Radio-friendly, corporate rock icon, Journey, was riding atop a tidal wave of popularity off the back of their most successful album (Escape… or E5C4P3, if you prefer), finding themselves a legion of new fans, all of whom were waiting to hear what was in store for their follow-up.
That follow-up, their eighth studio album, would be 1983’s Frontiers. The album strays little, if any, from Journey’s early 80’s formula of inoffensive, easily-accessible rock. Take that as complimentary or derogatory depending on your tastes and mood. Though I will say that their music, played in a bar, makes for a quick and reliable indicator of drunkenness. The level of desire to warble along loudly with Steve Perry is directly proportionate to the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream.
The albums opens strongly with their hit single “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” While ostensibly a post break-up song, it remains musically upbeat and energetic. It’s one of their better songs but it’s also hard to take seriously when you picture the accompanying music video where we witness the band frolicking around a loading dock and, in the most infamous shot, Jonathan Cain is inexplicably playing a keyboard glued to the wall. And that, kids, is how MTV ruined your individual music listening experiences.
“Send Her My Love” calms things down a bit after the previous track shoved all of that cock rock in my face. Though I’m sure no one’s choreographing a wedding dance to it anytime soon, I found it rather pleasant. “Chain Reaction” amps things back up, sounding like a runaway train derailing. And yet, still highly forgettable. “After the Fall” levels things out a bit, but it’s to its own detriment as this song comes off as some throwaway 80’s movie soundtrack contribution. Turns out I wasn’t too far off. A quick check on the interwebs shows that this song appeared in Risky Business. Of course, it wasn’t this song to which Tom Cruise was sliding across the floor in his underwear and glasses. That honor was reserved for a song I never want to hear again for as long as I live. So feel free to mark down “not Bob Seger” under a list of good things I have to say about “After the Fall.”
Once I hit the closer of side one, “Faithfully”, I had some faith in this album restored. It’s a strong ballad with some great music behind it. It’s definitely one of those songs I wouldn’t mind hearing in instrumental form while waiting on-hold with my credit card company. It’s then I realized I had to ask the question that’s been on my mind since I started this album and will come off as pure blasphemy for Journey fans. “Is Steve Perry overselling it with his vocals?” Don’t get me wrong. The man has the chops to sing his way out of quicksand if such a situation were plausible. But for much of the album, and with “Faithfully” in particular, I was wondering why he was screaming at a “ten” when the rest of the band was comfortably performing at a “two.”
After listening to the second side, I kind of wish I just listened to side one twice. Tracks like “Edge of the Blade”, “Back Talk” (a track where Steve actually does tone his vocals down, and I realized maybe I was wrong about what I said because it comes off a tad awkward) and the title track are mostly harmless but also nowhere near catchy or memorable. It’s like there’s an interstate between my two ears and these songs refuse to stop for gas. However, “Troubled Child” was fairly decent and “Rubicon” was satisfying enough as a closer. Of course, neither of these are anywhere near “last scene of The Sopranos” good either.
Overall, how I feel about Frontiers summarizes how I feel about Journey (or at least the version of Journey in this particular time period) as a whole. There’s nothing particularly off-putting about it – or them, but it’s not going to be blowing anyone’s mind either. It’s like fast food for your ears, mostly empty calories and only the bare minimum of musical nourishment.
But fast food is okay every once in a while, I suppose.