Friday, June 13, 2008

CD Review: Journey Revelation

If you are a fan late 70s to 80s Journey, go out and get the band's new CD, Revelation. It’s fresh, excellent and surprising. But get it for the new music, not the re-vamped hits disc. To be clear, this is a 3-disc set – one CD of new material, one CD of 11 old hits re-done with the current lineup, and a live DVD I have not yet watched.

The set is available only at Walmart unless one of your local music stores or online outlets has bought some from Walmart, marked up the price and re-stocked it.

Here is my take on the two music discs:

The Disc of Re-recorded Material:

As part of this package, Journey re-recorded 11 of their hits with the current lineup. I am sure the primary reason they did this is to make performance royalties on all of these new versions, especially because with the Walmart deal, they are making more money per unit than they would under any other distribution method short of them hand delivering it to your door and taking 100 percent of the money.

But certainly they also wanted to show off new singer Arnel Pineda and prove that they have found the perfect guy to carry the torch and deliver this catalog. Singing these songs is almost impossible. It burned out more than one Journey singer in the past, including Steve Perry! Pineda more than delivers and can sing every one of these songs in the way they need to be sung – with soaring power and emotion. He is great and really shines on these new versions.

But once you get over the novelty of how much Pineda sounds like Perry and how good he is, you realize that these are far more sterile versions than the originals. They are certainly technically better, but who wants that? I want the raw emotion of the recording of Lights when the band had only played it a handful of times, instead of a re-hashed version after they have been playing it for 30 years.

Pineda does bring a new freshness to the songs, because this is his first outing with Journey and he sings the heck out of the tunes. I think he actually has a stronger voice than Steve Perry did.

But my major gripes, outside of wondering if we really NEED this disc, include:

--Producer Kevin Shirley drenched most of the songs in way too much reverb. This is the same guy who produced Iron Maiden’s A Matter of Life And Death, which is the most raw, live sounding CD I have heard in ages. This Journey covers disc is the opposite. They get it right on Stone in Love – the last track. This one is very raw and sounds the most live. Listen to that one first if you want a tingle.

--I really miss Gregg Rolie’s vocals on the older material, especially Lights. This version of Lights is interesting, as they work outside of the lines the most here, and Pineda takes a lot of vocal liberties. And I like them.

--Can’t Jon Cain record on an actual piano? I am sure he has the most top of the line keyboards, but they don’t sound as good as a real live piano would have sounded.

--Drummer Deen Castronovo is an awesome drummer but is much harder edged than Steve Smith or Ansley Dunbar. The songs, therefore, sound more hard rocking than the originals, which is good, but in some cases may not be the most appropriate.

All in all, this covers disc is good but it really just made me want to go back and listen to the original versions. Maybe that was the point. Now people will go re-buy the whole Journey catalog! Smart business!

The New CD:

Now this is more like it! This sounds like a band that has something to prove. From the very first chords of Never Walk Away, this CD is about as rocking as Journey has ever been. The songwriting is tight. The songs are rocking and catchy, well played and as expected very well sung. Out of the 11 songs, there are only three ballads. That was a surprise (a pleasant one).

Never Walk Away is probably the radio track, but frankly, I could hear a lot of these songs catching on. Sometimes the first song on an album rocks and the rest fizzles. But this CD seems to get better and better until near the end.

The second song, Like A Sunshower, is a bit of a Lights throwback, as it is bluesy and mid-tempo. But that is where the similarity ends. It’s a standout track with a great chorus and blistering guitar work from Neil Schon. The third tune, Change for the Better, has all sorts of weird timing/accents and yet another catchy chorus, and by this point you realize you are listening to a pretty special CD.

But skip to song four, Wildest Dreams, to get the full frontal rock of this album. It’s like Journey speed metal. Schon's solo is pretty epic. Again, I wish it wasn’t so drenched in effects but it’s pretty killer. Then after the solo, the tune goes right into what sounds like a Porcupine Tree outtake with Pineda’s voice running through some weird effects. And of course the outro kicks into double bass drum patterns and with more ripping guitar, and you have – Journey speed metal. Worth the $11.98 right there in this one song. Schon is playing like his life depends on it. Someone laughs at the very end of the song, as if to say “My God we just rocked that one.” Brilliant.

The next song, Faith in The Heartland is really catchy and singable but again very driving. Keeps the CD moving along nicely. Drummer Castronovo powers this one with a laid back but propulsive groove. Again, the outro is fantastic. A solid, groove based jam with excellent playing by everyone. I could see them taking this one out pretty far live, if they wanted to go that way. Cain’s jazzy chords over the guitar power rock are a nice touch in this section.

And it just goes from there.

The release is not perfect. All three ballads are pretty forgettable – certainly nothing to rival the 80s power ballads of Open Arms, Faithfully, etc. The best one is After All These Years, which sounds like an inferior version of Faithfully. But after that song we get a couple more nice rockers. The album kind of fizzles at the end, with some of the lyrics being a bit campy and the weaker songs clumped at the end. But they send us off with an upper, the Schon-penned instrumental Revelations.

Although keyboardist Jonathan Cain is listed as co-writer on almost every song, this is a guitar album. Neil Schon is playing like he has something to prove, and he dominates. There are a number of songs where I don’t even hear keyboards. Journey without keyboards? Blasphemy! But it works. What it really means is it’s primarily a guitar/rock album, and that suits me just fine.

Most of the lyrics deal with overcoming struggle, embracing life and other fairly positive notions. Which makes sense, given what the band has gone through in the past ten odd years.

I think the band had a lot of fun doing this album and they clearly have a renewed energy and sense of purpose with Pineta behind the mic. The tour just kicked off in Europe this week. Hopefully they can keep the magic rolling until they get to the Northwest in September. But I feel like Journey has new life and has just kick started its flagging career.

And announced yesterday, the album sold more than 104,000 copies in its first week, and came in at number five on the Billboard album chart. Nice, guys!


Further on up the road said...

In at 5! Result

Never a big Journey fan to be honest... I saw Neil S back up Extreme some years back

Dr. John said...

Isorski - makes me want to go out and buy it. Now all I have to do is gather the strength to enter a Walmart. Perhaps with a few valium it will be possible. I tell ya, I can't stand that place. Would much rather go to Target...