Posted on February 18, 2010 -
Journey finds its footing again and shows signs of its newly-found confidence by taking some chances throughout “Generations.” The album is a quantum leap forward from “Arrival” and certainly miles ahead of the uninspired “Raised on Radio” and “Trial By Fire.” After twenty years, this album shows Journey returning to the energetic form of “Frontiers” and “Escape.” And while not matching the fresh brilliance of “Escape” or “Evolution,” on the whole this album is qualitatively the equal of “Frontiers.”
What keeps the album from breaking through to brilliant is that perhaps the boldness was tempered TOO MUCH. Taking a few more chances songwriting-wise and incorporating a few more interesting production techniques could really have a huge difference at the top end. If Amazon had decimals, this album would get a 4.3.
The current Journey lineup, which remains a highly successful touring act, is now in its seventh year and the Steve Perry-esque Steve Augeri remains at the mic, supported by the entire band on this release: for the first time in Journey’s thirty-year history, every band member gets a turn to sing lead on a song.
Although Augeri develops his own vocal style toward a harder rocking Robert Plant-like edge on this release (“Believe”), Augeri’s delivery can nevertheless steer eerily close to Perry’s (“The Place in Your Heart”).
“The Place in Your Heart” could be “Separate Ways, Part II,” and, in fact, seems to be a reflection on the theme of separation, but this time from the perspective of the process of reconciliation.
“Butterfly” is a beautiful power ballad, solo-penned by Augeri, which is straight out of the Journey-swoon playbook and shows that Augeri has absorbed the “Journey-system” of songwriting very well.
Augeri also wrote “Believe,” an energetic Zeppelin-esque rocker that shows off his harder-edge to maximum advantage and incorporates a more interesting structure and set of time signatures than most traditional Journey rockers. Kudos for this.
One of the best tracks on the album is “Out of Harms Way,” a searing rocker that could be taught in classes on how to write good lyrics. Thematically it addresses military service and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, yet without casting a cloying political gloss to the song that is so common among so-called political rock. In any case, it’s a performance tour-de-force by both Augeri and Schon.
Augeri’s best vocal performance on this album is arguably the gorgeous “Knowing That You Love Me,” a soul and gospel-infused ballad that shows Augeri’s independent vocal identity from that of Perry’s imprint.
Drummer Deen Castronovo, who sings lead on two tracks, is even closer to many traditionalist fans’ breathy Steve Perry vocal ideal that they will swoon (“A Better Life,” and “Never Too Late”). “A Better Life” is too close to the mid-80s (Raised On Radio ear) production and vocal gloss, that even with the fabulous vocals, it simply lacks the passion and warmth of Castronovo’s other track, the fiery “Never Too Late,” which is easily one of the top three tracks on the album.
Jonathan Cain’s vocals on “Every Generation” are perfectly adequate and reminiscent of Gregg Rolie’s vocal tracks during his Santana and Journey days in the 1970s. The track itself is a strong bluesy jaunt with beautifully sleazy guitar work by Neal Schon that recalls Keith Richards and Joe Walsh. Lyrically, Cain infuses the song with self-referencing humor and a tribute to rock traditions prized by boomer rockers. Despite Cain’s middling vocal delivery, its other merits make it one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Undervalued for his vocals, bassist Ross Valory lends a gritty lead vocal to a ZZ-Top-evoking dirt-rubbed shuffle (“Gone Crazy”) that is also a fabulous showcase of Schon’s guitar technical prowess and breadth of musical inspiration. At times Schon manages to sound like both Billy Gibbons AND Zakk Wylde on this track. For Perry fans, Valory’s vocals may be a step too far, but there is no questioning the song’s energy and awe-inspiring guitar work on this track.
The two weakest tracks on the album precede this song. “In Self Defense,” revived from the 1983 Frontiers sessions and tracked on a release by Schon and Mahavishnu Orchestra alumnus Jan Hammer, is a blistering guitar track but isn’t sufficiently interesting beyond hearing Neal Schon take lead vocal duties and hearing him shred. “Better Together” is a funk-rock track too close to “Arrival”’s “Nothin’ Comes Close” and “To Be Alive Again” to merit a reprise of the same theme on this album.
The songwriting on this album, with a couple of exceptions, is superb and occasionally topical (another new wrinkle to the band). Avoiding the clumsiness and heavy-handedness of other artists’ efforts, Journey manages to deliver a hopeful and positive message for those emerging from tragedy through “Beyond the Clouds,” a song written about 9/11, specific reference of which only becomes obvious through the figurative subtext of the song. The musical structure of the song breaks no new ground for the band, but is nevertheless a classier tribute to 9/11 than that of other pop artists.
Finally, and not to be overlooked, is the lead track “Faith in the Heartland,” which pays tribute to British hard rock by musically (and not lyrically) invoking The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Baba O’Riley” (later generations may also find shades of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” here). It is a fabulously energetic track and a good introduction to the “New Journey” that a listener is about to hear.
This is a solidly strong album, even if not ground-breaking. Hopefully this band will be able to harness its newfound energy and confidence to blaze even bolder trails on a subsequent release.
CHOICEST CUTS: “Faith in the Heartland,” “Every Generation,” “Believe,” “Knowing That You Love Me,” “Out of Harms Way,” “Never Too Late.”