JOURNEY: ECLIPSE (Frontiers/Riot)
1st June 2011
Like many of their eighties compadres, Journey exist in 2011 in a peculiar pop-culture-as-saviour-of-old-bands world where they have the most downloaded song in iTunes history (the evergreen 'Don't Stop Believin'' – don't pretend you don't own it), yet still have to release new 'product' on an indie label because those same consumers don't gotst any interest in the band beyond the songs they hear on Glee or whichever Idol franchise they happen to fall under the jurisdiction of. So Eclipse will be snapped up by discerning forty-something rock fans, ignored by everyone else and the world won't stop turning.
Is this a shame? The band probably don't care. Its songwriting core of Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain can't possibly need the money, but they are still – despite the oh-so post modern success they are currently enjoying- so mired in the old ways that they still believe they need an album to tour behind (this is plainly not true – there's a circuit in the Summer in the US where thousands of fans will turn out year after a year to sit uncomplainingly whilst the heroes of their salad days churn out the soundtracks of their lives onstage – and they'll pay top dollar to do so), and 'Eclipse' is that album.
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Journey is so indebted to the way of the world in the 21st century that they found their singer, Arnel Pineda, whilst looking through their own body of work on YouTube. Pineda was there, in living colour sounding for all the world like a Filipino Steve Perry, performing in some glitzy south east Asian Karaoke bar, belting out the good stuff with nary a clue who was watching from afar.
The man was recruited and, though he does the business live, his voice is just too anodyne to do the songs of Cain and Schon justice in the studio. He's fine when the band are in Heavy Metal mode – opener 'City Of Hope' is a rousing call to arms that the Pineda pipes handle with aplomb; When the band actually begin sounding like Journey – the piano led 'Tantra' or the sumptuous 'Anything Is Possible' (which is a glorious throwback to the soulful hard rocking of 1986's 'Raised On Radio') being fine examples – you're left wishing Steve Perry (or even Steve Augeri, Perry's ill-fated successor, come to that) was behind the mic. Schon's playing is marvellous on the latter, and the song is the first truly classic Journey composition on the album.
It's not all Pineda's fault of course. Last year a little-known Brazilian Band by the name of Auras (also curiously part of the Frontiers stable) released an album – the utterly monstrous 'New Generation' – that was by some way the best 'Journey-style' album released in years; If the real thing had a batch of songs that good we'd be talking all time classic here, but they don't and we're not. Instead they offer up a curious reworking of Cozy Powell's 'Dance With the Devil (alright, it's only Deen Castronovo's drum part that sounds like that but you know what I mean...) called 'Human Feel' that just sounds like that very rare creature, Journey filler; It's an excuse for Schon to stretch out over the end of the song whilst listeners everywhere head for the kettle.
But this is Journey we're talking about, and even a Journey off cut is more welcome than the best efforts of most of the hapless fools out there calling themselves musicians, and after that brief blip the hard rocking goods are delivered again in the shape of the bouncy Ritual, a diamond –studded Journey of the corker that could easily have found a place somewhere on 'Escape'.
So in the final analysis, is 'Eclipse' any good? It is – it's probably the best thing Journey have released since 2001's 'Arrival', but it isn't a classic, and it certainly isn't going to get those Glee fans heading for their local record n'tape exchange either.