3.5 out of 5 Stars!
Prior to vocalist Steve Perry entering the fold and helping to drastically alter the band’s musical direction, Journey released a trio of Progressive-Rock (or at least semi-Prog) albums, with this one being the first and “proggiest.” Only a single tune here, “To Play Some Music,” offered the merest hint as to what the band would later become, but the other tracks contain some serious and tasty experimentation.
After leaving Santana, Gregg Rolie (keyboards/vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar) wanted to let loose and toy with something different, and it shows in the excellence of their playing on tracks such as “Kahoutek,” “In My Lonely Feeling/Conversations,” “Of a Lifetime,” “Topaz,” “Mystery Mountain,” and “In the Morning Day.” Along with the equally talented Ross Valory on bass, Aynsley Dunbar on drums, and George Tickner on second guitar, the quintet produced some jaw-dropping music here—albeit with less-than-impactful lead vocals. And in my opinion, that was the one area on this debut where the band required some improvement, and also why I couldn’t bring myself to raise my overall rating by another half-star.
Although I’ve always had a general fondness for Gregg Rolie’s voice, thanks to his work in Santana, let’s face facts—it can be rather dull. Sure, his voice does have recognizable character, but his range and forcefulness are somewhat limited, the particular timbre of his voice doesn’t always cut through the often-dense instrumentation, plus his overall lack of emotiveness typically doesn’t make for a successful commercial vocalist. This was the very reason why the band eventually hunted for a singer who possessed all those necessary traits. Therefore, the vocals on this album are unfortunately the weak link, and the trio of appealing Prog-oriented albums the group issued prior to Steve Perry’s arrival sadly remain obscure for many people, forever lost in the giant shadow of Journey’s mammoth AOR stardom.
Too bad the band didn’t change its name for the second era of its existence, since music-wise, the two versions of Journey seem almost completely at odds, especially when it comes to this particular album. Regardless, despite the lack of vocal power on display here, this debut was rather special and deserved wider recognition.