Hi Everybody, Robert returns with a new Albums of the ’80s article. This one is by one of our favorite bands. He also has a special announcement to make about a new frontier that Return to the ’80s is taking.
In the world of ‘80s rock, single words sometimes pack a big punch. That word today is: JOURNEY. There is not much need to introduce this iconic band – I feel confident that most of you know about them and at least one or two or ten songs by them. Return to the ‘80s has devoted several articles and reviews to their classic music and I would like to continue this trend by taking a look at their 1983 album Frontiers.
But first, before I get to looking at this excellent album, an announcement. We have all listened to podcasts about ‘80s movies, music, and other cultural phenomena. Also, after appearing on several podcasts (Beats and Eats, Forgotten Films to name two) as a guest, the creator of this blog has been encouraged, coerced, and inundated with the idea making his own Return to the ‘80s podcast. I am lucky enough to be involved in the creating of this podcast and we are well on our way to recording the first episode which, coincidentally enough will be a look at the band featured in this review. Yes, the first Return to the ‘80s podcast will be about Journey, so keep following here and you will know when this episode is ready and released. I know that we are excited about this project and we hope you will be as well. We look forward to your comments, suggestions, and input as we embark on this adventure. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now on to Frontiers.
Honestly, for the past week I have been preparing for the podcast by completely immersing myself in all things Journey. I have listened to every album, watched every DVD, and read every printed word that I have on this iconic band. Let me tell you that I have enjoyed every second of this. I never need to be reminded about how much I love Journey, and revisiting all of their music has done nothing but strengthen my resolve in believing that Journey is one of the top bands to come out of the ‘70s and enjoy enormous success in the ‘80s, leaving a lasting impression on millions of fans. I was clearly one of those lucky fans.
I bought Frontiers in 1983 at Saturn records, my favorite record store in Frankfurt, Germany. They had everything you could imagine. I was eager to buy Frontiers because I had recently discovered Escape. I missed most of the hoopla of this album in 1981 because I was moving to Germany. I clearly remember seeing an advertisement and article about a Journey video game, but I did not know much about the band. A few weeks later I was perusing records at the local American library (yes, I went to get a book, but also checked out the records) and picked up an album called Escape. It was on that day that my love for Journey started. I went home and immediately put the record on my stereo . . . and fell in love. From the opening notes of “Don’t Stop Believing” to the fade of “Open Arms”, I was hooked on this band. So when Frontiers was released I hopped on the subway, walked into Saturn Records, walked straight to the ‘J’ section, and bought Frontiers.
Right from the first listen I knew that I would not be disappointed. While the melodic sound of Journey is present on the album, it is a bit ‘heavier’ than Escape. Frontiers has a sound that is more akin to “Dead or Alive” from the Escape album – more driving guitars and faster paced songs. This is one of my favorite records to release my inner rock star – I always (last night, in fact) jam and wail on the silent strings of my air guitar. To me, this is the second consecutive album by Journey that has no throw away tracks; every song is solid and make for a fantastic whole. The album itself reached #2 on the charts, reaching six times platinum and had four AT 40 singles. Now let’s take a look at the songs.
This is easily my absolute favorite Journey song! I like love songs and I do not mind breakup songs and this one really stands out. It is not a slow moving, pensive ballad where someone is looking for who is to blame. Instead, this song kinda rocks. It is uptempo and has a great rhythm guitar riff that is aggressive and sustained throughout the song. By this, his second with Journey, keyboardist Jonathan Cain has firmly entrenched himself in the band. His distinct keyboard sound opens this song and sets up that killer guitar riff by Neal Schon. The entire band is clearly heard in this song; in addition to the keyboards and guitar, Valory’s bass and Smith’s drums are pounding the whole time. Lyrically, the song depicts the end of a relationship, “Feeling that it’s gone / Can’t change your mind / If we can’t go on / Survive the tide / Love divides.” While this is not a major departure from other break up songs, the reaction to the end is much more unique. He is not mad at her or looking for a way to get back at her. Instead, he still loves her so wishes her luck in moving on and, perhaps, finding someone else: “One day love will find you / Break those chains that bind you.” He also lets her know that if things go poorly, he will be there to help, “If he ever hurts you / True love won’t desert you / You know I still love you / Though we touched and went our separate ways.” I am completely fascinated by his acceptance of the end of the relationship without any bitterness, anger, or desire for revenge. This is a great way to start an album.
This is the first of two solid ballads on this album. The next one (track #4) gets a little more attention and airplay, but this one is just as good. Musically, this song is an atypically quiet one for this album. All of the instruments keep a steady pace and even Schon’s guitar solo is understated, capturing the pain the speaker is in. Interestingly enough, both ballads have a similar theme – being on the road and away from loved ones. This is one aspect of being in a band that I cannot relate to or imagine how I would handle. Clearly, the speaker is away from, and has most likely lost his love. He has not seen her in quite some time and the monotony of the road is getting to him, “The same hotel, the same old room / I’m on the road again / She needed so much more than I could give / We knew our love could not pretend.” Next comes what may be my favorite lyric on the album, “Broken hearts can always mend.” I love how this line captures the resigned desperation that he is forced to accept. As much as I want to deny the truth of this line, I am unable to. Having a broken heart stinks, but we have the ability to recover and survive the unfortunate situation. The climax of this song lies in the bridge, “Calling out her name, I’m dreaming / Reflections of the face I’m seeing / It’s her voice that keeps on haunting me.” Maybe we do move on – maybe we do recover – but maybe we never really forget either.
Sometimes love can make us do some silly things and sometimes we let love change who we are. As this song depicts, those changes are not always positives. The first thing that jumps out of this song is the driving rhythm guitar. Schon is at the top of his game here, creating a driving sound with small solos worked in throughout the song. This song features a keyboard solo of sorts and ends with a classic Schon solo. I love the black and white concept used in the video because it matches the song’s theme perfectly. The song is about a man who has changed who he is to please a woman – he has flipped from black to white. I see this song being written by a friend who sees these changes and does not understand why they are happening; he just wants the old friend back the way he was. This becomes evident right away, “I bet you she’s the one / Who helped you come undone” and “I bet you she’d like to say / She’s changed you in every way.” I think the chorus does an excellent job in capturing the mood and meaning of the song, “Chain reaction, shades of passion / We surrender, lose control / Chain reaction, strange attraction / Love’s a viper, steals your soul.” Great imagery for a rocking song.
Up next is a song about regret. As we have come to expect from Journey, there is a smooth blend of all band members’ instruments and a great low key solo from Schon to close the song. The regret lies in not saying what should have been said and accepting that it is now too late. The first line sets up the situation with, “Now love is gone / I can’t go on, now love is gone.” He is forced to do a little self evaluation in order to discover why it is over. There are many things that he “should have told her” like: “You meant more to me than I let you see” and “. . . valentines never sent”. He is now left only with memories and an answer to the question, “What’s left after the fall?” The painful answer that he now has to accept is “No, not much.”
Here is that second outstanding ballad that has evolved to become a rival to “Open Arms” on the radio and in Journey’s live shows. It is a perfect rock ballad: strong piano that carries the song, powerful bass and drums, and a guitar that sears through soul of the listener. I am not sure if anyone has a better voice for a rock ballad than Steve Perry and this song provides even more evidence to support that claim. Like track #2, Jonathan Cain has written a song about the difficulties of being on the road and touring constantly. The speaker is on the road again and missing his woman who has been left at home again. The song is full of phrases that show this; he “sends his love along the wire”, but he never seems to be enough. He is holding on to her because “right down the line it’s been you and me”. We get the strong sense that this couple will survive the difficult times because the passion is clear when they are reunited, “And being apart ain’t easy on this love affair / Two strangers learn to fall in love again / I get the joy of rediscovering you.” Of course, ultimately because, “Oh girl, you stand by me / I’m forever yours, faithfully.” I know all of you readers have, at one time or another, had a sincere slow dance with someone who love while this song was playing. I have, and still do.
Up next is a bitter song that reminds us that not all breakups end nicely. This is an aggressive song that reveals the acrimonious nature of the split. I do not think the speaker to soo happy about her approach, it seems quite spiteful, “I’ve heard rumors all around / Contracts and lawyers, champagne downtown.” He just wants to be done with it and her, but he does leave her with one thing to think about, “Better see if you’re holding the wrong edge of the blade / If it’s sharp, if it cuts / Enjoy yourself.” The lyrics in this song a sharp and short because the true power lies in the music. Everything – the bass, the drums, the keyboards, and, of course, the guitar is powerful and being played with intensity. This is one of the songs that characterizes this album as having a harder rock edge than some of Journey’s other work – I love it!
This song replaced “Only the Young” during the final cuts for Frontiers; this song would later appear on the soundtrack to Vision Quest as well as Greatest Hits. I must say that I have mixed feelings about this swap. I like this song, but I am not sure how it can be swapped with the original idea of using “Only the Young.” That is a much stronger song and with (see next track), this album may have surpassed Escape in overall quality. Despite this, “Troubled Child” is a solid song with Schon’s typical great guitar work in a song that builds nicely and is completely fits Frontiers. The chorus captures the tone and sentiment of the song: “War with yourself / Makes you feel better / Caught behind the lines / Troubled child.” Lyrically, this is not a typical Journey song, but it definitely sounds like them and deserves a spot on this album. Quick note for this and the next track: a later remastered version of Frontiers was released and included the two tracks that were replaced as well as “Only Solutions” and “Liberty” (this version can be purchased on iTunes).
This song replaced “Ask the Lonely” during the final cuts for Frontiers; this song would later appear on the soundtrack to Two of a Kind as well as Greatest Hits 1. I understand including this song a bit better than the previous track. I love the opening drums by Steve Smith – the sound sets up a rocking song. As soon as you get into the groove of the drums, Schon’s guitar kicks in and the listener is ready for the ride. The lyrics are all clipped lines that are as aggressive as the music. It is a simple song that does not really fit with other Journey lyrics so it has a fresh feel to it. This is an enjoyable rocker with perhaps the best solo on the album.
For this song Journey jumps on the burgeoning technology bandwagon and gives the approval for looking to the future for positive advancements. Just looking for technological changes is a bit too narrow. They are making a statement here that we all need to look ahead and strive for the best of what the future has to offer. We, in essence, make our own futures and we cannot be afraid to take the words from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” to heart: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” This song fits the theme in the album’s title.
Frontiers ends, as it should, on a rocking note. I love Journey’s album Escape, but if I was to be a bit critical, I do not like ending that album with “Open Arms”. Hold on hold on – I love the song, I just do not like ending such a great album on a soft, subtle note – I want it to end with a BANG! and “Rubicon” does that for Frontiers. This song does rock with Schon’s guitar getting yet another song off to a great start. ‘Rubicon’ is the name of the small river in Italy that Julius Caesar was said to have crossed as he was fighting to be the emperor of Rome. Today the expression ‘to cross the Rubicon’ means to fully commit to something and pass the point of no return. I like the expression and the way that Journey uses it. They typically have one or two inspirational songs on an album and this one is in the same vein as “Don’t Stop Believing”, “Be Good To Yourself”, and “To Be Alive Again”. They are urging us to take a chance and move forward to make the life that we want, “Make your move across the Rubicon / Future’s knocking at your door / Take your time and choose the road you want / Opportunity is yours.” I can think of no better way to end an album- rock out and inspire. That is ending with a BANG!
There you have it, Journey’s classic seventh album Frontiers. Be sure you look at for and listen to the Return to the ‘80s podcast coming at you soon.