Journey – Eclipse (2011)

In many ways, the initial cuts on Journey‘s Eclipse recall the wide-open heavy fusion of the the band’s original Gregg Rolie-era records, a period when guitarist Neal Schon pulled and stretched his muse. At the same time, singer Arnel Pineda possesses a second-act Steve Perry-sounding penchant for soaring expectancy.

For age-old fans, that often makes Eclipse (issued this week by Frontiers Records) the best of both worlds, a musically dense recording in the style of the band’s underrated 1977’s Next, and a loud one, but at the same time one that doesn’t completely abandon the visceral mainstream pop sensibilities that defined the band’s subsequent hitmaking period in the 1980s.

It’s strongest as it gets going, beginning with the opening track “City of Hope,” a stirring call for optimism which eventually deconstructs into a towering wall of Schon. Already, there is a sense of furious abandon, some serious don’t give a shit. Better still is the edgy and ambitious “Edge of the Moment,” with its wave after crashing wave of guitars, and a foundation-rattling rhythm from drummer Deen Castronovo and bassist Ross Valory. Schon is by turns scorching, melodic, spacy, gurgling, nasty. And nothing like we’ve heard from him since the days of the spaceman fro.

“This is Journey,” keyboardist Jonathan Cain has said in published reports, “with big combat boots on — and a helmet and a rifle.”

[ONE TRACK MIND: Founding member Gregg Rolie goes song by song through some familiar Journey and Santana sides, mixing in a few more obscure favorites along the way.]

Eclipse, as it plays out, can’t sustain that initial level of broiling inventiveness. But, truth be told, who figured Journey would even aspire to such things again? In particular, in the wake of what appeared to be a creatively bankrupt period that saw them re-recording the Perry hits with its then-newly installed Filipino lead singer. Here, Pineda finally finds his own voice. His maturation, as much as Schon’s brilliantly retro free-wheeling attitude, moves Journey, finally, past those earlier imitative missteps.

The album’s broader theme, first enunciated in “City of Hope,” of peace seeking in a fast-moving, violent world returns — notably on “To Whom It May Concern.” But Journey eventually begins to settle into more familiar environs, begins to play more to expectations. So, yeah, there’s the counted-on balladry of “Tantra,” though updated with a series of new-age aphorisms; and the hooky “Anything Is Possible” and “Ritual” — both tracks that could easily have found a home on Journey’s Raised on Radio or Bad English’s self-titled 1989 debut, which featured Cain, Schon and Castronovo.

There are other times when Eclipse doesn’t shake things up enough. “She’s A Mystery” simply mimics one of the 1970s’ Rolie-Schon era’s music-making tics, as the song suddenly transforms — dude, just like they used to! — from a shuffling acoustic rumination into a squalling melty mess of riffs. “Someone” finds Journey adhering too closely to a lighter, Escape-esque groove — seeming to cop to the post-Perry conundrum along the way: “You can’t go back to where you’ve been,” Pineda sings; “are you ready to try again?”

In its best moments, Eclipse is actually not a complete return to either form, but rather something in between. And, even when it doesn’t succeed, nothing like the photocopying they’d once reduced themselves to. That makes it as intriguing as anything Journey has done in a very long time.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Leah Gluchoff

    Unless you happen to believe, having listened to all the albums, that without Perry, there wasn’t much worth listening to at all…Now, Rollie, Perry, and Schon were magical, as were the Perry/Schon/Cain era. But sometimes there is a catalyst of writer/performers that produces magic, and others where a sound alike person can’t duplicate that chemistry that produced both the songwriting and the performance. Which can help explain why pre-Perry there was no commercial success, and why post Perry they have had to replace him with a talented sound alike to have any chance of having anyone come to a concert, even in a nostalgia tour with a band like Foreigner. And also why Perry could have some success as a single artist, while the others have not-Bad English doesn’t qualify as successful in my book. Bottom line, look at the passionate following still possessed by Perry, the hits on his performances, the desire for interview with him, and the begging of his dedicated fans for him to release the new material he has written but is vaccillating about releasing, and you will see where the core of Journey’s success lies-and it is with Perry as the linchpin which melded Schon’s profound talent with the songwriting and piano/organ additions of Cain/Rollie into a formidable musical entity. And without Perry, well, ho-hum humdrum…

  • Paula Sanches

    I don’t know why people still insist on Perry when the only thing going is Schon, Cain, Castranovo, Valory and Pineda. These people deserve respect for all the music they have created. If you don’t like Journey’s Eclipse then go somewhere else. People banging on the album just give it strength. Worthy to discuss. Of course must not forget they still tour. Live concerts people. That what matters. If Perry wants to rest then let him. Think people, maybe you are the only one who dislike it. Because I do like Journey Eclipse. And why do people expect the album to be like the past anyway.

    • Leah Gluchoff

      Like your thoughtful reply, but there is a difference between expecting them to be like the past, and hoping, and being disappointed, that they can ever be as interesting as they were in the past without Perry. Again, doesn’t mean I begrudge them still wanting to make music-gotta respect that-but since he was dumped by them, they’ve only managed nostalgia tour success with Revelation being 1/2 Perry era covers fueled by Don’t Stop Believin’s being promoted everywhere & Arnel’s marvelous back story. They do shorter vocal sets, a different key, have Dean doing some lead vocals, share the tour with Heart/Foreigner, etc. It just isn’t the same spark/chemistry/genius that Perry brought to the band-he was the catalyst for their initial rise to super stardom-and his absence is why they don’t seem to be able to get there again. Notice Eclipse listing as not charting on Billboard, and after only 2 weeks out it has fallen 34 places with no single hits charting either. Now, a bigger question is WHY Journey and Perry haven’t been inducted yet into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame when so many minor league artists with limited longevity have been??

      • Liz Carlisle

        For the Steve Perry comeback:
        I’m a Perry fan. He’s a legend. Even the new guy believes that. He’s a fan, too. I believe his voice isn’t t the same as before. Age factor. I doubt he can do live the way the band does it now. Evidence? No album yet. I will happily change my opinion as soon as i hear him live in his former glorious voice. As of now i have moved on and the new guy does the job very well, even a notch higher. Pineda’s got remarkable stage presence and charisma.

        For Eclipse listing not charting on Billboard:
        Eclipse is a concept album. Like most concept albums they are not expected to be commercial. All songs are long and obviously not made for radio. And in the age of ipods, what is radio nowadays by the way. Not being able to be on Billboard doesn’t mean the songs are bad. Same goes as Lady Gaga being on top of the charts doesn’t mean the music is that good.

        For Journey not inducted in Rock n Roll Hall of Fame:
        Explain how Madonna got inducted. Its all politics.

        What Matters:
        Fans love them live. They won’t be still touring if fans think they’re ho-hum humdrum.

        • Nick DeRiso

          I think the point here about Steve Perry is the important one. In his absence, what exactly is Journey to do?

          The group, and drummer Steve Smith talks to us about this in a future interview for Something Else!, waited for two years at one point in the 1990s. Perry was unwilling/unable to tour behind the breakout success of Trail by Fire. He hasn’t issued an album since. Should the band call it quits, because Perry is unavailable? That hardly seems fair to the remaining members, two of whom (Neal Schon and Ross Valory) have been with Journey since its inception with 1975’s self-titled release.

          So, they’ve moved forward in the only way they can: With another singer. Now, it’s been slow going finding a new direction, but that’s something perhaps to be expected. ‘Eclipse’ seems to point to one, and I think that’s why some Journey fans are so excited.