Frontiers Records (Release Date 22.05.20)
This album marks a welcome rock comeback for former Styx singer Dennis De Young. For much of the time either side of his departure from the band he seemed more interested in Broadway inspired or orchestral work. However the success of his live ‘Music of Styx’ shows- which I have seen three times in the USA and Canada – have inspired him, using the nucleus of that band, to return to that style with not just one, but two albums worth of new material.
The title is a reference to his boyhood Chicago home and opener ‘East of Midnight’ turns back the clock to vintage Styx- a ‘Grand Illusion’ type intro, autobiographical lyrics including a reference to ‘The Best of Times’, church organ type keyboard wizardry and twin guitars. Simply glorious is the only way to describe it.
However ‘With All Due Respect’ is likely to be a ‘marmite’ song: DDY returns to one of his familiar lyrical themes, covering media manipulation in his sardonic style. However there is something incongruous about a 73 year old man shouting ‘you are an a-hole, you make me sick!’, not helped by a beat oddly reminiscent of Poison’s ‘Unskinny Bop’.
‘A Kingdom Ablaze’, a near six minute epic, symphonic and with choral chanting, and ‘You My Love’, a ballad from a man who is one of the masters of the art, are more reassuring.
He has found his muse in fellow Chicagoan Jim Peterik who co-writes nine songs across two albums, five on this one. Given their shared penchant for a powerful hook and melodramatic, theatrical writing style it is surprising they have not previously written together other than a couple of times on his ‘World Stage’ collaborations.
While there are no individual song credits, I was playing ‘spot the Peterik song’ and ‘Run For The Roses’, on which DDY sounds superb, has the hallmarks of the ex-Survivor man’s writing style.
‘Damn That Dream’ also harks back in style to classic late seventies AOR and though ‘Unbroken’ is spoiled by a rather lame chorus and over familiar sound, ‘The Promise of This Land’ is vintage Styx, not just in the lyrical message but its pomp arrangement with an extended vocal intro, prominent synths, and even a gospel choir at the end of the song.
‘To The Good Old Days’, a duet with Julian Lennon, may sound a rather mawkish toast, but there has never been anyone who can carry off this schmaltz better than him. Then as a final treat he even ends with ‘AD 2020’, a reprise with new lyrics of the companion pieces from ‘Paradise Theater’, which had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up and going straight off to dig out the original.
Not a perfect album, but the better songs are a revelation at this late stage of his career. The question now is what has been left in the tank for Volume 2? ****
Review by Andy Nathan
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