When I was first asked to write the review for the new Joey Sykes album, "Classic New Rock", I knew very little about Mr. Sykes and the album itself. I knew he was the new guitar player of the reformed line-up of the legendary band The Babys (who once featured stars like Jonathan Cain from Journey, Ricky Phillips from Bad English and superb singer John Waite, who was big as a solo artist and was also a member of Bad English), who released their last album, “I’ll Have Some Of That!” in 2014. Joey was kind of unfamiliar to me, but once I accepted the task of reviewing his solo album I had the chance to get to know more about him, and then discover how great of a musician he man is. That got me really interested in the task then. Joey Sykes, guitarist, songwriter, producer and singer, is known for being a support musician, producer and contributor to so many big artists from so many different music styles and, most recently, for his work with The Babys, as it was said before.
Produced by Joey Sykes himself, “Classic New Rock” is a forty-two minute album (I miss shorter length albums like this one!) that consists of 13 tracks that show some great Joey Sykes's songwriting and performing skills that, at the same time, show us some great modern pop, melodic rock, mostly catchy songs, and take us back to the mid-80's, when soft rock was big and radio was worth listening to. It's a very well produced album, and right from the first very chords of the album opener "That's American Life" to its closer, "Just Like Us", one can tell why Joey Sykes finally put a solo album out - that's the chance for the world to get to know him for his talent on his own. To be honest, the album itself reminded me a lot of Candy (the first band that featured guitarist Gilby Clarke, known worldwide first for his stint in Guns N' Roses, and then as a solo artist, whose debut and only album was released in 1985). If I was Mr. Sykes, I would take it as a compliment, since that album was a masterpiece, even if it never really received the attention it deserved to get.
“Classic New Rock” still features such great artists playing all over the album, names such as Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks, Brad Paisley, Bob Dylan, Elton John,and many others), Josh Freese (Devo, The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, A Perfect Circle, Paul Westerberg, and more), Nate Morton (house drummer on THE VOICE, Tommy Henriksen, Paul Stanley, Madonna, Vanessa Carlton, Miley Cyrus, Cher), Tony Brock (The BABYS, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Barnes, Roy Orbison, Elton John, and many more), Alan Hertz (Scott Henderson Trio, Sons of Champlin, Will Champlin), Tony Morra (Killer Nashville session drummer), Arlan Schierbaum (Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart and more), Jamie Muhoberac ( Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Seal, Tommy Henriksen and more), Wally Stocker (The BABYS, Air Supply, FREE, Rod Stewart) and John Bisaha (The BABYS).
So, there you go an in-depth, track by track review (I guess I must have have read a little more than too much of the old Metal Edge Magazine album reviews back in the day, so you can blame it on them) of Joey Sykes’s new solo album “Classic New Rock”.
TRACK BY TRACK
01 - "That's American Life"
Such a great track to start the album with. It takes seconds to get its message: it's a radio friendly, catchy song with simple lyrics, a great arrangement and some great vocal harmonies. That's when we're first reminded of those great mid-80's American pop rock tunes that used to be huge on the radio. The sing-along chorus is also a plus. Such a great song, that makes those who cranked up the album curious about what is to come next. It was surely a great choice as one of the promo videos, actually its first one... It’s a nice video, you can watch it here:
02 - "I Go There"
It's another pop, melodic rock, radio friendly tune. The mid-tempo beat matches its great lyrics (which are "easy to swallow", simple, not cheesy in any way), music and melody just perfectly. There's an interesting guitar solo on it, making musicians out there long to know what gear and effects were used on it.
03 - "When Life Goes Right"
One of the best songs on the album, without a doubt. Another great mid-tempo song, with catchy and simple lyrics to match. Its sing-along chorus is just great, and the addition of more superb vocal harmonies and quite different sounding guitar licks makes "When Life Goes Right" way better than most ordinary pop, melodic rock songs. Joey Sykes really got it right on this one and, in my humble opinion, it should be one of the next videos / singles off the album.
04 - "Everything Must Go"
More of a "rocker" song, "Everything Must Go" differs drastically from the album’s previous ones. It's just as good, but now there's a real guitar driven song. It's a more modern sounding tune and, at the same time, it still has the already mentioned "pop" feel of the album, and it does rock harder than the others do. An "in your face" chorus with great lyrics to match. You'll find some serious vocal work and a short but shining and rocking guitar solo that just blows one's mind. Joey Sykes was smart enough when he also had it as a promo video. I actually thought it was a much better video than “That’s American Life” is. It’s more interesting and dynamic, and it shows more of John Sykes than its predecessor does. You can watch it on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ob6Qio_NbQ
05 - "Finish Line"
Once we rocked to "Everything Must Go", "Finish Line" brings us back to the album's pop, melodic rock, radio friendly style. It's another sing-along song, which has got intelligent lyrics and a great chorus. This song also shows some good and interesting guitar licks and a short but amazing guitar solo. It all fits just right. What also must be mentioned are the vocal harmonies on it. Another great track.
06 - "It Isn't Easy"
Here we have another great mid-tempo song, with great, beautiful lyrics, that once again makes one want to sing along to it. Just like the previous tracks off "Classic New Rock", it's got that "easy listening" feel, as if it was written to be played on the radio... God, do we miss the 80's rock radio!!! The emotional vocals and the simple, but great guitar solo on it
make "It Isn't Easy" one more of the top moments of the whole album.
07 - "Someone Like You"
Joey Sykes seems to never run out of good songs here. It's an awesome ballad, once again with great lyrics. I'm quite sure if this tune had been out by either 1985 or 1986, rock radio wouldn't have dared missing it. If you just close your eyes you can easily "watch an MTV classic video". Once again, emotional vocals and their accompanying harmonies, plus a short and beautiful guitar solo, seemed to be the formula followed by Mr. Sykes to come up with such a great song. No doubt that it's also got what it takes to be a future single and video.
08 - "Hide"
This one was clearly inspired by The Beatles. At the same time, it’s still a very modern sounding song. It’s a good pop rock tune with cool lyrics again, also featuring some great guitar licks and an interesting guitar solo – not that different from what has been done on the other album tracks. It’s got very nice harmonies as the other songs on the album, and a very interesting, and quite different bridge part. The sing-along chorus on “Hide” stills bets on the mid 80’s pop rock feel somehow, even though you can feel the intention of sounding like The Beatles all over this track.
09 - "In Case You Wanna Know"
Another great pop rock, melodic tune, which is so catchy that you can’t help singing along in less that forty seconds!!! The great vocal melodies are there again, and the fun lyrics seem to be intented for the listener to have a great time listening to it! “Just in case you wanna know, I miss you... I fucking miss you!” – great stuff!!! It’s got another short, but maybe one of the best guitar solos on the whole album. It’s also one of the tunes that can be considered as one of the whole album’s top moments.
10 - "He Never Cried"
The most serious and deep lyrics of the album on this one. A great and simple ballad, which has a meaningful and touching story. The accompanying music, basically made of keyboards and very little guitar work, is as simple as it can be, not taking the focus away from the lyrics at any moment. A very surprising track after all of the catchy, pop, party, melodic rock that precedes it. It’s going to be the next video to be shot to promote the album, and I really think no other song would be more appropriate... Well, I guess there’s nothing much left to say about this song. Just wonderful, surprising and another highlight off “Classic New Rock”. A masterpiece.
11 - "I Broke My Baby"
Here’s a more “alternative” song. Different from the rest of the album, I guess Joey lost the focus on what he had done so far on this one. OK, it was meant to be a “diverse” album, but once you listen to it, it does take you back to the mid-80’s pop rock style, which I have been talking about all the time throughout this review. It’s not a bad song, but it feels like a “filler” among so many great songs. It’s got a nice chorus and melody, but they simply seem to have lost the chance to make it any better, thanks to its strange vocal and guitar effects. As for the guitar solo, it’s also a short and simple one, but maybe it’s the best thing you’ll find here. Unfortunately, this song is far behind the other songs on the album, especially because it was placed there after the magnificent “He Never Cried”.
12 - "Go All The Way"
Thank God “Go All The Way” comes next! The rendition of this classic Raspberries’ song fits the album just perfectly, since it’s another simple, pop, melodic rock, radio friendly song. Such a classic song needs no real introduction or comments, and once you have it re-recorded, there’s nothing much you can do to make it even better. Joey seemed to have chosen to mantain the original feel of the song, which was a great idea. I really can’t think of this song being played with any other different arrangement. His version is amazingly good, showing some great lead vocals and also great harmonies to match them. It’s a song that is what is – a timeless pop rock anthem.
13 - "Just Like Us"
I really wonder why Joey Sykes decided to have such a great album with another “alternative” song. Yes, I wouldn’t call it “modern”, but “alternative”. Just like "I Broke My Baby", it seems as it is a “filler” among so many great tracks. It’s got an interesting chorus, but I guess it just doesn’t fit the album anyway either. The lyrics are good but, once again, the focus was lost. The effects on the vocals and guitars are so different from the ones used throughout the album that the sensation one has is that both this track and "I Broke My Baby" had been recorded for some other album or project, and ended up being included on “Classic New Rock” for some odd reason. Honestly, a disappointing ending for such a great album.
In short, “Classic New Rock” is a great album. A true tribute to the mid-80’s radio friendly pop, melodic rock songs that can be a big hit if it is well promoted, even though it contains a couple of tracks that just don’t fit. It’s got what it takes to be considered one of the best albums of the year so far.
Best tracks: "That's American Life", "When Life Goes Right", "Everything
Must Go", "Finish Line", "It Isn't Easy", "Someone Like You", “In Case You Wanna Know”, “He Never Cried” and “Go All The Way”.