Artist: Neal Schon  
   Title:  So U
   Label: Frontiers Records  
 

Musical 'genius' and ego very often come hand in hand, and in the case of Journey mainman Neal Schon, it's in abundance if you were to believe everything you read from ex-associates of his and some in the press. Thing is, after all he's achieved in his career, with Journey, Soul Sirkus, Bad English, and now with a return to Santana, you could maybes forgive touches of Diva-ism now and then. God knows what he's like when it comes to doing his solo records then, a taskmaster for perfection? One thing, and that's he's in fine company with people who will know exactly what his personality is like when it came to making his new album, 'So U', fellow Journeyman drummer Deen Castronovo and the much traveled bassist Marco Mendoza.

It may come as a surprise to some that all 3 take on vocal duties throughout, as they do with writing duties, helped out by Night Ranger/Damn Yankee's member Jack Blades, and all have combined to make a very interesting wee album that isn't as bad as some reviewers claim it is! Starting with the all-out groover 'Take A Ride', the tempo chops 'n changes just as you're getting into the track, which is a bit frustrating at times, but can be forgiven when the funky keyboards kick in to spice things up. Now, prepare yourself to be taken on a magical mystery ride Peter Griffin-style due to the uber-psychadelic 'So U', a mass of swirling guitar riffs 'n solos, echoey layered vocals that begin like Prince in his 'Paisley Park' era, Castronovo's hypnotising drumbeat adding to the trip, which is the only word to use to describe what the hell is happening here! The spoken poem towards the end of this song sends the hairs on the arms vertical, but the best way to listen to this song is in a dark room with earphones on and your eyes closed, as you get the full effect tenfold and all your hair stands vertical!! Believe me, I tried it and I'm still coming down, Ma-a-an!! A 9+ minute mind-blowing masterpiece that is hard to follow anywhere on the album.

You can't have a Neal Schon album without some kind of six-string masturbatory session going on can you, so up pops the aptly named 'Exotica' to get tossed into the fray, as it were! (Ahem!!). Schon shows his superb skill with some speed of light finger-popping fretwork, BUT there in the background is a fantastic fretless bassline flowing through that is even more exciting to hear, Mendoza showing there's more to his talent than maybes we thought he had, and well done to the man in charge for letting it happen. The bassist takes on vocal duties on the hard rocking 'What You Want', where the harmonies blend together to slightly soften the mood at times, but that rough as a badgers arse riff keeps tipping the track back into a screaming session, the like that Steve Tyler does on a daily basis, Schon eventually taking over the vocals in the meantime up to the end. Not a total stand-out track by any means as a previous one, but the slower ballad-styled 'Love Finds a Way' with it's wayward tempo, niggles away as Castronovo's recognisable vocals soar over another meandering solo from Schon, keeping you a bit more interested to see where it's going, but unfortunately it just fades away like a fart in the breeze!

'On My Way' comes across as if things were going to get a bit jazzy from the trio, the harmonies very Jimi Hendrix's 'Crosstown Traffic'-like, then it all goes into another mish-mash of confusion as the instruments ... collide! It's like a car crash of mega proportions and sadly is a let-down from such a promising start. Thank the Lord the trio see sense and revert back to what most would be happy with, and that's a storming light rocker that could be pulled off any Journey album from their back catalogue, 'Serenity', Castronovo sounding very much like a singer from their past (!!) who, if truth be told, is still sorely missed by the guitarist, himself giving it all with his signature sound on the guitar, and that solo! Where else are you going to hear it played like that? Much better, chaps.  About now, you'll realise what a canny set of pipes this trio have between them, as we're all used to seeing them as instrument players more than vocalists, and that's the eyebrow-raising element on this L.P.

Their harmonious intro to 'Shelter' could have come straight out of 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou', but the pummeling drums straight after dispense with that notion as the song turns into another 100mph Hendrix-styled affair, Schon on scorching form as he slays riff after riff at a frightening pace! No wonder it leads up to the final track being a slow, drawn out moody piece, as the life must've been sucked out of them afterwards! Talking of that, 'Big Ocean', for all it's weird and clever guitar-work, just makes you wish it would hurry up and finish! Ok, it's another instrumental to show off on, and we all know how good you can play Neal, but we'd get more pleasure watching an elderly couple necking on than sitting through this track again! Once is quite enough, thank you.

As mentioned earlier, some reviews about 'So U' have been 'mixed', and it just goes to show how different people are when it comes to their musical tastes, and I'm no different. All I'd like to say to finish off is that the album is far from a disappointment, a bit overblown in parts, which really you expect from a guitar maestro like Neal Schon, but for me, once I'd heard the sublime track 'So U' so early on the album, nothing else was going to be better, and I was right! Get those earphones out and enjoy the ride, dudes!!

Review by: Robb Baldwin 

Tracklisting:

1.  Take A Ride 
2. So U
3. Exotica
4. What You Want
5. Love Finds A Way
6. On My Way
7. Serenity
8. Shelter
9. Big Ocean  

              

 

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