Review Summary: An album that makes me excited for Journey's future, even with the absence of former frontman Steve Perry.
There just comes a time when a musician comes to his/her senses and decides to call it quits, and some have done this better than others. In the case of Journey, it would be a huge loss when Steve Perry decided to leave the group after 1996's abysmal Trial By Fire. It's an unfortunate situation when an artist ends on such a disappointing note. To make matters worse, Journey decided to press on with a different singer, and what do they do? They hire a Steve Perry clone. As much of a cop-out as that is, it was received much worse by the fans; rather, not at all by the fans. The problem with that is that Journey fans had always been a particularly resonant bunch with a lot of energy as an audience, so being lukewarm toward news such as this must have been a bit of a blow.
Going into this album with those tidbits of info, I approached an album like this with pretty low expectations... but just like 2001's Arrival, this was a surprising solid release... DAMN good, in fact! For being over 70 minutes worth of material, the band manage to really inject a firm dose of life into their aging sound. The result is a modern album full of classic cuts worthy of Journey's 70's/80's records, as well as some that really surprise on manifold levels.
The first thing you notice is that the songs are exceptionally long for a Journey release... the first song, "Faith in the Heartland" is a daunting 7 minutes long, a length not seen since 1976's title track "Look Into the Future" which clocks in at over 8 minutes. In that sense, the band give a subtle nod to the pre-Perry days, much like Arrival did. The second thing you notice is singer Steve Augeri's resemblance to old classic rock legends like Steve Perry (of course) and Robert Plant. Unfortunately, while he is a capable singer and frontman, he is probably the weakest link on this release, not offering much in the way of anything new from Steve Perry.
The songs comprise what is perhaps the band's most daring material yet. First of all, the album is a lot heavier than previous Journey albums, and some songs were really shocking in how brutal they could be. Take album highlight "Out of Harm's Way" for instance; in the middle after a particularly solid chorus, the band go into a heavy metal breakdown. Yes, you read this right... A JOURNEY METAL BREAKDOWN. Yup, and you know what? It's a very well-done breakdown; I could even see Dream Theater doing this kind of groove on an album like Awake or Falling Into Infinity.
The other daring aspect of the album is to allow other band members to sing a few songs. This is unfortunately one of the areas where it's a mixed bag. Neal Schon's performance in "In Self-Defense" is really solid, and Schon is a very capable singer; unfortunately, I can't say the same about bassist Ross Valory. His performance on "Gone Crazy" is extremely weak despite the song being pretty decent, and he sounds like he's doing a bad pseudo-bluesy ZZ Top impression. Luckily, Augeri still sings the majority of the songs on here, so the album still retains its consistency.
Despite the situation with mixed vocal performances, the songs are in no way mixed or inconsistent. Everything here retains the classic 70's-style Journey sound, and adds its tricks to keep things fresh. The highlights are definitely the hard-rockers like "In Self-Defense" and "Out of Harm's Way," but the band's subtle side sees some fantastic moments as well. "Butterfly (She Flies Alone)" is the big standout in this regard; a soft, distant piano melody starts the song off, and the way Steve's vocals and Jonathan Cain's piano chords fit together is simply sublime in this song. Neal's guitar work adds an overlaying texture to the main melody, and the song never gets boring in its 6-minute runtime.
Overall, this album improves upon Arrival's initial attempt at quasi-recreating the old Journey sound. Generations proves that you in fact CAN retain an old flame years after it's passed, as long as you bring new tricks to the table. It may not have performed favorably in terms of sales, but for non-buyers, it's their loss. This one's a keeper.
Journey (For this album):
Steve Augeri - Lead vocals (except as noted), additional guitar on "Butterfly (She Flies Alone)" and "Believe"
Neal Schon - Guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on "In Self-Defense"
Ross Valory - Bass, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Gone Crazy"
Jonathan Cain - Keyboards, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Every Generation", additional rhythm guitar on "Never Too Late"
Deen Castronovo - Drums, percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals on "A Better Life" and "Never Too Late"
"Out of Harm's Way"
"Butterfly (She Flies Alone)"
"Faith in the Heartland"