BGO's 2013 two-fer contains Dennis DeYoung's first two solo albums: 1984's Desert Moon and its 1986 sequel, Back to the World. Released in the wake of Styx's dissolution, Desert Moon is a grand attempt to establish Dennis DeYoung as a major solo star in his own right. With the title track, a glorious power ballad in the vein of "Don't Let It End" that showcases every aspect of DeYoung's wide range, he seemed poised to conquer the charts, and the song did deservedly crack Billboard's Top 10. The rest of the record, though, shows the perils of DeYoung's penchant for theatricality. Where most rockers' conception of concept rock derives from some form of serious art, DeYoung is a devotee of the Great White Way. He loves to put on a show, to rouse a crowd and strut on the stage. His song-and-dance routine is in full flower throughout Desert Moon, whether he's exhorting listeners "Don't Wait for Heroes" (chorus: "don't wait for heroes/Do it yourself/You've got the power/Winners are losers/Who got up and gave it one more try"), jazzing up Hendrix's "Fire," mincing through a horrific fusion of new wave, arena rock, and doo wop on "Boys," and diving headfirst into a duet with Rosemary Butler on "Please," a song that makes Meat Loaf seem subtle. Some of these ideas are tied to the '70s but Desert Moon is very, very '80s -- all thundering drums, clanking synths, glassy electric pianos, and overdriven guitars. The first side contains the rockers, the second the ballads and pop tunes, and, although it can get sticky on sentiment and often rides a bouncy, dorky beat, overall, the B-side is the better of the two because it showcases DeYoung the pop singer. Nothing is as glorious as "Desert Moon," but that's a song that justifies an entire album.
Back to the World opens up with "This Is the Time," aka the "Theme to Karate Kid II," its very existence suggesting what exactly went right and wrong on Desert Moon. DeYoung's solo debut brought him enough success that he could score the theme song to a sequel, so there wasn't much reason to change his approach -- indeed, most of the same people on Desert Moon return for Back to the World, including guitarist Tom Dziallo -- but the fact that he scored with a ballad, not a rocker, means he ramps up his schmaltzy side on this sophomore set. Even when it rocks, which is primarily on the second side, there's a bit of razzmatazz that seems all the more overblown when it's filtered through stacks of synthesizers. This does result in some bad decisions on DeYoung's part, the worst being the down-home blues harp that begins the robotic rocker "Southbound Ryan" -- an ode to Chicago that contains the lyrics "I shouted rock & roll/I saw a monkey steal the show" and sounds as if it was designed for a dream Beverly Hills Cop II -- but the Broadway-bound "Person to Person" isn't far behind, either. "Unanswered Prayers," a small-scale reworking of "Desert Moon" that is thankfully graced by synthesized electric sitars, winds up being the highlight but this record distills every bad mainstream production idea of 1986 and sets it to songs so scrupulously sculpted in melody, they're not catchy.