Journey – Journey (1975)

Journey_13.5 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.

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Journey – Look Into the Future (1976)

Journey_LookFuture4 out of 5 Stars!

Before the group hired Steve Perry and became mega-stars of the AOR/Arena-Rock genre, Journey was a band struggling to find a unique sound. The first album leaned toward a Prog-Rock style, with each of the two subsequent albums becoming more commercial. Look Into the Future, the band’s second, seemed a nice marriage between both styles.

Side A is more Hard Rock and AOR-oriented (and includes catchy tracks such as “On A Saturday Nite” and “She Make Me Feel Alright”—you can easily imagine Steve Perry singing these tunes).

Side B, however, contains only three lengthier, more Prog-oriented tunes, including the hypnotic title track, the almost Santana-esque “Midnight Dreamer,” and “I’m Gonna Leave You,” which features killer guitar and keyboard soloing, a slamming rhythm section, and odd time signatures, which helped to make this my favorite among the original trio of pre-Perry albums.

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Journey – Eclipse (2011)

Journey_Eclipse5 out of 5 Stars!

No one was more shocked than myself when I decided this album was probably among my choices for Top 10 Releases in 2011. Sadly I had long ago given up on Journey—oh, not that I thought the band sucked or anything like that, but just that I assumed I probably would never hear anything truly exciting from the group after Escape. In my eyes, after the excellent Escape album, the band had started a slow downhill slide, with Perry’s voice turning raspy and sounding strained, and the band relying more and more on writing songs with poppier melodies and fully turning their backs on their roots of being an excellent AOR act. Certainly the material was always a notch above most other bands of the same genre, but much of the band’s output seemed simply a rehash of the material that had come before. And then, once Steve Perry left the group, I figured the band would never again achieve anything considered “great.”

Oh, how wrong I was! I LOVE this album, more so since it was a total surprise that Journey released anything that could excite me again. The most surprising part is that I rated this album 5 stars, the same as I rated Escape, but for completely different reasons. On Escape, the band was at the top of its game when it came to not only performances, but also songwriting, and the entire album consisted of stellar hits, aimed at the arena-rock audience. On Eclipse, however, the band decided not to attempt to write an album of hit singles, but instead FINALLY returned to its roots as a true AOR band. I love album-oriented rock, where songs could be not only catchy, but could also be experimental, even progressive, when necessary, and the band could stretch out when it came to arrangements instead of cramming everything into little three-minute packages of singalong ditties. Indeed, on Eclipse, only one track (an instrumental one at that) falls under the four-minute mark, and nine of the tunes hit the five-minute mark, which gives the band plenty of room to expand its ideas and deliver some terrific arrangements.

Unfortunately, some people still criticize the band for being Steve Perry-less. It’s a shame, since in truth, I can’t picture an album as good as Eclipse with Steve Perry leading the way. He was just too “hit-oriented” overall, too limited in his approach, which was perfect for the material on Escape. Whereas Arnel Pineda, although he has a similar voice to Perry, seems able to handle the more complicated melodies on Eclipse, and the band also seems to be having fun kicking aside the strict three-minute “hit format” in favor of stretching its wings. There are some ballads, for sure, but also some of the hardest rocking tracks Journey ever recorded, and when the band adds a touch of progressive rock during a few of the passages, things take an exciting turn. Some great stuff here!

The high points of this album are way too numerous to mention. Each of the tracks has something special about it, whether a strong melody, a lively arrangement, a screeching solo, or intriguing instrumentation or performances. Each member shines, especially Arnel Pineda, who has an ear for melody and seems to have grown considerably since his debut with the band on the album Revelation. Now I can only pray the band continues in this direction for at least another album or two and offers up some more riveting AOR without concentrating on the hit-single approach.


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