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Journey - Freedom (Album Review)

Wednesday, 20 July 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

After a decade of increasingly bizarre shenanigans, one of the world’s most iconic and dysfunctional AOR bands have produced a new album that, all things considered, is rather intriguing. It might be easier to pick holes in this record than to find AutoTune on a contemporary pop vocal but, despite of such imperfections, ‘Freedom’ is an engrossing listen that delivers a sprawling and invigorating synthesis of the fresh and familiar.

With legal disputes, power struggles, management issues and internal fallouts, at least temporarily, confined to history, founding member and guitarist Neal Schon, long time keyboard player and lyricist Jonathan Cain and vocalist Arnel Pineda set about sculpting their first album since 2011’s guitar-heavy ‘Eclipse’, a critical and commercial dud.

Recorded remotely at a distance, and given jubilant fizz by drummer Michael Naranda Walden and returning bassist Randy Jackson, who previously played on mid-'80s classic ‘Raised On Radio,’ ‘Freedom’ may be similarly dominated by Schon’s six-string antics, but overall it’s a more fun-filled, chemistry rich effort than its stodgy, self indulgent predecessor.

After easing in with a trio of typical Journey cuts, including the trademark hooky brilliance of Don’t Give Up On Us, that classicist touch is nicely counterbalanced by an updated dynamic as the band swagger between sun-blanched rockers (Don’t Go), contemporary moody anthems (United, The Way We Used To Be) and world class balladry (Live To Love Again).

Revolving around the idea of making peace with the past and moving forwards in unison, such sentiments are transmitted via an avalanche of uplifting refrains, numerous winks to their hits and enough contagious grooves to render the record’s obvious problems, and long run time, less of an issue as sharp new moves work their magic.

Beautiful As You Are takes us on a heartfelt, stylistically epic seven minute, er, journey, After Glow (featuring former, and now returned, drummer Dean Castronovo on vocals) oozes ethereal harmonies, Let It Rain hammers together mid-tempo ‘90s riffage with slashing ‘80s keys and Holdin’ On boasts fiery prog rock syncopation as Cain wails away like a demented sorcerer.

But considering these erratically produced songs were mixed by the legendary Bob Clearmountain, it’s surprising how many sound muddy and lack the clarity needed to accentuate some exceptional musical performances. Dialling down his impersonation of the band’s former frontman, the great Steve Perry, Pineda has really found his own voice and delivers an irrepressible performance on Come Away With Me. It’s just a shame he sounds like he’s singing at the bottom of a hollowed out volcano.  

Ultimately, though, ‘Freedom’s driving strength is also its greatest weakness. Schon’s one of the finest melodic players alive, and responsible for many superlative moments here, but at times he seems hell bent on destroying his own creation with persistent OTT shredding that, bereft of distinct melody and phrasing, descends into a tuneless blur. When did he forget to play for the song? Too many contributions are ill-fitting and needlessly prolong tracks that could have been shorter and punchier.  

Proving great material can paper over a great many cracks, this record demands you stand down your analytical muscles and enjoy it for all the entertainment on offer. And that’s a lot. It won’t please every Journey fan, because nothing ever does. But there’s enough depth, variety, class and staying power to render ‘Freedom’ a perfectly imperfect addition to their catalogue.

Journey Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed July 20 2022 - PASO ROBLES - California Mid-State Fair (USA)
Fri July 22 2022 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - Resorts World Theatre (USA)
Sat July 23 2022 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - Resorts World Theatre (USA)
Wed July 27 2022 - ALBUQUERQUE New Mexico - Tingley Coliseum (USA)
Fri July 29 2022 - LAS CRUCES New Mexico - NMSU Pan American Center (USA)
Sat July 30 2022 - LUBBOCK Texas - United Supermarkets Arena (USA)
Fri August 05 2022 - MOUNT PLEASANT Michigan - Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort (USA)
Sat August 06 2022 - CANTON Ohio - Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium (USA)
Mon August 08 2022 - CANANDAIGUA New York - Constellation Brands–Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center: CMAC (USA)
Sat September 17 2022 - SPARKS Nevada - Nugget Event Center (USA)
Wed March 01 2023 - WASHINGTON District Of Columbia - Capital One Arena (USA)
Sat March 04 2023 - HARTFORD Connecticut - XL Center (USA)
Thu March 09 2023 - QUEBEC CITY Quebec - Videotron Centre (Canada)
Sun March 12 2023 - TORONTO Ontario - Scotiabank Arena (Canada)

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