Styx are one of those bands who inspire some division among rock fans but there’s no denying their massive contribution to classic rock’s rich history. They effortlessly blend prog, hard rock and AOR influences into a glorious melting-pot that is anything but ordinary. Saccharine-sweet one minute, rocking hard the next, they’ve been a mainstay of the rock world since the early 70s.
Singer and Keyboard player Dennis DeYoung was instrumental in the pompous, theatrical sound of the classic 70s and early 80s Styx albums. He has released a number of solo albums over the years but this album, ‘26 East Vol 1’ is his first in over a decade. Here, he has teamed up with ex-Survivor keyboard player Jim Peterik, also well-known for his post-Survivor act Pride of Lions. Peterik’s writing style on the Pride of Lions albums tends towards the theatrical in places so this in theory is a pretty good pairing.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2ayQyPF-18&w=560&h=315]
The first thing that strikes you about this album is just how good DeYoung sounds for a man of 73! His vocals here are very strong and he certainly doesn’t sound as though his voice has suffered over the years. The second thing that strikes you is that neither DeYoung nor Peterik have lost any of their songwriting ability over the years. The songs here are very well-constructed and certainly don’t sit comfortably among the typical and generic AOR/Melodic Hard Rock style of many acts on Frontiers Records’ roster.
Opening number ‘East of Midnight’ is a stunning throwback to early Styx. With more pomp and circumstance than a dozen trooping the colour ceremonies, glorious 70’s prog-style keyboard sounds and with twists and turns galore in its 5 minutes and 5 seconds, this is classic pomp rock of the very highest order! What a great way to open an album.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFy4hB8EnVU&w=560&h=315]
Sadly, the second track (and first single) ‘With All Due Respect’ doesn’t maintain the quality level. It isn’t a comfortable listen, with DeYoung ranting at the world over a fairly pedestrian rock backing track. He might well have a lot to rant about given the state of the world and America right now, but this track doesn’t quite cut it somehow.
Things improve considerably with ‘A Kingdom Ablaze’. This is different. It’s not as overtly Styx-like as the opener and is perhaps a little more akin to what Styx were doing in the late 80s on ‘Edge of the Century’. Clever layers of keyboards and choir-like vocals usher the track in and it’s a real slow burner building gradually through the verses before the big choruses take us right back to classic Styx territory. The production on this track is truly excellent, with many different guitar and keyboard parts popping in and out of the mix to keep the interest level high. It’s the longest track on the album, but such is the strength of the arrangement and the hooks that you don’t really notice.
‘You My Love’ is a stunning piece of keyboard dominated theatrical balladry in the decidedly ‘not-very-hard-rock’ 6/8 time! This recalls the great Styx ballads, but it also sounds like it could be in a Broadway show, a theme that DeYoung certainly seems to love, but which might alienate the traditional rock audience a little. It’s very light-weight and almost ‘twee’ in its melodies and keyboard arrangements, but DeYoung’s vocal is superb throughout.
I’m working off Spotify for this review, so have no access to writing credits, etc. However, I’d lay lots of good hard cash that ‘Run For The Roses’ is a Jim Peterik co-write. It has all the hallmarks of the more theatrical tracks on any of Pride of Lions’ albums, but with DeYoung’s superb voice elevating it to be better than any similar tracks on any of that band’s work. The multi-layered chorus hooks on this are truly glorious.
Damn the Dream’ storms out of the speakers with more Peterik influence in the writing and arrangement. Once again, Pride of Lions is a good reference point, but it is also slightly reminiscent of the more rocking tracks like ‘Blue Collar Man’ and ‘Renegade’ from Styx’s back catalogue. It’s a good uptempo rocker and works well here in the running order.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59ckoiCJPYU&w=560&h=315]
Unbroken’ has a beautiful introduction, with wonderfully delicate keyboard pads and tasteful guitar licks. This must be another Peterik co-write and could have been on any of Pride of Lions’ albums. It is very AOR, but has lots of interesting chord modulations that give it a definite Broadway feel in places. A nice song, but nothing particularly special to lift it out of the ordinary.
The Broadway feel really kicks in on the next track, ‘The Promise of This Land’. The intro of this song could be in any Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Although the rest of the song has all the classic rock hallmarks we’d expect, the melodic structure remains very Broadway and you do feel as if you’re in a theatrical show. It’s all very well done, but, again could well divide opinion amongst listeners.
To The Good Old Days’ features Julian Lennon. His voice blends really well with DeYoung’s on another track that could easily be in a Broadway show. Lyrically, this one is a little twee, not helped by the ‘plinking’ keyboards in the chorus. This is another very light-weight track, with keyboards and orchestration dominating the production.
The album ends with the 56 second outro ‘AD2020. It’s basically a reworking of part of Paradise Theatre, the classic Styx album from 1981. It works really well to end the album and you do get the feeling of the curtain coming down at the end of the show and the actors taking a bow as it fades away.
Overall, this album is a very well-written and well produced and well performed piece of work from a true veteran of the rock scene. Stylistically, it is obviously a labour of love for Dennis DeYoung. He loves theatrical pomposity and refuses to be pigeon-holed into one style or sound within this album.
If you’re already a fan of his work with Styx, especially the Paradise Theatre era and if you like his co-writer Jim Peterik’s Pride of Lions project, you’ll quite rightly find an awful lot to enjoy here, as it’s done extremely well and DeYoung is in fine voice throughout. However, if Broadway musicals are not to your liking, and if you like your music to rock hard, you’ll probably struggle with much of this album.
There is talk of this and it’s pending follow-up, ‘Volume 2’ being DeYoung’s final recordings. If that’s the case, he’s clearly bowing out doing what he loves and he’s doing it very well. Truth to tell, nobody does this kind of thing quite like him.
Dennis DeYoung (formerly of Styx) “With All Due Respect”. From the album “26 East, Vol. 1”. Get a CD, LP, or stream here: https://orcd.co/ddy26east_vol1
Review by Andy Hawes for MPM