Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Journey 1: In The Beginning

To admit any fondness for Journey is to risk ridicule, vandalism or ever being allowed near a jukebox again. Men of a certain age will associate the band with the first time they had their hearts handed to them without thanks or apology by the first girl they really, really liked in high school, and is only one reason why The Last American Virgin remains the most realistic teen sex comedy ever produced. Yet we digress, naturally.
The people who dismiss Journey would be even more contemptuous should they hear the band’s first, Steve Perry-less albums. Here’s another case where a band’s first recordings don’t completely resemble what truly made them famous. Journey was formed around the afro of teenage guitar whiz kid Neal Schon and vocalist/organist Gregg Rolie, both recently of Santana. They teamed up with bass player Ross Valory and a rhythm guitarist, and convinced drummer Aynsley Dunbar to leave steady British session work for a shot at stardom.
For the most part, Journey straddles the line between what used to be called fusion and what we still call cock rock. Gregg could sing, but his strength lay more in the keys than what he sang. Neal plays incredibly clean for such a fast guitarist, but is also consistently, constantly showy. Two lengthy instrumentals are almost comical in their gravitas, while “To Play Some Music” sports an eructating vocoder, not yet perfected by Peter Frampton.
Look Into The Future shed the rhythm guitarist and attempts to deliver more hooks, but at this juncture Gregg is still writing and singing lyrics that would make the ear wince if they came out of Paul Rodgers’ mouth. There are several anachronistic Beatlesque references, most pointedly in their mild rearrangement of “It’s All Too Much” (complete with backwards ending!) and the nod toward “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in “You’re On Your Own”. And the main riff of “I’m Gonna Leave You” will remind you of “Carry On Wayward Son”.
The songs on Next aren’t as long, but are a little slower and tend to meander. “Here We Are” has an unexpected synth intro before the song takes over with Gregg still attempting a Lennon imitation. “Hustler” proves why Aynsley isn’t known for his lyrics. “Nickel & Dime” gets its title from the 5/4 and 10/4 meters, and still sounds like Rush, while two songs have Neal trying to sing as well as play like Hendrix. There are some nice moments in “Spaceman”, except that it’s an ode to hang-gliding. (We did not make this up.)
Neal’s voice wasn’t enough to carry the band either, so they went off to find a singer. Once they did and started to get popular, a double album called In The Beginning sampled each of the first three albums, leaning more heavily on the first two, with no real logic to the sequencing. It had a brief availability as an import CD; even the three albums themselves have never gotten the reissue fanfare of the later (hit) albums. They remain recommended for those who love the band for their instrumental prowess, and not at all for anyone looking for ear candy.

Journey Journey (1975)—3
Journey Look Into The Future (1976)—
Journey Next (1977)—2
Journey In The Beginning (1979)—3

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