|Journey Generations||Frontiers Records|
It's amazing how different Journey's approach to their new album has been compared to their approach to the release of Arrival. Yet at the same time, there are some major similarities. |
Journey's return to the studio is anticipated like few other artists covered by this site. It's almost a case of trying to fulfill impossible expectations. The events surrounding Arrival's release some four years ago left a bad taste in the band's mouth. A pre-release leak and an early release in Japan saw a market flooded with import copies and internet downloads - which killed off label support for the US release and in the end, helped bring the band to their decision to break away from their longtime label Sony Music.
After two extra tracks were added, the US version of Arrival was a very fine album indeed.
For the new album Generations, the band has decided to give away copies to concert goers in the US, while licensing it to a smaller label for Europe - Frontiers Records. The label's name itself was a tribute to an earlier Journey album and they were only too proud to be the label involved. For once Journey in Europe is a priority. I hope the band can follow this up with some live appearances there.
The similarities to Arrival start here – the album was the subject of a major licensing deal for one territory, while copies are becoming available substantially earlier in another territory.
And already guitarist Neal Schon is talking of ways to achieve a US domestic deal later this year for the album.
Also, this has not yet been said – which I find surprising – but, production quality aside, the main difference between Arrival and Generations is simply the number of tracks on offer. Arrival was labeled a little soft – which it was, but more so because the slow and mid-tempo tracks outweighed the uptempo ones. On Generations, the mix is much better and the uptempo tracks are in the majority. Take 2 ballads off Arrival and you get an album which is of similar pace to that of Generations.
This time around however, the uptempo tracks are a little heavier and definitely have an edgier approach. The rawer production also adds extra punch and Neal Schon's guitar dominates the record.
Kevin Elson has managed to capture the band in a live environment, with less overdubs and a substantially less polished sound than Arrival, but better overall quality than the band achieved on their own when recording the Red 13 EP.
The production is stripped back and that helps the album appear more in your face.
Arrival was a super-slick album though and did sound a million bucks. So some fans may prefer that style over this.
Personally I don't mind that kind of difference in sound or approach – for me it's the song quality which is the most important factor.
Generations features some great songs and I love the fact it's a bit heavier and touches on some new ground. But I think a few tracks could use some bigger choruses.
The songs and choruses of Generations are not as immediate as past Journey music and require more listening to get to know.
I think the band has rocked things up a little more here, but I think the choruses from Arrival were better overall.
The use of multi-vocalists is something else that some will love and others will find issue with. Generally speaking, I think the band have matched vocalists with songs pretty well, with everyone giving strong performances. The odd spot is Ross Valory's track, but read the song descriptions for more thoughts on that.
Switching vocalists can harm the flow and consistency of any record and that is certainly a small issue here. However, as a band, if you decided to do this, Generations certainly sees it done with the most minimal disruption.
Steve Augeri is featured in the writer credits on several songs – coincidently the same number as he co-wrote on Arrival. But this time the difference is he gets two writing credits outside the band and his own individual style is more clearly evident. One can definitely hear some Tall Stories moments throughout the album.
Most prominent throughout is guitarist Neal Schon and drummer Deen Castronovo. They are both all over this record. Ross and Jon seemingly take a backseat here, but once you get to know the record, their important roles become more obvious.
Track By Track:
Following a suitably tasteful building intro, the opening track Faith In The Heartland bursts to life with a classic Neal Schon riff and a soaring melody line. The more urgent, stripped back production is evident immediately and Steve Augeri's lead vocals have a comfortable intensity to them. Upon first listen, the chorus comes and goes with a flash, which is probably the biggest surprise of all. We are used to Journey choruses pounding us over the head, but this and others within the album are more subtle and it's not until you are on your third listen does the listener properly acknowledge this.
As subtle as they are, the song does feature a bridge, chorus and even a guitar driven tempo change mid-song. The beauty of this typical uptempo Journey anthem is its length. Clocking at just under 7 minutes, it has room to breathe and the last minute of the song features a moody instrumental passage where both Neal and drummer Deen Castronovo get to shine with a little more prominence than you would normally see on a Journey record. I would have liked to have heard more like this.
The Place In Your Heart is without doubt the perfect follow-on from the opening anthem. This track is a little darker and a little moodier, but is more straight forward than its predecessor. On Arrival the band killed the momentum of the opening anthem with a ballad at position two – this time they get it right with an uptempo rocker with a classic Frontiers/Escape feel.
The track itself features an instantly recognizable chorus and some cool harmony vocals. Curiously I favor the darker feel of the verse over the less intense chorus. Steve's voice sounds great in this lower octave and just that little bit tougher.
Continuing the mood of the last track, but not the vocalist, is A Better Life, the world's first look at Deen Castronovo the vocalist. And what a revelation! Deen's voice resembles that of both Steve's - Perry and Augeri - in a way that has more of the soul attributed to Perry, but the rougher edge of Augeri. And credit to Deen, he's his own man. If you listen closely to his vocals, he has his own style of delivery.
The song itself is an ultra smooth mid-tempo ballad of hope and emotion. Style wise I don't think it's far from the songs of Arrival, especially Signs Of Life.
The band keeps the tempo rolling with the lyrically brilliant Every Generation. Penned solely by Jonathan Cain and sung by the man himself, the song could easily have been lifted from his solo album Back To The Innocence.
Layered in rock n roll piano and backed by a solid drum rhythm and lead guitar riff, the mid-tempo, Midwestern rocker would have been the best track on Jon's solo album and remains one of his best numbers in recent memory. It doesn't perfectly fit within the album, but thanks to some Schon acrobatics towards the end, it does match the tempo and vibe of Generations.
Butterfly is one of two Steve Augeri self-penned tracks to make the album. He co-wrote on a few others, but for the first time, he gets a solo writing credit here. This is a 6 minute ballad, but not in the traditional sense of the word. This rather, is an intense and moody track which builds from a slow start to grand finish. It's a long song and I have to be honest and say that it's made even longer by the lack of a memorable chorus. There really isn't anything to sink your teeth into here.
I don't think it's one of the album's stronger songs. Nor is Believe. This is another track without a traditional chorus and at nearly 6 minutes is just too long. The song is carried by a strong keyboard melody and a nice uptempo rhythm, but the lack of a strong hook is detriment to the song as a whole. I prefer it over Butterfly though and my comments should not negate the lyrical depth and maturity both tracks have.
It had to happen and track seven sees the first big traditional Journey ballad of the album. Knowing That You Love Me is another Cain penned track that is typical of the band's much loved ballads All The Way, Loved By You, When You Love A Woman and Open Arms. It's nice, but for me is part of a mid-album run of tracks that fail to blow me away.
On the other hand Out Of Harms Way is the absolute business! Now, this is what we need more of and having heard it, leaves me wishing the guys went a little further outside their comfort zone to rock it up more like this.
With a slight Soul SirkUS feel to it, this hard edged rocker features a mean lead guitar from Schon and subtle keyboards from Cain, and most pleasing, a menacing vocal from Augeri. Two minutes into the track you begin to wonder if this isn't another number without a big chorus – then bang – it's there. Subtle, but layered, the chorus is a perfect match for the song and Augeri's vocal just gets better.
The intense drum-fill with the song, the wailing guitar solo and the experimental feel of the track shows that Journey can rock with the best of them and are capable of new tricks even after all this time. If only there was more like this!
A slow paced mid-section is truly consigned to the past with an ultra-rocking remake of the Neal Schon sung Schon & Hammer track Self-Defense. This time it's renamed In Self Defense and features an even bigger guitar onslaught and some great harmony vocals courtesy of Deen. Hearing Neal sing lead on a Journey album is different, but in some ways he sounds more at home than the others and this track is well placed within the album.
The big rock sound continues with the hard edged groover Better Together. Steve Augeri again sounds ruthless with a menacing vocal and Neal's guitar parts team with Deen's drumming to hammer the point home. Not the most memorable chorus I have ever heard, but the uptempo nature of this rocker remains infectious.
If Jon or Neal's vocals seemed like an oddity on a Journey album, you haven't heard anything until Ross Valory takes lead on Gone Crazy. This is totally out of character for Journey, yet might have sounded right at home on Soul SirkUS. Ross' vocals are best compared with that of James Young from Styx – gruff, raw and bluesy.
I love the frantic rockabilly tempo of this blues rocker and in its own special way; it suits Ross down to the ground. I also don't mind the fact it deviates from the album's path, as sometimes an odd track at some point helps create character for the overall album.
The jury remains undecided on this track – I will leave it to fans to decide what they think of it. At the same time, it's not bad at all, but I don't think it actually enhances the album in any way.
Beyond The Clouds closes the album for US fans. This is another big Journey ballad, but definitely leaves its mark upon the listener. Steve's vocals are perfect and a soaring chorus really drives this ballad over the top. Very soulful and featuring a memorable performance by all, this is one of the bands best ballads in Journey's post-Perry history.
Closing the European version of the album is another track featuring Deen Castronovo on lead vocals.
It's Never Too Late is what you would call a cracking rock anthem. Why this song was not included on the US version is anyone's guess! Deen's voice owns this track and crackles with emotion as he builds to a chorus which for me is the absolute best of the entire album. Written by Schon, Cain and Jack Blades, it's another big anthem in the tradition of Higher Place (also written with Blades). It without doubt ends the album on an absolute high.
This album has some definite advantages over the previous album, but as discussed, also has a couple of detracting points, which I believe will split fans - with some preferring Arrival and others favoring Generations. Personally I prefer the US version of Arrival and the European release of Soul SirkUS' World Play overall.
Rougher, tougher and more diverse than Arrival, Generations is an album that still rates as a must-buy for melodic rock fans, but it isn't a classic.
It could perhaps use an extra big chorus or two and is a little slow through the middle, but even with some criticism, the band have decisively moved away from the Perry fronted era and the songs within are still better than a lot of the competition out there. A definite highlight for 2005, but not the highlight.
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