Believe it or not, there was once a time when bands made real, memorable albums as opposed to a marketing campaign and 10 songs to go with it. In a disposable age where the supergroup seems doomed, Journey’s 18th opus provides a glimpse of what things used to be like.
Arrival caused much consternation amongst Journey fans even before it’s release due to early bootleg copies surfacing on Napster and then controversy with the ballad-heavy tracklisting of the Japanese release. Add the fact that it is also the band’s first album since the lacklustre Trial By Fire in 1996, AND the first record without legendary vocalist Steve Perry, then it becomes clear this release carries with it more baggage than an overloaded 747.
It’s just as well then, that the weight of expectation fails to ground an album that probably won’t put them on top of the charts, but nevertheless harks back to the band’s impressive legacy of classics. The astonishing performance of new vocalist Steve Augeri means that the absence of Perry isn’t really much of an issue, and at times he sounds spookily like him. The transition between vocalists is also helped by the fact that much of the material on Arrival is AOR of the highest calibre.
Right from the opening bars of first single “Higher Place”, it’s clear the band’s agenda is not to appear contemporary, but to give long time Journey fans exactly what they want. The opener is all that and more, with Neal Schon’s trademark guitars accenting a powerful, yet graceful sound and an absolutely huge melody line proving Journey’s return to form.
With some impressive piano and keys work by Jonathan Cain, the rocking “Signs of Life” is another potential classic (and surely a worthy future single), and the simply awesome “To Be Alive Again” is another in the same mould. New drummer Deen Castronovo beats hell out of the skins on “All the Things”, a heavy, groove-laden song that is drenched with guitar work recalling Schon’s work with side project Hardline; whilst the bluesy “Livin’ to Do” provides a pleasant change of pace without becoming wimpy.
That said, Arrival does have its fair share of cigarette lighter love songs and even though the album would have benefited from chopping one or two off the final cut, “All the Way” and “With Your Love” are the type of classic tearjerkers that would probably chart if Jon Bon Jovi ever put his name to them. On the negative side, even the most hardened AOR veteran will find “Lifetime of Dreams” excessively schmaltzy, and “Nothin’ Comes Close” sounds slightly unfinished. However, the innovative “Kiss Me Softly”, the throbbing “World Gone Wild” and the atmospherics of closer “We Will Meet Again” rescue proceedings in spectacular fashion.
In today’s music scene Journey are about as fashionable as poodle perms and spandex trousers, and as a result I wouldn’t bet Arrival will sell by the bucket load even if the band members now sport the rock equivalent of sharp clothes and short haircuts. However, that’s not the point, as the quality and depth of this record proves that there are still bands out there who realise that the music, above anything else, comes first.