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Je n'aime pas dans les vieux films américains quand les conducteurs ne regardent pas la route. Et de ratage en ratage, on s'habitue à ne jamais dépasser le stade du brouillon. La vie n'est que l'interminable répétition d'une représentation qui n'aura jamais lieu.

Bad Music: Escape (1981) - Journey!

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*So, Journey.  They’d been around for a while when this album came out in 1981, but it was this album that cemented their status as, well, as laughingstocks for hipsters everywhere. 

*Basically, this album went to number one on the album charts and has gone an astonishing 9x Platinum in the intervening years.  Four of its songs made the Pop Singles top twenty, with three of them, Open Arms, Don’t Stop Believin’ and Who’s Crying Now, cracking the top ten.  Open Arms peaked at #2 and stayed at that height for six weeks. 

*So, just from a cursory glance at the list of albums I’m using for this thread, I think I can safely say: this is by far the most popular album I will review for this project. 

*And the album begins with what I have always thought of as the quintessential Journey song, Don’t Stop Believin’.  And, now, a confession.  While I have heard a tremendous amount of Journey bashing, I honestly don’t remember ever hearing this song before.

*Now, I think I probably have heard it before.  I don’t listen to the radio very much at all and never have, but I’m pretty sure that even I could not have lived to the age of 28 without hearing this song.  Doubtless I’ve heard it countless times, piped over a PA system in a grocery store or something, and just never really paid attention enough to realize what song it was.

*This is partly because the phrase ‘don’t stop believin’’ barely appears in the song at all, probably.

*Well, anyway, let’s correct a cultural blindspot; my first Journey album.  Let’s spin!

*So, anyway, Don’t Stop Believin’.  Totally serviceable ballad as long as you don’t mind the fact that, oddly enough for a ballad, it actually is completely confusing in terms of the story it’s telling.  And I’m sure you don’t.

*So, of course, this song is like part of the cultural DNA of the post-modern individual.  We’ve grown up with it (quite literally; it was released the year before I was born); we’ve seen Tony Soprano get whacked to it or maybe not maybe he was just sitting there and I totally didn’t get that ending; we’ve seen the kids on Glee belt it out.  It is the most downloaded song of the 20th century on iTunes; it cracked the 100 most downloaded songs on iTunes in 2008, TWENTY-SEVEN years after its release.  There are surely only a very few songs that can boast of being more popular than this one.

*So . . . why?  Because to me it just sounds like . . . a generic power ballad.  I’ve heard about a thousand songs that sound exactly like this one and I could not give you one reason why this one is better than any of the others.  This is every song you’ve ever heard at a wedding, a prom, etc; they all sound the same to me and I can’t explain why this one was picked out of the millions of other songs in this genre, to be the runaway hit.  I don’t have one clue.  Help me out here.

*It’s not that this is a terrible song.  It’s that it’s such an absurdly generic one.  I think that, six months down the road, should this song pipe over a PA or something in the grocery store, I won’t notice it, I won’t recognize it, I won’t remember it.  I barely remember it now and I’m listening to it as we speak!  Why is this song so popular?  You could pick any random power ballad of the past thirty years and play it next to this song and I wouldn’t be able to come up with a single reason why Don’t Stop Believin’ is better than Generic Power Ballad # 45,267.  Do you get what I’m saying? 

*So, Stone in Love, the next track, at least tries to rock.  But all I can really say is that I don’t know what ‘stone in love’ even means.  Is this a bowderlized ‘stoned in love?’  Because, if so, that’s really lame. 

*Speaking of which, was that Gladys Knight that did Stoned Love?  I think so.  Now, that’s a great song. 

*I can already tell what the bugaboo of this album is: generic sound.  This is like what you would get if there were generic music CDs.  Like I saw a can once that was totally white and in black letters it said simply, “BEER.”  And this CD should really have a plain white cover that just says in black letters, “MUSIC.” 

*There is literally nothing to distinguish this stuff . . .

*Okay, Who’s Crying Now is actually . . . not bad.  I could actually kind of groove on that one a little bit.  It is and, see here’s my confusion, actually a heck of a lot better song than Don’t Stop Believin’, just for the very genre they share.  And yet it’s the less popular song.  How come? 

*It’s not that these people are incompetent.  They are perfectly competent.  Perry is probably more than competent.  But I don’t know that he knows how to be evocative.  Or maybe he is, only a little, on this song.

*Neal Schon does do a pretty great guitar solo here.  I mean, it’s languid and evocative.  It’s not at all the kind of goofy, cheesy shredding he does on most of the songs here.  Yeah, okay, I like this song.  I don’t love it or anything, but I like this song.

*I cannot come up with even one thing to comment on as far as the fourth song, Keep On Runnin’, goes.

*Well, I was originally going to comment on one of the dumbest lyrics ever, but then it turns out I’d heard them wrong, so I let it slide.

*So, Still They Ride is sort of an elegiac tune about guys getting older but still riding for God knows what reason.  And actually, I think this is easily the best song on the album.  It has a great mournful vibe and another great guitar solo from Schon. 

*And I loved a little moment of connection.  In the lyrics, the song references that the titular characters still ride on “wheels of fire.”  Wheels of Fire, of course, was the last album we looked at here.  I love it when things like that happen.

*So, actually, yeah, I think I’d pull Still They Ride off for an iPod or whatever.  I actually liked that one. 

*The next one is the title track which is all about how somebody’s not going to break Steve Perry down.  There is an appealing hammering piano figure.  And some good cymbal work by the drummer. 

*At this point, I think it would be well within the purview of this project to bring up Journey Escape,  the Atari video game created as a tie-in with this album.

 There are moments when higher criticism just fails me

There are moments when higher criticism just fails me

*I really can’t talk about it or I’ll start laughing so hard I’ll literally die, but I felt it needed to be brought up. 

*Well, seriously, allow me to quote from the manual:  “You're on the road with Journey, one of the world's hottest rock groups. A spectacular performance has just ended. Now it's up to you to guide each Journey Band Member past hordes of Love-Crazed Groupies, Sneaky Photographers, and Shifty-Eyed Promoters to the safety of the Journey Escape Vehicle in time to make the next concert. Your mighty manager and loyal roadies are there to help, but the escape is up to you!”

*Okay, this is just a question:  Can I choose to let them die? 

*Here’s a real money quote from the wiki article on the game:  “Assisting the player are the roadies and the Manager, inexplicably depicted as the Kool-Aid Man.” 

*Well, that was a fun little detour.  I had no idea that thing existed. 

*So, Lay It Down, the next track, is pretty well . . . there’s nothing to say.  Honestly, this is the blandest CD I’ve heard in a long time. 

*Next track, Dead or Alive, is actually the second track on the album that I actually really liked.  Now, Journey does not have quite the bonafides that, say, AC/DC does when they sing about being wanted by the law and stuff.  But they rock the song out.  I actually liked this one. 

*The ninth track, Mother Father, is easily the worst on the album, a horrifically bombastic track that just seems to go on forever (though it’s not actually any longer than some of the other tracks here). 

*Does Steve Perry have something to say to the wounded heart of a family that is falling apart?  Does he?  DOES HE?

*“HEY!  MOTHER!  FATHER!  SISTER!  HEY!  COME BACK!  TRYIN’!  BELIEVIN’!  HEY!  MOTHER!  FATHER!  DREAMER!  HEY!”

*Does he ever . . .

*Yes, it’s the only set of lyrics in human history to be made up entirely of interjections.

*By the last time he hits the chorus, he has turned the simple interjection ‘hey’ into a word of at least twenty syllables. 

*And then, track 10, Open Arms, a song that even the band was incredibly divided over.  It is, to me, not terribly offensive.  It is unabashedly sentimental and apparently Schon said he didn’t think they should do those kinds of songs, leading me to wonder exactly what kind of song does he think Mother, Father is?  It’s every bit as “Mary Poppins” as Open Arms, to borrow Schon’s phrase. 

*And, you know, there’s something to be said for going out with a whimper. 

*Now, I listened to the remastered CD release and it contains four extra tracks.  But Open Arms is where the original album ended, so I’m not going to really talk about the four bonus tracks.  But I suppose I can just mention them briefly.

*The first, Raza del Sol, is the B-Side to Still They Ride and it’s actually quite a bit better than anything actually on the Escape album.  It’s got a somewhat Latin groove going.  I mean, it’s still pretty silly and not great, but it’s better than 80% of the songs on the actual album. 

*The next three tracks are live cuts from a concert in Houston in 1981.  Specifically, we get live versions of Don’t Stop Believin’, Who’s Crying Now and Open Arms. 

*So, that concert in Houston was filmed by MTV.  And back in 06, it got a deluxe release as a CD/DVD package.  The CD features tracks like Jonathan Cain Piano Solo, Steve Smith Drum Solo, Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ and Untitled Intro to Escape.  Sounds like a real winner. 

*So, I guess they included the three tracks here as a sort of cross-promotional advert for the live package.  That’s interesting.  I guess. 

*Anyway, was this like the most horrible album I’ve ever heard?  It was not.  There were a couple of good songs on it.  And it was mainly just totally generic.  It still raises the question as to why exactly Journey in general and this album in particular was such a great success when what they sounded more than anything else was absolutely MOR.  I don’t guess I have an answer, except luck. 

*I suppose at the moment this album hit big any album of its type could have just as easily done so.  It was, at the end of the day, just the luck of the draw that Don’t Stop Believin’ got tapped as greatest power ballad ever instead of the hundreds of other songs that it sounds exactly like in every way.  Well, whatever. 

*Next time, an album I couldn’t find in any format whatsoever, save for one brief excerpt on YouTube.  We’ll talk about why that might be a darn good thing next time!   

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