BGO Records

REVIEW: Tommy Shaw – What If (1985)

TOMMY SHAW – What If (1985 A&M, 2013 BGO Records)

Tommy Shaw’s second solo album What If didn’t have a big hit like Girls With Guns.  It did have some solid if lesser known songs.  Production wise, the edges are a little sharper.

Hot opener “Jealousy” boasts a cool sax solo, and a memorable chorus beefed up with soulful backing vocals.  Second up, “Remo’s Theme” is from the movie Remo Williams, a forgotten film with a decent lead song.  Unfortunately the drums have that electronic gate that indicates samples, but fits the 80s vibe of “Remo’s Theme”.  It sounds like a Miami Vice episode waiting to happen.

Shaw goes for the dusky nightclub scene with “Reach for the Bottle”.  Songs can paint pictures, and this one is made for drinking.  The electro-funk of “Friendly Advice” however just reeks.  Musicians would slap me and point to it as a high point of sheer playing ability, but I’m holding my nose over here.  It gets better on “This is Not a Test”, still lodged deep in the 80s but in a good way.  The subject matter is right out of 1985:  the threat of nuclear war!  This was a popular subject in the 80s, just ask Ozzy.

The second side opened with “See Me Now”, an inspirational energising tune, carefully composed like…layers of gouda on a cheese sandwich.  Dig?  It tastes good, but too much is probably not good for you.  “True Confessions” is similarly a pop guilty pleasure.  God that drum sound is awful!  Moving on, “Count on You” has a Floydian (80s of course) ballad vibe, with more of that tasty sax.  “Nature of the Beast” is another ballad with terrific melodies and more of them drum samples.  Finally “Bad Times” ends the album with a “good time” song.  Loads of saxophone,  upbeat hooks, and less obtrusive drums.

What If is not a bad album, but some the production gets to way too clunky on some tracks.  When it’s played closer to rock and roll, the basic instruments, it works far better.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns (1984)

TOMMY SHAW – Girls With Guns (1984 A&M, 2013 BGO Records)

When Styx split, both Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung were quick to release solo albums.  All we had to judge them by was their new singles.  Dennis came out of the gates with a ballad (“Desert Moon”).  As 12 year old kids in 1984, we took no interest in what Dennis was doing. Tommy Shaw, on the other hand, had a bright pop rocker called “Girls With Guns”.  It was loud, fun and featured a great music video all done in a single take.  Neither song sounded like Styx, but “Girls With Guns” sounded more like what we were into.

Dennis’ album outsold Tommy’s, but Tommy’s rocks better.

The title track is of course the main feature.  Dated with 80s keyboards or not, it is still a great song.  This was proven by Tommy when he performed it acoustically without the keys.  It’s just rock with joy, and a great beat.

“Come In and Explain” has a progressive Styx vibe and easily could have worked in that context.  Instead, it’s a great Tommy Shaw solo track.  It has a blue collar groove but highbrow keyboards.  Another great song is the ballad “Lonely School”.  It has a classic sound, albeit a cheesy classic sound.  The album alternates between cool and corny, and some songs that straddle the line.  There’s nothing dreadful.

This CD was a “holy grail” item of mine for years, but was reissued in 2013 as a remastered double CD with Shaw’s second album What If.  The CD also features two extended songs, presumably because vinyl couldn’t hold the full length.  Glad to have Girls With Guns in my collection, though I won’t be racing to play it every week.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Caught in the Act – Live (1984)

For Deke’s review at Arena Rock, click here!

 

STYX – Caught in the Act – Live (1984 A&M, 2018 BGO reissue)

“Hey everybody it’s Music Time!”

Sorta, anyway!  Styx were just about toast after “Mr. Roboto“, and Tommy Shaw didn’t want to sing any more songs about androids.  (Mars, however, was fine.)  He departed to check out some Girls With Guns, but not before Styx put out one more product before hiatus.  That would be the traditional double live album, which was actually Styx’s first.

Styx have lots of live albums now, but only two with Dennis DeYoung.  Caught in the Act is essential for a few key reasons.  It sounds great although there are clearly overdubs in places.  It is the only one with the classic lineup of DeYoung/Shaw/James “JY” Young/Chuck Panozzo/John Panozzo.  And it has plenty of classic Styx songs that still shake the radio waves today.

Like many live albums, Caught in the Act contained one new song.  Dennis DeYoung wrote the uppity “Music Time”, a very New Wave single without much of the punch of old Styx.  Shaw was so nauseated that he barely participated in the music video.  “Music Time” isn’t one of Styx’s finest songs.  It’s passable but clearly a misstep.  No wonder it was a final straw of sorts for Tommy Shaw.

With that out of the way, on with the show.  Styx opened the set with “Mr. Roboto”, a mega hit that got a bad rap over the years until nostalgia made it OK to like it again.  Fortunately only two songs from Kilroy Was Here were included, the ballad “Don’t Let It End” being the other.  Live, “Roboto” pulses with energy, far more than you would expect.  The disco-like synthetic beats complement the techno-themed lyrics.  Every hook is delivered with precision.  With the human factor that comes out in a live recording, “Roboto” could be one of those songs that is actually better live.

Styx have always been a diverse act, and this album demonstrates a few sides of the band.  Shaw and Young tended to write rockers, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Miss America”, “Snowblind”, “Rockin’ the Paradise” and especially “Blue Collar Man” are prime examples of the best kind.  Long nights, impossible odds…yet a killer set of rock tunes.  Then there are the ballads.  “Babe” is a slow dancing classic, and “The Best of Times” is even better.  Finally, the tunes that verge on progressive epics: “Suite Madame Blue”, “Crystal Ball” and “Come Sail Away” have the pompous complexity that punk rockers hated so much.  This album is a shining live recreation of some of rock’s most beloved music.

The 2018 CD reissue on BGO Records sounds brilliant with depth, and has a nice outer slipcase.  You’ll also get a nice thick full colour booklet with photos and an essay that goes right up to 2017’s The Mission.  BGO is a well known, respected label.  This reissue is a must.

4.5/5 stars