"To be alive again …wakin' up from where you been
younger now than you were then
you're comin' 'round again."
— Journey, "To Be Alive Again"
Journey is alive and comin' 'round again with confidence – and with songs that return a youth two decades gone.
Some bands fare better with their odd-numbered or even-number albums. For Journey, it's albums with one-word titles that are their best. Or, put another way, the band that released the blockbuster string of one-word albums in Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Escape and Frontiers is back with a vengeance.
Journey seemed to lose its way in the mid-'80s when it fired its rhythm section of Ross Valory and Steve Smith and unleashed the bland, over-processed, studio musician-backed Raised on Radio in 1986. Its followup, Trial by Fire, a reunion effort with Smith and Valory released a full decade later, was little better, though the two discs did produce some vapid Top 20 hits in "When You Love a Woman," "Be Good to Yourself," "Suzanne," "Girl Can't Help It" and "I'll Be Alright Without You."
Journey's lineup problems, which put the band on hold for the better part of the last decade (revolving largely around issues with singer Steve Perry), seem to have finally sorted themselves out to produce the solid new album, Arrival. Founding guitarist Neal Schon and founding bassist Ross Valory return with longtime keyboardist Jonathan Cain (who replaced Greg Rolie with the Escape album in 1981) and two newcomers: drummer Deen Castronovo (who played with Schon and Cain in Bad English) and singer Steve Augieri.
Perry is gone, but his influence is largely not missed, as Augieri does an admirable job of fulfilling and continuing to grow the classic Journey vocal sound. If you caught the band's reunion tour a couple summers ago at Tinley Park's New World Music Theatre (or heard their first recording with Augieri featured on the Armageddon soundtrack) you already know that if you close your eyes, you'd be hard pressed to separate Augieri's versions of "Wheel in the Sky" or "Open Arms" from Perry's. The result of this lineup revision is Arrival, Journey's most exciting, energetic release in 20 years. The 15 songs on Arrival should fulfill the dreams of any fans who have wished through most of the latter '80s and '90s for more arena rock ready anthems in the classic Journey mold.
If anything, Augieri plays his vocal stylings too close to Perry's; some of the songs on Arrival sound like they took their jump-off cues from the band's past hits. "I Got a Reason" hints of the sonic feel of late '70s era Journey while "All the Way" is a ballad that lifts part of its hook from the more recent "When You Love a Woman," (though it scores higher marks on listenability than its influence does). "Signs of Life" cops an "I'll Be Alright Without You" chorus and "World Gone Wild," co-written with Jack Blades (Damn Yankees, Night Ranger), betrays some strong ties to "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)."
But the "new" Journey also brings some more current stylings to the mix. The spacious introductory jam of "Higher Place," which opens the album, offers a more contemporary feel from the band (and a touch of old "Chain Reaction") before slipping into a driving, fists-in-the-air chorus. The off-center rhythm of the album closer "We Will Meet Again" promises a continued train of musical experimentation from the band. Likewise the grinding strut of "All the Things," a song which finds the whole band roughing up the hard rock guitar chorus that celebrates the dichotomies of a woman.
The delicate piano underpinning of "Loved by You" offers a slight Eastern influence in its melodicism.
Journey has always been about Schon's guitar-playing (the former Santana prodigy put out three albums of fusion jams with Journey in the early '70s before Steve Perry joined the group). And Schon finds plenty of room to show off his chops on Arrival, from the silky acoustic intro of "Livin' to Do" to the athletic fretboard tapping on "Higher Place," "Signs of Life" and "I Got a Reason" to the fat, raucous riffing on "All the Things," "Nothing Comes Close" and "World Gone Wild."
There are some throwaways on Arrival; "With Your Love" is a paint-by-numbers piano ballad that covers the same ground as "All the Way," "Lifetime of Dreams" goes for the big, slow beat cigarette lighter anthem effect (but is ultimately forgettable) and "Life and Breathe" takes a more ambient bass-groove attack that also is easy to fast-forward past. But vibrant slices of rock like "Higher Place," "World Gone Wild," "Nothin' Comes Close" and "To Be Alive Again" (a perfect summer driving anthem co-written with former Hooters member Eric Bazilian), more than make up for the slow spots. Arrival is a declaration made with authority: the force of Journey we once knew, loved and lost is most definitely back.