March 28, 2009
Journey | “Don’t Stop Believing”
There are three distinct eras in Journey’s career: first, the stadium filling, Steve Perry heyday; second, the 90s, in which the band was largely considered a bad, distant memory that would hopefully fade over time; third, their current redemption trek, in which the band is regarded as ragged heroes by fans old enough to remember their stadium shows, and as a strange kind of hit machine by young fans. Journey, and their biggest song, “Don’t Stop Believing,” have been deemed cool again: cool enough to be selected as the last music ever played on The Sopranos; cool enough that their 2008 album Revelation went platinum (seriously, can The Strokes even claim that their entire catalog has sold a million copies?); cool enough to have had an Atari 2600 game (Journey Escape) designed around their likenesses; cool enough to be played on endless repeat in seemingly every bar I’ve set foot in over the past five or so years. It’s like that weird alternate universe in Superman comics in which Superman is a dim-witted bad guy, spinach is poison, and Journey are cool and hip.
If I had to pick just one era of Journey’s lifetime to be stuck with forever, I’m afraid it would have to be their middle career, the 90s, when the world had not quite forgotten what it was like to have “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Wheel in the Sky,” and “Open Arms” shoved up their asses, but hadn’t yet started to feel that longing in their asses that can only be satisfied by syrupy 80s power ballads. It’s not that I mind the big, two hand-tapped guitars and synthesized everything – in fact, I think the only thing cornier than an over-synthesized 80s ballad is an ironic (or earnest) acoustic version of the same song, done by a hip indie artist. It’s that I like the idea of a band like Journey being a genuine guilty pleasure, y’know? Nobody, nobody, sits around arguing over which Moby Grape album deserves higher merit than the others (or at least not in public), and with good reason: Moby Grape is a guilty fan’s band.
A lead vocal like Steve Perry’s needs to be shouted from the top of a mountain in order to be heard properly, and the “Don’t Stop Believing” mountain was built on Neal Schon’s guitar and Gregg Rolie’s electric piano (it doesn’t matter who the other guys in the band are, you don’t know their names either). Much like the way that Keith Richards hangs back until the three-minute mark on “Sympathy for the Devil,” Neal Schon holds back for two solid verses (unheard of in pop metal, which Journey certainly are, at least a little) before that careening ten finger salute crashes across and into the line, “a singer in a smoky room, smell of wine and cheap perfume.” Rolie on piano lays the foundation for the song, that ridiculous keyboard (I’m imagining a kids Casio, or the Roland I grew up with) somehow bolstering the pomp and circumstance of Journey’s music, rather than tarnishing it with it’s corniness. And the chorus: “Don’t stop believing, hold onto that feeling.” What feeling? It’s like “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”: Perry and Co. are saying everything and nothing at once. The reason the lowest common denominator sells the most records is because even the least dedicated music lover can take something away from a line like that. Which is what Journey is best at: satisfying everybody by never really satisfying anybody.
by Brook Pridemore