There are an abundance of perfect AOR albums but few as well known as Journey’s ‘Frontiers’. It’s AOR taken to heights few could match back in 1983.
Written by: Dangerzone
SERIAL: QC 38504
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Steve Perry – vocals * Neal Schon – guitars, vocals * Jonathan Cain – keyboards, guitars, vocals * Ross Valory – bass, vocals * Steve Smith – drums, percussion
TRACK LISTING: 01 Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) * 02 Send Her My Love * 03 Chain Reaction * 04 After The Fall * 05 Faithfully * 06 Edge Of The Blade * 07 Troubled Child * 08 Back Talk * 09 Frontiers * 10 Rubicon
WEBLINKS: Site Link
I’ve shied away from reviewing this in the past in the fear of being unable to do such an obvious classic justice. There comes a time when such doubts must be cast aside however and the impossible attempted! The addition of Jonathan Cain was certainly the turning point for Journey, his sublime keyboard touches and more commercial writing standpoint a key factor in catapulting 1981’s ‘Escape’ into the multi platinum stratosphere.
Summarising that album is pointless here, regarded by many as the definitive AOR effort, but for myself and many others, this was Journey’s AOR peak, eclipsing even ‘Escape’ and matching the best of Michael Bolton. It was another massive hit, reaching the top five on both sides of the Atlantic, with three top twenty singles. Journey’s ability to balance ballads and straight rockers was in full view here, erasing notions they were fluffy AOR punsters capable only of inciting lighter waving!
‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’ is known by all, a chart success still played to death on classic rock radio today. It sums up Journey’s whole stance, dominating synth notes, wildly dramatic melody lines and Perry’s lyrics about lost love. Other bands made material of equal quality, but that this was a top ten hit and pure AOR, its appeal is timeless.
‘Send Her My Love’ has always reminded me of Shooting Star‘s ‘Burning’, taking the same ballad route with similar musical ingredients and melody notes, although both are valid classics.
‘Chain Reaction’ is heavy enough to warrant metal status, with Schon’s power to the forefront. When you consider Saxon in 1983 were attempting sub AOR with tracks like ‘Nightmare’ and still considered heavy metal, then why not Journey? Journey’s combining of melody and heaviness was superior by acres.
The shift to quieter mode is enforced again with ‘After The Fall’, the vocal harmonies taking effect. Given the smash hit that was ‘Open Arms’ Journey tried it again with ‘Faithfully’, a Cain ultra ballad that almost matched its predecessor, the tale of love on the road a touching listen two decades later. Believe me, light rock stations in the US will never let you forget it!
If the lyrics of ‘Faithfully’ were heartfelt then its the opposite for ‘Edge Of The Blade’. Words reading ‘contracts and lawyers, champagne downtown. I’ve always been fair with you’ indicating Perry’s life to be in some turmoil as was the case. Supreme songwriting. In a musical sense the final two minutes give new meaning to melody as Schon goes on a blaze of glory, wielding a host of guitar fills and harmonies nearly untouched by anyone in AOR history.
‘Troubled Child’ is the only unessential cut, never developing into anything memorable, humdrum AOR perhaps too dour. ‘Back Talk’ takes the process of ‘Chain Reaction’ a step further, a scathing vocal delivery from Perry set to a backdrop of titanic riffs with no keyboards noticeable. When they move at speed its heavier than Maiden for 1983, on a Who like scale.
I favour the progressive elements of the title track, where the keyboards overpower the guitars this time, so satisfyingly, Cain the master of building ever shifting tempos and soundscapes. ‘Rubicon’ isn’t dissimilar, a positive life reaffirming anthem, with a pounding chorus that allows all to shine equally.
There are an abundance of perfect AOR albums but few as well known as Journey’s ‘Frontiers’. It’s AOR taken to heights few could match back in 1983 and even into the 21st century probably never will. Journey themselves will never even come this close again, their last three albums all paling in comparison.
This was especially true of ‘Arrival’, which suggested Steve Augeri to be a competent Steve Perry imitator if nothing else. Even at this late stage I’d like to see Perry give it one last shot, considering how accomplished he was on 1996’s ‘Trial By Fire’. Regardless ‘Frontiers’ is one of the greatest albums ever made, not just in AOR by any genre. Those are words I’ve been waiting to write for years.
After The Fall
Entire Album (Select Tracks)