Journey – Eclipse (2011)

Posted: May 21, 2011 in Music

For those of you that have been living under a rock for the last 10 years, Steve Perry is no longer lead singer for arena rock band Journey. After a bitter feud in the early 2000s, Perry left the group, taking with him one of the most recognizabale voices in rock. Soured by the split, original guitarist Neal Schon was determined to carry on the tradition and legacy of the band – with or without Perry. Whether it was pride, one-upsmanship, or just the desire to keep making music, Schon wanted to continue the “journey” with his remaining bandmates. The only problem was that they didn’t have a lead singer.

Almost accidentally, Schon discovered a young Filipino singer belting out renditions of his favorite Journey songs on YouTube. With an uncanny similarity to Perry’s vocal stylings, Schon decided to contact the young man and fly him to America to audition for a part in the band. The style, energy, and precision of that audition impressed Schon and other Journey-mates so much, that they decided he would be Perry’s replacement hiring the young Arnel Pineda in 2007. The group immediately began work on their next album, Revelation – which debuted at #5 on the Billboard charts, sold more than 196,000 units in its first two weeks of release and held its ground in the top 20 for 6 weeks. While a financial and chart success, it was hard to predict what would come next for the band.

After all, Pineda sounded SO MUCH like Perry, that several critics torched the album – calling him nothing more than a copycat, and finding Journey as a whole not much more than a shell of it’s former self. This type of criticism/scenario has often had crushing effects on bands, but Schon wasn’t about to take it sitting down. He knew it was time to take this reincarnation of Journey to the next level, and that’s exactly what he did with the band’s latest release – Eclipse.

While most of your memories of Journey probably include the soft, heartfelt ballads like “Faithfully” and “Send Her My Love”, the band has always been able to produce some of rocks more memorable powerhouses. “Any Way You Want It,” “Be Good To Yourself,” and “Don’t Stop Believing” were penultimate rock anthems for the 90s, and while the songs were simple in message, they always had a positive vibe that left the listener smiling.

Eclipse is full of rock, but this time around the message is a little less joyful and a lot more serious. Keyboardist Jonathon Cain explained it best when he said the new songs are about “searching for soulfulness and enlightenment and love and all the stuff that Journey’s about. But the album also has a larger dynamic sweep with some darker stuff in there. We just felt like it was time to send a message to the world about how we feel about life in general.”

The result is a personal, powerful album that doesn’t pull on the heartstrings as much as it tears them to pieces. Schon has always declared the desire for Journey to be a “hard rock band”, and this time around, that desire has come to fruition. The hooks are bigger, the structure is more grand, and the sound is heavier than anything Journey has ever done.

The opening track and first single “City of Hope” opens with a powerful riff that sets the tone for the entire album. It’s obvious from the onset that Schon is going to throw his full effort at you – and he accomplishes just that over the entire course of the record.

The second track, “Edge of the Moment” takes the great guitar work from the first track and somehow makes it even better. Schon is at his finest on this track, which has the perfect balance of vocals and instruments. It almost felt as if though Schon was playing guitar with only three fingers at times, reserving the middle one to extend out to all the naysayers. Pineda’s vocals swirl seamlessly on this rock track.

Hypnotic keyboards launch the third track, “Chain of Love.” This is where you really notice the changes from previous albums. The song has a haunting feel to it, and the lyrics have dark, deep undertones. Schon continues to shine on this track, but the standout moments were in the structure of the song. It builds itself epically, and lays the grandeur on pretty thick. It reminded me more of Whitesnake or Led Zeppelin than it did Journey, and that was a pleasant surprise.

In the fourth track, “Tantra,” we finally get the full-fledged ballad we knew was coming. What I didn’t see coming was the level of Pineda’s vocals. Noticeably, for the first time since joining the band, these vocals are truly his. He takes the track and immediately makes it his own, with range and style that finally has him stepping out of Perry’s shadow. I’ve been waiting for Arnel to come into his own, and this was the moment. With subject matter of positive reflection and triumph, this will easily become a fan favorite.

So with a third of the album behind me, it grew obvious that Journey was really succeeding in stretching out a bit, both musically and vocally. While it caught me a bit off guard, I was really digging the “new” Journey.

Track five, however, dealt up a bit of a reality check. “Anything Is Possible” was a straight rewind to Journey’s heyday. Sugar sweet hooks, simpler lyrics, and relatable subject matter. I’m not sure if they wrote the song with Pineda’s sudden rise to fame in mind, but it sure sounded like it. A great sing-along rocker in it’s own right, it speaks volumes that the band can write such a simple tune and have it sound so big. Rock radio will be all over this one.

My personal favorite track came next in the form of “Resonate.” The song tells the tale of being unable to shake loose the memories of someone from the past. It’s deep and dark, and both the music and lyrics have a mildly haunting effect. It’s a beautiful piece that showcases every aspect of the band in perfect balance.

Kicking off the second half of the album was “She’s a Mystery.” What was a mystery to me was why this track started off with such a folk/blues sound. This is unchartered territory for the band, and while I completely expected it to derail the album, I found myself tapping my foot along as it progressed. Schon proved with this track that sometimes you don’t have to build layers and layers of sound to be grand. Steel string guitar and Hammond organ carry this tune – and sometimes less is more. The track was solid, but what brought it over the top was the closing minute and a half of hellbent jam-band rock that had me questioning how hard this band could really be.

“Human Feel” was next. Opening up with tribal drums and continuing the trend of heaviness, I resolved to the fact that Journey was now a hard rock band, not the MTV rock band of the past. After appreciating the musical vibe, though, I was caught a bit off-guard by the lyrical content of this song. The track laments about the lack of personal contact in the digital age. First off, this is a theme that is way overplayed in music these days, and secondly, it didn’t feel like it fit with the rest of the albums message. It’s not a bad track by any means, but just seemed a bit out of place.

Moving on…

The ninth track on the disk, “Ritual,” was another dive back to the sound the band made popular decades ago. For the first time in the album, the track seemed to favor the keyboards (as soon as Schon finished firing off an excellent intro), fitting perfectly with another great vocal performance by Pineda. While much of this album has had a deeper tone to it, this was the shining light of positivity on the disc.

I had been waiting for something – anything – to let me down on this album, and finally at the tenth track, I found it. “To Whom it May Concern” was another ballad, but nowhere near the balance and feel of the first. There were some nice shifts in style along the way, and Pineda was sharp as a tack, but It just didn’t feel authentic, and the religious overtones to the lyrics seemed unnecessary and forced. The one thing the track did have going for it was a strong finish musically, which made me glad I didn’t turn it off half-way through (which was closer to happening than you think.)

“Someone,” the albums 11th track, was a bit of a head-scratcher as well. After such interesting arrangements and lyrics over the first 9 tracks, Schon decided to throw a marshmallow out there on this song. I’m guessing (and hoping) that this was nothing more than a huge “thank you” to all the lifelong fans of the band, and that Schon put this cheese-covered track on the record to essentially reel back in the older fans that may be a bit perplexed at the band’s new direction. It’s simple, it’s predictable, but it’s still not that bad. The echoing chant of “someone loves you” felt like a shout out to all the band’s followers, and the rhythm of the chorus was a straight lift from the bands classic “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” A fair homage to their past, but almost a disservice to what has otherwise been a near-perfect album.

I was worried that this album was either running out of steam or inspiration, but the closing track “Venus” put my mind at ease. While not known for epic instrumentals, Schon and company delivered a masterpiece – swerving in and out of different styles including fusion, progressive, and good old fashioned hard rock. Each member was given a chance to shine on this track and pushed the pedal to the floor. The result was something that reminded me of prog greats Rush and Yes, and was a solid finish to a great album. The resonating sound of Venus echoed in my head long after the album had finished, and it left me wanting more – which after the release of this album is sure to come.

With a rapture that wasn’t now behind us, we can look ahead to a future in music that, with the help of Journey, will undoubtedly be more rock heavy – poised to replace the sheer awfulness of current-day radio. It goes without saying that this time is long overdue – and there’s no one better to lead us there than Neal Schon.

9/10

http://www.amazon.com/Eclipse-Journey/dp/B004TETTNW/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1305943711&sr=1-1

US release exclusive to WalMart: Here

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Comments
  1. Kathie says:

    Finally, someone who ‘gets’ Journey!! Very well put. I agree with just about every one of your song descriptions! Thanks!

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