THE JOURNEY ZONE
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Some particularly noteworthy archived reviews:
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May 1977: Joel Selvin reviews Journey with Robert Fleischman
October 1986: Rich Sutton reviews Raised on Radio
April 4, 2001: JRNYDV reviews Arrival
September 12, 2001: After the Tragedy: Journey in Concert at York, PA, by JRNYDV
September 22, 2001: Steve Augeri at the Bottom Line
May-October 2002: Journey: Under the Radar 2002 Review Series
November 26, 2002: Red 13, by RevampScripts.Com
July 20, 2003: Journey (with Styx and REO Speedwagon): Classic Rock's Main Event, by JRNY02
August 7, 2003: Gregg Rolie Band and Two Fires at Waterfest, by TowandaRG
March 2, 2004: Steve Smith and Buddie's Buddys at Sculer's Jazz Club, by Cudaclan
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Journey: Eclipse (top)
Reviewer: Ross Muir, FabricationsHQ
Hell Freezes Over
“I’m in love with this record, which I haven’t said about one of our albums for a long time. It’s a rock record and it sounds amazing.” So said guitarist Neal Schon during promotional pre-release commentary for Journey’s latest album, Eclipse.
But then he would say that.
Because Eclipse is unashamedly a guitar driven album, more heavy rock than melodic rock and chock full of Schon’s trademark harmonics from fusion-istic fret board runs to melodic harmonies. Not forgetting the big riffs, power chords and solo after solo (after solo).
Schon was clearly the driving force from conception to end product and Journey’s founder member and only ever-present hasn’t been this heavily featured on a Journey album since the band’s rock-fusion days some three and a half decades ago. But that was then – as time passed it became a very different Journey and we find ourselves now in a very different musical climate. A re-imagined one…
I have limited interest in classic rock or melodic rock acts that have lost key creative personnel but continue, or regroup, in some re-imagined shape or form. For me, many such bands become brands and are no longer classic rock but retro-rock, with any new material almost forced, by fan base expectation and the current musical climate, to try and recapture the classic or signature sound. Formulated rock.
In 2008 Journey emerged from a catalogue of self inflicted damage, diminishing returns and three singers in a period of eighteen months to re-establish themselves as a commercially successful act with YouTube find Arnel Pineda on vocals and a Billboard Top 5 album in Revelation.
Arnel Pineda’s story and the little guy’s big pipes were what put Journey back in the charts and many fans regard Revelation as one of the band’s finest ever releases. But from my perspective it falls into the category of formulated rock as described above, recreating the sound and song-structures of the band’s signature years with Steve Perry.
Yet here I am reviewing the follow up to that critically acclaimed album, discussing a release by a band that in recent years I’ve been highly critical of and who haven’t overly interested me musically since Trial By Fire (the last hurrah of the classic line-up) fifteen years ago.
First an Eclipse, then Hell freezes over.
That said, and unlike Neal Schon, I’m not in love with this record nor do I believe it to be any sort of Revelation (sorry). But that’s exactly what intrigued me about Eclipse and attracted me to it the first place – the fact that it isn’t any sort of Revelation.
With Eclipse Journey have taken a complete left-turn from Revelation, producing their most interesting album of the Millennium and, in places, some pretty vibrant rock music that doesn’t conform to the standard Journey template.
Just about every Journey album (certainly since the 80’s and the beginning of Journey’s dominant era) has led off with a strong opening remark and/ or a song that has become a Journey classic. ‘City of Hope’ is no different. Opening with a ringing salvo from Schon, it’s a guitar driven number with a punchy chorus and catches that balance between commercial appeal and heavy rock. It also hints loud and clearly at what to expect over the next eleven songs and sixty-plus minutes when the final eighty seconds kicks in with Deen Castronovo’s double-time drum beat and Schon’s flurry of notes running the song to a driving conclusion. On previous albums songs such as ‘City of Hope’ would have faded out earlier as the repeat chorus’ took firm hold. On Eclipse, it cranks up rather than fades away. It’s a statement of intent.
‘Human Feel’ is another beefy up-tempo rocker, driven by Castronovo’s heavy rock shuffle on the kit with a chunky guitar riff over the top. The two-minute finale of soloing over the groove of the song hints at the rock fusion workouts of yesteryear.
Mentioning Castronovo in a Journey review before any remarks about Jonathan Cain’s contribution confirms Eclipse is a little different. Cain’s traditional piano parts and keyboard embellishments aren't quite posted missing in action, but they take more of a back seat on Eclipse. The introduction and closing reflection of ‘Tantra’ feature Cain in a more familiar role, but these particular piano-vocal pieces are overly theatrical, unnecessary to the song and sit uncomfortably on a rock record like Eclipse.
But the album isn't a total eclipse of the lighter side of Journey or their trademark hooks and sounds. ‘Anything is Possible’ is a great little mid-tempo number with some perfectly placed melodic guitars fills (although it too has the final minute dedicated to Schon’s guitar runs) while the power-pop of ‘Someone’ wouldn’t have been out of place on Revelation. ‘To Whom it May Concern,’ with its hooky little intro and outro, is more akin to traditional Journey power balladeering. It should have closed out the album but track sequencing has it placed third from the end (more on which later).
But there is a clear rock vibe and specific tone to Eclipse, which unfortunately is sometimes taken too far with one too many solos or over produced arrangements. ‘Chain of Love’ has a great Zeppelin's 'Kahmir' meets Rainbow's 'Stargazer' vibe, and 'Resonate' delivers a brooding, darker edge, but both walk that fine line between powerful and ponderous.
And then there's ‘She’s a Mystery.’ For the first four and a half minutes its lighter arrangement (very similar to the excellent but never fully completed ‘Liberty’ from the Frontiers sessions) brings a lovely change of pace to proceedings with some subtler guitar shapes thrown around behind Arnel Pineda's understated vocal – until the final two minutes. The song steps up to another big riffed workout featuring Pineda and Schon, almost competing with each other to see who can pitch the highest. It kills both the vocal and musical moment created by Mystery’s original form.
Others are perfect just as they are however. The infectious melodic hard rock and roll of 'Ritual' would sit comfortably on any Journey album.
The instrumental ‘Venus’ closes the album and although it starts with purpose, repeating the opening theme from ‘To Whom it may Concern,’ it comes across as a studio jam workout featuring big fills from Castronovo and Schon spending his final few Eclipse minutes throwing more fast and furious shapes across the fret board.
In a classic case of less is more, I feel Eclipse would have been better served by omitting ‘Venus,’ removing the last two minutes of ‘She’s a Mystery’ and editing out the Disney meets Andrew Lloyd Webber parts from 'Tantra.' And it wouldn't hurt to move the track order around a little and have 'To Whom it May Concern' close out the album with it’s message to those with power to enact change to get their act together.
Talking of messages, there actually is one threaded through some of the lyrics and many of the songs, which came from a concept of Schon’s and elaborated on by Cain when he described Eclipse as an album “with some spiritual themes to it…we just felt like it was time to send a message to the world about how we feel about life in general.”
That’s all fine and dandy but it does raise another problem – very few Journey fans will get, be looking for or, quite frankly, want that sort of message from their Journey songbook. And although there are clues to that message in some of the song titles the fact remains it’s a message lost in the sonics.
Proof of the latter comes from the fact that no-one else seems to be picking up on the concept behind Eclipse – it didn't even get a mention on what is without doubt the most positive review Eclipse will ever receive…
Über-Journey fan Andrew McNeice over at melodicrock.com gave Eclipse a glowing report complete with obligatory over the top review, a 100% rating and concluding that the album “…is a masterpiece of musical genius.” Now that’s the very definition of an over the top review.
Andrew also went to great lengths to commend every song, especially ‘Tantra.’ It does feature what is without doubt Arnel Pineda's best vocal performance to date but the song is overly long and melodramatic in its presented arrangement. Another reviewer actually described the song as “ghastly.”
Which all goes to prove that not only is one man’s musical masterpiece another’s musical melodrama, Journey continue to create controversy, contradiction and heated debate like no other band. Especially in the vocal department...
Discussion on just how awesome or over-rated Arnel Pineda is still continues, three years after his Journey debut. And then there's the continual comparisons to Steve Perry, unarguably one of the greatest pop/ rock singers of all time. Arnel Pineda has a great set of pipes and has some great moments on Eclipse, but this is a band destined to be forever haunted by The Voice of Journey Past.
However the voice of Journey present – on Eclipse – isn’t Arnel Pineda. It’s Neal Schon. Which leads to the obvious summation and question…
Eclipse: 100% rated classic Journey album or overly intense guitar-rock Schon-fest?
The objective truth of the matter, as is usually the case in such debates, is probably somewhere in between.
Eclipse will disappoint or confuse many Greatest Hits fans and the Don't Stop Believing Glee clubbers, but this is a good, hard-edged rock album. It contains some flaws but also carries some great moments.
Now if you'll excuse me I have to help some elderly guy called Old Nick clear some seriously thick ice away from his house.
Last Updated 18 March, 2015 (DHG)