Monday, July 14, 2008

Journey's Revelation

RevelationI'm not too ashamed: I like Journey. If you grew up in the late 70s and early 80s they were a staple, thus, almost impossible to ignore if you went anywhere near a rolling skating rink. Steve Perry could make the ladies swoon and Neal Schon played guitar licks that rocked. What's not to like?

Sadly, over the years Journey's had some problems with their main frontman (Perry was not their first singer), which hasn't helped them any considering Perry is one of the main reasons the band shot to gargantuan popularity levels. In his absence they've had a few clones step up to the microphone, but they've all fallen by the wayside. Until the latest: Arnel Pineda. This Fillipino (yes; it boggles the mind) was hanging out singing cover tunes when Schon discovered him on YouTube (further boggling), flew him in for an audition, and subsequently hired him (now the mind wobbles). The buzz on Pineda and the band grew after Ellen DeGeneres talked about them on her daytime show, then featured Journey as musical guests. They rode this wave and subsequently released their newest album, Revelation, as a three disc Wal-Mart exclusive. This is where I couldn't ignore them any longer, and got the set to see what all the nuttiness was about.

For $11.98, if nothing else, one is getting their money's worth. The Revelation package is a fold-out digipak which includes fabulous classic 70s era Journey artwork, two music discs, plus a live DVD. In my opinion the most interesting piece of the set is the second music disc, which holds fifteen of their greatest hits, all instruments re-recorded, and all re-sung by Pineda. This disc is instantly dismissed by the fans for the obvious reasons (the chief one being, "Unnecessary."), but I find it fascinating simply because of the very reasons they hate it: these redos are beyond similar to the original recordings.

If you play any of the tunes for a person who is not a rabid Journey fan, they'll assume it's the golden oldie. Yes, the playing is that exact and the singing is eerily similar to Perry, straight down to his well-known vocal inflections. Heck, the order of the songs even mimics the order that's on their original Greatest Hits release which debuted twenty years ago in 1988. Whether it was created so they would have less trouble releasing the songs for promotional use, or because Wal-Mart insisted on it being made (most likely a combination of both), what's clear is that the band is still capable of playing their old material well, and their new singer is firmly up to the task. Some songs fare better than others, so it won't make you stop listening to the original version of "Separate Ways", but this is by no means a cringe worthy effort.

The live DVD features a recent show in Nevada, and proves that in concert the band is still no slouch. The songs are fiery (it amazes me how well Schon can still play the leads for these tunes) and Arnel is running all over the stage, emotionally belting out the songs. Journey seems invigorated by their new younger bandmate, and the DVD is definitely a worthwhile watch.

The CD of new music is equally fascinating. Here is where Arnel is not quite as Perry-ish. It's clear to me after listening to the music numerous times that he simply sounds a lot like Perry, but is in fact his own singer to boot. The disc starts off mightily with the lead single "Never Walk Away", a rocker in the same mold as "Be Good to Yourself", with a nice riff, cleanly executed leads, and an emotional chorus (complete with Journey's trademarkable vocal harmonies) that you can't help but sing along to. The next four tracks shouldn't disappoint any Journey fan, since they include "Lights"-esque ballads ("Like a Sunshower"), rapid-fire modern fare ("Wildest Dream"), and sweeping arena rockers ("Faith In the Heartland").

The music wobbles a bit at the halfway point. Their second single, "After All These Years", aims for the heights of ballads like "Open Arms" and "Faithfully", but comes up short. The lyrics are respectable, but the music doesn't reach the same catchiness, and even though one can feel the build, it never pays off the way their better known ballads do. The next three songs teeter as well, and I can't help but feel it's all rather Survivor-like. Unfortunately, it's in an "I Can't Hold Back"/"The Search Is Over" sort of way, not an "Eye of the Tiger" sort of way.

The album does close with a wonderful instrumental, "The Journey (Revelation)". The beginning of this piece starts with a tribal flavor similar to Eric Johnson's "Venus Isle" or "Friends", with leads that remind one of Eric's live intro to "Cliffs of Dover". It's too bad that a lot of Journey fans don't seem to enjoy this, because I feel it's a great instrumental, proof of Neal Schon's prowess as a musician, and the tune clearly demonstrates how underrated he is as a guitar player.

Don't let some of the failures of the second half sway you. I heartily recommend the set. We all remember Journey for their hits, but they shouldn't be held exclusively to that standard. I give them credit for this release, even if it is a bit by the numbers. But I ask every one of you: do you really want Journey to grow and develop that much?

(adjusted up 1/2 star for value of package)


Blogger monster paperbag said...

neal is really good..

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did hear some of this while in a store recently, and I'l admit to being impressed as I instantly knew it was Journey, and only slowly came to realize that it was an entirely new song. Hats of to Neal for the lead work, as you say it was quite impressive.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love journey now,they rock the world,young and old.

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really liked Turn Down the World Tonight which is the last song in the "new songs" CD. I wasn't hooked to it the first time I played it, but it got me on later. And now I have that song in my car's CD player in repeat mode ever since.

Thanks for the review.

3:32 AM  

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