The band's 'Trial' turns out to be a tribulation. Come on, admit it: Your pop guilty pleasures includeat least one song by Journey. During the early '80s, the band may have epitomized General Motors assembly-line rock. But in their own mechanical way, the group provided a service--a refuge for those wary of the cool detachment of new wave. Journey's keep-on-believing anthems spoke to more people than any ironic David Byrne lyric did--call them the Tony Robbins of rock.
Now that their various side projects haven't panned out, Journey have, not surprisingly, shimmied onto this year's rock-reunion conga line. And on TRIAL BY FIRE (Columbia), their first album in a decade, they've bested all their competition. Rarely have a re-formed rock band whipped up new material and then gone to such jaw-dropping lengths to make it sound exactly the way it would have during their commercial peak (circa 1983). Steve Perry's voice is as smarmily supple as ever, and guitarist Neal Schon cranks out the same steely solos. The songs still seesaw between ladies-night ballads and inflated rockers with love-struck-adolescent lyrics. (The band treat power ballads as a timeless form, like sea chanteys or blues shuffles.) Not that we should expect hip-hop beats or garbled grunge lyrics, but even the songs sound familiar: Isn't the admittedly hooky single "Message of Love" just "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" sideways?
Trial by Fire won't change the mind of anyone who thought Journey a polished but hollow hit machine. But it still has a social function: "When You Love a Woman" will make a perfect wedding song for old fans preparing to march down the aisle. Rating: C --