Although not quite the commercial blockbuster of their previous album Escape, Journey‘s 1983 album Frontiers was a very close second commercially. The album reached #2 on the US charts, would garner four Top 40 singles and has been certified platinum six times over. The album also became the band’s most successful in the UK. The band was led by the unique and soulful vocals of front-man Steve Perry and the effect-heavy soaring guitars of Neil Schon, who had discovered how to fully crack the commercial scene with a sound which was once considered quite edgy.
Musically on Frontiers, the band made a concerted effort to move away from (albeit very slightly) the consistent, commercial formula which they had forged over their recent previous albums. However, they may have chosen the wrong direction in which to deviate from the pop/rock sound, primarily by making this album more synth-heavy than anything previously. Although he had emerged as the band’s chief songwriter, Jonathan Cain has a bit over the overall vibe with his keyboard work, and it caused some missed opportunities with the album’s sound. Further, bassist Ross Valory abandoned his unique, fret-less buzz which he had mastered on Escape for a more traditional rhythm sound. This would be Valory’s final album with Journey for over a decade, as he and drummer Steve Smith were replaced in 1985, only to return for the Journey mid-nineties reunion a decade later.
Left out of the final cut of the album was the future hit “Only the Young”, which eventually appeared on the soundtrack to the 1985 film Vision Quest and reached the Top Ten. This song is dominated by a consistent, almost-acoustic riff, a strong rhythm, guitar textures and vocal melodies along with with a striking message – “only the young can say they’re free to fly away…” – which shows just how talented Journey can be when all the elements are maximized.
Frontiers by Journey
|Released: February 22, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Elson & Mike Stone
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, Ca. Autumn 1982
|Side One||Side Two|
Send Her My Love
After the Fall
|Edge of the Blade
|Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathon Cain – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion
Sequentially, the album is quite out of balance, with all five songs from the original first side released as singles (and all becoming radio hits), while none of the five from side two received any significant radio play. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” starts things off, with Cain’s keyboard riff biting and eerie, like if Pink Floyd went pop. This couples with Schon’s rifle-sharp guitar track during the song proper to make for a very powerful and driving rhythm. Written in early 1982, “Separate Ways” is the oldest composition on the album and it peaked at #8 on the charts, making it the highest charting hit on the album. The calm “Send Her My Love” follows as the album’s first ballad. The song is built on a bluesy piano riff which is accented brilliantly by subtle guitar licks and some swelling sonic textures from all directions. Perry’s melody is left to carry the tune pretty much throughout until it breaks into more intense outro led by Schon’s lead guitar.
The middle of side one contains a couple of strong rockers. “Chain Reaction” is kind of boilerplate on the surface but is executed brilliantly by the band, giving it a unique edge. The rich vocal harmonies above this most guitar and riff heavy of tracks, gives it an air that it could have been an eighties hair metal classic if performed by the right group. “After the Fall” is a true pop gem, very rich and melodic throughout. This song is led by Perry’s vocals, which are at their absolute peak here, and brought out perfectly by the rest of band playing a reserved, supporting role. In between the vocals, the guitar and keyboard harmonized riff acts as a perfect counter-melody and “After the Fall” is one of the few tracks on the album where Valory’s bass is clear and up-front. The real highlight of the song is the commencement of third verse, which demonstrates how pure performance can overtake lack of fresh lyrics.
The first side concludes with “Faithfully”, the all-time, ultimate “power ballad”. While very slow and deliberate, the song packs a mighty punch, especially as it builds towards a perfect climax at the end. Written solely by Cain, the “rolling” piano riff was inspired by the sound of wheels constantly present while traveling on tour, with the simple lyrical message of keeping a relationship together while touring in a rock band. While the song is totally Cain’s in composition, the performance is carried mainly by Perry and Schon and this hit song reached #12 on the charts.
The second side is much less even than the first. “Edge of the Blade” sounds like it falls about ten minutes short of the hour, in both composition and production. While there are some good individual elements to this song, as a whole it doesn’t work at the quality we expect from Journey. “Troubled Child” is a bit better, although built on rather cheesy synths (which otherwise might have been some good riffing). The song has a dark and soulful core and is a bit off-beat, which makes it interesting. Drummer Smith added a strong enough drum pattern to take a songwriting credit for “Back Talk”, a song which takes an almost-Van-Halen-like approach musically and sounds like it would fit in perfectly with some type of theatre production lyrically. The title song “Frontiers” is the weakest song on the album and may be as close to filler as you’ll hear on a Journey album.
Make a move across the Rubicon, futures knockin’ at your door
Take your time and choose the road you want, opportunity is yours
The closer “Rubicon” is the only true gem on the second side. Musically choppy and moody but lyrically inspired (this could have been a theme for a Rocky film), the song possesses a great theme and concept which, even while very synth heavy, makes it feel like a true rock anthem which could have existed in many eras.
At the top of their commercial game after the success of Frontiers, Journey made a common mistake – they took too much time off and got lost from the musical scene. Perry did put out a very successful solo album called Street Talk in 1984, and the band released a songs for Soundtrack albums (including “Only the Young”) during that time period. But by the time the band returned for their next studio album, Raised on Radio in 1986 (without Valory and Smith), it was clear that the golden age of the band was over.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.