Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm a little slower on the uptake than usual now that it's summer, but having watched the season finale of Glee last week, I was left wondering: what the hell is up with the Journey revival that's been going on in recent years?

When the makers of The Sopranos decided to end the series in the midst of "Don't Stop Believin'," you couldn't miss the irony, but at the same time Journey was clearly used because of how much the band stands so powerfully for a certain moment in time, and also for how they are an ultimate object of derision for hipster music snobs (which David Chase and co. clearly were - and so am I, but more on that below). It was like they were saying, this is Tony's idea of a great song, but we know it's a giant ball of cheese, and the fact that Tony would hear this as a song about faith is a sign that he in fact has no future to speak of.

But when the same song appeared as one of the big hits from the first half of the first season of Glee, that irony was more or less gone. Or maybe not gone, but seriously transfigured. Yes, Glee is campy as all get out, but it's also got a strong nugget of sentimental sincerity lurking not so far beneath its glittery surface. And that mix of sincerity and camp that drives the show is what makes the Journey repertoire so perfect for its singers to sing - thus the Glee season finale featured a long, protracted medley/mash-up of Journey songs, designed to let Lea Michele flaunt her high notes for all they were worth, like Steve Perry in drag. Journey was a schlock band comprised of a bunch of serious musos, guys who could play the hell out of their instruments - and often did - but that chose very self-consciously to play to the tastes of the top 40 audience. They perfected the power ballad and created songs with lots of aural drama. Whether their music had any "real" emotion in is harder to be definitive about but in their peak years (up to the Escape album, which has "Don't Stop Believin'") they sure knew how to go for the emotional jugular.

Now, lest I let my snobbery get the best of me, I'll admit that back when the band was creating most of its biggest hits I was smack dab in the midst of its target audience, and I bought it. I only own two Journey albums - the live Captured and of course, Escape - but I played the hell out of them when I was a kid and a lot of the songs are still pretty well fresh in my mind. And with all the Journey that's been in the air in recent years, I've been moved to go back to those albums and remind myself of what's there. And it ain't all bad. I won't wax on much more about the good and the bad of old Journey, but I will state my strong affinity for one of their songs that has largely been overlooked in the current revival.

"Stone in Love" is the second song on Escape and it probably stands as my favorite song by the band. It's a good, straight, hard rocking tune - not a power ballad - but it does have a twist, in the form of an instrumental coda that ranks with the best of another melodic hard rock band of the time, Boston. As a guitarist, Neal Schon had a tendency to overplay at times but here he creates a strong melody and builds a solo around it in the song's final minute that preserves its integrity but takes enough liberties to make things interesting and indeed, push them to the next level. For the last year or so I've been playing it often - it's usually the only song I play from the album - and I always get a rush from playing along with it on my guitar.


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