Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Journey "Frontiers" Reimagined

It's no secret that I'm a diehard Journey fan. Besides growing up listening to their music, the song and story behind their hit from the Vison Quest soundtrack, "Only the Young," has a special meaning to me and the cystic fibrosis community. I frequently go back to their studio albums featuring Steve Perry, although I tend to listen to the first four with Perry (Infinity, Evolution, Departure and Escape) more than the others. Although 1983's Frontiers came out at the peak of their world domination (stadium tours! music videos! two video games!), and although I saw them for the first time on the tour to support that album, I've rarely listened to the LP in the past 32 years. It's not that there are bad songs on Frontiers (mind you, I'm speaking as a Journey fan; Journey haters keep your snide comments to a minimum), it's just that the album is so front heavy with the hits and ballads, and there is a cold bitter tone throughout the record, that returning to has never given me the thrill it did when I was 13.

A few years ago, I wrote a comprehensive overview of the band's history in my Popdose Guide to Journey, reviewing every album by the group. It's an exhaustive read, but I had a good time doing it. One reader commented on Frontiers recommending changing the sequencing of the songs and swapping out one of the lesser tunes for "Only the Young." That song and another soundtrack song, "Ask the Lonely" (featured in the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John movie, Two of a Kind) were recorded during the Frontiers sessions. They were cut at the last minute in favor of "Back Talk" and "Troubled Child" (according to Wikipedia).

I've considered this reader's comment many times over the years (and if you're the person who wrote it, please chime in and take credit), and can only recall a couple of changes he suggested, in particular moving "Frontiers" to the top of side 2 and placing the power ballad, "Faithfully" into the second to last slot on side 2 (where "Frontiers" had been placed).

Over Christmas I gave this a try, and then began toying with the album even more. In addition to "Only the Young," I wanted to find a way to include "Ask the Lonely," which is one of my top 10 Journey songs. This week I came up with a track order that not only included these songs, but gave the record new life, bringing attention to songs that were buried on the second side and omitting two inferior tracks.

Here's how my reimagined Frontiers album looks:

Side 1:

1. "Separate Ways (World's Apart)" - No need to mess with perfection here. This is a great song to kick off any record.

2. "Only the Young" - Originally, "Send Her My Love" filled the second slot. Moving it down one and placing "Only the Young" here gives the record the flow of a concert. Two fast songs in a row keeps the energy up before moving into the first ballad on the record. "Only the Young" is also less angry that "Separate Ways," and a nice break before getting into the bittersweet "Send Her My Love."

3. "Send Her My Love" - Although technically a ballad, I'd call this song a mid-tempo rocker, similar to "Who's Crying Now" from Escape. Although it has quiet moments and is driven by Jonathan Cain's piano playing, the song moves at a fast pace and Neal Schon has an soaring guitar solo at the end.

4. "Edge of the Blade" - My toughest decision was to cut "Chain Reaction" from the album completely. While it's a fun, hard rocking song that appealed to me as a 13-year-old, it really doesn't add anything musically to Frontiers that isn't already covered by other songs. Following "Send Her My Love" with a blistering rocker is still the way to go, though, and shifting "Edge of the BLade" (which originally kicked off side 2) is a great way to achieve that. Additionally, it pulls one of the songs that were relegated to side 2 (often never listened to by casual fans because of the front loaded first side) into the spotlight. In a way, it replicates what "Keep on Runnin'" does on Escape.

5. "After the Fall" - This sometimes forgotten hit is a good way to close out the first side. It brings you down nicely from the assault of "Edge of the Blade," and has an excellent fade out that you can imagine ending with a needle lifting off of vinyl or a cassette deck snapping off.

Side 2:

1. "Frontiers" - An odd, experimental song, I never understood why "Frontiers" was shoved to the end of side 2. It has a really interesting percussion pattern by Steve Smith, Journey's excellent drummer. The way the song opens with the sound of wind and ends with the band a capella makes it a fine way to begin the second side.

2. "Ask the Lonely" - Inserting this great rocker as the second song of side 2 brings you back to the trademarks of Journey. It features the band's great harmonies, an impassioned vocal performance by Perry, and one of Schon's most succinct and melodic guitar solos. It also replaces the inferior "Back Talk", which was never a good song. Aside from the great drum beat on "Back Talk," the song does nothing for the album.

3. "Troubled Child" - The original track number two is nudged into the three slot. This is an overlooked slow rocker that also uses an unusual time signature for a rock album. I wonder if this could have been a single if the band had continued touring into 1984.

4. "Faithfully" - One of Journey's most enduring songs. Placing it as the penultimate song would have given listeners reason to listen to most of Side 2. And with this new song order, which I believe is stronger, it could have made Frontiers an even bigger success than it already was.

5. "Rubcion" - The original album closer and still the best way to wind down Frontiers,

I've been listening to this new version of Frontiers for awhile now. After getting my mind to adjust to not hearing certain songs following others (especially the original side 1), I've grown to love the reimagined Frontiers and actually look forward to listening to is when I'm in the mood for some Journey. In my mind, this song order flows better and provides the listening experience of Escape, which is a near perfect melodic rock album. Besides reconfiguring a Trevor Rabin album back in the late 80s (using a cassette deck), I've never toyed with an artists work like this before. I don't know if it's a challenge I'll continue with other albums, but I think this experiment was a success.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.


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