Frontiers Records (Release date 11.06.21)
This is an album I’ve been looking forward to for 12 months since the release of Volume 1. That represented the former Styx singer’s return to his melodic rock roots in far better fashion than I had dared imagine, with the promise that he was holding back enough material for a second, and final ever, album.
That means that, even more than on the first, there are nods here and there to his musical history aided by clever CD artwork by Hugh Gilmour, with front and back covers mocked up like a vintage LP with a photo and song titles, the contemporary DDY on the front and a young lad from the fifties playing a child’s keyboard on the rear.
‘Hello Goodbye’, as you might expect, is an autobiographical tale about the ‘Fab Four’s influence on his youth: to a jaunty Beatles meets Styx styled musical backing, it name checks various song titles and is complemented by a mocked up picture of he and his wife travelling in a convertible down Abbey Road.
‘Land of the Living’ is a more conventional but lively melodic rocker and one of four more co-writes with fellow Chicagoan songwriting legend Jim Peterik, with the list of players drawn from both individuals’ touring bands.
On ‘The Last Guitar Hero’ – a song which reminds me of Styx’s rockier efforts usually sung by James ‘JY’ Young- he turns his mordant wit to prevailing musical trends and the march of technology, with clever but depressing lyrics such as ‘the last guitar hero/with your big old Marshall stack/gone like a record store/and never coming back’. In one of the most unlikely combinations you will see in rock, one of the few figures who fits that description, Tom Morello, guests with an unconventional solo with his trademark squeals of feedback.
However DDY’s biggest hallmark has always been the sugary, theatrically delivered ballad and there are two, his voice as crystal clear as ever at 74 in ‘Your Saving Grace’, with gospel style backing vocals and ‘Made for Each Other’.
‘Proof of Heaven’ first appeared on Jim Peterik’s World Stage album a couple of years back with DDY as guest vocalist and has the dramatic songwriting imprint of the former all over it, combined with some wonderful harmony vocals that call to mind Styx on the chorus and Crosby Stills and Nash on the bridge.
Another that floated my boat is ‘There’s No Turning Back Time’, with a beautiful intro with acoustic guitar reminiscent of America before some power chords give way to a synth solo and the vocal hook kicks the song into a higher gear. He might not thank this scribe for another comparison to his estranged bandmates, but to my ears the structure had a ‘Crystal Ball’ vibe to it.
The album is a little more uneven than the first and not every song hits the mark quite as much- the quirky ‘St Quarantine’ and ‘Little Did We Know’ (not the only moment where early Magnum came up as a comparison) being rather more average though they contribute to the overall feel, which somehow manages to be both unashamedly classic, yet fresh.
But after the mellow ‘Always Time’, the album ends on a high in the six minute ‘Isle of Misanthrope’, a return to the vintage Styx pomp rock sound, with sardonic lyrics with mythical and nautical metaphors, and bubbling synths parping away before a big chanted chorus, then there is an outro of a reprise of ‘Grand Finale’ from the ‘Grand illusion’, taking his career full circle.
It makes for a wonderful if uneven listen as this singular character takes a bow in his typically theatrical style, going out on a high with some fresh classics that bear so many of his hallmarks. **** 1/2
Review by Andy Nathan
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