I was talking on the phone with Addicted To Vinyl’s fearless leader about a great many things the other day, when an unscripted, non-thought out discussion about Journey broke out. At some point, the discussion turned to the fact that neither one of us found much validity to the “Greatest Hits” add-on that Journey put out with last year’s great Revelation release. My mind quickly started darting as I made the genuine point that the actual Steve Perry greatest hits disc was of no use to me because of the shoddy editing of the song “Girl Can’t Help It” (want proof, listen to both versions of the song at the 2:37 mark, where the original has a sort vocal line from Perry that’s omitted from the remaster for some unknown reason – horrible). Through the discussion, it kind of dawned on me an interesting fact that I don’t think I’d ever considered before. The popular era of Journey was, by far, the worst era of Journey.
I’m sure at this point, you are scratching your head and going, “huh”? This being said though, let me spell out a few things to make the argument. First, I’m a Journey enthusiast. I’ve seen the band easily 20 times, with the only vocalist in the band that I haven’t experienced live being current vocalist Arnel Pineda. I saw them as far back as 1981 or 82 (whenever the tour with Bryan Adams was). I almost got kicked out of the Army for sneaking out of training to see the Raised on Radio tour in Indianapolis. I’ve seen some of the Perry solo shows. I own everything they’ve ever done, and am always on the prowl for bootlegs of the band (which, by the way, if anyone has the King Biscuit Flower Hour Frontiers concert from around 1983, please email me!). Simply, I love the band.
That being said though, as time has gone on, I’ve come to where I find the “popular” era of Journey to be not only the weakest musical point of their career, but in some ways unlistenable when compared to the other two eras of the band. To define the “popular era”, I would say it runs from 1981 to 1996; encompassing the albums Escape, Frontiers, Raised on Radio and Trial By Fire. Sure, that’s basically the timeframe when you find 99% of their hits. Being honest, there’s no denying some great music in that time. “Stone In Love”, “Escape”, “Be Good To Yourself”, “Don’t Stop Believin’” were all massive, while lesser known songs like “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever” or “Eyes Of The Woman” were as good as anything they ever recorded. That being said though, I would argue that the entire era of the band was, by far, the weakest musically and was carried solely on the massive success created from Escape. To that end, Frontiers followed Escape and went platinum six times, even though the reality of the situation was that it’s basically less than half of a good album. Sure, “Separate Ways”, “After The Fall” and “Faithfully” were all decent, but none of the big three there were anything more than recycled ideas that didn’t make Escape. As for the rest of the album, utter trash. “Chain Reaction”, “Back Talk”, “Rubicon” – all were fragmented ideas that Herbie Herbert listened to and said, “just polish that turd and get back on the road while you are hot”. The song “Troubled Child” would not have made it on any level with the old Journey either. You have to think that the tired, lack of substance they were creating is what led the band to begin to fragment as the musician’s musician, drummer Steve Smith, no longer wanted to make tens of millions of dollars with the band at this point and left. Ross Valory also left too. When Raised on Radio emerged, it felt just like what it was – a splintering band performing a collection of average songs written with the Cain polish with no artistic agenda other than to take it back to the road with some other guys and squeeze the last penny out of the band. Seeing those shows, it’s clear that Perry was ready to move on as well, but stuck around for the payday (which had to be enormous at that point). He had mixed in a solo album that did very well at that point, and was a better album artistically than either Frontiers or Raised on Radio. It’s not surprising that the band did nothing for the next decade following – almost ashamed of the commercial success they had achieved at the expense of their artistic integrity.
Looking at that artistic integrity, it’s clear listening back to the 1st era of the band that their career was built on that before Jonathan Cain poured his syrup on this hard rock band. Listening to albums like Infinity or Departure as examples, it’s clear that they really were a very different band from the radio hit machine they became. Listening back now, the songs just hold up. Certainly, they did have hits during this era as well. “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’, “Wheel In The Sky”, “Lights” – all were hits, but not nearly on the level that future songs would bring. Listening back now though, the grit and rawness of these songs makes these songs much more timeless than anything from the popular era. There was much more of a sense of attitude with the band at that time too. To hear a song like “Where Were You”, there was a swagger that permeated the song; a swagger that would be completely removed when the band got popular and wrote little more than happy, feel good music. There was also a sense of fun that left as the band got sterilized by fame. Listening to the vocal trading and the overall brilliance of “Feeling That Way/Anytime”, you can tell that these guys had a lot of fun in the studio producing this masterpiece. You can literally feel Perry doing his best to one up Gregg Rolie vocally, and Rolie fighting back as the song progresses. Arguably, this era of the band was the best. Certainly, it packed the most substance and has the musical integrity that the popular era lacks. Listening to this stuff now, it’s much less dated than the hits era.
Interestingly, the post-Perry era of Journey has seemingly taken a lot of these elements from both eras and created a more interesting hybrid than the hits era ever produced. Sure, albums like Arrival smelled of Jonathan Cain trying to wedge his glucose into every note of every song, but for some reason you have to envision that vocalist Steve Augeri (a guy who made his mark in more metalled up bands like Tyketto and Tall Stories) pushed back a bit, and got some support from Neil Schon (a guy who always wanted to be a metal guitarist, but chose cash over passion). The Augeri years had a lot more rock than most expected, and even some experimental stuff which seemingly left the band the day Cain joined the outfit. Listening to the Red 13 EP, you can only classify that as Journey trying to do something different. For me anyway, it worked well. Finally, enter Perry sound-alike Arnel Pineda to the mix, and you find Journey just trying to write an album that’s encompasses both classic and the hits era of the band. Revelation is, to me, the best album this band has done since Departure for many reasons. It brings the old school rock (“Never Walk Away”, “Change In The Weather”). Cain has his places to overload the music with hooks and radio ready schlock (“After All These Years”, “Where Did I Lose Your Love”). The highlight though is the return of the older, raw writing vibe. Songs such as “Like A Sunshower” could have been written in 1975, and would fit beautifully up next to the classic music of yesteryear. The band is back, and they’ve found a way to solidly mix all of their eras together. Hopefully the platinum success of Revelation will keep them from trying to reinvent the glory days again. Simply put, that era just didn’t hold up.