Journey’s first album in 11 years did not come easily. Guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, and vocalist Arnel Pineda welcomed a new rhythm section including bassist Randy Jackson (the “American Idol” judge), who played on 1986’s Raised on Radio. All this after drummer Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were fired – lawsuits and countersuits were launched and settled. And you thought your family was dramatic!

The 15 songs on Freedom are loaded with Journey trademarks – effortless melodies, soaring vocals, catchy choruses – all punctuated with Schon’s crisp, piercing solos. A new concert favorite, “You Got the Best of Me” is positive pop with a crunchy riff and barnburning lead. “After Glow” features newly returned drummer Deen Castronovo on vocals. “Don’t Give Up on Us,” “Don’t Go,” and “United We Stand” channel ’80s-era Journey. The ballad “Beautiful As You Are” flows with soft and heavy passages, while “Let It Rain” is hard-rock funk, as Schon burns it up with pitch-shifter madness.

Fifty-plus years into his career, Schon’s fierce playing remains admirably consistent in quality and inspiration. While Freedom isn’t Infinity or Escape, it’s slick and professional, with respectable soul.

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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