Tag Archives: Journey

Yes, Journey, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Salon

A central casting too-cool-for-school hipster looks at this year’s nominations for the Rock and Roll hall of fame and asks “Why celebrate Journey and Yes? He concludes that the Hall of Fame has hit “a new low”.

Journey stands, alongside REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, and a handful of others as an exemplar of one of the worst, least inventive periods of rock history — the corporate rock movement that was marked by bland playing and generic songwriting. Of all of them, Journey may have had, with Steve Perry, the most annoying lead singer. “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is lodged permanently on AOR radio, television shows like “Glee,” and in the karaoke and covers repertoire. Forget ear worms — it’s the musical cockroach we’ll never kill. But please, can’t we just agree that this band’s career was a big mistake, try to forget about them, and just leave it at that?

Yes, on the other hand, is a band that once had real musical ambition as leaders of the “art rock movement.” But their classical-rock fusions sound studied now; they never had the imagination or drive of, say, King Crimson. And they are, like Journey, led by an awful lead singer. Can we remove “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from radio forever and just pretend that ‘80s comeback never happened?

Because if you really think Yes are defined by “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, you should not be employed to write about them. But it’s Salon, which is really a leftist-hipster version of The Daily Express, a publication that exists to confirm and reinforce the prejudices of its narrow-minded readership.

There is a wider question, of course, of why exactly does anyone take the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously in the first place.

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Top Ten Songs of 2011

We’ve had my ten top albums of the year, here’s my top ten songs. Not being a fan of top-40 style singles, almost all of these are album tracks – in fact there’s only one single on the entire list.

As is usual for this sort of thing, it’s a completely personal and subjective list. But I’d much rather listen to any of these than any X-factor bollocks, and so should you. So there!

10: Yes – Fly From Here
The title track of Yes’ most recent album saw the “Drama” team of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn return with a much-expanded version of what started life as an unrecorded Buggles song. I suppose calling a five-part prog-rock epic taking up half an album a “song” is cheating, but I’m setting the rules here, and this is certainly the best thing Yes have recorded for years.

9: Journey – Edge of the Moment
One of the standout songs from “Eclipse”, this classy hard rocker is a great example of the other side of Journey’s music from the radio-friendly ballads.

8: Blood Ceremony – Daughter of the Sun
The ten-minute epic that closes track of their second album “Living With the Ancients” is a great example of why I’ve described them as sounding like Black Sabbath fronted by Angela Gordon, with it’s combination of bewitching flute and doom-laden guitar.

7: Mostly Autumn – Questioning Eyes
It’s not a completely new song (It originally appeared on Breathing Space’s 2008 album “Below the Radar”), but the powerful live version on “Still Beautiful” rises to even greater heights. It shows the extent to which Olivia Sparnenn has grown as a vocalist in the past three years.

6: Mastodon – The Sparrow
The multi-layered ballad with it’s rich harmonies is my clear favourite from “The Hunter”. Probably because it’s the most prog thing on the album.

5: Liam Davison – Heading Home
Liam’s long-awaited solo album “A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels” was one of the surprises of 2011, a well-crafted album with a very capable supporting cast. This song is a standout with it’s wonderful interplay between Liam’s soaring lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ swirling Hammond organ and Paul Teasdale’s propulsive bass riff.

4: Panic Room – O Holy Night
A welcome and unexpected end-of-year surprise was this spine-tingling version of the traditional carol released as a free Christmas download from their website.

3: Heather Findlay – Seven
Heather’s solo EP “The Phoenix Suite” took quite a few listens to fully appreciate, and once the record finally clicked, this atmospheric and brooding number became the firm favourite.

2: Opeth – Folklore
The dramatic closing section on this song with the galloping bass riff has to be one of the most exciting pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

1: Steven Wilson – Raider II
Another lengthy prog epic is my “song” of the year. With its swirling Mellotron and spiralling sax and flute it sounds like a cross between 70s King Crimson and Canterbury-scene jazz-rock dragged into the 21st century, and the heaviest sections are the bits without guitars. Amazing piece of music.

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Journey – Eclipse

If they’ve heard more than one song, the general public only know Journey for their radio-friendly power ballads. But rock fans have always been aware of the other side of the band; the classy hard-rock outfit capable of filling quite major venues with their high energy live shows. In their eighties heyday there was sometimes a tension between these two aspects of their music. Interviews suggested the record company constantly demanding more ballads while at least some of the band wanted to rock out rather more. With less commercial pressure nowadays to be radio-friendly, this, like many of their recent albums, shows more of the hard rock Journey rather than the commercial power-ballad Journey.

After regrouping a few years back they’re now on their third singer since Steve Perry’s retirement. Following from Steve Augeri, forced out with vocal problems trying to reach Perry’s high notes, and Jeff Scott Soto, who never quite sounded right, comes Arnel Pineda. On his second studio album with the band he still sounds close enough to Steve Perry to make it sound like Journey, but on this disk he has enough of an identity of his own to be more than a mere clone.

From the opening guitar barrage of “City of Hope”, it’s clear that the songs on this disk are written more for live performance rather than for daytime radio airplay.  The following “Edge of the Moment” is in a similar vein, the sort of genre-defining hard-edged highly melodic AOR that Journey have made their own. There’s room for plenty of Neil Schon’s shredding jazz-metal guitar with songs typically stretching for five or six minutes, but they don’t neglect the stadium-friendly big choruses either. Other highlights are the Zeppelinesque “Chain of Love”, and “Human Feel” with the African-style drums and Hammond backed riff. The last three tracks are pure gold;  the epic power-ballad in “To Whom It May Concern”, the quintessential Journey pop-rock of “Someone” and finally the monstrous instrumental “Venus”.

The album’s by no means without it’s flaws. Jonathan Cain’s keys take too much of a back seat at times, and the album could have done with a bit more light and shade. And like too many albums it’s just a little overlong, and could have done with losing some filler towards the middle of the album. The mediocre “She’s a Mystery” in particular really shouldn’t have made the cut.

This album might leave some Glee or X-Factor fans disappointed, but reality TV viewers aren’t exactly Journey’s core audience. The is really an album for fans of melodic hard rock. While it doesn’t quite reach the standard of 80s classics like “Escape” and especially “Frontiers”, this album shows Journey are still as much a force to be reckoned in the studio as they are live, with a quarter of a century after their commercial peak. 

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Which 70s and 80s bands deserve a critical rehabilitation?

This is prompted by some comments deep within the comments thread of a rather silly Alan McGee post on The Guardian Music Blog by Jasonaparkes and Jforbes, which speculated as to which half-forgotten or critically maligned acts deserve a non-ironic critical rehabilitation.

Not that I’m talking about mainstream critical opinion here, not the opinion of actual rock fans.

  • Dire Straits: If you don’t come from Britain you’ll probably be amazed at the way Dire Straits have acquired the critical pariah status they have.  They tend to get lumped in with Phil Collins as the music people who bought two or three albums a year listened to, while all the self-described cool people were busy listening to jangly indie. While it’s true that, at least around the time of the mega-selling “Brothers in Arms” that they did attract the attention of very large numbers of annoying people called ‘Kevin’, that’s not a fair way to judge the actual music.  While their music suffered from the occasional lapse of taste, a distressing proportion of which got released as singles to be lapped up by the Kevins, most of their albums, especially “Love Over Gold” stand up well; some very witty lyrics and fantastic guitar playing.
  • Supertramp: I have to confess all-but forgetting this band until I recently picked up their live double “Paris” a few months back.   Seventies soft-rock has never been the most fashionable of genres, but I’d forgotten just how good they were.   Another band for which their commercial singles don’t really represent what they were about; it’s the prog epics like “Crime of the Century” and “Fools Overture” where they shine.
  • Styx: Another band I had to completely reassess recently.   When I saw them supporting Deep Purple a couple of years back their barnstorming live performance completely blew the headliners away. Sometimes big vocal harmonies and hard rock guitars go together well.  The 70s production values of their albums sound a bit tame now, but as they showed live, the songs themselves stand up.
  • Journey: Yes, I’m talking about the 80s commercial version of the band rather than the early 70s jazz/prog outfit. Yes, some of their power ballads descended deep into Camembert territory, but they could also be a great hard rock band when they want to, another case of listen to the albums, not just the single. And Neil Schon is an incredible guitarist – his jazz-metal shredding sound like no-one else.
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The Great Journey Lip-Synch Controversy

A few weeks ago, I saw Journey at Manchester Apollo, which I thought at the time to be a superb show. Since then I’ve noticed the stories that have rumbling on for a while across various message boards, such as this one, suggesting that vocalist Steve Augeri had been lip-synching on some songs where he couldn’t hit the high notes.

Initially I dismissed these stories as malicious gossip, perhaps spread by diehard Steve Perry fans, which is why I didn’t blog about it at the time. But since Steve Augeri has been ‘temporarily’ replaced by Jeff Scott Soto, the dead tree media have picked up the story. As the official Journey website states:

Jeff Scott Soto to assume JOURNEY lead singer duties starting on July 7th in Bristow, VA due to Steve Augeri throat infection

July 6, 2006 — Due to a chronic throat infection, Journey’s lead singer, Steve Augeri, has been forced to leave the band’s current nationwide tour with Def Leppard. Jeff Scott Soto, who has previously performed with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, will assume the band’s lead singer duties starting with the July 7th show in Bristow, VA. Steve Augeri’s condition will be closely monitored by his physician to determine when he may be able to rejoin the tour.

According to Journey, “Steve’s been suffering with an acute throat condition since before we kicked off the tour with Def Leppard. We were hoping he’d be in well condition to handle the rigors of the road but unfortunately it appears to be a chronic condition requiring total voice rest. We all wish Steve a speedy recovery.”

I’m still not sure what to make of this. I did notice Augeri’s vocals falter in one song (it might have been ‘Faithfully’, which is one song I’ve heard mentioned), quite early in the set, but he was still note-perfect later in the show. Was I hearing taped vocals later on?

I’m not fond of the use of tapes or programming in live performance. I found myself annoyed when Paradise Lost used a lot of programmed keyboards rather than have a live keyboard player on stage last year. But background keyboards are one thing, lead vocals are another thing entirely.

I hope this story isn’t true, but I fear it might be.

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