Trial By Fire
Columbia Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/29/1997
The old saying is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ten years after Journey supposedly breathed its last on the forgettable Raised On Radio, the "classic" lineup returns with Trial By Fire - and despite some valiant efforts, they pick up right where they left off.
Steve Perry, fresh off the failed restart of his solo career, returns as lead throat to the five-piece unit of keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bassist Russ Valory, guitarist Neil Schon and drummer Steve Smith. Of the instrumentalists, Schon's guitar work stands out as it always has, though his solos seem a little more biting in 1996 than they did in the '80s. This is a welcome change.
The album opens up with "Message Of Love," a catchy little number which hooks the listener in quickly. In fact, were it not for the recycled keyboard lick near the end of the solo (taken almost directly from "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)"), the song would be perfect, and is almost guaranteed to be the next single.
There are some other fresh moments on Trial By Fire that make it stand out from other Journey albums. "One More" is a song with a hypnotizing rhythm line provided courtesy of Smith's skin work and Schon's guitar mastery. And, despite the song's being a sappy ballad hooded in a light pop number, "If He Should Break Your Heart" is another pleaser.
The remainder of the album, though, is typical Journey - all filler, little substance. The first single, "When You Love A Woman," is pleasant enough at first - at least, for the first five listens. After a while, you realize this isn't Journey at their best. It steadily goes downhill from there, with by-products like "Colors Of The Spirit," "Easy To Fall" and the title track. In fact, the whole second half of the album can be easily ignored.
This isn't to say that a Journey reunion is something to fear. All five band members haven't missed a beat, and Perry's vocals sound as solid now as they did during the band's glory days. But while "When You Love A Woman" has been doing moderately well on the charts, it's too early to call the reunion a success.
Journey was one of the leading adult-contemporary bands of the '80s, and they do try hard to regain their throne with Trial By Fire. But while the magic is still there, the songwriting remains their weakest spot - and without an album of solid material, there isn't enough to keep the spark burning.