Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Journey and Steve Perry Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Frontiers (1983, Columbia)

A –

Had the band simply not stuck all the five best songs from this album all on the first side, it might not be so glaringly obvious just how weak the other five songs are, so this album is a textbook example of how not to sequence an album, and it’s not highly likely that many of the band’s more casual fans go back and listen to the second half of this disc all that often, if ever. [Interestingly, two of the band’s better-known songs were slated for inclusion on the album’s second side, but at the last minute, “Ask the Lonely” and “Only the Young” were pulled from the record on the undoubtedly-financially-motivated advice of one of Columbia’s A&R men and were later released via the soundtracks of Two of a Kind and Vision Quest, respectively, the latter song becoming a Top Ten hit, and the far inferior songs “Back Talk” and “Troubled Child” were added to Frontiers in their place.] But the first side of this disc is a monster, one that contains a full four Top 25 hits, and if the second side had been every bit as good, this would have probably surpassed Escape for the title of the band’s best album. The opening cut, the cavernous arena-rock of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” is glistening with Jonathan Cain’s synth work but still flexes enough muscle in its grungy spastic bursts of guitar to make it the band’s hardest-rocking single since “Any Way You Want It,” while the chilling ballad “Send Her My Love” (which benefits from Steve Smith’s clever metronome-like drum work on the cut) is one of the band’s most underrated singles. “Chain Reaction” is just as solid an album cut as any of the non-singles from Escape, while “After the Fall” is the most soulful-sounding number the band has done since “Walks Like a Lady” and packs a real sexy strut to its chugging rhythm-guitar groove. The first half of the disc closes with “Faithfully,” which is every bit as dynamic a power ballad as “Open Arms” but might actually be prettier (it’s at least more tasteful, anyway) and holds up after repeated listens better than its more famous predecessor does.

Street Talk (1984, Columbia)

A –

Perry’s solo debut is further proof of the pop sensibility he brings to his full-time band; it’s less of a rock album than it is an adult-contemporary-pop album, but it’s all extremely tasteful – often even elegant – and it’s got the solid hooks necessary for albums of this vein. Perry scored a whopping four Top 40 hits in all from this disc. The most famous, of course, are the enduring Top Ten power ballad “Oh Sherrie” – the ingenious arrangement of which allows Perry to sing the opening line completely unaccompanied – and the gentle purr of the adult-contemporary classic “Foolish Heart,” but there are also two completely overlooked follow-up hits included here, the bluesy “She’s Mine” and the incredibly underrated arena-rocker “Strung Out.”
Even the quality of the surrounding material is surprisingly high, and "Go Away" in particular is strong enough to have been a hit in its own right if it had only been released as a single.

Raised on Radio (1986, Columbia)

B + 

It’s a knee-jerk reflex among critics to say that this album is wildly inferior to the band’s five previous proper studio albums, but that’s only partially true. Yes, this album isn’t as good as Escape or the front-loaded Frontiers. But it’s not that far off in quality, either, and much of the reaction to this album is an emotional response to the fact that Steve Perry was given much of the creative control over this album – to the extent that he replaces Mike Stone and Kevin Elson here as the band’s producer – and Steve Smith and founding member Ross Valory were both fired from the band and replaced here, respectively, with drummer Larrie London and bassist Randy Jackson (yes, the same Randy Jackson who later shot to stardom as a judge on American Idol), leaving guitarist Neal Schon as the band’s sole remaining founding member. But though Perry’s greater influence on the band results in the band dialing down on the hard-rock sounds of its past albums and delving a bit deeper into soft-rock territory, the album is more democratic than you might think – eight of the eleven cuts are Perry/Schon/Cain co-writes, and the remaining three are penned by Perry and Cain – and the album isn’t bad, either – it’s simply softer – so unless you despise adult-contemporary pop, there’s still an awful lot here to like and the album’s quite underrated. Like Frontiers, this album yielded four Top 40 singles here, but nothing here is played on the radio anymore with any kind of regularity, so there also shouldn’t be anything here that you’re already sick to death of hearing, so the album feels a bit fresher for that reason. The feel-good rocker “Be Good to Yourself” would become a Top Ten hit, and the driving pop of “Suzanne” would reach the Top Twenty as well. But it’s the other two Top Twenty hits here that make the biggest impression: the keyboard-driven pop of “Girl Can’t Help It” makes the best use of the group’s blend of vocal harmonies than anything they’ve made since the late ‘70s and the acapella ending is especially chilling, while the ambient soft-rock of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” might be the single most relaxing single Journey ever made and makes great late-night listening and it also sports one of the most heavily-jazz-tinged and criminally underrated guitar solos of Neal Schon’s career. 

For the Love of Strange Medicine (1994, Columbia)

C –

Incredibly enough, a full ten years elapsed between the release of Perry’s first solo album and his second, which wouldn’t be so weird if he had been tied up with commitments to Journey, but by the time For the Love of Strange Medicine hit the public, Perry hadn’t even made an album with Journey in eight years. You would hope that Perry might have amassed a solid batch of songs during that unusually long hiatus, but this album is a staggering drop-off in quality from the hook-laden Street Talk. Mind you, Perry still sounds as awe-inspiring as ever as a vocalist here, but the songs themselves are shockingly forgettable, and hardly anything here really sticks in your head upon first – or even second – listen. The lead-off single “You Better Wait” is fairly good (if not quite nearly as good as, say, “Oh Sherrie”) and deservedly clawed its way into the Top 40, peaking at #29, and "Missing You" isn't bad, either, but it’s easy to see why there was no sizable follow-up hit from this disc. If you only pick up one of Perry’s two solo discs, you’re much better off bypassing this one and sticking to Street Talk.

Trial By Fire (1996, Columbia)

C +

After ten years apart, the band unexpectedly reconvenes – with Ross Valory and Steve Smith back in the fold, at that, delightfully enough! – and picks up right where they left off. Retaining the largely adult-contemporary-rock sound of Raised on Radio, the band thankfully and gracefully opts not to radically update its sound for the new musical climate, so you needn’t worry about the band trying to chase any trends here. Though the band still sounds great, they very much sound out of practice as songwriters, unfortunately, and the songs here largely lack the strong hooks that used to come so easily to the band in their prime. There are still some redeeming moments scattered throughout, namely “If He Should Break Your Heart,” “Message of Love,” and, best of all, the power balladry of the near-Top-Ten comeback hit “When You Love a Woman,” but if you’re expecting anything quite as immediate as “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “Any Way You Want It” or “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” you’re likely to be largely disappointed, and, though this still is a slightly more essential purchase than, say, Next, it’s equally as spotty, and this is undoubtedly the weakest album the band ever made with Steve Perry in the lineup.

Arrival (2001, Columbia)

C

Steve Smith has departed the band once more – though by choice this time – and been replaced with former Bad English drummer Deen Castronovo, but the most radical change to the lineup here is that Steve Perry has been replaced with virtual sound-alike Steve Augeri. It’s certainly debatable as to whether the concept of continuing Journey without Steve Perry at the helm was a tasteful move – the band hadn’t had much commercial success of any note before he joined the band, after all, and his voice was the most distinctive trademark of any Journey record – but Augeri does a commendable job of trying to fill the void his iconic predecessor left behind. But, without Perry’s pop sensibilities around to influence the proceedings, it was inevitable that the band’s songwriting would also suffer as a result, though Night Ranger’s Jack Blades unexpectedly gives the band a hand in writing four of the cuts, including the strong opening cut, “Higher Place.” To their credit, the band doesn’t embarrass itself here, but at the same time, they seem to be under the impression that they can recreate the magic of their prime simply by employing a sound-alike like Augeri, and while that may be possible to some extent on the touring circuit, studio albums are another kind of beast entirely, and the band dynamic simply isn’t the same on record without Perry and Smith around. It’s still a reasonably decent album, but it’s also the least essential disc they’ve made since Next, which, in spite of its flaws, is the more tasteful and genuine of the two discs since it’s the sound of a band still trying to find its identity, not that of a band trying a bit too hard to pretend that it’s still something it’s not.  

Generations (2005, Sanctuary)

C

No better but no worse than Arrival, the band’s second post-Perry endeavor is a bit too showy for its own good – only three of the thirteen cuts clock in at less than five minutes, and every last band member gets a crack at singing lead vocals, which proves to be something of an ill-advised experiment. But the best material here (namely, “The Place in Your Heart,” “Faith in the Heartland” and “Never Too Late”) outshines the best cuts from Arrival, which helps to compensate for some of the excess, and Augeri has improved in his role as the band’s new lead vocalist since the last disc. 

Revelation (2008, Nomota)

C –

Steve Augeri has departed at this point and been replaced by yet another Steve Perry clone, Ariel Pineda. Pineda may actually be an even stronger vocalist than his predecessor, but his presence here still feels a bit jarring all the same, if only because the band clearly still wants to sound as if Perry is still in the band without actually having to go to the trouble of reuniting with Perry, and the whole thing can’t help but seem mildly creepy. Much more problematic, though, is the fact that the band is treading on past glories in more ways than one – “Faith in the Heartland,” one of the standouts from the last record, has inexplicably been re-recorded here with Pineda taking lead, and “The Place in Your Heart,” also from the last album, was also re-recorded as well (though it only appears on the Japanese edition), while the entire second disc of this package consists of new studio re-recordings of the band’s greatest hits, i.e. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” with Pineda singing lead. So not only is the band still trying to make its fans forget about Perry, but they’re apparently trying to make people forget about Augeri as well. [It’s a wonder they haven’t also included re-recordings of songs from Look into the Future or Next with someone taking over Gregg Rolie’s old vocal parts.] There are a few decent songs to redeem the disc, namely “After All These Years” and “Never Walk Away,” but the overabundance of re-recordings here is beyond tacky, and you can’t help but wish that the band would have had the grace and good taste to call it a day before it ever succumbed to this sort of thing.

Eclipse (2011, Nomota)

D +

Much like their contemporaries Styx, who similarly began as a heavily prog-rock-influenced band and became increasingly pop-oriented all the way up through their early-‘80s commercial peak, Journey has similarly tried in recent years – much to their detriment, both artistically and commercially – to mask their success as a pop band and play up their aspirations to be seen as serious and heavy rockers, and never has that been more obvious than on Eclipse, which comes closer than anything else the band has made in well over thirty years to returning the band to its prog-rock roots. Nine of the twelve cuts here stretch past the five-minute – or even six-minute – mark; the disc closes with a Neal Schon-penned instrumental; and there’s a very noticeable emphasis on chops over hooks. For some more hard-rock-minded listeners, this might actually be a welcome excursion, but here’s the thing: the band’s pre-Steve Perry prog-rock phase really wasn’t that popular. It’s tight, radio-friendly pop/rock sides that put the band on the map, not lengthy solos or grandiose prog epics, and the band’s new direction is completely jarring on two levels: for starters, if you’re making such a point of trying to play down the more pop-oriented sound of the band’s Steve Perry days, does it really even still make sense to employ a Perry clone like Pineda as your lead singer? Secondly, anyone who’s still interested in going to see Journey in concert at this point is there to hear the band play its pop hits, so it’s highly unlikely that many fans will gravitate towards this disc, and it consequently feels like a completely self-indulgent exercise on the band’s part, something that they made simply to show off and re-assert their rock credentials, not because this was anything that fans were clamoring for. Sure, the band’s got great chops, but if you want to listen to the band show off, better to pick up their prog-rock-steeped self-titled debut from the days when the band was still trying to build an audience, not willfully ignoring the interests of the audience it already has as the band does here.

Compilations:

More casual fans of Journey can make do with the 1988 single-disc package Greatest Hits, a fifteen-track disc (the 2006 reissue adds a sixteenth cut, the reunion hit “When You Love a Woman”) that does a reasonably good job of rounding up most of the band’s biggest hits, including the underrated singles “Girl Can’t Help It” and “I’ll Be Alright Without You” and the soundtrack hits “Only the Young” and “Ask the Lonely” from Vision Quest and Two of a Kind, respectively. The small handful of Top 40 hits that it misses (“Walks Like a Lady,” “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” “Still They Ride,” “After the Fall,” and “Suzanne”) can be found on the 2011 sequel Greatest Hits 2 along with a well-chosen sampling of the band’s best album cuts and remaining Hot 100 chart singles. Skip the double-disc The Essential Journey, which comes irritatingly close to including all the band’s Top 40 hits without actually finishing the job, leaving out “Walks Like a Lady” and “Suzanne.” For the best of Perry’s solo career, you can pick up 1998’s Greatest Hits + Five Unreleased; considering that Perry’s solo career consists of only two albums, it’s a bit unnecessary a compilation, but if you’re a hardcore Perry fan, you should be delighted by the abundance of rarities here, which include
two B-sides, his Quest for Camelot soundtrack contribution “I Stand Alone,” six songs from the ultimately-scrapped solo album Against the Wall, and a demo from his former, pre-stardom band, Alien Project, that landed him the job of Journey’s new lead singer. [The 2006 reissue also adds "Don't Fight It," a hit duet with Kenny Loggins that hails from Loggins' album High Adventure.]

Live Albums:
     
Unlike, say, Styx, Journey’s actually shown a respectable amount of restraint in the amount of live product they’ve issued over the years. The best purchase in the bunch really depends on your desire to own live versions of the band’s ‘80s hits. 1998’s Greatest Hits Live is a compilation of archival recordings from the promotional tours for Escape and Frontiers when the band was at its commercial peak, so if you want a live recording from the Steve Perry era of, say, “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “Faithfully” or “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” this is the best place to go. 1981’s Captured pre-dates Escape and consequently lacks most of the band’s ‘80s hits (though earlier hits like “Any Way You Want It,” “Walks Like a Lady,” “Lights,” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” can still be found here), but it’s the lone full-length live document from the band with Gregg Rolie still in the fold and it also has the added bonus of being one of the few places you can find the oft-forgotten Top 40 hit “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” a studio version of which was tacked on to the end of this album as sales bait. The package also boasts a live version of “Dixie Highway,” a song which never found its way onto a studio album from the band.