After 1986’s Raised on Radio, Journey seemingly was gone for good as years went by without any new product. The band may have been on ice, but its individual members were still busy. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain hooked up with singer John Waite and bassist Ricky Phillips, who’d both been in The Babys a decade earlier with Cain, to form Bad English. They didn’t reach Journey-like levels with sales, but did land a #1 pop hit with “When I See You Smile,” a feat which Journey never accomplished.
After two albums, Bad English went kaput, but Schon and that band’s drummer, Deen Castronovo, formed another rock band, Hardline. That band was even more short-lived and less successful than Bad English, but it made for another important relationship for Schon – he and Castronovo would work together again as Journey members down the road.
The Journey interim also saw a reunion of three past members – Gregg Rollie, Ross Valory, and Steve Smith, for the rock group The Storm. Meanwhile, Steve Perry put out a second solo album in 1994.
It was that last effort that made for the greatest likelihood of a Journey reunion since Perry hadn’t recorded in eight years. Indeed, two years later, 1996’s Trial by Fire saw the return of Journey, and not just any line-up, but “their most successful Escape-era line-up” (JourneyMusic.com). “With Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, and Neal Schon leading Journey once again, and bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith behind them, it would seem that Trial by Fire would contain the same elements that gave them their stardom in the ‘80s” (DeGagne). “Journey should have delivered a great album. They managed only half a great album” (Classic Rock Magazine).
“Perry’s singing hasn’t lost too much of its power, but the faster tunes come off as contrived and messy” (DeGagne). “Sounding hard and scattered, the smoothness of their trademarked music is nowhere to be found, replaced with brash, beat-up, hollow rock riffs” (DeGagne). “Big rock epics Castles Burning and Can’t Tame the Lion, were all bluster” (Classic Rock Magazine). “The ballads fair no better, as the passion that once flourished within the band when it came to slowing things down has long since faded” (DeGagne).
“Journey achieved something close to peak form” (Classic Rock Magazine) “on opener Message of Love and the ready-made wedding song When You Love a Woman” (Classic Rock Magazine), but even those songs are from the equals of some of their classic predecessors. “Message of Love” pales in comparison to classic rockers like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Any Way You Want It,” or “Separate Ways.” Meanwhile, “When You Love a Woman” had enough schlock to land it atop the AC chart, a first for Journey, but it didn’t make it more memorable than gems like “Open Arms,” “Lights,” or “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”
The reunion proved short-lived; “the band’s comeback tour was aborted after Perry injured his hip in a hiking accident. Tragically, he never sang for Journey again” (Classic Rock Magazine).