At about the same time Micheal Bolton had refined his version of Journey styled rock modeled on classics like Escape and Captured, Journey itself was ready to move on. Songs like The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” were influencing pop music across the board, so traditional rock bands like Journey were showing that they too could respond to the new synthesizer trend. Foreigner had done it before with bits of 4 and Journey would take its turn with Frontiers.
As Journey’s 8th album Frontiers is where Jonathan Cain would trade his keyboards for synths for good. The sound was brash and heavy as the electronics often overpowered vocalist Steve Perry and the formidable guitar playing of Neil Schon. It was as the band was trying to prove that the keyboardist could replace the guitarist as the iconic rock hero. Van Halen and a few others had similar flirtations with synthesizers. Still, it was a Journey album, so all the melody and power chords were still intact, even if synthesizers were carrying more of the melodies.
I remember staying late after school in my senior year polishing up my portfolio in an attempt to get in to some college as an art major. I had just copied my Frontiers LP to cassette and spent long hours with it as I retouched, cropped and arranged my work for presentation. Journey was always kind of inspirational music to me and the big cinematic sound of Frontiers helped make the hours short.
The uncanny ability to inspire came from Journey’s strong blend of soaring rhythms and Steve Perry’s otherworldly voice. Its no wonder that songs like After the Fall would become a karaoke sing along favorite.
Frontiers had much of what made Journey so popular in place and duplicated elements from Escape where possible. The hit “Faithfully” reproduced the vibe of “Open Arms” from Escape while “Separate Ways” attempted to capture the spirit of the guitar driven work of the past. In all, Frontiers had four top 40 hits. It could have had more as two songs including “Only the Lonely” were removed at the last-minute. Those two songs would chart on the soundtrack for the film Vision Quest a year later.
In the end Frontiers matched Escapes four hits while out pacing it to become the band’s best seller. It marked an important junction in Journey’s sound that quite frankly would lose its spark a few albums later. The band broke up in 1987, then reformed, but by that time the departure of key members, most notably Steve Perry left Journey without its trademark leader. That was until a remarkable sound alike stand in came along.
I eventually got into the school I wanted leaving Journey behind in the process. Even as I would be exposed to all kinds new (and old) music in college, there was nothing quite like the cheeky power of a Journey song to inspire.