When Dennis DeYoung decided to retire, he hit upon the idea of one final, grand release that would recount his fifty years in the business with an autobiographical slant. Since Dennis rarely thought on a small scale and had always been blessed with a very theatrical voice, the idea of him taking his last curtain call with something resembling a musical about his life didn’t seem that silly. In fact, a big idea got even bigger with Jim Peterik’s help, and the planned final album had to be split into two volumes.
Beloved by many within the melodic rock community, Dennis De Young is someone worthy of being called a legend. His years spent recording with pomp rock legends Styx gave the world a handful of classic albums. His on/off solo career also brought big success in the US, with his 1983 album ‘Desert Moon’ being highly praised. He even wrote a musical based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In terms of a career, after fifty years, he’s pretty much done it all.
All good things must come to an end and with his ’26 East’, Dennis closes his half-century in the spotlight the best way he knows how. Few would have the balls to say goodbye with a double volume of autobiographical material (except, perhaps, Neal Morse), but DeYoung makes such an indulgent concept seem like a fitting epitaph.
The first Styx album (self-titled, 1972) is an overlooked slab of pomp rock. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but any band wishing to open their debut long player with a thirteen minute epic fusing hard rock with flourishes of Aaron Copland and what sounds like a conversation with a New York cabbie must have something, right? With that track, ‘Movement For The Common Man’, Styx announced their arrival in a typically grand style. The rest of the album, while nowhere near as complete sounding as 1977’s ‘Grand Illusion’ or as obviously song oriented as any of the albums from then onward, still makes for interesting listening decades after its original release. 1973’s ‘Styx II’, by contrast, is a more sedate affair – sedate in the world of early Styx means still very much still pompous and overblown – but, naturally, a bigger input from vocalist/pianist Dennis DeYoung, brought with it a much stronger element of musical theatre.
With these two records as a solid grounding, the band went all out for their next long player ‘The Serpent Is Rising’. Released in October 1973 – the third Styx LP to hit the shelves in just eighteen months – it has to be said, it has less of a focus than its predecessors. It doesn’t sound as if Styx had been tempted to use up leftover material though, rather more that this time out, the gloves were truly off. Coming from the days when bands were allowed to spend record company money (no matter how meagre a budget) while still very much on a learning curve, it sounds as if Styx intended to throw everything at this recording bar the kitchen sink to find out, once and for all, what styles worked for them…and which ones really didn’t.