rating icon 7 / 10

Track listing:

01. Together We Run
02. Don't Give Up On Us
03. Still Believe In Love
04. You Got The Best Of Me
05. Live To Love Again
06. The Way We Used To Be
07. Come Away With Me
08. After Glow
09. Let It Rain
10. Holdin On
11. All Day And All Night
12. Don't Go
13. United We Stand
14. Life Rolls On
15. Beautiful As You Are

By rights, the new JOURNEY album should be huge. If everyone who suddenly turned into a fan of the band when "Don't Stop Believin'" became culturally ubiquitous, just over a decade ago, bought a copy of "Freedom", well, it seems safe to say that Neal Schon would be able to buy lots of new guitars and at least one tropical island.

Reality being the awkward prick that it is, most of those people only ever liked the one song, but "Freedom" will almost certainly do at least as well as the last two JOURNEY records — "Revelation" (2008) and "Eclipse" (2011) — both of which were manifestly superior to the majority of the band's post-'80s output, while firmly establishing Arnel Pineda as a worthy successor / substitute for the elusive / iconic Steve Perry. Arriving more than a decade after "Eclipse", "Freedom" is unmistakably the work of the band behind all those golden AOR smashes, and from the tearful euphoria of opener "Together We Run" onwards, fans of JOURNEY's most successful era will find plenty to get in a froth about.

JOURNEY are in the enviable position of having an absurd number of certified anthems. As a result, any new album is partly an exercise in nominating new songs that just might have the charm and longevity to elbow their way into future set lists. "Freedom" isn't exactly overburdened with songs that would give "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Separate Ways" (fun fact: JOURNEY's actual best song) sleepless nights, but there are more than enough bright-eyed gems to enjoy along the way.

Inevitably, the best moments are gently reminiscent of past glories: "Don't Give Up On Us" is a meaty, motoring thing, and in the best possible way sounds like an outtake from "Escape". "You Got The Best Of Me" has more than a little "Any Way You Want It" DNA in its system, but JOURNEY never sounded this heavy in the late '70s and a dazzling chorus is a dazzling chorus, nostalgic echoes or not. Similarly, "Come Away With Me" is as close to heavy metal as this band have ever strayed, but thanks to a gritty Pineda vocal and a darkly funky ensemble performance, it's a detour that works.

If "Freedom" has a flaw, it is that the ballads — an essential part of any JOURNEY record — seem pale and slight beside so much heavier, more energetic material. "Live To Love Again" is pretty and overblown, but curiously unsatisfying; "Still Believe In Love" is too slick and sonically processed to exert any real emotional weight. It is also hard to deny that at a generous 15 songs, "Freedom" is slightly flabby and that a much sharper, more effective record would have been possible with a bit of judicious editing. But when JOURNEY are in full flight and songs like the gorgeous "United We Stand" and the featherlight and hazy "After Glow" are leaping elegantly from the speakers, the world seems a happier, healthier and more positive place. Mainstream folk are free to stick with the greatest hits, but there is much joy to be found here, too.

Author: Dom Lawson
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