Review Summary: How do albums like this get made?
Journey is a group known for intending to please a wide, grand audience since 1978 (some might argue 1977). Ever since singer Steve Perry's entrance to the fold, the band had been sitting on the lap of luxury; selling out multiplexes and smashing sales records every year. This is no doubt due to the leadership of Perry himself; his soaring vocal range and pure energy as a frontman led the band to the peak of their success, supported by a well-oiled machine of a band to round out the commercially viable sound. However, around the time of 1986's somewhat lackluster Raised on Radio, tensions were rising in a (quite typical) battle of control over the band. Steve Perry started taking control by firing two members of the band (bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith) and things got uglier from there. After Raised on Radio and its subsequent tour, the band decided to call it quits... until 1995, that is.
Steve Perry and co. didn't seem to think they were quite washed up just yet, and most likely made this album, Trial by Fire, out of the hope of still being relevant in this ever-changing world of music. The result is an extremely weak effort... one that massacred Steve Perry's final moments with the band.
The record is plagued with so many problems, in execution or concept, that it drowns out any redemption the songs might hold. The first problem is the length: at a heaping 75 minutes, this album is a chore to listen to, especially with the lack of solid or focused material. All the classic Journey albums kept the length nice and tidy, usually each clocking in at about 35-42 minutes. They might have had the intention of making up for lost material or time, but in this case, it's simply an overkill.
The other huge problem is with inspiration. The band have seemly run out of the energy they're notorious for, and have replaced most of their hard rock roots with soft rock and -dare I say it?- adult contemporary music, probably in hopes of appealing to a new generation. The result of colliding two generations together makes for an extremely inconsistent and tough listen, something that shouldn't be part of the Journey repertoire; it can only ensure that both audiences will be alienated by multiple portions of the album.
So are there songs worth listening to from this album? It just so happens that there are some redeeming moments buried within this mound of junk... notably in the first few songs of the album. "Message of Love" is a deceptively good opener to the album, complete with the typically powerful guitar work by Neal Schon and pounding rhythms that compliment Steve Perry's vocals very well. "One More" is an odd song for a band like Journey, but the orchestral experimentation works in their regard, and the quasi-progressive feel is quite nice. "When You Love a Woman" is a nice classic Journey ballad; it does have a touch of the adult contemporary style I mentioned, but it fits well, and the symphony backing the band provides a solid backdrop to the composition.
However, after this streak of highlights, the album falls flat on its face. "Castles Burning" is a weak attempt at macho heavy metal posturing and angst, while songs like "It's Just the Rain" and "Colors of the Spirit" show a disappointing dip in passion and quality from the Journey of old, only getting better for the closing track (not counting the hidden track), "Trial by Fire," the only other highlight on the record.
All in all, Trial by Fire is overlong, washed up, and simply beating a dead horse. Even though the album went gold eventually, people generally caught on and figured out that the album was not worth any of their money... and they were right. Journey listeners beware... this is the most atrocious album by Journey, and is only recommended if you want to have EVERY SINGLE Journey album.
On this album, Journey were:
Neal Schon - lead guitar, vocals
Steve Perry - lead vocals
Jonathan Cain - keyboards, rhythm guitar, vocals
Steve Smith - drums and percussion
Ross Valory - bass, vocals
Paulinho Da Costa - percussion