It goes without saying that guitarist Neal Schon is one of the most well-known and respected figures in the music industry today. A founding member of legendary rock band Journey, Schon has also worked with fellow rock legend Carlos Santana, and is also a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee. The band he helped found has sold millions of records the world over, too, thanks in part to his own performances on said records. Schon added yet another proverbial notch in his belt this month when he released his new solo album Universe. The 15-song record is a surprisingly enjoyable presentation that will appeal equally to fans of Journey, Schon and to real rock musicianship in general. This is proven in no small part to the musical arrangements that make up the body of the 70-minute record. They will be discussed shortly. The arrangements’ sequencing builds on the foundation built by the songs themselves and will be discussed a little later. The record’s production rounds out its most important elements. It will also be examined later. All three elements noted here are important in their own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make Universe more proof of why Neal Schon is in fact one of the most respected and well-known figures in the entire musical universe. Yes, that awful pun was intended.
Neal Schon’s new solo album Universe is a strong new musical statement from a musician who has already so many laurels over the course of his career. It is a presentation that will appeal widely not only to his fans, but to those of Journey and of real pure guitar rock, too. That is proven continuously throughout the course of the album’s hour-plus run time in large part because of its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are wide spread in terms of their influences and comparison. The record opens with a decidedly Joe Satriani style composition in ‘Something in the Heart.’ The song finds Schon playing so subtly against an orchestral backing and slow, steady drum beat to open the song. The picture that it paints is like something that belongs in the end credits of some blockbuster drama on the big screen (E.g. the sun setting on the lead characters, their silhouettes the only part of them visible following the events of the story). The subtlety in Schon’s performance alongside that of the song’s orchestral element is such a powerful presentation. On a distinctly different note, Schon takes listeners in a completely different direction in ‘She’s For Real.’ The use of the strings in this song’s arrangement pairs with the piano arrangement to create something of a vintage disco type of style approach. The aforementioned Joe Satriani-esque guitar work and the solid time keeping that accompany the strings and piano come into play here to enhance the arrangement even more, and make it that much more engaging and entertaining. Not only that, but it also adds to the discussion on the diversity of the album’s musical arrangements. It strengthens that discussion and in turn the importance of that element. Showing even more, the diversity in the record’s musical arrangements is the frantic ‘Be Happy,’ which comes late in the album’s run. The high-energy composition clocks in at just under three-and-a-half minutes, and makes full use of that time, too. Schon’s fingers run their way all over his guitar’s fret board while the bass line and time keeping add an extra layer to the work. The ghost notes and cymbal crashes from the percussion give just the right accent along with the bass drum. The repetition of the almost walking bass line makes for a solid counterpoint to Schon’s fiery guitar work. The addition of the strings to the mix adds its own unique touch to the whole, too. By the time the song ends, listeners themselves will be left feeling breathless just from hearing the whole of the noted elements. The composition is that intense, but in the best way possible. It is just one more way in which the diversity in the album’s musical arrangements come through so clearly. Between this work, the others addressed here, the likes of others, such as the slow jam style ‘Silent Voyage,’ the powerhouse cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain,’ and the bluesy, almost Pink Floyd-esque ‘Caruso,’ that diversity becomes even clearer. When all of this is considered along with the rest of the album’s works, that diversity shines through even more, leaving zero doubt as to its importance. It is of course just one of the key elements that makes Universe such a surprisingly successful album. The sequencing of the album’s featured musical arrangements adds even more impact to the album’s presentation.
The sequencing of Universe is important to examine because it plays directly into listeners’ engagement and entertainment. As already noted, the album opens on a somewhat somber note in ‘Something in the Heart.’ From there, the album’s energy only barely picks up as it progresses through ‘The Eye of God’ and ‘The Universe.’ From there, ‘Caruso’ pulls things back again before finally really letting loose in the cover of ‘Voodoo Child.’ The energy in that song carries through to ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ before really pulling back again in Schon’s cover of ‘Purple Rain.’ Listeners will be glad to know that things do not stay reserved for too long, as the album starts to pick back up again immediately after in ‘She’s For Real.’ The rises and falls in the album’s energy continues from here with full stability, ensuring just as much, that noted engagement and entertainment for audiences. The bigger picture, looking back, is that of sequencing that took into full account, the songs’ energies and impact thereof. The result of that attention to detail makes an album that listeners will find just as enjoyable to hear for this aspect as for the songs themselves. Keeping all of this in mind, now it is even clearer why Universe is such a successful new offering from Schon. It still is just one more aspect of the album that listeners will appreciate. The production of Schon’s new album puts the finishing touch to the presentation.
As has already been noted more than once here, there is a lot going on in many of the songs featured in Universe. This means that a lot of attention had to be paid to detail in each song. That is so that the sound is balanced to the best degree possible in each work. Those efforts paid off, too. Schon takes center stage throughout the album, and with good cause. At the same time though, Schon’s fellow musicians each get their own attention in each song. The string arrangements are balanced so well each time they are incorporated into the songs. The bass line, which far too often is under used by bands across the board, gets its own time in the light throughout the album, too. Even the drums sound so rich, but never overpowering at any point. Simply put, throughout the course of Universe’s one hour, 10-minute presentation, each instrument and performance is expertly balanced in each song. The result is that the album sounds that much more appealing. When this is considered along with the appeal just from the diversity in the album’s musical arrangements and the effect of the arrangements’ sequencing, the album in whole becomes a presentation that is another presentation from Schon that will appeal just as much to his fans as to those of Journey and guitar rock.
Neal Schon’s newly released solo album Universe is a positive new offering from the guitarist, whose accolades are already numerous. Its diverse musical arrangements in themselves are certain to appeal to the noted wide range of listeners, along with the sequencing of those arrangements. The production of the arrangements puts the finishing touch to the album’s presentation, giving them the aesthetic that makes their sound just as appealing as their general content. It puts the final touch to the album’s whole. When it is considered with the songs and their sequencing, that whole makes the album a presentation that will appeal just as much to Schon’s fans as to those of journey and pure guitar rock. Universe is available now. More information on the album is available along with all of Schon’s latest news at:
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