The former Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung is back with volume 2 of his East 26 saga – or whatever you wanna call it. And according to the man himself, this will be his bye-bye to all of us, his last ever record. The guy has made several attempts to tell the boys in his former band that a reunion is in order before they’re all too old and that they owe it to the fans but apparently it’s a one-sided opinion, so don’t hold your breath. That seems to be the reason for DeYoung’s retirement. The volume one that came out last year was a slow-burner for me. I gave it 6/10 but I must admit it has grown on me since then – I reckon it’s worth a seven when I listen to it today. The new album was written and recorded at more or less the same time as the previous one which means that his buddy Jim Peterik of Survivor fame is involved in the song writing on this one as well.
Opener ”Hello Goodbye” has not only the title in common with the Beatles song of the same name, the whole tune is very, very Beatles-esque and has a bunch of Beatles song-titles name-dropped throughout the song. It’s an upbeat, uplifting and hooky pop-song that brings on a feelgood mood. It’s really a homage to the Fab Four and it tells us just how big an influence they were for him and Styx in general. I dig this. The upbeat pop-laden rocker ”Land Of The Living” comes across as the bastard child of Styx and Survivor where AOR blends masterfully with Classic Rock and Pomp Rock. It sports a chunky beats, a straight-ahead and contagious main-melody and the chorus is nothing short of tremendous. Great stuff.
Featuring Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello, latest single ”The Last Guitar Hero” is a sharp and heavy rocker with pounding drums and a ballsy bass-line with some fat riffing and a gritty guitar sound which makes the tune even headbang-friendly – I hadn’t suspected that from DeYoung in a million years. The acoustic breakdown creates a great dynamic and the Styx sounding chorus also brings on some contrasts here. A killer tune. ”Your Saving Grace” is a big AOR ballad which belongs in the early 80’s. It’s also both symphonic, pompy and the choir throws in some awesome Gospel vibes. It’s a slick tune for sure, a bit sugary at times, but it sure sticks – and the refrain is really good.
If you have heard the Jim Peterik & World Stage Winds of Change (2019) album you have also heard ”Proof Of Heaven” which DeYoung guested on. That song – the same version even – is what we’re given here. It didn’t make much of a fuss on that album and since it’s a damn good number, it sure deserves a second chance. It’s a half-ballad, quite pompous with a feel of AOR from the late 70’s/early 80’s. Slightly progressive, big on keyboards without declining the guitars, the AOR meets pomp makes it hard not to think about Styx. More balladry comes along in the shape of the Beatles-esque ”Made For Each Other”. It’s also pomp-laden, big on both AOR and Pop vibes with sugar-sweet melodies. It’s a bit too cheesy for me but I can’t deny the gorgeous chorus. Ok track.
”There’s No Turning Back Time” starts out as an acoustic ballad but continues more upbeat with a big Pomp/AOR Rock sound of the early 80’s and big Styx vibes. Parts symphonic, parts Hard Rock driven, the song throws along melodies that goes into Survivor meets mid 80’s Magnum where the soundscape is large and atmospheric and the chorus is direct and is catchy yet not in a looking for airplay kind of way. Very good. ”St Quarantine” is straight ahead with a pumping rhythm. Here we get a quite smooth AOR number with some musical theatre vibes. To bring up the contrasts, the song also goes into a Classic Rock territory with chunky and funky rhythms, a fat live-feel and raunchy drive and it all comes together brilliantly. Good one.
”Little Did We Know” holds a theatrical arrangement and goes early 80’s Pomp Rock on us with a slice of late 80’s Magnum inserted here and there. DeYoung also throws a nod back to the drama of the Paradise Theatre days with a distinct main-melody and a chunky rhythm which holds a bouncy stomp. On top lies a hooky chorus that stays on for ages afterwards. Very good. ”Always Time” is a slow, stripped down and sparse piano ballad that also brings on a nice keyboard orchestration. I also hear a slice of a Pink Floyd influence here and sure enough, references to Paradise Theatre shows up in this tune as well. It’s a decent track but to be frank, it really doesn’t make that much a fuss for me.
Leading single, ”Isle Of Misanthrope” starts out quiet and brittle on a sombre note with only a guitar, vocals and a background keyboard, slow, soft and held-back. When the band comes in, the song takes on a rhythmic groove with some upbeat rhythms and the soundscape becomes more bombastic and pompous with a cinematic atmosphere. It’s a prog-laden, six-minute, Styx-like number with mesmerizing melodies and a huge refrain. To say goodbye, DeYoung brings us a reworked version of Styx’s ”Grand Finale”, a big, pompous and bombastic AOR-pomp number with a colorful soundscape and a dramatic and uplifting arrangement, here retitled ”GIF”. What way to say goodbye and hello retirement for a guy like DeYoung could be better than this?
If DeYoung really is serious with quitting the music biz after this record, he has done so with his head held high because this record is terrific – and even though it is a sister-album to volume one, the songs on this one connected with me more than the last one did. It’s a more than a competent album in all aspects – it’s well-written, well-produced and well-performed by everyone involved and even though it’s pretty obvious what we’re about to be given here musically beforehand, the album still feels unpredictable as DeYoung & co. throws in different stuff whenever they feel like it, be it Pop, AOR, Hard Rock, Pomp, Prog or Classic Rock and it never feels forced or schizophrenic. I hope he rethinks his decision because it feels like there’s a lot more where this came inside of DeYoung – and yes, I too believe that a Styx reunion is in order.