Album Review: Journey – Freedom (BMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

For many, the only acceptable version of Journey will forever be the one with Steve Perry at the helm. But for those with open minds, the band is still relevant with lead singer Arnel Pineda at the forefront, even if the rest of the lineup remains a bit shaky at the moment, too (the current rhythm section is already different from the one that recorded on Freedom).

Freedom is the first album of new material from the guys since 2011’s Eclipse (and third with Pineda on vocals), and contains fifteen new tracks with that classic Journey “sound,” composed mostly by guitarist/founder Neal Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, and now-former drummer Narada Michael Walden.

The group have already released a slew of singles from Freedom, beginning last month with “The Way We Used to Be.” Even if that track did not really do it for you, follow-ups like “You’ve Got the Best of Me” and the almost-poetic “Don’t Give Up on us” more than make up for it. Other tracks like “All Day, All Night,” “Come Away With Me,” and “After Glow” invoke that same spirit classics like “Anyway You Want It” still have the power to after all of these years.

I may not be an “expert” when it comes to the world of Journey’s music, but I like them enough to have gone to see them in concert (back in 2015). I’ve said it before about many a band, and I’ll say it once again here about Journey; I’d rather have some version of them in existence, than no version at all.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 20 Years Since Mark Wahlberg Became a ‘Rock Star’ By Jesse Striewski

Few fictional ‘rock’ flicks have ever perfectly captured the essence of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as well as 2001’s Rock Star. Tagged with the line “The story of the wanna be, who got to be,” its source inspiration was drawn from the real life fairy tale of Tim “Ripper” Owens, who landed the dream job as frontman for heavy metal legends Judas Priest after being discovered singing the band’s material in a cover band.

Directed by Stephen Herek, the film uses this idea to tell the story of Chris “Izzy” Cole (Mark Wahlberg), who goes from singer for a Steel Dragon cover act, to the real deal almost overnight. He instantly feels all of the highs and lows going from obscurity to the big leagues, with many of his personal relationships ultimately straining as a result, including his romance with girlfriend/manager Emily Poule (Jennifer Aniston).

Having previous experience as lead singer for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg pulls off playing Cole like a pro. He’s surrounded by more ‘real life’ musicians throughout the film, with guitarist Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne/Black Label Society), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), and drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin) making up the rest of the lineup of the fictional Steel Dragon.

The author (left) with former Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens in 2019. Owens inspired the plot of Rock Star.

Outside of Steel Dragon, there’s use of many other notable musicians in the film; Slaughter drummer Blas Elias, Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy, and even one time L.A. Guns/future Steel Panther lead singer Ralph Saenz (a.k.a. Michael Star – see photo below) all pop up at one point or another. There’s even an homage of sorts to the 1984 classic This is Spinal Tap, when the band is seen photographed on the same rooftop featured in said film.

Aside from featuring many original songs by the likes of KISS, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard (among many others) throughout, it also contains a number of covers re-imagined as Steel Dragon originals, such as the Steelheart track “We All Die Young.” And while the other members of the fictional outfit perform on these songs, oddly, Wahlberg does not sing on them. Instead the vocal duties are handled by Steelheart vocalist Miljenko Matijevic, and one-time Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto.

Making under $20 million on a $50-plus million dollar budget, Rock Star fell short of making the impression filmmakers had hoped it would; this could likely be attributed to the fact it was released just days before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Still, the film has since maintained a life of its own among fans, and remains a go-to, rags-to-riches rock journey to this day.

Steel Panther performing live in 2013; vocalist Michael Star makes a brief appearance in the film (photo courtesy of the author’s personal collection).