Columbia Records, 1978

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I like to think everybody has an album or three like this tucked away on their CD shelf -- you know, the ones that take about five seconds to put you back in 10th grade, casting nervous glances around the gym/dance floor, hoping against hope to avoid the complete social humiliation that is the essence of the high school experience.

Thanks to my early-'60s vintage, my personal references to this sort of thing all date to the late '70s, when AOR was king (at least, everywhere that disco and punk weren't). And while I wouldn't consider this particular album a classic by any means, it does have some resonance for me and a lot of my peers.

For one thing, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Journey is one of the quintessential '70s SF bands. Exiting the 1971-72 incarnation of Santana, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie and guitar prodigy Neal Schon -- who had joined Carlos's group as a lad of 16 -- joined with bassist Ross Valory, drummer Aynsley Dunbar and rhythm guitarist George Tickner (who would leave after the first album) to form the founding lineup of Journey.

Over the course of 1975-1977, the band issued three albums with Rolie handling lead vocals, as he had with Santana. Those early Journey albums are adventurous discs, full of progressive-leaning jazz-rock that continually showed promise but never quite caught fire. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine aptly describes it in the All-Music Guide, early Journey was "too mainstream for the progressive audience and too unfocused for the pop audience."

Infinity was thus set up to be the group's last, best shot at a breakthrough. With the professional stakes raised, the band took a turn toward the mainstream from which they would never look back.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first step in their transformation was the recruitment of new lead vocalist Robert Fleischman. Those less versed in rock trivia are probably going "WTF" about now, since everyone knows this album was Steve Perry's debut as the voice of Journey, a title he would claim for the next two decades. Yes, it was, but Perry was actually a replacement brought in after things didn't work out with Fleischman. The transition was so sudden, in fact, that three songs co-written by Fleischman made it onto the album.

The greatest strength of this album -- besides the like-butter meshing of Perry's soaring tenor with Schon's keening guitar lines -- is the one-two-three punch it opens with. "Lights," "Feeling That Way" and "Anytime" are arguably three of the best ten songs Journey ever recorded -- tight, energetic pop-rock numbers with great harmonies, strong guitar work and memorable choruses. (Side note: the ultimate "Lights" experience involves listening to it sitting in a car at the top of the Marin Headlands looking down over the Golden Gate Bridge and the city late at night… but that's another story for another time.)

"Feeling That Way" and "Anytime" actually functioned as a unit, the former ending with a Perry-Rolie call-out that flowed right into a Rolie-Perry answer. Their two voices -- Perry's high and pure, Rolie's lower and more lived-in -- work together remarkably well on these two cuts. The irony, of course, is that they both probably would have preferred to sing solo, yet the results of their forced marriage were magic.

Perry gets plenty of chances to shine here on rock numbers like the AOR standard "Wheel In The Sky," which also features a dynamic arrangement and a particularly sharp, twisty, echoing solo from Schon. Interestingly for a band that would become known for its ballads, though, Journey didn't have them down yet here. "Something To Hide" and "Patiently" foreshadow the slick sentimentality of later hits like "Open Arms," to be sure, but these cuts feel like awkward adolescents, trying to make all the pieces fit and not quite getting there.

The group has more fun with numbers like the edgy "La Do Da," featuring thundering Schon/Dunbar interplay under a nonsensical lyric, and the playful "Can Do," where Rolie and Perry take turns singing lead on an energetic cut that gives the entire band opportunities to strut a little.

Based on the change in direction, changes in personnel could be expected. Surprisingly, though, Rolie wasn't the next to leave -- Dunbar was. Rolie lasted two more albums, his role gradually diminishing until he bowed out for an intermittently successful solo career.

For a transitional album, Inifinity carries an impressive amount of spark, as a band still finding its feet lets loose with a sunburst of nervous energy. With a solid set of songs and the production skills of Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, Nazareth) on hand, Infinity-era Journey was, fittingly, a band on the move.

Rating: B+

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© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.