When I set out to listen to Journey’s latest, Eclipse, I put aside all the things I’ve thought about the band, their back story, their personnel decisions, and so forth, and gave myself a strict rule to work around — focus strictly on the songs. If the songs are good, then how they arrived wouldn’t matter and all the falderal over the band’s inner workings would be rendered moot. It is a solid foundation on which to begin.
I only wish this album made things easier than that, but alas it does not. From the title one would get the impression that this was going to hew close to their benchmark Escape album, but instead is closer in tone to Frontiers, not always for the right reasons. Take, for instance, “Edge of the Moment” which is title-wise a callback to Frontiers‘ “Edge of the Blade.” The song is supposed to be about love, but the backing track sounds so aggressive and mismatched that the two seem completely independent from each other, and frankly so does the band. Everyone is just wailing away at their chosen instrument, and the end result sounds less like a group effort and more like each member showed up, recorded their part with little regard to what the other members had recorded, and producer Kevin Shirley was left to mash all the disparate thrashing together.
It would be easy to throw the album out were it not for a few things — First, the track “Someone” has the one thing most of the album doesn’t, and that is a looseness where everything actually gels together. Sure, the lyrics aren’t earth-shattering, but Journey finally sounds like they’re having a little bit of fun. Second, even though I still feel their singer is there not as Arnel Pineda, vocalist, but as Steve Perry Proxy, Pineda nails it. I’ve come to the point of saying, just maybe, he’s the right guy for the job. Finally, let it not be said that Neal Schon is a mediocre player, because he certainly isn’t. He is a world-class shredder, and under the right circumstances is extremely effective.
It’s just that he is so all over this album, there’s almost no room to breathe. “Tantra,” despite a lyric chock full of new-agey aphorisms and cliches about the circle of life and hopes across the universe, still had the potential to slowly build and grow and be that big meaningful something-or-other the band clearly intends it to be. Instead, Schon jumps into the song about a minute-and-a-half in and widdles it to death. Contrast “Tantra” with “Still They Ride” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Think about a few more of the band’s highest achievements: “Who’s Cryin’ Now” is pretty darn perfect so far as AOR tunes go, and because Schon is held back until that solo outro, it’s twice as notable. Remember that the band originated as a blues-rock-based jam band of sorts, extracted by Herbie Herbert from the original Santana lineup, and a song like Departure‘s “Walks Like A Lady,” which is all blues-feel in an easy-going stroll seems like a natural. Finally, think of the heights of Journey’s bombast, like the unassailable “Mother, Father” wherein all that guitar flamethrowing is not only justified, but necessary. Why did they have such a keen understanding of dynamics then, but not now?
I have to believe it is because, oddly enough, they’re doing this on their own. Sure, Kevin Shirley is the producer, but I doubt he’s in the position to tell this band what not to do, not like their producers of old. Not to let the band off the hook though. After all, they brought these songs to him, but I have to believe there were times he would have liked the group to back off a bit, and that type of relationship simply wasn’t there.
I came to Eclipse with a wide-open mind and, admittedly, more goodwill than I did with their previous effort, but I’m still walking away disappointed.
Eclipse is available from Amazon.com.
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