Yes, that’s right, Journey released a new album. What, something else happened too? Curious.
This is the first album with Journey’s new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, who comes off as an enthusiastic Steve Perry mini-me. It features a CD of 11 new songs, a CD of 11 of the band’s Perry-era hits re-recorded with Pineda on vocals, and a DVD of the band’s first US concert with Pineda on the mic. All for $11.98! Only at Wal-Mart! Hey, the Eagles showed you can get away with this. Also, let’s face it, Journey’s primary demographic isn’t shopping at Nordstrom these days.
How is it? Well, the CD of new songs is sufficiently Journeyesque to make most fans happy; the opening single “Never Walk Away” is a revisit of “Be Good to Yourself” and the rest of the album likewise shows that the band knows which side its bread is buttered on (i.e., Journey’s hit era, circa 1981 – 1986). And I suspect the ballad “After All These Years” will be a lite-hits station staple this year. It’s solid, although none of the songs here reach the heights of, say, the tracks off of Journey’s Greatest Hits CD. But then, that CD got to filter through six albums worth of material, so maybe that’s not a fair comparison.
However, it does draw attention to the fact that the secret sauce to Journey’s magic era was not Steve Perry, but Perry and Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain playing off each other in the band and in the songwriting; Schon and Cain without Perry get 80% to “Classic Journey”-ness, but you notice the missing 20%. That said, it’s definitely a better album than either of the Steve Augeri-era albums, in which the band seemed conflicted about what the hell they were doing. They’re not conflicted anymore, which should make fans happy.
As for the album redoing the band’s greatest hits with Pineda on vocals: Well, it sounds like the best Journey cover band ever, it does. I understand why the band felt like they needed to do this, but it’s still vaguely disconcerting.
This isn’t the fault of Pineda, however. Pineda was hired because he sounds so much like golden-era Steve Perry that it’s actually spooky; given that Perry’s never coming back to the band (really, that bridge has been burned, Perry partisans, get over it) this is as good as it’s ever going to get, and it’s pretty darn good. It’s pretty clear that Pineda knows why he’s there; the dude was doing Journey covers in Filipino bar bands when Schon discovered him on YouTube (no, really), so he gets his job and just seems damn happy to be doing it. Good for him; I hope he enjoys himself. In reality, in terms of sound, the real missing link between Journey’s apex and its current era is not Pineda but drummer Deen Castronovo, whose playing lacks the punchy, differentiated resonance of Steve Smith’s. You can recognize Smith’s rock drumming from ten mies out; Castronovo’s, not so much.
To be sure, if you’re one of those people who always hated Journey with every fiber of your being because of their stadium-filling Album Oriented Rock stylings, you’ll still hate them here, and perhaps even more so, because they persist in not perishing in some horrible tour bus incident (hopefully involving REO Speedwagon’s tour bus as well). But, you know, look: Journey is Journey. At this point, complaining about the band’s prom-friendly ballads and mom-safe anthems is kind of stupid, isn’t it? You can’t fight it. Don’t listen to ‘em if you don’t want to. At the end of the day, what you want to know is: how much does the band sound like itself? The answer: This time around, a lot.