|Journey Revelation||WalMart (USA) / |
Frontiers Records (Europe)
Music means so much to so many people and there is no denying that Journey's music invokes the passions of fans like few bands are capable of.|
So any new release by an iconic band such as Journey is surely going to stir these passions once again. When that new release is the debut of yet another lead singer…add a little more emotion again.
In fact, I doubt any other release this year will invoke as much passion and emotion as this release.
I thought long and hard over what territory and issues this review should cover and decided that at the end of the day it should really just be a review of the music on hand and therefore only cover the music.
Sometimes one must completely close off any thought not directly related to the music in order to deliver an unbiased view point.
Journey's decision to hire Philippine frontman Arnel Pineda was not met with universal acceptance or praise. It was in fact, entwined in unfortunate controversy, but this band is not known for its smooth transitions between singers!
However, the decision has been made and Arnel seems like a very genuine guy with a warm and likable persona. And there is no doubt he can sing. One thing Journey does well every time is pick great singers to work with.
Many reviews are complicated. So many angles to discuss and sometimes there is a lot to digest. None more so than for Journey's newest Revelation, which not only drops a disc of new material at our feet, but also a second disc re-recording the band's classics.
Now things are complicated enough in Journeyland – just covering new material and a new singer, but the classics too? This is going to take a while…
The new material –
There was talk in 2006 of the band planning to first do an album of re-recorded hits before thinking of any new material. I am thankful that decision was axed as it is hard enough for any singer to withstand the ever present pressure of the Perry legacy.
The best foot forward is new material – let the new guy stand on his own feet and show the world what he is capable of.
Revelation mixes both those ideas. That's both good and bad or at least there are pro's and con's for the decision, but no one could argue that the Revelation package is not utterly sensational value.
Whether it is the WalMart package with 22 tracks and a new 2008 Live DVD or the European Frontiers Records release, which is missing the DVD, but adds an extra tasty new studio track – this is great value for fans.
Let's be honest here. The new material disc of the Revelation package needed to be good. Bloody good.
The band disappointed many with the disjointed Generations release; the Red 13 EP was under produced and it has been nearly 8 years since the release of the band's only other post-Perry release Arrival.
I'm pleased to say that Revelation is bloody good. No….bloody great!
I was completely open minded going into this. As stated – there are always issues with Journey – that's just the way it is, but they remain one of my favourite bands and Revelation doesn't disappoint.
In fact, it exceeds those expectations I was trying not to have and delivers big time.
A few points to make before delving into each track on the record.
First and most immediate is the production. Take a bow Kevin Shirley.
This is Kevin's best work with Journey, surpassing the ultra smooth Trial By Fire and the feel good ballad heavy AOR of Arrival.
As smooth as Arrival was, after several years of constant playback, after listening to Revelation for some time, I was surprised how it now feels as if Arrival lacked kick.
That's where our next accolade comes in.
Stand up Deen Castronovo. You sir, have delivered your best performance since Hardline's 1992 debut. Deen kicks it on this album like I have never heard him deliver for Journey. He is a valuable contributor to the harmony vocals with this band and on this album, but let's not forget his main role – drummer – and he really makes an impact here thanks to a masterful performance and I am guessing, some guidance from Kevin Shirley.
Ross Valory slots in there as he always does – with little fanfare, but alongside Deen really delivers the punchy rhythm that drives this album.
Jon Cain's piano sound is also the best I have heard for many years – mixing keyboards and piano and taking us back to the band's 80s sound without ever being dated.
Neal's shredding is beyond words at times and he really must be counted as one of the greatest guitarists ever.
Arnel – now where do I start with Arnel? If anything, this album proves to me that Arnel is his own man and is not just a Perry clone. Yes, he gives the band that Journey/Perry sound, but on the original material he really does stand on his own two feet and his voice shines through. His voice...not Steve Perry's.
Many have questioned Arnel's ability to deliver on the rockier Journey tracks. In a live arena perhaps that will still have to be proven over time, but on record, he really shines and delivers a performance with grit and with emotion.
Yes, he absolutely nails the ballads in a more Perry style tone, but I love the rock tracks where his voice is more natural and unique and has this raspy edge at times which I feel is an integral part of delivering the song's emotion.
Every singer has their own individual style. What creates that style is unique to each singer – their background, their upbringing, their nationality, their influences.
Not all people are going to like the style of a certain vocalist and I expect there will be some that don't like Arnel's own style. But for me – he works wonders here and after all those months of horrible YouTube videos – here he is – bigger than life and positively booming through the speakers. His voice sounds so much bigger on this record.
Track By Track:
As expected it is a soaring Neal Schon guitar riff which guides us into the new record. Immediately Deen's drum sound strikes you – something which really drives this record. Never Walk Away is a classic Journey AOR anthem. From the same handbook that brought you Be Good To Yourself, Higher Place and Never Too Late comes this uplifting rocker.
Arnel Pineda also places his stamp on the song from the opening bars. I can hear the Perry tone, but I'm instantly impressed that this is no clone and Arnel seems free to use his regular tone for the new material.
The chorus is one of those instantly likeable affairs and I love hearing the vocals stretched to the point of a raspy edge coming through. That is even more prevalent in verse two – where Arnel really sounds terrific to these ears.
The only thing I'd change here would be the level of the backing vocals through the chorus. They are there in classic Journey style, but noticeably muted compared to what they could have been. The mix of flailing guitar riffs and thick keyboard fills towards the end is perfect and the song wraps up with a nice closing thump.
There is a part of Journey's musical DNA that seems to require the injection of really sappy lyrics at designated points and Revelation is no different. After such a kick-ass opening, it's a shame that the brakes have to be jammed on immediately after. Like A Sunshower is actually a pretty decent song if you can get past the fruity lyrics – especially through the chorus.
This is a really soulful track and Arnel does his best Perry here. It seems to me that he saves his very best "Perry" for the ballads and the re-records, but is very capable of holding his own voice on the rockers. That fact may surprise some.
A drop in Schon riff and a classy solo makes the song even more memorable, but I do have a problem with its positioning within the album.
The last minute of the song is actually pretty old school Journey…a little less structured and somewhat free flowing.
The gritty string plucking Schon intro of Change For The Better got my attention from the very first listen and continues to impress. And just as Steve Augeri had the defining lyric of his tenure with the band on the opening line of Higher Place; this to me (through fate alone it seems) seems to be the lyric that defines Arnel's place in history. "Down low as far as I can go with no where left to turn…" through to the chorus hook "it's my life and a change for the better." Things sure are better for Mr. Pineda!
This song is for me what defines Journey as a great band. I love this and I love the vocal. Its one of my favorites from the new album, gritty and emotional in places, yet smooth and soaring in other places.
And the chorus delivers big time. Castronovo thumps his way through while Cain's keyboards fill the sound like it was 1983 all over again.
Schon's gritty riff all the while lies underneath the song giving it the menace it needs.
And to give Cain a keyboard solo before the bridge just sets this song up as classic 80s Journey, all the while retaining a contemporary feel thanks to Shirley's masterful production.
Neal Schon's extended guitar solo followed by a brief lull that builds to a bombastic close makes this song feel like a mini-concert and I can only hope that the band dares to roll this one out live this summer.
Thank God that track is followed by another rocker - Wildest Dream has one of the album's heaviest riffs and opens with a furious Deen Castronovo beat and another defining Schon riff. I love the verse and the song builds nicely. The chorus is a little simpler than I originally expected and it was sometime before I warmed fully to it. Still I feel that there could have been an opportunity here to fill in the chorus with a few more words or some bigger backing vocals. The lack of doesn't take any away from the song, but it could have perhaps added to it.
Listen carefully and you can really hear the raw edge of Arnel's vocals and Jonathan Cain is flat out pounding that piano, which reminds me of the way he attacks his instrument in Ask The Lonely. Love that…
Another big solo, that pounding piano and more manic Castronovo muscle help complete the song. This and Change For The Better is the heaviest I have heard from Journey since Frontiers.
I really questioned the need to re-do Faith In The Heartland for this record, but as Wildest Dream closes out and this song quickly builds, I can see why it has been included. It was the classic song from Generations and I see this not as a slight on Steve Augeri's great vocal, but perhaps a decision by the band that the sub-par production quality of Generations didn't do this song justice.
I wouldn't like to compare Arnel's vocal to that of Augeri's, but Arnel does do the song justice and his booming voice is as loud as ever here.
What really impresses me about this song is the adjustment in intent. Rather than it being an AOR anthem, as it was…this now sounds more deliberate and urgent and Deen Castronovo's drumming is simply stunning.
He rules this song and once it hits the 5 minute mark, he and Schon just take this baby over. The progressive drum fills and the understated guitar soloing in the background are joined by some more simple but effective piano parts, making this a real treat for the ears.
I can't recall the last time I thought to myself, 'we could actually use a ballad at this point' on a Journey record, but after nearly 15 minutes of pounding rock n roll, the classic piano ballad After All These Years is a welcomed break in the tempo.
Once again I find myself impressed by Castronovo's drumming, taking me back to thinking how he delivers live on some of the ballads. That power is what drives the song forward.
Arnel does his very best Perry vocal again, but not in a way that mimics the iconic singer. This is purely and simply – a classic sentimental Journey ballad that features one of those trademark Schon guitar melodies and hands in the air type chorus not unlike several songs before it.
More swirling keyboards, a driving beat and more classic Schon propel the tempo back into the red. Where Did I Lose Your Love is a moody rocker that is typical of the band in recent years, only better.
I love Arnel's voice here – very true to the Perry tone – and very smooth indeed for a rocker. His delivery and the mix of guitars and keyboards again takes me back to the Frontiers era. And to back that up – mid-song Neal infuses a riff that is classic Journey – that type of riff that just embeds itself in your brain like the solo in Send Her My Love.
And again we get treated to a bombastic drum solo to close the song. This album really does feel like a concert at times. I love the energy that emanates from the speakers.
I wasn't ready for another ballad, but What I Needed isn't a straight forward Journey ballad. It has a soulful edge that begins slowly and builds to quite a rocking and emotional chorus, completed with some more tasteful piano playing.
Again Arnel is driven to the edge with a powerful vocal that sounds like prime era Perry, calling on him to show soulful finesse and raw emotional power – check out the vocal following Neal's solo. Classic.
What It Takes To Win starts with an ominous moody edge and you just know something special is coming. Sure enough it does. And the power and passion of this song has remained with me since the first playback and is a favourite from the album (even though highlights are many). I read somewhere that Cain had to fight to have this song included – good thing he did, it would have been my second pick of all the songs lined up for inclusion.
Best part of the song besides the restrained, yet fast moving Schon riff, is Arnel's passionate raspy vocals. This is where he shines as his own man. The further he pushes it, the better he sounds. I'm absolutely blown away the guys even leave some feedback from Neal's guitar in the mix. Further proof of the live feel this set of songs has and how it does sound like a concert. Cain's piano again adds texture and rounds out the sound along with the thumping rhythm section (sorry to Ross for showing no love until now).
The guitar solo is fabulous and leads to another great melodic bridge that makes the song. Again – check out the emotion in the vocal and the thumping Castronovo drumming.
Time for another big power ballad and it is my humble opinion that Turn Down The World Tonight is the best of them all and possibly the best Journey ballad in the post-Perry era. This is a nice big, powerful piano lead ballad with a classic Journey vocal. If other songs belong to Neal, Arnel or Deen, this is Jon Cain's moment. Some beautiful piano drives this song and Neal's slow soloing towards the end, with the addition of some orchestration make this a monster ballad.
The first Journey instrumental in many years closes the US disc of new material. The Journey (Revelation) is a slow building showcase for Neal Schon.
And just as it should, it reminds of something from Neal's solo career, most immediately something off the brilliant Late Nite album.
The European only bonus track is Let It Take You Back, a reasonably laid back rocker that features a nice crunchy guitar riff and an Augeri-ish lead vocal.
An effects filled bridge leads to a chorus that doesn't lift the tempo at all – it just kind of slots in there. I could have used a more impactful chorus to be honest and the song, while a pleasing addition for die-hard fans, is probably the weakest track of the set, and its relegation to bonus track status is not a surprise.
So, good for die-hard fans and pleasing it isn't another ballad – but also not strong enough to lift the points rating any higher than the US release.
The Re-Records –
This is the interesting part I guess. The controversial part of this 2CD set and the part that will probably be debated more than the new material or anything else for that matter. The band's motivation for doing this is clear – get out from under the various strings and conditions that control their original songs.
They aren't the first to do it and certainly won't be the last. In fact, Kiss are doing the same right now.
This move allows the band to license these versions to various projects and it also allows the band to showcase their new singer and just how close to Steve Perry he can come.
A few facts before a few opinions.
Unlike the new material, which was 100% produced by Kevin Shirley, the re-records were produced by Kevin with Jonathan Cain & Neal Schon. Shirley told me that Jon and Neal did the basic track recording, with Cain helping to guide Arnel through the vocal process. Shirley came in after that and helped complete the process and adding his special touch.
The re-records have a slightly less polished feel to that of the original material. Let's face it – the band has been playing these songs for centuries now and all could probably do it in their sleep with little problem.
So this disc has a distinct 'live in the studio' feel.
The songs almost play themselves. They are well produced and played (as expected), but don't quite have the sonic punch of disc one.
I guess here the songs are being performed as like they originally were (in the 70s and 80s), whereas the new material has a more contemporary setting.
Arnel really does an amazing job with the vocals. He sings like a man possessed (with the spirit of Steve Perry as expected) and his booming voice lifts the songs.
His performance is really quite amazing and a contrast to the natural tone of his voice demonstrated on the original material.
That said – there are parts here I didn't appreciate as much and his voice occasionally doesn't quite flow over the lyrics like Perry's did. But how could anyone stack up fairly against one of the best vocalists that ever lived? Impossible…
This set of songs is very much a straight forward copy of the originals, with little deviation or additional new flair. That is a little disappointing…and for that reason I personally don't have a lot of time for these versions.
Now, that's not saying there is anything wrong with them either. They are all classic songs afterall and all of the above comments and the actual quality of the songs is all positive. What it comes down to is individual tastes and needs.
Personally I wouldn't be spending a lot of time with straight forward re-recorded hits no matter what singer. And for that matter – no matter what the band. I just don't see the point for die-hard fans.
This isn't a slight against Journey – just the general concept. I haven't had a lot of time for other artists doing the same thing either.
What I would have preferred is a disc of classic hits updated, or stripped back to acoustic or something just a little different. How about with a symphony orchestra? Now that would be cool… Then again, if that was done…the band wouldn't have these versions to license out.
Picks – Be Good To Yourself (nice solo Neal), Any Way You Want It, Stone In Love and of course the big ballads Faithfully and Open Arms.
And consider this – Be Good To Yourself is 22 years old and finally only now features the bass playing of Ross Valory.
I don't want to be too hard on these versions or this concept. Like I said, people will have their own take on this and they'll either take it or leave it.
Had this disc some out on its own I would have been less favorable with my overall views, but coupled with a live DVD and a set of 11 or 12 fantastic new songs, how could anyone really complain – especially at the price point being offered in the USA or the standard 2CD price for Europe.
This therefore is my opinion.
I haven't always agreed with the decisions made by the band, but it is hard to argue any point when you are holding a disc of this quality.
The new material is some of the best songs I have heard from the band in many years.
No, it doesn't break any new ground, but it does continue the classic spirit of Journey in the very best way possible.
Many fans don't want new ground – not from a band some 30 years old.
I think the guys have done the best possible job in delivering a set of songs that is true to their 80s sound, and with some magic desk-jockeying by Kevin Shirley, has delivered a contemporary sounding record that positively jumps thought the speaks with energy not heard since Escape and Frontiers.
I wasn't expecting such an energetic and engaging record – at least as far as the new material goes and I'm happy to admit this goes above and beyond my expectations.
As a stand alone release, I think the disc of new material might top Arrival, which was a real classic.
Now, the score…
The new material is as close to perfect as it gets. Considering the play-back it has received so far - it still sounds fresh and engaging each listen.
I'd rate Disc One - Songs 99% with Production a perfect 100.
The re-records are a little more difficult. All classic songs obviously, but the production is not as sharp. If I'm fair, I would have to say that they are done well, but at the same time won't be played that much at all. So Disc Two - Songs 90% and Production about the same.
Live DVD not yet reviewed, but 14 tracks from Vegas 2008 adds great value. Mix that all up with the emphasis on the new material and I'll give this package 97%....
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