Journey's frontman reappears with a new record eight years after leaving the band

Few rock egos could handle the grenade that Beavis and Butt-head lobbed at power-ballad princes Journey and their 1983 ”Separate Ways” video: ”Whoa. Huh, huh. Is this the Partridge Family?” But former lead singer Steve Perry, 41, is hip to the joke. ”You gotta love it!” he laughs convincingly. ”We’ll be immortalized forever now!”

Actually, achieving immortality seems beside the point: The late-’70s/ early-’80s supergroup that Perry fronted for 10 years ranks as Columbia Records’ biggest-selling rock act ever, with more than 35 million units sold; their 1989 Greatest Hits compilation still stands at No. 12 on Billboard‘s pop catalog chart. With his second solo album, For the Love of Strange Medicine, out this week, Perry ends an eight-year hiatus from recording, joining Boston (Walk On) in a mini-revival of retro mush-metal.

Perry abandoned the Journey hit machine after the band’s 1986 Raised on Radio tour, which followed the death of his mother that same year. ”Believe me, it came with baggage to leave,” Perry now says. ”[Keyboardist] Jonathan Cain and [guitarist] Neal Schon weren’t too pleased when I quit. But I had job burnout pretty serious. I had no choice.” Perry spent the next two years caring for his terminally ill grandfather in California before resuming songwriting; he began recording Strange Medicine — whose 11 songs bear the unmistakable polished caterwaul of his Journey years — in early 1993. ”It’s been a slow, emotional reentry into a passion for music,” he says ”And it’s been fueled by some of the great music out now. Pearl Jam is brilliant, and I loved that Nirvana record, the one with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.”’

Objectivity fails him, however, when it comes to his own catalog. ”I think a lot of today’s music is too calculated,” insists the writer of such grandiose anthems as ”Don’t Stop Believin’.” ”It’s hard to tell if they’re selling Chevy trucks or writing a hit single. I can’t stand it. It’s so commercially predictable, it’s pap. Journey never fell into any of that.” Uh, Beavis?