Dennis DeYoung is seventy-three years of age.
Seriously, let that fact sink in. And then listen to his new solo album, 26 East. What you read on the page and what you hear with your ears simply bear no relation to one another at all as opening track East of Midnight parps away gloriously out of the speakers for all the world like something from Styx’s 1977 tour de force The Grand Illusion. Following on from his superb contributions to Jim Peterik’s World Stage album last year (and the former Survivor man returns the favour here), DeYoung would appear to be completely unaffected by his advancing years on 26 East, contributing a full album’s worth of uplifting, sometimes nostalgic but always entertaining classic rock that’ll have you alternately shaking a leg and wiping away a grateful tear that our hero is able to operate at this advanced level of brilliance when most people of his age are happy with community singing and bingo in their local care home.
Seriously, in these dark days of government-sponsored confinement and fear for the future, tracks like East of Midnight and the superb The Promise of This Land are just the sort of tonic jaded and frayed nerves require. The hard-rocking, riffy With All Respect savages the mainstream media and venal politicians of all persuasions with a humorous edge (although Dennis’s warnings about the creep of totalitarian puritanism, so chortleworthy when Kilroy Was Here was released in 1983, seem a little more pertinent thirty seven years later), whilst the darkly portentous tale A Kingdom Ablaze indulges DeYoung’s storytelling impulse in grandiose, bombastic fashion.
You My Love is a gorgeous fifties teen idol fantasia, another classic DeYoung ballad from a stable that already contains a fair few prize winning thoroughbreds and is fit to rub shoulders with all of them; next track Run For The Roses starts like something from a Broadway musical – as so much of DeYoung’s best material does – before exploding into an inspirational rocker with an earworm chorus you’ll find yourself replicating in all sorts of unexpected social settings. You have been warned…
The power and clarity with which DeYoung hits the closing note on …Roses reminds you in just what fine fettle the man is in, and then we head into the second half of the album with the classy pop-rock of Damn That Dream, which manages to fuse Bad Company, Foreigner and, improbably, The Little River Band into a neat four and a quarter minute package. It’s the only song on the album that’ll have you wondering what a bit of collaboration with former Styx bandmate Tommy Shaw might brought forth, but those feeling beat a retreat to the back of your mind as soon as the excellent Unbroken strikes up.
Another uplifting call for co-operation and community, Unbroken is a sumptuous piece of eighties-inspired pop rock – it’s the song that bears the biggest Peterik fingerprint on the record, as the Ides of March songwriting genius wrings every last drop of the spirit of Jackie DeShannon out of his trusty Les Paul to create five minutes of radio rock of true quality – but even this pales when compared to standout cut The Promise of This Land.
A quite superb slice of DeYoung at his pompous, theatrical best, The Promise of This Land is a tearjerking, lighter-toting paean to the American Dream in pomp rock form. DeYoung’s keyboards glitter and shimmer whilst the classic Styx-styled guitars propel the track forward to it’s tumescent climax (actually it’s quite reminiscent of Canadian prog also rans Zon, but that’s by-the-by) of massed voices backing Dennis as he testifies and outlines his vision of the future for his homeland. It’s hokey, yes – but it’s impossible not to get carried away by the wild-eyed commitment shown by all involved.
After that, To The Good Days can’t be anything but an anti climax; it’s a shame, because the song represents something of a high point for DeYoung personally as he duets with Julian Lennon on the Cheap Tricky track, a song Dennis wrote for Lennon especially. A short link back to 1981’s Paradise Theatre, A.D. 2020 ends the album causing another nostalgic tear to drop in salutation.
DeYoung has another album in the can, 26 East Volume 2, and even if it’s only half as good as this offering then our protagonist will end his storied, fifty-year plus career on a high. But for now just immerse yourself in this beautifully crafted piece of classic rock and enjoy every last second of it. It’s impossible not to, I can fully assure you…
26 EAST: Volume 1 will be released by Frontiers Music on May 22nd.