Review Summary: The last great album by Journey before Steve Perry disassembled the group's prog roots.
So then, we reach Gregg Rolie's last leading performance in Journey, and they definitely finished strong with this one. I will admit, however, that this one veers into more of a pop/rock territory, but still not as much as when Steve Perry joined. Actually, this is one of Journey's best performances, since it combines the prog/jazz fusion of pre-Perry Journey, and the soft pop/rock sensibilities of Steve Perry's performances with the group. So, overall, what we have here is one of the most well-rounded albums of Journey's discography. This is often on of the most overlooked albums in the Journey catalog, with two reasons: 1. It is pre-Perry Journey(duh), and 2. It was more of a transition album.
One of this album's greatest aspects is in its awesome instrumentals. Take the song Nickel and Dime, for example. This song's most prominent time signature is 5/8 and that's unheard of in later Journey! Also, the band was really on to something with the title track, Next. This song seems to alternate between a ballad and a hard rock song, still full of interesting jazz passages and the crazy time signatures that this band was known for at the time.
However, perhaps the best song on the album is People. This song focuses mainly on Neal Schon's improvisational solos and Gregg Rolie's distinctive singing style. It is a very odd tune, and a bit hard to describe. Meanwhile, Ansley Dunbar's drumming is absolutely outstanding. He can keep the rhythm in line while doing is own insane solos and paying close attention to precision and detail. His drumming is one of the highlights in the song. Here We Are is also one of the best songs on the album, yet a bit more commercial. This is more of a power ballad with a progressive edge, just like the title track. This song also emphasizes Neal Schon's guitar harmonies.
When you get to Hustler, though, you know you're in for a ride. You can clearly tell that Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie took elements from Led Zeppelin on this one. From the wailing classic rock-styled vocals of Gregg Rolie being reminiscent of Robert Plant, to the crazy hard rock/bluesy solos of Neal Schon reminiscent of Jimmy Page, this one could have easily fit into one of Led Zeppelin's recordings, namely III or IV. Yet, again, this one still finds its own progressive spark, with weird rhythms that Led Zeppelin wouldn't normally use, especially in the chorus. Also this one is a bit heavier that a normal song that Zeppelin would have done.
The big problem that I had with the album is the brevity. This album has so many great ideas, yet doesn't use them to their full potential. I'm mainly talking about the opening track, Spaceman. While this song is good, it could have had more jazz passages to make it more interesting, etc.
However, despite some flaws, this album is a smart progression for a fusion/prog group. It has mostly lived up to the potential overall. Too bad this is the last great album by Journey before Steve Perry disassembled the group's prog roots. Oh well... It'd be really great if Gregg Rolie joined Journey again to make such good music. Until next time, Journey!