Sunday, July 20, 2008

Journey - Revelation (2008)

Journey’s recent discovery of new lead singer Arnel Pineda is all over the pop culture radar. CBS News has featured them a few times, they appeared on “Ellen,” VH1 dubbed Arnel winner of the “Best Week Ever,” etc. In case you didn’t know, the band had just released tour-fill-in-turned-permanent singer Jeff Scott Soto as buzz from the “Sopranos” finale built. With attention came the sudden need for a new frontman, and they turned to YouTube, scouring the internet for tribute singers, would-be Steve Perrys – the whole gamut. It was guitarist Neal Schon who saw Pineda singing “Faithfully” in his native Philippines that brought us to where we are today. For the first time in years, the band is getting consistent radio airplay of their new songs off their new album, “Revelation.”

The new album is more than just a simple CD. Like the Eagles before them, Journey signed an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart, in an effort to boost attention and sales. Part of the deal included Wal-Mart’s apparent need for some extra material. So not only do you get Revelation proper (11 songs in all), but you get an album of re-recorded greatest hits, AND a concert DVD of the boys in Las Vegas with Arnel for $11.88. It’s this price point and value that, at least in part, helped the record break 250,000 sales within five weeks. RIAA rules allow a double album to count as 2 sales, so this one’s gold baby! Is it worthy of this status? Or are they just riding the coattails of Arnel Pineda’s Cinderella story, with a disc of their biggest songs?

Track listing:
1 – Never Walk Away (4:19)
2 – Like a Sunshower (4:29)
3 – Change for the Better (5:52)
4 – Wildest Dream (5:02)
5 – Faith in the Heartland (6:18)
6 – After All These Years (4:10)
7 – Where Did I Lose Your Love (5:02)
8 – What I Needed (5:28)
9 – What It Takes to Win (5:23)
10 – Turn Down the World Tonight (4:56)
11 – The Journey (Revelation) (5:25)

In a word? No. It’s definitely a solid album. But let’s dive in for the full treatment.

The first track is the lead-off single, “Never Walk Away.” While it packs that memorable punch to stop passersby on the radio dial, that memorable punch sounds very familiar. Longtime Journey fans will have trouble not singing “Be Good To Yourself” against this one the first few times they hear it. I’ve since come to like it on its own, but the resemblance is hard to deny.

The album ambles on to “Like a Sunshower,” which is reminiscent of “Lights” and an okay thumbs up. After that, my favorite track on the disc, “Change for the Better.” This is a rockin’ tune with some driving guitars and retro keyboard tones that I really dug. It’s reminiscent of their earlier song, and one of my all-time Journey favorites, “Escape.” From there we get into an okay song that has made the early setlists, “Wildest Dream,” followed by a remake. “Faith in the Heartland” was on an album with post-Perry lead singer Steve Augeri. Not sure why it’s here – decent song, but eh.

Next up, the second single off the album, “After All These Years,” penned by keyboardist Jonathan Cain. This ballad has been getting a good deal of attention on adult contemporary stations. The song is well-crafted, but not my speed.

The seventh track, “Where Did I Lose Your Love” is a well-structured mid-tempo song. Following that is “What I Needed,” something of a musical rollercoaster, much like their masterwork “Mother Father.” Afterwards, “What It Takes To Win” provides some embarrassingly cliché lyrics about victory and such, but would be more than serviceable if licensed for montages by a network sports outlet. “Turn Down the World Tonight” is another slower song with a great piano hook. And the final track is a Neal Schon-written instrumental that takes some time to get going, but provides a satisfying end to the CD.

So in short, the missteps are few on this album. The songs are well done and polished. But look at those run times. The singles run just above 4 minutes and they’re the shortest on the album. With most of the songs being of a slower, romantic variety, this gets to be a little laborious to listen to as a cohesive whole. I was able to appreciate some tracks more on the second and third go-arounds, because I wasn’t as tuckered out from the pacing experienced on first listen. I realize writing punchy 3-minute home-runs is a lot to ask, and perhaps devoid of some artistic value, but…Journey’s well capable of doing it. They can rock. Their past albums showed them being true musical chameleons.


The songs are worth a listen even if you’re just a casual fan. You’re bound to find one that’s okay for you. The band has been harping on returning to the “legacy sound” for some time, and frankly…that’s Steve Perry. Let it go. I’m no Perry-apologist, but these songs are undeniably Journey even without him. They would sound right in line with the old catalog if he were singing them. Arnel, though, is a talented vocalist who can hopefully stay with the band into their twilight and make some more musical magic like we got here.

That's my score for “Revelation.” But as a bonus, I’m going to punch up some thoughts on the re-record disc.

Track listing:
1 – Only the Young (4:14)
2 – Don’t Stop Believin’ (4:55)
3 – Wheel in the Sky (5:01)
4 – Faithfully (4:47)
5 – Any Way You Want It (3:25)
6 – Who’s Crying Now (5:16)
7 – Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) (5:27)
8 – Lights (3:16)
9 – Open Arms (3:22)
10 – Be Good To Yourself (4:29)
11 – Stone in Love (4:27)

I decided to basically judge this on the merits of it being re-recorded. If it was a worthy cover, thumbs in the middle. Any significant improvement/enjoyment meant thumbs up…an insult to the original and/or major problems, thumbs down. What you find out listening is something the band’s old manager Herbie Herbert had said. You don’t exactly need Steve Perry. Well, his voice, anyway. His songwriting is pretty key. But I digress – the songs for the most part get thumbs in the middles. They were ably covered and enjoyable.

Fans of the band will recognize a lot of live touches to the re-records. Song endings and arrangements used here are similar to ones used by Journey in their recent tours. Considering moves by Neal Schon in particular to record their music as live as they can in the studio, this was a natural thing to do with the re-records. They’ve been doing them live for the past 10 years in a row, it’s probably how they know them best anyway.

Among the high and lowlights: “Wheel in the Sky” was not in Arnel’s grasp at record time. “Faithfully” is a song he’s been singing for years already, and he has a nice handle on it, with his own vocalisms to boot. “Lights” and “Open Arms” are a bit overperformed, with crashing drums and more of Arnel’s struggle to match the original version with his own voice. In the Perry days, the band was a lot more intrepid in covering themselves live, using punchier arrangements, faster tempos, etc. Could’ve done some service in places here, I imagine.

“Be Good To Yourself” is perhaps the best redo on the disc, which is a shame given its similarity to their new hit single. It still got some play on the Revelation tour, but...


Disc 2 of Revelation isn’t a total waste of time, but if it was ever to be done, it was best included in a package like this. As it stands, it’s a curiosity, and sort of a go-anywhere live bootleg of the band as it exists in 2008.

The DVD I haven’t given too much thought to. The direction of it is not my cup of tea; a bit too frenetic with the shots and camera switching. But the performances are good, and it’s not a bad extra. Plus it’s the first official release of drummer Deen Castronovo covering “Mother Father.” I’d give it about three-and-a-half.

The entire package, with DVD, gets a 3.5 out of 5. That’s an average of my scores, bumped up thanks to the incredible value of the set.

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