they went a little longer with it.

I might not be so terribly thrilled with this album. This might be indicative of me not being the biggest Journey fan in the world. Though I'm certainly willing to stand in the middle of a dense crowd of Journey fans at a concert, just for the chance to rock out with “Any Way You Want It.” Who wouldn't want that, anyway?

Read the track reviews here!


Dream, After Dream (1980)

Album Score: 11/15

Welcome to the black sheep of Journey's discography, the soundtrack to an obscure Japanese film called Yume, Yume, No Ato. It is anybody's guess why Journey—who were at their pinnacle at this point as a commercially successful powerhouse—became involved in a project like this that was bound to achieve limited fanfare. I mean, this film is so obscure even The Internet has scant information about it. ...Perhaps Journey just wanted to sit back and chill for a bit? Picking an obscure movie to write a soundtrack for might have meant they could have just done what they wanted with it and nobody would have argued for anything different? ...So carry on, Journey!

Lucky for the filmmakers, I guess, Journey came up with some decent stuff. More than that, this is stuff I certainly didn't expect to hear from the band that had only recently released “Any Way You Want It.” The first track is “Destiny.” It is nine-minutes long and beautifully moody, orchestrated heavily with forlorn strings, a french horn, and a gently arpeggiating guitar. As it starts out, it rings a bit like something out of Gustav Holst's Planets. (OK, some classical music geek out there just busted a gasket when I said that. Of course Journey weren't classically trained musicians, and that is pretty obvious. But we have lower expectations than that in the world of rock 'n' roll.) When Steve Perry chimes in, his voice soars like it does on his arena-rock ballads; however, he comes across far more fragile here. It sounds like he is singing something Nina Simone might. Sort of a flighty bit of vocal jazz.

They manage to top that with “Sandcastles,” for my money, even though it's a much shorter song and I suppose less epic. Next time you're out on a long walk on the beach take that song with you and see where it takes you. It's smooth and delicate, with gentle string arrangements, and Perry's vocal performance once again is beautiful. They close the album with a ballad, “Little Girl,” that had been released as a single at the time. And it's a beautiful one. Certainly Journey had already proved they were talented at composing compelling arena-rock ballads, but here's one more suited to a smaller room.

The album's big drawbacks are the incidental and instrumental tracks. Remember this was a soundtrack album before it was a progressive-rock album. Though nothing in here is embarrassing at all or even poorly done. “Moon Theme” has a pretty compelling instrumental melody, which Neal Schon delivers with a soaring guitar line. It sounds like something out of Camel's The Snow Goose, except less polished. And less geeky, probably. Anyway, I talk more about the incidental music in the track reviews. All in all, I would call this is a worthwhile gem for any hardened Journey fan to seek out who might want to see what else these guys could do. It goes a long way in proving these guys weren't just dumb arena-rock musicians.

Read the track reviews here!


Captured (1981)

Album Score: 11/15

This is one of those live albums I want to be careful about. I've listened to this a number of times and thought it was consistently fun. No doubt, this shows us exactly why Journey were one of the best selling live acts of the era. I had so much fun listening to this that it even inspired me to give it a similar rating as some of Journey's best studio albums. However, at the same time, most of these songs are performed so similarly to the album versions that I wouldn't want to recommend this to anyone who doesn't already love the studio albums. Maybe in some cases you could argue these live versions pop out a little more, but I think you'll have to be a hardened veteran of the studio albums before you appreciate that. At any rate, these guys really were a powerhouse in the stadium, and here is the best place to hear these songs in their natural habitat.

Steve Perry was an excellent frontman, by the way, in case there was any doubt. His voice sounds like it reached every corner of that stadium and even miles beyond. He had a likable stage presence too, it seemed. Or at least, I thought it was cute when he asked everyone in the stadium to hop on their tour bus and come along with them. (If only!) We also of course get Neal Schon here whose flashy guitar licks were also tailor made for those giant rooms, and it's really exciting to hear him go at it. The best thing I can possibly say about this live album—or for any live album—is that it makes me wish I was there.

The only thing negative I can say—for better or worse—was that this band was Journey. In other words, not every song they perform here was a home-run. However, even their relatively bland songs (“Where Were You,” “Anytime,” “Just the Same Way”) I still think make fun listens. That's simply because these guys were such a tight band. ...So if I had fun with the songs I'm relatively ambivalent about, what does that say for the hits? There's “Lights” early on in the set, but then they hit us with a few whammies as the concert reaches its conclusion. There's “La Do Da” (complete with an extended drum solo that I don't mind listening to), “Wheel in the Sky,” and “Anyway You Want It.”

There's a new song in this album, too, which never had a studio version that I'm aware of: “Dixie Highway.” Its melody isn't so memorable, but it has yet another pumping groove, and it has a whole dousing of Schon's extendedly awesome guitar soloing. Maybe the best thing of all about this live album was that it captured Journey right before they turned into a radio-centric band. In other words, this was at the peak of their powers as a true rock band. Does it get any better than that? (I mean, other than The Rolling Stones?)

Gregg Rolie left the band at this point, by the way, although I don't really know why. I thought perhaps it was because the rest of the band was going to start forcing him to put his time-honored friend, the Hammond organ, away and start playing synthesizers. However, the little-heard solo output Rolie would release in the '80s was even more synthesizer-hell than Journey was by the mid-'80s! Though perhaps I understand why he left. He was formerly the frontman, but lately he had been relegated to being that one guy who sings lead sometimes when Steve Perry doesn't. And he played keyboards in the background. Not exactly glamorous, was it?

Read the track reviews here!


Escape (1981)

Album Score: 11/15

This is the album with “Don't Stop Believin',” which is a pop-rock masterpiece. The song is so good that I assume anyone is lying who says they never get the desire to crank that thing up to full volume and lip-sync to it passionately. (“Just a small town girl!!! / Livin' in a looooonely worrrrrrld / She took the midnight train goin' anywheeeeeahhhhh”) That is one huge song, and I wouldn't want to change a thing about it. Its opening piano riff is memorable, the melody is beautiful, and when its chorus comes, it feels like there are a million air molecules rushing past my face at the speed of sound. It is radio magic.

Gregg Rolie wasn't with the band anymore. He took his Hammond organ with him. That was just as well since that sound was pretty old-hat by the early '80s. His replacement was Jonathan Cain, who cowrote all of these songs. He may or may not have been responsible for this band shifting away from any inclination they might have had previously towards blues or boogie. Escape is what you would call a thoroughbred pop album. Which was just as well, since pop was Journey's forte anyway. Now we just get higher concentrations of it.

But did they go too far with songs like “Who's Cryin' Now?” That is the first time ever, I believe, that a mainstream Journey song didn't feature any pumping action from Neal Schon. And then they do kind of this Whitney Houston-ish lite-gospel thing with “Still They Ride.” Granted it's still a pretty good song and contains a little bit of that Journey umph. However, that's skirting so close to adult-contemporary blandness that it is scaring me. Another song that scares me—perhaps in a good way—is “Mother Father,” which is a ridiculously over-the-top ballad. It wouldn't sound out of place at all on Bonnie Tyler's Faster Than the Speed of Night, which would be released a couple years later. It's the kind of goofy song that you need an over-the-top singer to really pull off—which they certainly had with Steve Perry.

In the end, I do love this album. I might lament somewhat the direction Journey was going here, but I don't have any huge problems with the individual songs. And many of my lamentations are rectified somewhat by the title track, as it has some of that pumping guitar action and infectiously toe-tapping rhythm that I've been craving. They also seemed to try out new wave with “Keep on Runnin',” which features a smooth and rapid rhythm and clean guitar. What I like most about it, though, is it has a catchy melody.

So this is a good album, and the one great song it has certainly went a long way in cementing this album's status in history. Sure, the remainder of the songs don't deliver quite like that one does, but even the plastic pop ballads manage to deliver a catchy hook or two. In other words, this is all-in-all a well-done pop record.

Read the track reviews here!


Untold Passion (1981)

Released by Neal Schon & Jan Hammer

Album Score: 10/15

I was poking around the solo discographies of my favorite rock band of the hour—Journey—for albums that I could potentially include on this page. This is, of course, to achieve my lifelong dream of having the most bloated Journey review page of all the Internet. (And then, I will take over the world.) This was when I discovered that the Honorable Neal Schon, professor of electric guitar, released a couple of collaboration albums with keyboardist and composer Jan Hammer. Immediately, what I had pictured in my mind was Neal Schon playing some flashy guitar to the Miami Vice soundtrack. “Cool,” I thought. So I gave a listen.

Yes! Truly, some of these songs do sound like Neal Schon playing over the Miami Vice soundtrack. However, that only describes about half of these songs. The others were clearly written by Schon. I'm guessing they were written for Journey and didn't make it onto their albums. Now these might be somewhat below-par for Journey songs, but they're really not bad. I'd put these on the same level as the average non-single from Departure.

So, for an album that seems like a mishmash of Journey rejects and audition pieces for Jan Hammer's soon-to-be-launched television career, this album makes a reasonable listen. The sound production is clean and pretty throughout the album. Some of the Journey rejects rock pretty hard (“Wasting Time,” which sounds like something Robert Palmer should be singing, and “I'm Talking to You,” which points a little more to new wave.) A few of them sound pretty dopey, though, with “I'm Down” reminding me of Spinal Tap more than anything else. (OK, I like Spinal Tap, so I guess that means I like that song, nevertheless.) Really, the fatal flaw of this album is simply that it lacks one singular great moment. You know, the sort of great moment that the restless masses could rally behind.

Weirdly the best instrumental track here belongs to Schon, “On the Beach.” Geez, even with a title like that, how can I do anything else than picture a scene out of Miami Vice? I was a little bit floored when I looked at the song credits, because I was dead certain that Jan Hammer wrote that—even though the gruff electric guitar is used to play the main groove, as opposed to a synthesizer.

This somehow makes an overall decent listen, but you would have to be some kind of crazy completist to actually want to own this thing. I'd imagine there are one or two out there, but the layperson can safely give this a miss.

Read the track reviews here!


Here to Stay (1982)

Released by Neal Schon & Jan Hammer

Album Score: 10/15

The opening track, “No More Lies,” got some attention at the time. That perhaps means these songs were a little more than what I'd unceremoniously called them in their previous album, which was Journey rejects. The song was even played at Journey concerts at the time. While it doesn't immediately capture my attention like one of Journey's big hits, it is nevertheless fun, tight, and poppy, and it features some heavy and mean guitar-pumping riffs. That is exactly the sort of thing I want to hear out of something with Neal Schon's name on it, something that would sound great in a huge arena, and it delivers!

So what of everything else? Well there aren't any more of Jan Hammer's pre-Miami Vice instrumentals on here, unfortunately. I guess the duo were shooting for more of a legitimate pop-rock record this time around. The only problem with that is Jan Hammer actually tried to write a few Journey-esque songs, and some of them are just no good. “(You Think You're) So Hot” and “Turnaround” are just stiff and lifeless. They're not horrible, or anything, but I'm not actually enjoying them. Which sort of misses the point of generic stadium-rock. Weirdly, Schon and Hammer seemed to switch places for a bit, as the album's only instrumental, “Peace of Mind,” was written by Schon. And it is dead dull. It's the sort of thing I might hear in a soundtrack for a melodramatic '80s movie. It's the kind of music that makes me a little bit relieved I have ham-fisted dialog and bad acting to pay attention to.

Another song that Schon wrote, “Don't Stay Away,” was a ballad that took aim straight for the pop radio. It wasn't a bad attempt at it I suppose, but it ultimately didn't hit the bulls-eye. All it does is remind me of one of those song I would hear occasionally on the pop radio that I sit through politely, but ultimately it only leaves me waiting around hoping for Michael Jackson to come on next.

Oh, and there are some actual treats here for the hardcore Journey fan. That is you can hear Steve Perry sing background in “Self Defense.” Not only that, but the other members of Journey perform their instruments on it. It turns out to be a pretty decent song and something I wouldn't mind hearing played in a big stadium. Perry also co-wrote “Covered By Midnight,” which is a dark and moody thing that sounds a little like it would belong on Frontiers. So, in other words, even just a moderately obsessive Journey completest will probably want to own this record.

In spite of my previous declaration that Jan Hammer should have stayed away from trying to write pop songs in a Journey vein, he did come up with my favorite song of the whole album, “Time Again.” That song drenches me in its synth-heavy, morose atmosphere. Of course Schon can still be heard pumping his guitar—but he's relegated mostly to background effects—and he takes a clean, melodic solo in a few spots. The chord progressions they come up with are quite good, and the main vocal melody isn't bad either. Yes, that is a decent pop song. Which I suppose in turn makes this Schon & Hammer album all-in-all decent.

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Frontiers (1982)

Album Score: 10/15

Journey had already upped the ante in synthesizers with Escape. In this follow-up, upped it even more. Which I suppose is in line with pretty much every other band that experienced exponential synthesizer growth as they progressed through the 1980s. And with the synthesizers going full-blast in our faces, Journey did manage to produce one undisputed classic: the album opener, "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." Man, oh man, when I listen to that song, all I want to do is crank up the volume and feel the air molecules bursting across my face. It may be farewell to my hearing, but at least it goes out listening to such an epic wonder. If you don't know this song, then get your headphones on immediately and crank it up.

Unfortunately the album goes downhill from there fast, thanks in a large part to Journey's decision to include a plethora of power-ballads. I mean, maybe if this album had only two of them, I could give it a pass, but there are four of them here. The album has 10 songs in total, which makes this album is 40% power ballad. Blech. With this said, some of the ballads are OK. Journey were always, after all, formidable in the songwriting department, and they continue to be so here. “Faithfully” and “Send Her My Love,” albeit sappy, have OK melodies and the instrumentation is fine too. But then there's also “After the Fall” and “Troubled Child” which are dull, and I can't think of good reasons to listen to them.

And then even some of the other upbeat songs leave something to be desired. “Chain Reaction” sounds tailor-made for the stadium; it has an OK chorus, but other than that it doesn't seem to do much. And the album closer “Rubicon” is a throwaway—while it's somewhat catchy, it's nothing more than a generic arena-rock tune. I listen to it, and I can't find anything interesting about it.

What I do like is the title track—at least the way it begins, with such a dense atmosphere that it gives me the feeling I'm about to go on a grand adventure. Then Steve Perry starts singing with a wonky groove, and I get a little less interested in it... but I still like it. Another highlight is a song where Journey put the synthesizers to rest for a hot moment to bring us the Zeppelin-esque “Back Talk.” Yep, the song is a weak imitation a song like “A Whole Lot of Love,” but it nonetheless makes a good listen. Another minor classic here is “Edge of the Blade,” which would have been acceptable Rocky montage fodder. Albeit, it's no “Eye of the Tiger.” ...Yes, I've gotten to the point where I acknowledge that “Eye of the Tiger” is a great song.

When it's all said and done, Frontiers deserves a solid 9. However, I'm going to up the rating thanks to the existence of the bonus tracks, which are amazing. Most of them were written for movies, and—yep—they are 1980s radio pop to their core... but I love them. In particular, “Only the Young,” I just want to listen to over and over again. It's so catchy and soaring! It's the kind of song that makes listening to the radio worthwhile! Not far behind that one is “Ask the Lonely,' which I'm supposing was the best thing about the movie it was written for—Two of a Kind starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I mean, there's not much else for me to write about it other than it's catchy radio-pop. Probably the most well-known among them is “Only Solutions” from Tron. I like that song as well, but I do find the chorus a bit weak. I suppose Tron was such a great movie, Journey wouldn't let their song overshadow it.

All in all, I do enjoy myself when I listen to this album, so I would give this a mild recommendation. Alternately, if you'd rather skip everything else and just download “Separate Ways” and “Only the Young” to listen to over and over again, I'd recommend it even more!

Read the track reviews here!


All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.