Tuesday, 31 May 2011
JOURNEY - Eclipse
Although a relative late-comer to the fold, vocalist Steve Perry will always be synonymous with the classic Journey sound, having performed on all of the band’s hits and classic albums, from 1978 to 1996. After Perry’s departure, the band enlisted former Tall Stories/Tyketto frontman Steve Augeri to take over the role of vocalist. His work on 2001’s ‘Arrival’ was stellar but it did not last, with 2002’s ‘Red 13’ EP possibly being the worst thing in the Journey back catalogue to date. Augeri also appeared on the 2005 album ‘Generations’ but by then, in the UK at least, it seemed to be only the hardcore fans who were taking notice.
Augeri subsequently left Journey in 2006 and the legendary Jeff Scott Soto was hired to fill in the vacant position, a role he held until 2007 when Arnel Pineda took on the role of vocalist permanently. The resulting album (‘Revelation’, released in the same year; eventually becoming a platinum certified seller in the US) featured lots of the Journey magic which had been missing for the previous few years. However, Pineda has been accused of being a Perry clone and listening to ‘Revelation’, it’s easy to see why. The album even included a bonus disc of re-recorded classic Journey hits, with Pineda absolutely nailing the performances throughout.
Journey’s 2011 release (and second with Pineda upfront) is not ‘Revelation Part II’. For the most part, it represents Journey’s rockiest instincts; the side of Journey rarely heard on their more popular cuts. The opening number ‘City of Hope’ makes this abundantly clear as the band lay down a meaty arrangement over a brilliant ringing, circular guitar riff from guitarist Neal Schon. While heavy by Journey’s standards, it still has plenty of melody too, particularly on a harmony-fulled chorus, which despite the hard rock nature, sounds very much like a Journey chorus. Also, between the huge riffs, Deen Castronovo’s hard rock drumming and Ross Valory’s bottom end bass work, there’s still room in the mix for Jonathan Cain’s piano to cut through. At over six minutes, it’s a bit of an epic workout (as is a good proportion of this album), but nothing feels like padding. By the time Schon breaks into a guitar solo near the end, it’s a track which, frankly, rocks like a bastard. ‘Edge of the Moment’ is similarly hard edged, with some of Schon’s riffing holding a fair amount of power, but song-wise it’s not as appealing, since in places it feels a little chuggy for the sake of it. Despite this, Arnel Pineda is in particularly good voice, having found the confidence to sound like more his own man as opposed to a Steve Perry impersonator, and the chorus is another melodic high point.
‘Chain of Love’ hints at atmospherics with a piano intro, reverbed guitar sounds and a strong vocal performance, but then reverts to similar hard rock thrills as offered by the pair of opening cuts. This time though, Schon’s riff takes a slightly Eastern route with its approach, although probably more Lenny Wolf’s Kingdom Come than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. Journey should be commended with their ability to meld this into a full scale, harmony-driven chorus though, which sounds a little unexpected after such a pompous verse.
‘Eclipse’ may be harder than most Journey releases, but it’s not all bluster. ‘Tantra’, one of a few softer numbers, is a great showcase for Jonathan Cain’s piano style. The number begins with just voice and piano augmented by soft string sounds (in a ‘Faithfully’ style), before the rest of the band join a couple of minutes in. Schon’s guitar lines are gorgeous and the vocal harmonies are lavish, as they should be. Although most of ‘Eclipse’ doesn’t set out to emulate the older Journey numbers, this is one of a couple of numbers where they absolutely play it safe. Its predictable nature isn’t disappointing though – and it wouldn’t be a Journey album without something written in the Steve Perry vein. Also more “traditionally Journey”, ‘Anything Is Possible’ also really hits the mark, and in terms of melodic rock in its purest form, it is certainly ‘Eclipse’s stand out track. A solid drum line from Castronovo and shining piano motifs from Cain are joined by a fantastic performance from Pineda over a very much tried-and-tested, mid paced riff (the kind which usually accompanies AOR tunes called ‘Don’t Walk Away’). Schon’s guitar leads are full of vibrato-filled magic – which, in short, makes this a classic Journey number.
The semi-acoustic base of ‘She’s a Mystery’ also provides a little respite from the huge riffs, and also allows Pineda another opportunity to exercise the softer end of his range. Here, he reverts back to the kind of Steve Perry influenced performances he gave on ‘Revelation’, but with a slightly husky edge, more in keeping with Steve Augeri. This number’s simplicity is great, not even tarnished by a pre-programmed drum part; Schon proves, once again, he’s a master at all guitar styles, while Cain’s keyboard parts add a lot of atmosphere. Even here, though, Journey can’t resist lapsing back to solid hard rock riffing... The second half of the number adopts a slightly Led Zeppelin influenced riff, over which Schon breaks into a screaming solo until the track fades. Another highlight, ‘Someone’ is a bouncy pop-rock number capturing lots of the old Journey spirit. With 80s style stabbed piano and synths used in a shameless manner and Pineda in top form vocally, it would be great enough; but once Schon steps in with a sweeping solo (the kind which filled their ‘Escape’ and ‘Frontiers’ discs), this number has a sound which could convince the listener it had been left on the shelf from the band’s glory days.
Afer over an hour of surprisingly hard rock cuts, Journey offer an even fiercer closing statement. The instrumental cut ‘Venus’ opens with a few majestic guitar chords, overlaid by Cain striking some bass chords on his piano. Schon wastes no time in breaking into an overly complex solo which appears to feature more notes than expected, or perhaps even necessary, while Castronovo provides a ridiculously heavy backbone with his drum line dominated by double bass pedals. Symbolic of so much of ‘Eclipse’, this is Journey without a safety net.
‘Eclipse’ is not a great Journey album in the traditional sense. However, it is an absolutely stunning rock album in its own right. If you came looking for radio friendly songs in the vein of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’, ‘Who’s Crying Now’ and ‘Be Good To Yourself’, you won’t find too many of those here, so you’ll be much better of investigating ‘Revelation’ if you’ve not done so already. If, however, you’re a huge fan of Neal Schon’s distinctive guitar work, hard riffs and extended arrangements, ‘Eclipse’ delivers more of those elements than any Journey release for years, maybe even ever. For those still bemoaning the absence of Steve Perry, be thankful for what you’ve got here – at least musically – and if you still don’t like what Arnel Pineda represents, be thankful that Journey didn’t hire Hugo.