Style: Melodic Rock
Release Date: 20 May 2020
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Dennis DeYoung is a name you may not have heard but I'd be shocked indeed if you haven't heard his voice but wouldn't instantly recognise it if given the chance. Trivia fans will chime in here that he was the lead singer for Styx for almost thirty years and it's his voice that you'll hear on most of their songs, including the most famous ones. What people may not know is that he's released a bunch of solo albums since leaving Styx and this is the first one he's put out in thirteen years.
I'm in two minds about it for reasons I'll get to but, when it works for me, it really works for me, which especially means the first three songs.
The opener, for example, East of Midnight, is easily as slick and catchy as any top ten Styx hit. They had eight of those and it isn't any coincidence that he wrote seven of them. This one is up there with any of them and, if it hasn't been released as a single already, I really couldn't explain why. They don't make commercial AOR any better than this. The only rule it breaks is to be a sliver over five minutes long. That's a radio station no no for a song like this, which ought to wrap up in four at the most.
With All Due Respect is sassy. A quirky intro leads into some real attitude, of the sort that we might not expect from a melodic rocker in his seventies who can't be hurting in the wallet. It's an acerbic and mildly profane look at the state of US politics today without ever being partisan. "With all due respect, you don't deserve no damn respect," he tells American politicians of both political parties and the pundits who prop them up too. It's clever and appropriate and it amused me to realise that the main melody is Unskinny Bop by Poison, as vapid a song as could be compared to this.
Frankly, though, it's A Kingdom Ablaze that grabbed me first and hardest, as it's a gift that keeps on giving. There's a lot to unpack in this song. It's not as immediate or as catchy as East of Midnight and it doesn't grab us by the balls like With All Due Respect, but it's surely the real masterpiece on this album. It takes everything DeYoung has done in the past and brings it neatly up to date without losing any of what worked.
The inevitable catch, as you might be expecting now, is that songs like You My Love and Run for the Roses inherently fade in comparison. Both are good songs, mixing melodic rock with a theatrical mindset that could see them in a Broadway show, but they're simpler and more straightforward and A Kingdom Ablaze is a lot more than that without ever once seeming like it's being too ambitious.
And, frankly, the rest of the album follows suit. There isn't a bad song on this album, but the only song outside the first three that isn't as tethered to the Broadway stage as to a rock album is Damn That Dream. This is another punchy potential single, even before the fingersnaps show up. DeYoung gives an eighties AOR vocal but his band are playing seventies glam rock and that mix works really well.
But, as appropriate as DeYoung would be as a Broadway show songwriter, that just isn't my thing. When The Promise of This Land starts like a showtune, I have to acknowledge how well he performs to piano accompaniment with swells from the orchestra, but it's not my thing. My thing is when the band arrives well over a minute in and gets prog, just to confuse us, with keyboards and guitars and the works.
So this is good stuff and it's often incredibly good stuff, but only half of it is really what I want to hear. But that's me and it might not be you. I'm giving this a 7/10 because the four songs I dig are fantastic and I realise the quality of the rest but, if you love Styx and you dig showtunes too, you need to add at least another point to that, if not two.
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