JOURNEY – Eclipse

PhotobucketAlthough a relative late-comer to the fold, vocalist Steve Perry will always be synonymous with the classic Journey sound, having performed on all of the band’s hits and classic albums, from 1978 to 1996. After Perry’s departure, the band enlisted former Tall Stories/Tyketto frontman Steve Augeri to take over the role of vocalist. His work on 2001’s ‘Arrival’ was stellar but it did not last, with 2002’s ‘Red 13’ EP possibly being the worst thing in the Journey back catalogue to date. Augeri also appeared on the 2005 album ‘Generations’ but by then, in the UK at least, it seemed to be only the hardcore fans who were taking notice.

Augeri subsequently left Journey in 2006 and the legendary Jeff Scott Soto was hired to fill in the vacant position, a role he held until 2007 when Arnel Pineda took on the role of vocalist permanently. The resulting album (‘Revelation’, released in the same year; eventually becoming a platinum certified seller in the US) featured lots of the Journey magic which had been missing for the previous few years. However, Pineda has been accused of being a Perry clone and listening to ‘Revelation’, it’s easy to see why. The album even included a bonus disc of re-recorded classic Journey hits, with Pineda absolutely nailing the performances throughout.

Journey’s 2011 release (and second with Pineda upfront) is not ‘Revelation Part II’. For the most part, it represents Journey’s rockiest instincts; the side of Journey rarely heard on their more popular cuts. The opening number ‘City of Hope’ makes this abundantly clear as the band lay down a meaty arrangement over a brilliant ringing, circular guitar riff from guitarist Neal Schon. While heavy by Journey’s standards, it still has plenty of melody too, particularly on a harmony-fulled chorus, which despite the hard rock nature, sounds very much like a Journey chorus. Also, between the huge riffs, Deen Castronovo’s hard rock drumming and Ross Valory’s bottom end bass work, there’s still room in the mix for Jonathan Cain’s piano to cut through. At over six minutes, it’s a bit of an epic workout (as is a good proportion of this album), but nothing feels like padding. By the time Schon breaks into a guitar solo near the end, it’s a track which, frankly, rocks like a bastard. ‘Edge of the Moment’ is similarly hard edged, with some of Schon’s riffing holding a fair amount of power, but song-wise it’s not as appealing, since in places it feels a little chuggy for the sake of it. Despite this, Arnel Pineda is in particularly good voice, having found the confidence to sound like more his own man as opposed to a Steve Perry impersonator, and the chorus is another melodic high point.

‘Chain of Love’ hints at atmospherics with a piano intro, reverbed guitar sounds and a strong vocal performance, but then reverts to similar hard rock thrills as offered by the pair of opening cuts. This time though, Schon’s riff takes a slightly Eastern route with its approach, although probably more Lenny Wolf’s Kingdom Come than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. Journey should be commended with their ability to meld this into a full scale, harmony-driven chorus though, which sounds a little unexpected after such a pompous verse.

‘Eclipse’ may be harder than most Journey releases, but it’s not all bluster. ‘Tantra’, one of a few softer numbers, is a great showcase for Jonathan Cain’s piano style. The number begins with just voice and piano augmented by soft string sounds (in a ‘Faithfully’ style), before the rest of the band join a couple of minutes in. Schon’s guitar lines are gorgeous and the vocal harmonies are lavish, as they should be. Although most of ‘Eclipse’ doesn’t set out to emulate the older Journey numbers, this is one of a couple of numbers where they absolutely play it safe. Its predictable nature isn’t disappointing though – and it wouldn’t be a Journey album without something written in the Steve Perry vein. Also more “traditionally Journey”, ‘Anything Is Possible’ also really hits the mark, and in terms of melodic rock in its purest form, it is certainly ‘Eclipse’s stand out track. A solid drum line from Castronovo and shining piano motifs from Cain are joined by a fantastic performance from Pineda over a very much tried-and-tested, mid paced riff (the kind which usually accompanies AOR tunes called ‘Don’t Walk Away’). Schon’s guitar leads are full of vibrato-filled magic – which, in short, makes this a classic Journey number.

The semi-acoustic base of ‘She’s a Mystery’ also provides a little respite from the huge riffs, and also allows Pineda another opportunity to exercise the softer end of his range. Here, he reverts back to the kind of Steve Perry influenced performances he gave on ‘Revelation’, but with a slightly husky edge, more in keeping with Steve Augeri. This number’s simplicity is great, not even tarnished by a pre-programmed drum part; Schon proves, once again, he’s a master at all guitar styles, while Cain’s keyboard parts add a lot of atmosphere. Even here, though, Journey can’t resist lapsing back to solid hard rock riffing… The second half of the number adopts a slightly Led Zeppelin influenced riff, over which Schon breaks into a screaming solo until the track fades. Another highlight, ‘Someone’ is a bouncy pop-rock number capturing lots of the old Journey spirit. With 80s style stabbed piano and synths used in a shameless manner and Pineda in top form vocally, it would be great enough; but once Schon steps in with a sweeping solo (the kind which filled their ‘Escape’ and ‘Frontiers’ discs), this number has a sound which could convince the listener it had been left on the shelf from the band’s glory days.

Afer over an hour of surprisingly hard rock cuts, Journey offer an even fiercer closing statement. The instrumental cut ‘Venus’ opens with a few majestic guitar chords, overlaid by Cain striking some bass chords on his piano. Schon wastes no time in breaking into an overly complex solo which appears to feature more notes than expected, or perhaps even necessary, while Castronovo provides a ridiculously heavy backbone with his drum line dominated by double bass pedals. Symbolic of so much of ‘Eclipse’, this is Journey without a safety net.

‘Eclipse’ is not a great Journey album in the traditional sense. However, it is an absolutely stunning rock album in its own right. If you came looking for radio friendly songs in the vein of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’, ‘Who’s Crying Now’ and ‘Be Good To Yourself’, you won’t find too many of those here, so you’ll be much better of investigating ‘Revelation’ if you’ve not done so already. If, however, you’re a huge fan of Neal Schon’s distinctive guitar work, hard riffs and extended arrangements, ‘Eclipse’ delivers more of those elements than any Journey release for years, maybe even ever. For those still bemoaning the absence of Steve Perry, be thankful for what you’ve got here – at least musically – and if you still don’t like what Arnel Pineda represents, be thankful that Journey didn’t hire Hugo.

May 2011

DOM LIBERATI – The Good Hurt

domFollowing on from his first two self-released discs (‘Humans’ in 2007 and the acoustic ‘Frailty EP’ in 2008), Dom Liberati’s third release takes the sounds of his previous work and tightens them considerably, while bringing in some extra punch. Combining great hooks with a commercial alt-rock edge, ‘The Good Hurt’ is an album which captivates the listener from the first listen.

The lead track ‘We Own The Night’ begins with a jangly acoustic intro before kicking in to an alternative rock arrangement which has a bouncy air. The track has a very radio friendly quality and is a mix of influences – from new wave keyboard bleeps, to alternative rock moments in the vein of Goo Goo Dolls. Liberati’s vocal style has a tunefulness which often makes him sound at ease with this guitar driven alt-rock; however, for the chorus, Liberati’s vocals aren’t quite as restrained – their carefree manner tips the hat to Kings of Leon mouthpiece Caleb Followill [all the goodwill in the world still prevents me from calling that man a singer]. The simple hook and effective use of a ‘whooah’ make it a tune which sticks in the head. As such, it starts ‘The Good Hurt’ with a strong number.

‘Love Holds It Down’ has a bigger groove, due to a prominent bass line and a crunchy riff. Again, the hook is a very strong one, but it’s from this point on, it becomes clear that although Liberati is gifted as a songwriter, it’s his arrangements which really shine. The rhythm guitars are sharp – though never outdone by the fantastic bass work – and the drum parts are quirky, occasionally in a way which would make Stewart Copeland proud. ‘Burn’ takes those Police influences and makes them as obvious as a fist in the face. It’s a number full of hi-hats and tight drumming, which alone would be enough to warrant being likened to The Police in places, but once the track weaves its way around a fantastic bass line that’s more than reminiscent of ‘Driven To Tears’, those influences and comparisons become so, so unavoidable. Frankly, though, as far as influences go, Liberati could do far worse! The chorus brings an upbeat, jangly guitar riff, over which Liberati’s vocals are hard sounding without being aggressive.

‘Next To You’ offers something softer, with acoustic vibes overlaid with subtle electric leads. Liberati’s hushed tones have a slight Americana leaning against an atmospheric arrangement. The electric guitars and drums have a great amount of reverb and the electric piano compliments them well. The hushed vocal tones are at the other end of the scale to Dom’s louder performances on ‘We Own The Night’, but this change sits rather well among the rockier numbers. ‘Lookin’ Around’ comes with a similar laid-back quality, here capturing Liberati in a mood which would suit the under-rated Pete Droge. It’s a number which rarely breaks from an easy groove, with both Liberati’s under-stated vocal and a slide guitar solo providing the high points.

‘Won’t Let You Down’ is a mid-paced number full of staccato rhythms on the verses, which settle into fairly generic chiming guitars on the chorus. The musical approach lends itself to another Kings of Leon comparison. It’s safe, stadium rock approach makes it one of ‘The Good Hurt’s more predictable numbers, but even then, a ringing lead guitar part towards the track’s end and a rumbling bass provide some appeal on a number absolutely designed for radio. For ‘Meltdown’ a greater focus is put up on the drums with their pounding approach; over the drums, the guitars have a simple, yet fairly dominant twang. Vocally, Liberati keeps things restrained and manages not to slip into those Kings of Leon-isms on the louder moments, often being joined by a blanket of backing voices. The uber-dominant bass returns for ‘The Solution’, a number which features a great vocal, a better chorus and even better bassline, as Liberati offers something which mixes the sound of 21st century alt-rock with the quirks of late 80s hi-tech rock in the vein of Baxter Robertson (specifically the backing vocals) and ‘Power Windows’ era Rush (there’s more than a hint of Geddy Lee’s bass style throughout).

With no duff tracks and nothing which could especially be called filler material, ‘The Good Hurt’ is a very accomplished release; one which showcases a brave mix of styles without ever becoming overly flashy or outlandish. Although it plays host to plenty of top notch songs, it’s often the level of musicianship – particularly those busy basslines – which makes ‘The Good Hurt’ so good. A highly recommended listen.

May 2011

EDDIE VEDDER – Ukulele Songs

EVPost ‘Yield’, Pearl Jam’s career seemed to go more than a bit wobbly. Their sixth and seventh albums (2000’s ‘Binaural’ and 2002’s ‘Riot Act’) were largely sub-standard. 2006’s self-titled offering offered some improvement, even scoring a US #1 single, but even so, Pearl Jam’s best days seemed long gone. And then…2009’s ‘Backspacer’ represented an unexpected return to form, quite possibly their most cohesive work since 1994’s ‘Vitalogy’.

It’s surprising that in all the years of being Pearl Jam’s frontman (and instantly recognisable voice) it took Eddie Vedder so long to record his first full solo album. That honour went to the soundtrack for the 2007 movie ‘Into The Wild’ (although Vedder was no stranger to soundtracks by that point, having already contributed recordings to the soundtracks for ‘I Am Sam’ (solo) and ‘Dead Man Walking’ (two recordings with Nasrat Fateh Ali Khan). This, Vedder’s first non-soundtrack work, still sounds like it ought to accompany a movie. ‘Ukulele Songs’ does exactly what it says on the tin: a bunch of recordings featuring Edward Louis Severson III and his uke. It offers sixteen pieces of music – some original compositions, some covers – with the Vedder-penned numbers, supposedly written between 2001 and 2011.

A re-recording of the 2002’s Pearl Jam track ‘Can’t Keep’ opens the disc, where after a muted strings intro Vedder busily hammers at his ukulele. His vocal has a strong delivery in places, but the stripped back nature of the arrangement painfully highlights his limitations as his vocal wobbles off-key in various places, particularly during the longer notes. It sort of works on the ukulele, but then it was supposedly on the uke that Vedder wrote his original demo of the number way back when. With the token gesture to Vedder’s rock career out of the way, ‘Sleeping By Myself’ brings a folk vibe, with a vocal much softer around its edges and the ukulele similarly toned down. Although the idea of Vedder + uke may seem like a mere quirk, this has a campfire charm and wonderfully intimate nature. Similarly, the gentle ‘Without You’ features Vedder’s best vocal, with more bass end than some of the other tracks, but essentially capturing the brilliant softer sounds of his range, in a recording which could stand alongside Pearl Jam’s ‘Better Man’ in terms of vocal greatness. Elsewhere, the ringing tones of ‘You’re True’ (a number which, although fine, would be even better with a mandolin included too) and relatively sparse ‘Light Today’ provide enjoyment, if not a lot of variety.

While some of Vedder’s self penned tunes have a one-take DIY charm, it’s a couple of cover tunes which perhaps leave the strongest impression. ‘Sleepless Nights’ (best known in versions by The Everly Brothers and Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris) finds Vedder joined by The Frames’ Glen Hansard. With that second harmony voice, Vedder sounds more natural, and although his voice is louder – more distinctive than Hansard’s – the two performers sound good together. Cat Power guests on a version of the 1920’s song ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’ (possibly best loved in its 1979 rendition by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters from The Jerk), and as expected, with Vedder providing the lower registers and slightly mumbly delivery and Cat delivering a distinctive female counter melody (with their male/female parts in reverse of Martin & Peters), it’s schmaltzy simplicity is lovely. He really pushes his luck a little far on an empty rendition of The Mamas and Papas ‘Dream a Little Dream’, though, where the baritone vocal is almost inaudible.

‘Ukulele Songs’ certainly adheres to that old saying that a solo work should be markedly different from a performer’s “day job”. The album is enjoyable in places, though its sparse qualities understandably show up Vedder’s occasional vocal raggedness. Also, the fairly uniform nature of the material means ‘Ukulele Songs’ doesn’t always sound like it was designed to be heard in one sitting; even with the relatively short running time of 35 minutes it can feel a little one paced. Even so, there are a few great tracks to be cherry-picked.

May 2011


bbBowery Beasts have been hyped as the best band to come out of Los Angeles for years. Former Sex Pistols man Steve Jones has been very vocal about them. Their ‘Heavy You’ EP is a fairly intense mix of alternative rock sounds, which initially isn’t so easy to grasp.

‘He Was Your First Tattoo’ works around a groove-led drum rhythm, which at first makes the listener think we’re headed for garage rock territory. However, those drums are a bit of red herring, as once the chorus rolls around, the band have settled into a mid-paced alt-rock groove. The drums retain a great live sound throughout. In places, the rhythm guitars jangle from the right speaker, at the bottom of the mix overlaid by a whole world of other guitar parts. Marion Belle’s vocals fuse elements of alternative 90s rock and 1970 rock star wailing in such a way that gives Bowery Beasts a proper edginess. It’s a number which requires a few spins for it to reveal all of its many layers, but after a while, Bowery Beasts’ style seems to work…even though at times you might try and convince yourself it shouldn’t.

After a brief intro of feedback, ‘White Diamond Babe’ provides jangly guitar rock in a fairly predictable fashion. The most striking feature is another rock solid drum part until the chorus where Belle pushes his vocal to extremes, at times hitting a piercing banshee wail. Among the more ordinary indie-rock elements, there’s a moment which appears a little darker with fuzzy sampled voices and reverb. Underneath the layers of guitar, there are hints of a great bass line. The upbeat ‘Young Rockers’ shows Bowery Beasts at their most accessible – at least in terms of radio friendliness – with a strong hook, more restrained vocal and multilayered guitars. It’s the EP’s most sing-along offering, certainly, but it’s relatively safe approach means it’s not always as distinctive as Bowery Beasts are capable of being.

‘Amulet’ provides a change in mood, with plenty of acoustics overlaid by ringing electric guitar, The vocals harmonise for a huge part of the number, which uses of lots of retro rock elements, both from the 90s and 70s, with a reverb filled guitar solo filling several bars towards the track’s end. Its familiarity is certainly comforting, though Belle’s shriek which cuts through a good proportion of the track will not be easy listening for everyone. The closing number, ‘Rock N Roll Queen’, continues in a mellow vibe, as acoustic guitar work is joined by sparing piano lines and the sound of flutes. Each of these elements combined create something magical. It provides a great contrast with the darker edges present on ‘White Diamond Blue’. Belle’s vocal style features moments where you’d think he was evoking the spirit of Mother Love Bone/Malfunkshun legend Andrew Wood; something which becomes really obvious when he delivers the word “honey” with almost exactly the same affectation.

‘Heavy You’ is unlikely to click with you on first hearing. It may not even click with you on the second. Some of you might not even get it at all. It may not always be easy listening (and most of it isn’t as dreamy and smooth as a few of the non-EP tracks floating around the net, ‘Jean’ in particular) but perseverance definitely pays off, since this release features some great moments.

May 2011

WARRANT – Rockaholic


For a lot of people, glam metal band Warrant peaked with their third album, the 1992 release ‘Dog Eat Dog’. It took Warrant’s trademark sound and toughened the edges resulting in a near perfect mix of glam and hard rock. Then frontman Jani Lane said at the time it was the first Warrant album he’d been completely happy with and as a result, he wanted “to burn their first album and re-record the second”. In many ways, those who hold up that album as the band’s peak are correct to do so, although it’s successor, 1994’s ‘Ultraphobic’ has some interesting moments – most notably the King’s X inspired ‘Followed’. From that point, Warrant’s career certainly came off the rails… ‘Belly To Belly Part 1’ attempted to recapture some of the magic delivered by ‘Ultaphobic’ but had none of the memorable hooks or charm and Warrant followed that with a re-recorded greatest hits package which is best avoided. Vocalist Jani Lane subsequently quit and Warrant were never really Warrant again.

Longtime members Jerry Dixon (bass), Steven Sweet (drums), Joey Allen (lead guitar) and Erik Turner later teamed up with Black ‘n’ Blue vocalist Jaime St James on the appropriately titled ‘Born Again’ in 2006. ‘Born Again’ was a workmanlike hard rock record, certainly not terrible, but not worthy of the Warrant name either. St James subsequently returned to Black ‘n’ Blue, while the core of Warrant enlisted the help of ex-Lynch Mob/Cry of Love vocalist Robert Mason.

The resulting album, 2011’s ‘Rockaholic’ (released in the same week as the 2011 release from Black ‘n’ Blue, possibly not coincidentally), is a decent hard rock record, much better than ‘Born Again’. The opening numbers offer solid hard rock thrills, with heavy slide guitar powering ‘Sex Ain’t Love’ and guitar tapping and classic 80s riffing making up the core of ‘Innocence Gone’, which also features a great, pumping bassline from Jerry Dixon. On the rousing ‘Show Must Go On’ and ‘Cocaine Freight Train’ Warrant get in touch with their heavier side and on the latter, particularly, they appear very spiky indeed. The riffs are big; but more impressively, on the verses, Steven Sweet’s drumming occasionally resembles something more than a little Motörhead inspired. By the time the chorus rolls around, though, things settle in to more traditional glam/hard rock, with plenty of gang vocals; on an instrumental break, a harmonica line gives things a much needed blues-rock touch.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of outstanding mid-paced rockers: ‘Life’s a Song’ showcases Robert Mason’s less squealy vocal talents (and here it becomes obvious why he’s clearly the right man for the job) and a really classy guitar solo from Joey Allen. Throw in a bunch of harmony vocals and the track is a definite winner – near classic Warrant. ‘What Love Can Do’ has a great rhythmic punch on its verses, but as always, it’s on another harmony filled chorus Warrant really shine.

No matter who’s in the line-up, a Warrant release wouldn’t be complete without a couple of huge ballads, and on ‘Rockaholic’s soft numbers, lots of Warrant’s old magic can still be heard. ‘Found Forever’ is the kind of rock ballad Warrant excelled at in the late 80s, and even in 2011 – sans Jani Lane – they prove rock balladry is possibly their greatest strength. Robert Mason’s softer vocal style appears sympathetic to the arrangement, which comes full of understated guitar chords (courstesy of Erik Turner and Joey Allen) and a nice bass line. The keyboard fleshes everything out and makes it sound bigger than it actually is, while Joey Allen’s lead solo is brief but well placed. Despite lots of decent elements, it’s the huge chorus vocals and harmonies which make it really stand out. Similarly, ‘Home’ is an archetypal Warrant ballad. With an upfront bass line and clean guitar work underpinned by a keyboard string section, this sounds like a distant cousin of the excellent ‘Heaven’ from the band’s 1989 debut ‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich’. This track has the spirit of Jani Lane all over it, but then, It’s written in such an old Warrant style, it’s almost impossible not to hark back when listening to it.

Throughout most of ‘Rockaholic’, the band really delivers the goods. Robert Mason fits in very well and Warrant sound like a cohesive unit once again. It may suffer from a couple of weaker tracks and a horrible album title (“-aholic” is NOT an acceptable English language suffix), but this is about as good as you’re going to get from a Lane-less Warrant.

May 2011