Review Summary: Well, it's better than Escape. Still, proceed with caution.
Journey was an epitome of arena rock for its time along with a handful of others, among the likes of Styx, REO Speedwagon, Loverboy, etc. Their album Escape saw them at their "finest" and at their heyday. Whether or not one really cared about the quality that was lost in their later recordings after their prog era with Santana keyboard virtuoso Gregg Rolie, it never seemed to be an issue, as Journey's records were still being sold by the masses as soon as they were released. This sees a new album called Frontiers, and it is a definite progression/improvement over the lackluster Escape.
The first side of the record contains a good amount of well-known tracks. It kicks off with the particularly popular "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), a synth-driven number that is actually quite heavy. Steve Perry still takes the forefront (as usual), but it is noticeably not as much this time around. Eventually the track is pulled along by a pretty catchy chorus. Its solo gets a little over-the-top and a little too dramatic with some filler as well, but that's the only area to really be griping about.
Another extremely well-known track here is the beautiful "Faithfully," a warm and heartfelt ballad that really shows glimpses of earlier Steve Perry work with Journey. It shows that there is still a fire in Perry's songwriting and singing overall. The track starts out with slow piano work and eventually builds up to a massive verse-chorus progression. Other hits of the first side include "After the Fall," which is actually a bit lackluster but overall a solid ballad, and the hard-rocking (yet quite interesting and unusual for Journey) "Chain Reaction."
The second side of the record is a bit interesting. While the first half of the album had popular hits that received significant airplay, the second side reveals a more obscure feel to the band. The rocker "Edge of the Blade" is a good example here. The riff absolutely does not sound like something Journey would do, and the overall track is quite dark in music and subject matter. The darkness continues with the progressive ballad "Troubled Child," which also goes more towards their early years with Gregg Rolie. The music lightens up a bit and gets more accessible with "Rubicon," the final track, but overall the second side is quite odd.
The whole experience for me had quite a collection of gripes. First off, Jonathan Cain has a little too much control here with his keyboard work, and it really makes for many missed opportunities with the album's sound. Plus, the obscure second half might turn off some listeners who prefer Escape or Departure. Furthermore, that same second half is a bit directionless at times, particularly at the end of "Edge of the Blade" where it could have just faded out. Solos can also be quite overbearing, like the one in "Separate Ways," where Neal Schon just does a bunch of noodling and soloing for minutes.
Overall, this album is definitely better than Escape but it doesn't match the quality of the very early records by Journey when Gregg Rolie was around. Fans should especially be aware that the second half of the album might not be their cup of tea. In short, though, it is a decent album worth listening to.