Review Summary: A painfully underrated album that marks a huge step up from 1996's Trial by Fire.
Journey will generally be known to the general public as that band who made all the cheesy prom ballads and arena-style hard rock staples for the airwaves. With this knowledge, most people are in the dark about the real talent some of their work held. Take a trip back to the humble days of 1975; Journey were just getting their feet wet with a debut that mixed classic hard rock with progressive and fusion-based flourishes. The result was an album that the public doesn't notice much today, much less back then. Two more albums followed in this vein before Steve Perry joined and made the band more commercial.
Now, why am I telling you all this?
Simple: because this specific album takes a bit of a joyride back to the pre-Perry era. Sure, Perry's time with the band is clear with similarly cheesy love ballads (see the awful "All the Way"), but there's a certain feel that makes it stand out quite a bit in Journey's catalog. First of all, rejoice because this kicks the ass of 1996's Trial by Fire! The band sounds much more energized, and while singer Steve Augeri sounds eerily close to our previously mentioned former frontman, he packs a great deal of energy even with the daunting running time of 74 minutes. The rest of the members hold their own as well and create a nice sense of balance by not being overly flashy or low in the mix.
Speaking of balance, the songs are more varied this time around, ranging from fist-pumping hard rock anthems ("Higher Place," "To Be Alive Again"), soft rock ballads ("Loved by You," "Kiss Me Softly") and even some progressive hints ("Livin' To Do," "World Gone Wild"). Also, this album marks a much-needed lack of the horrid adult-contemporary style of the previous album, once again catering back to their old fans. Just one listen to opener "Higher Place" is a sign of a return to the old lively energy that Journey had back in the 80's.
One extremely pleasing quality here is how the band give a little bit of something to multiple generations of fans. The old guitar style and inclusion of Steve Augeri is obviously a way to regroup the old fanbase, while the modern production and shiny polish to the mix screams "2000's". Songs like "Higher Place," "To Be Alive Again" and "We Will Meet Again" certainly work well in this regard, with flourishes of the Perry era and the polished production of modern rock, almost like the band is tapping into The Darkness in some way (albeit with less of that cheeky humor).
Then there are the ballads; what a mixed bag. This slice of the album is where you'll hear some real and unfortunate inconsistency. For instance, "Loved by You" is a fantastic ballad worthy of the old Journey tag, and also adding a slightly folky atmosphere to it ("Livin' To Do" does a similar thing). But then, you hear the song "All the Way". This song is H-O-R-R-E-N-D-O-U-S. Essentially, it's like Journey's prom ballads x10; it ranks up there with "Forever Young," but at least that's a good song. This song takes "corny" to a whole new level. The rest of the ballads follow suit, ranging from bad-to-decent-to-great.
One more gripe is that Steve Augeri, as I said, sounds a bit too much like Steve Perry, and it would really have been nice to hear some more variety in his vocals. It's clear that he's a talented and capable singer, but it'd be great if he adds a few extra things to the table the next time around. Aside from that, things are good the way they are.
Whether you want to purchase this album depends on a simple question: do you like Journey or not? If you don't like Journey, this won't exactly change your mind. However, I think fans of the band will find a bit of a treat in spite of the initial backlash this record received. Arrival is a nice revival of the old classic rock hits and hooks we all knew Journey for, and for some people that just might be enough.
World Gone Wild
Loved by You
To Be Alive Again
The Band (For this album):
Neal Schon - lead guitar, backing vocals
Ross Valory - bass, backing vocals
Jonathan Cain - keyboards, backing vocals
Deen Castronovo - drums, backing vocals
Steve Augeri - lead vocals