John Sykes is one of the most important and gifted Hard Rock guitarists of the 1980s and at the same time a very underrated figure in the history of Rock as a whole.
The Reading-born guitarist has played in some of the best bands and produced some of the best songs of the 80s, but he rarely gets enough credit. You can’t understand Thin Lizzy’s swansong, 1983’s Thunder and Lightning, without his input. You can’t understand Whitesnake’s commercial, 1987’s self-titled album, without Sykes’ incredible song writing and blazing guitar work.
Add to that a memorable stint with Tygers of Pan Tang in the early eighties, a couple of truly wonderful albums in his own project, Blue Murder, and a very eclectic solo career and you have a musician who has a done a little bit of everything in the business and did all of that in a tremendously high level of quality.
Having said all that, Sykes didn’t release new music since his last solo album, 2000’s Nuclear Cowboys. And while he released samples of his upcoming solo work, Sy-Ops, back in 2015 and then the track list in 2017, we never got to hear the whole thing. At least until now.
On the first day of 2021, John Sykes released a lyric video for one of Sy-Ops’ songs, Dawning of a Brand New Day, which is the first single he has published so far. And it is also the first piece of original music he has released in 21 years.
The Englishman, like any other world class guitar player worth their salt, has a very distinct sound. And you only have to listen to the opening riff of this song to know what you already knew deep inside: this is John Sykes and he is finally back.
That crunching and straightforward riff puts you in the mood right from the get-go and it carries the song for certain periods of the five minutes it lasts. It is one of my personal highlights of the song and it shows that Sykes is still in peak shape as a guitarist.
It is also worth pointing out the band accompanying him, who are bassist Tony Franklin (who was also Sykes’ bandmate at Blue Murder) and drummer Fred Boswell Jr.–two exceptional musicians in their own right and they provide personality and consistency as a rhythm base in this particular song.
Another high point is certainly John’s vocals. A singer’s voice is definitely the hardest part to maintain at a good level as you get older, but here he sounds just as good as he did in his Blue Murder days and that must due to the rest he had by not touring for such a long time. He delivers the lines with melody, charisma and personality, with a tone that is has become quite characteristic, especially if you have followed his solo career.
Perhaps the biggest dealbreaker in Dawning of a Brand New Day is that, production-wise, Sykes tinkers a bit with more modern elements and it gives the song a slight digital feel to it that, at least from my perspective, takes away some of the appeal.
I get it, Sykes already stated in the past that he wanted to add a few modern influences in Sy-Ops, so it’s not like is unexpected. But it can be something that might be an issue for some of his long-term fans and the people that just want him to kick ass doing the brand of organic and natural Hard Rock he is known for.
But in terms of songwriting, this tune is great, digital elements or no digital elements. You only need to listen to the albeit-short guitar solo to know that Sykes really put heart and effort in this song, showing that he is not here to just make another album. And that is encouraging in a day and age where people need good music and a good message more than ever.
Overall, Dawning of a Brand New Day is a nice appetizer to John Sykes’ upcoming album and a reminder of the gifted songwriter, singer and guitarist that he is. And I can’t wait to listen to the rest of the album.