“Who’s Crying Now,” the hit single off Journey’s hit LP, isn’t super hip, super deep or even real, real hooky. But it does sound good. What I’m talking about is the way the song’s soft, soapy bass redeems its soft, dopey sentiment by diving beneath tiny fillips of acoustic guitar and bubbling up around a dream-sized dollop of fat harmonies. Every shimmery cymbal tick pays tribute to the state of modern engineering. Same goes for the sting in Neal Schon’s electric-guitar solo, which is what finally drives the tune up, out and home.
Would that one could say the same for the rest of the record. Aside from the passing grade scored by “Who’s Crying Now” in Advanced Jukebox Muzak, Escape is less a testament to talent than the times. Candy bars and the dollar aren’t all that’s shrinking these days. The latest victim of inflation is the value of a Number One album. When heavy-metal light-weights like Journey start swinging from the chart tops after years on the road (you know, the old Speed-wagon Come Alive shtick), there are usually at least two hummable reasons. But once you get past the single here, it’s tough to fathom why either the band or its new LP is riding such a hot streak. Journey could be any bunch of fluffbrained sessioneers with a singer who sounds like a eunuch under assault from the thrashings of a West Coast-style identi-riffer (Schon, Craig Starship or Steve Toto).
Maybe we’re supposed to buy the idea that the content settled during shipment. I don’t. If I want to hear the best parts of “Stone in Love,” I can always listen to Free’s “All Right Now.” When I want “Escape,” give me Deep Purple’s “My Woman from Tokyo.” For “Dead or Alive,” just turn the (Jimmy) Page to “Hots On for Nowhere.” And Lord knows how many weary pilgrims have managed to tramp down the memory lane of adolescent lust without the side trip that Journey make to the dank hole of dreck-ola. Examples: “In the heat with a blue jean girl/Burnin’ love comes once in a lifetime” and addressing their audience as “streetlight people.”
In most of the arenas where Journey play, you probably can’t hear the words anyway, because all that registers are Schon’s guitar master moves and Steve Perry’s stiff preening. Whip out a familiar twiddly lick or old pep-rally cheer — what’s the diff? Something simple like “whisky, wine and women” or the mention of a Maserati will generally suffice.
The funny part is that Journey’s current success doesn’t have much to do with the hard-rock pose they’ve been trying to fool us with for nearly eight years now. Instead, Escape is a triumph of professionalism, a veritable march of the well-versed schmaltz stirrers. Then again, when heroes are hard to find, the first thing you’ll see are the showoffs. On second (or is that third?) thought, maybe there really are a lot of “streetlight people” out there. If so, my guess is that they’ll soon glow out of it.