John Panozzo

REVIEW: Styx – Edge of the Century (1990)

STYX – Edge of the Century (1990 A&M, 2019 BGO remaster)

Kilroy Was Here seemed to be the end of Styx.  Although the album went platinum, it was also divisive.  The band were fractured and the tour was difficult.  Members did not enjoy playing characters on stage.  Was this a rock band or was it Broadway?  Styx split up in ’84, with members embarking on new projects.  Dennis DeYoung did moderately well with his solo debut Desert Moon, and Tommy Shaw had a fairly big hit with Girls With Guns.  James “JY” Young went in another direction on his own City Slicker album with Jan Hammer.  For all intents and purposes, Styx spent the second half of the 80s completely defunct.

In 1990 two interesting things occurred.  First, Tommy Shaw formed a supergroup with Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and Ted Nugent called Damn Yankees.  They came out of the gates with a surprising self-titled hit album that didn’t particularly sound like Styx, Night Ranger or Ted Nugent.  But it spawned a couple hit singles and went double platinum.  When Styx reunited at the same time, it was without Tommy Shaw.  Styx would never record with the classic lineup again.

The Styx reunion we got in 1990 was, frankly, not the Styx reunion we deserved.  A new guitarist, songwriter and singer would be needed and he arrived in the form of solo artist Glen Burtnik.  He was only slightly younger than Shaw, but brought in a modern edge.  He was able to sing Tommy’s high parts, and could write.  The first single, “Love is the Ritual”, was written by Burtnik and partner Plinky Giglio with no other members of Styx contributing.  Clearly, they were trying to turn a page and appeal to a new younger generation, and make people forget all about “Mr. Roboto”, or that dreaded “progressive rock” tag.

The new album was titled Edge of the Century and produced by Dennis, now in control of Styx.  Even so, “Love is the Ritual” sounds like a Winger reject, with full-on Beau Hill production.  You’d never guess it was Styx, and one suspects this is why it was chosen as the lead single.  It was also the first track on the album.

Leading the new album with a song featuring a new unfamiliar singer was a risky move.  The turgid track is a clone of Winger’s “Can’t Get Enuff” and features some stinky synth bass.  The faux-funk of the rhythm track is unpalatable, and only a hint of Dennis DeYoung on backing vocals indicates that this song has anything to do with Styx.  They’re barely in their own music video.  Almost as bad are the cringey lyrics.

The song that should have opened the album, “Show Me the Way”, was a legitimate hit.  A church-like ballad with soaring chorus, it struck a chord with Americans during the first Gulf War.  It has the sound of a true Styx classic and fits well with past ballads.  Dennis is a remarkable songwriter and the chorus on this track is just legendary.

Edge of the Century tends to be remembered for “Show Me the Way”, but good Styx-like material is still buried within.  Burtnik’s back on the title track, but this infectious hard rocker does sound more like Styx.  It fits that slot like a classic Tommy Shaw rocker.  The wicked riff is as memorable as the catchy chorus.

The songs alternate from Glen to Dennis, and DeYoung’s ballad “Love At First Sight” is a traditional 80s power ballad with chiming keyboards.  It sounds exactly like every other power ballad from 1990, but at least it is a good one.  It was the third single and did OK on the charts.

One mark of a good Styx album is a decent acoustic song, and Glen Burtnik has “All In a Day’s Work” for that necessity.  It’s just acoustic guitar, vocals, some keyboards and Dennis’ accordion.  Very Styxian, especially when they sing together.

The second side opens with a traditional rock n’ roller, “Not Dead Yet”, which is a song by a chicago artist named Ralph Covert, sung by Dennis.  It’s DeYoung’s first rocker on the album, and it’s leather jacket cool.  Burtnik’s back on “World Tonite”, the cheesiest song on the album.  This generic rocker with it’s “Girls wanna dance, boys wanna fight” lyric is pretty awful.  Parts of it verge on rap.  Its only saving grace is the harmonica that periodically blasts through.  In no universe would anybody say “That sounds like Styx to me.”

Dennis is really good at ballads, and “Carrie Ann” is surprisingly strong.  Like another “Babe”, it has a strong chorus and memorable hooks.  Did “Babe” need a sequel?  It matters not; “Carrie Ann” is pretty good for what it is.  We’ve had a few ballads now, and an acoustic song, but have you noticed what is missing so far?  James “JY” Young.  He does not check in until the second-to-last tune, “Homewrecker”.  It is a Quiet Riot-like rocker (similar to “Run For Cover”), and unsurprisingly the hardest rocker on the album.  JY was overdue.  That fact that you can really only feel his presence on this one track is one of the major weaknesses to Edge of the Century.  However, they try to make up for it with with a smokin’ guitar solo, and a killer keyboard break from Dennis too.  “Homewrecker” may be derivative but JY hasn’t rocked out this hard on a Styx album since “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” back in ’81.  It’s over all too soon.

Edge of the Century is still missing one key Styx ingredient, and they save it for last:  something big and pompous and overblown.  That is “Back to Chicago”.  Air-shaking blasts of horns and clarinet accompany a huge broadway-ready chorus.  It’s hard to imagine when you start this album on “Love is the Ritual” that you will end it on something as different as “Back to Chicago”.  Styx albums albums are often diverse, with heavy riff rockers butting up against pretentious set pieces.  But they’ve always been cohesive.  By the end of Edge of the Century, any thought of cohesiveness are out the window.  Although the same five guys plays on all 10 songs, it sounds like two or three separate bands.

Edge of the Century is like a lost Styx album.  The band split after a short tour, with the album going Gold but no further.  Due to the sad passing of drummer John Panozzo, this lineup could never exist again.  Styx reunited in 1995 (with Shaw), but they stopped playing “Show Me the Way” when Dennis was let go in 1999.  “Love is the Ritual” continued to be played live when Burtnik was in the band again (on bass filling in for Chuck Panozzo) from 1999-2003.

Fortunately, the album can be acquired remastered in a fine reissue on BGO Records, paired in a 2 CD set with The Grand Illusion.  The reissue includes the original lyrics and liner notes, along with an essay detailing Styx history.

3/5 stars

Sunday Chuckle Screening: Styx – “Love is the Ritual” (1990)

In 1990, Styx reunited — but without Tommy Shaw. Busy with Damn Yankees, Shaw would have to be replaced. And, let’s face it, it always seemed like most of the Styx friction was between Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung. Needing someone to fill Tommy’s “Shooz”, they recruited young singer/songwriter/guitarist Glen Burtnik.

The DeYoung/Young/Burtnik/Panozzo/Panozzo lineup produced one album, Edge of the Century. It was heralded by lead single “Love is the Ritual”, a decidedly un-Styx-like attempt to break into the 1990 rock market after a seven year absence.

You could mistake it for Winger. With Burtnik front and center, Styx take a back seat in their own music video. Dennis is rarely seen, only needed when there’s a “Hey!” backing vocal.  Glen fronts the band with microphone in hand — no guitar. If ever there was a music video built to appeal to the young while trying to hide the age or identity of the band, it is “Love is the Ritual”. The clip is padded out with shots of women and a Fabio-like dude. Truly an awful video, and an embarrassing attempt to grab the brass ring one more time.

REVIEW: Styx – Cornerstone (1979, coloured vinyl reissue)

STYX – Cornerstone (Originally 1979 A&M, 2020 Universal red vinyl reissue – limited to 1000 copies)

With Cornerstone, Styx were on their fourth album in their most successful incarnation:  Dennis DeYoung, James Young, Tommy Shaw, and Chuck & John Panozzo.  Shaw was the newest member and a fierce creative force in songwriting, on guitar, and with his own lead vocals.  Styx had a string of hits with this lineup including Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, and Pieces of EightCornerstone would be their biggest yet.  Though imperfect, it’s loaded with memorable songs and dynamite performances from the poppy-pretentious-prog-rock quintet.

What a terrific song “Lights” still is, with that big fat keyboard lick and Tommy Shaw’s delicate lead vocal.  You can hear why the punk rockers sought to eradicate the likes of Styx and their contemporaries.  But Cornerstone went to #2 in the album charts, and “Lights” was one of the singles released in Europe.  It’s a song about performing on stage, something that most of us will never be able to relate to.  But there’s something in its sincerity that is just charming.  “Give me the lights, precious lights, give me lights.  Give me my hope, give me my energy.”

Another single follows called “Why Me” (which wasn’t intended to be a single, but we’ll get into that).  A head-bopping light rock delight.  One of those tracks where you say, “Yeah, decent song.”  You might forget about it later; you might forget which album it’s on.  But it’s cool, especially when a blistering saxophone solo hits the speakers.

The big hit is in the third slot:  legendary power ballad “Babe”, Styx’s only #1.  Its strength is its pure corniness.  Surely, it must have been corny in 1979 too.  Yet a word comes back to me – “sincerity”.  Dennis DeYoung sounds completely sincere singing, “Babe, I love you,” like he means it.  Indeed as I research the album, “Babe” was written for Dennis’ wife.  You can hear it.  And if I was writing a song for my wife, you’d find it corny too.

A natural follow up to this Dennis-fest is a solid Tommy Shaw rocker called “Never Say Never”.  One of those album tracks that couldn’t stand on its own as a single, but has a perfect slot on side one after the big ballad.  That is an important slot for any rock band’s side one.  You have to get the blood pumping and the circulation back into the extremities with something that has some pep.  Because before you know it, the side will be done.

And side one closes on an epic:  Tommy’s mandolin-inflected “Boat on a River”.  Shaw on mandolin, guitar and autoharp.  Dennis on accordion, Chuck Panozzo on double bass with a bow.  Although fully acoustic with no electric, “epic” is the best word to describe it.  Perhaps it is a precursor to the the current popular “sea shanty” trend.  Well, Styx did one in 1979.

Side two kicks off with a blast:  “Borrowed Time”.  It’s amusing to hear Dennis start the song by saying, “Don’t look now, here comes the 80s!”  But this fun romp will be almost completely forgotten when you are suffocated by “First Time”, one of the most syrupy ballads ever foisted upon us.  Too syrupy, though the string section is a nice touch.  And it would have been the second single, had Tommy Shaw not objected.  “Babe” was a smash, and so “First Time” was selected to follow it.  Tommy expressed concern at two ballads in a row for the first two singles, and threatened to quit the band over it.  Things got so nasty that Dennis DeYoung was briefly fired and then re-hired over the issue.  And thus “Why Me” was chosen as second single instead.  Probably for the best…though you never know.

What do we need now?  A James Young rocker!  “Eddie” is his sole writing and singing credit on Cornerstone.  And it rocks hard, James pushing the upper register of his voice.  You wanna talk deep cuts, well “Eddie” is one of the best.  Interestingly it’s also one of those songs where the verses are slightly better than the choruses.

The closing slot on Cornerstone is left to Tommy Shaw’s “Love in the Midnight”, an interesting choice, echoing the side one closer when it opens acoustically.  It is the most progressive of the songs, featuring an absolutely bonkers Dennis keyboard solo and suitably gothic “ahh-ahh-ahh” backing vocals within a section with odd timing.  Things get heavy and punchy.  Definitely going out with a bang and not a whimper on this one.

This transparent vinyl reissue looks and sounds nice. It’s a gatefold sleeve with lyrics, pictures, and moustaches.  Not as cheap as buying a vintage vinyl or CD…just a lot nicer to look at.

4/5 stars

 

 

Just Listening to…Styx – The Serpent is Rising

Just Listening to…Styx – The Serpent is Rising

For Christmas this year, my beautiful wife bought me not one, not two, not three, but four Styx albums!  This was easier than it sounds, because 1) I have an Amazon wishlist, and 2) the first four Styx albums were handily reissued together in a 2CD set called The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings.  I hadn’t heard any of these albums in full before Christmas.  All four albums were quite good, but the third, The Serpent is Rising, was especially intriguing to me.

I played the four albums in order, recognising a few songs and absorbing others for the first time.  After two full albums and over an hour of progressive rock, I was struck by a song so odd that I had to remove my headphones and check my computer to see what was going on.  Did a Youtube video somehow start playing in the background?  What I was hearing…did not sound like what I had heard!

Would you believe that way back in 1973, Styx were playing around with hidden tracks on albums?  On CD, the track came up with the name “As Bad as This”, written and sung by guitarist John Curulewski.  It is a low, bluesy lament, contrasting some of other more complex songs like “The Grove of Eglantine”.  When “As Bad as This” comes to a close, the last thing you’d expect to follow is a song about plexiglas toilets.

“Don’t sit down on de plexiglas toilet, said the mama to her son.  Wipe the butt clean with the paper, make it nice for everyone.”  All done acoustically in a really bad Caribbean accent.  I am not joking.  The hidden track “Plexiglas Toilet” is over two minutes of pure silliness.  I admit that I love it; it fits my sense of humour.  But this never, ever, ever should been on a progressive rock album!  How?  Why?  And it’s right smack in the middle!  It sits at the very end of side two of The Serpent is Rising!

Toilets aside, The Serpent is Rising is otherwise a pretty strong Styx album.   They were getting more diverse record by record, and their chops kept getting better.  Depending on the kind of Styx you like, the best song could be “Winner Take All” for its pop choruses, or the prowlin’ “Witch Wolf”.  But they really didn’t have a direction yet.  There’s rock, pop, blues, weird spoken bits, plexiglas toilets, and Handel’s Messiah.

The album is not cohesive at all, but a lovely gift it is!

Side one
1. “Witch Wolf” 3:57
2. “The Grove of Eglantine” 5:00
3. “Young Man” 4:45
4. “As Bad as This”
a. “As Bad as This” – 3:45
b. “Plexiglas Toilet” (Hidden Track) – 2:22

Side two
1. “Winner Take All” 3:10
2. “22 Years” 3:39
3. “Jonas Psalter” 4:41
4. “The Serpent Is Rising” 4:55
5. “Krakatoa” 1:36
6. “Hallelujah Chorus” 2:14

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

 

 

REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

REVIEW: Styx – Equinox (1975)


 

Scan_20151129STYX – Equinox (1975 A&M)

My first purchase from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto Again…Again to be reviewed. Bought at BMV on Bloor for $5.99 in excellent shape.

A few years ago I picked up the pretty damn fine Styx 2 CD compilation Come Sail Away. Since that time I pledged to pick up old Styx studio albums on CD, if found used or cheap. Equinox is now the oldest found I’ve acquired. After recording four albums for Wooden Nickel records, Styx finally signed with a major label. A&M released their fifth: Equinox. It was however also their last album with original guitarist John Curulewski, a major songwriting contributor to the early albums. The Styx story continued with them moving from strength to strength and discovering a kid named Tommy Shaw out of Alabama. Shaw picked up the ball and helped Styx finish their touring commitments for Equinox.

When I was younger and not really paying attention to the lyrics, I assumed “Light Up” meant something about stage lights, perhaps lighting up the stage for a show. As an adult, I am convinced that Styx were actually corrupting the youth! Opening the album with a progressive salvo of heavy guitars and spacey keys, it quickly transitions into a celebration. “Light up and be happy, sweet sweet sounds will fill the air,” sings Dennis De Young innocently enough. Dennis seems to imply he’s singing about a sipping a glass of wine, but then: “All I need is just one hit to get me by, ‘Cause baby when you’re near I’m halfway high.” I see what you’re saying, Dennis, you rascal. A great happy-go-lucky tune, “Light Up” is just fun. But then “Lorelei” turns up the rock. This time Dennis is corrupting America by inviting a woman to live with him, pre-marriage I assume! “Lorelei let’s live together!” John Curulewski and James Young bring with them a hint of a southern rock twang in the leads (think the Eagles). Dense, immaculately arranged and lush, “Lorelei” is pure classic rock fun. On the progressive side, Dennis’ synth and organs take center stage on “Mother Dear”, a co-write with Curulewski who punctuates it with heavy chords. Fans of space rock will love this trippy journey into the sonic spectrum. “Lonely Child” starts as an acoustic number, heavying-up as it goes. Twangy space guitars are the highlight. These four songs together are a great side, a good balance between the cerebral and the hard.

I still like to think of classic albums in terms of sides, so this is where I got up to make some fresh coffee. Good thing too, because “Midnight Ride” could not be more different. It’s clearly a James Young song, a pure rock blaze through the night going over the speed limit. Put the caffeine right into my veins, man, this is groovy shit and Styx can rock you harder than you expect. Dennis’ role is limited to backing vocals, albeit stunning ones!

“Born For Adventure” combines the different sides of Styx. You get the rocking guitars and the progressive bent, with the pompous arrangement and smoking musicianship. Then, Curulewski is solely responsible for “Prelude 12”, the acoustic part that introduces the album closing epic, “Suite Madame Blue”. Six and a half minutes of bombastic Styx will drive almost every punk rocker out of the room. In many regards, this is a high water mark. It’s their “Stairway”. Their “Hotel California”. It lacks nothing and continues to impress, 40 years later!

John Curulewski died in 1988, of a brain aneurysm. After Equinox, he decided to step out of the spotlight and ran a recording studio while playing with several local Chicago bands. Shaw took his place and the band has never looked back, but we’ll dedicate this review to John Curulewski who was a crucial part the Styx story.

4.5/5 stars

Scan_20151129 (2)

DVD REVIEW: Styx – 20th Century Masters: The Video Collection (2004)

STYX – 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection (2004 Universal)

These 20th Century Masters DVDs were a fun way to pick up key music videos from major bands at a cheap price.  Today this role is largely filled by sites such as YouTube.  The Styx edition features six of their cheesy best, and Styx did indeed make some cheesy music videos back in the day.  There are no frills and no extras, just the vids, so let’s have a look.

Tommy Shaw’s “Blue Collar Man” is a rock staple with cool lyrics.  This is a live version, and because of the big KILROY backdrop, I’m assuming this is from the Styx Caught in the Act DVD.  I love the 80’s clothes although the haircuts haven’t changed as much as you’d think.  The best part of this video is watching the late John Panozzo flailing away on drums, a sight that Styx fans certainly miss.

Thankfully, “Come Sail Away” is not live:  it is the cheesy original.  A bearded Dennis DeYoung croons and tinkles, hair highlighted by the spotlights.  John Panozzo’s afro can be seen bobbing over the drum kit, before Shaw and James Young kick in with the chords.  The band dressed in white appear to glow on stage, and it’s a gloriously terrible music video.  Things like this have kitsch value to me.  “Too Much Time On My Hands” is also the original, and this is just indescribably bad, so I’ll just present you these still photos to show you what I mean.  It’s pretty hilarious.  Fortunately it’s a good song!

“The Best of Times” is among my favourite Styx songs, in fact I had it played at my wedding reception. Judging by Dennis’ sparkly vest, it’s from the same video shoot as “Too Much Time On My Hands”.  It has some of the same camp value, but without the embarrassing “acting” scenes.  But damn, isn’t this a great song?  Shaw’s “Boat On a River” is also excellent.  Tommy plays mandolin, while bassist Chuck Panozzo weilds a big stand-up double bass.  DeYoung’s on accordion, mustachioed instead of bearded.  The folksy tune has always struck me as very Queen-like.

Finally, “Mr. Roboto” closes the DVD, as it must.  Taking scenes from Styx’s short Kilroy Was Here film, it depicts Jonathan Chance (Tommy Shaw) searching for imprisoned rock star Kilroy (Dennis DeYoung).  Kilroy is seen attacking a “Roboto” prison guard and thereafter making his escape wearing the mask of the robot.   It’s a nifty little sci-fi music video, something I’m a huge sucker for.  “Mr. Roboto” is still a great memorable song with a cool little video.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Kilroy Was Here (1983)

“I am the modren man…”

STYX FRONT

STYX – Kilroy Was Here (1983 A&M Records)

I was just 11 years old when I first heard of Kilroy.

Allan Runstedtler at school had it first.  He was always talking about it…this cool song called “Mr. Roboto”.  This album where the songs all told a story.  It had robots in it, it was an album with pictures and a story…not unlike those Star Wars story soundtracks we used to listen to.  In hindsight it seems obvious that Kilroy Was Here was my gateway drug to rock music.

I went over to Allan’s house, with my little Fisher-Price mono tape deck, as he put Kilroy Was Here on the hi-fi.  I hit “record” and we all quietly left the living room…so as to not disturb the open air recording.  Only once did we step downstairs, but this was only to flip sides on the LP and cassette.

You can see why it was so appealing.  The robots didn’t look that dissimilar from the childhood classic film The Black Hole, plus there were robot vocals on the song, but it wasn’t guitar heavy or threatening.  It was catchy though, “Mr. Roboto” being the song that hooked us in.  We had the lyrics completely memorized (the handy lyric sheet was a revelation to us) and could sing any part of the song by heart.

With the benefit of hindsight, “Mr. Roboto” todays sounds quaint, a harmless boppy synth radio hit nothing like the Styx that emerged onto the scene over a decade earlier.  Dennis DeYoung’s vocals are all spellbinding as ever, the man as identifiable on this as he was on “Lady”.  Where’s the guitars from Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young?  I’m really not sure.  There are a few things here and there, fuzzy buzzy melodies that might well be guitars.  Only once in a while in the course of a 5-minute-plus song can you really hear any sort of instrument that wasn’t programmed or played with keys!

Tommy’s “Cold War” was another upbeat one we liked as kids, and yes you can hear some guitar in the intro and chorus.  There’s even a solo!  Otherwise, it’s just a dreadful synth pop piece, with loads of those annoying synth-claps and other assorted sounds that are supposed to sound like percussion.  Tommy plays a character named Jonathan Chance on this album, and “Cold War” reads like a manifesto from that character.

STYX INNER

The album came with a story, so it was quite easy to break it down and figure out what was happening.  It’s a dystopian tale, and the setting is…”the future”. Dr. Righteous (James Young) has risen to power, using a clever manipulation of media and government.  Rock N’ Roll music…is banned!  Robert Kilroy (DeYoung), a legendary rock musician, is jailed for a murder he did not commit.  But Jonathan Chance (Shaw), a young rebel hoping to bring back Rock N’ Roll, is using Kilroy’s image and music as a rallying cry for his cause.  One night Kilroy escapes prison, and disguises himself as a “Roboto”, the labor robots pervasive in this future world.

Got all that?

Drummer John Panozzo is credited as a character named “Col. Hyde”, and bassist Chuck Panozzo as “Lt. Vanish”.  I have no idea who those people are supposed to be.  There was a minifilm that went with the album and tour, and opened the live shows.  It’s incredibly funny and campy, the Styx version of the Star Wars Holiday Special.

“Don’t Let It End”, a DeYoung ballad is a song we always skipped as kids.  I played the ballads maybe once the whole time I owned the album!  But it’s actually a pretty good tune, and you can see why it was a hit.  This is followed by “High Time” with DeYoung, introducing the character of Dr. Righteous:

“I flip the switch on my laser video,
And there’s the man staring back at me,
He starts to speak in a voice so righteous,
About the sins of society”

It’s a fun song, upbeat, very showtune-y, with DeYoung having a chance to cut loose a bit.  It’s alright, and it sounds like the horn section are real horns, not some synth.

JY gets to be the one to bring the rock on “Heavy Metal Poisoning”.  In this song, Dr. Righteous takes to the airwaves with the ironically hardest rocking song on the album.

What the Devil’s going on?
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more!

We were always amused by Dr. Righteous using heavy metal music as his musical vehicle to attack heavy metal music, and wondered if there was a hidden message there?  Something about hypocrisy.  Righteous complains that rock and roll will lead to sex and drugs, while punishing his guitar with some seriously heavy riffing and a smoking solo.  Unfortunately, some goofy keyboard bits detract from the song and keep it from being a pure heavy rocker.

“Just Get Through This Night” is a ballad we skipped as kids, but in retrospect this is a great dramatic ballad.  Tommy wrote this one, a long, atmospheric meandering 6 minute piece that would have been too long to hold our kiddie attention span anyway.   Even though it didn’t do anything for us as kids, it stands as one of the bright spots on an album that so often just gets too goofy.  Tommy’s guitar solo, recorded backwards, is a highlight on this song.

Our second-favourite song was next: “Double Life” written and sung by JY.  It’s certainly one of the highlights on the album, a menacing, dark stomp with the synths this time supporting rather than fighting the song.  No idea how this fits into the story, but who cares!

Tommy’s final ballad, “Haven’t We Been Here Before” is kinda skip-worthy, although it’s nice when Dennis accompanies him on the chorus.  There’s also a nice harmony guitar solo, but loaded down with effects, blunting its edge.  Fortunately, the album ends with “Don’t Let It End (reprise)” which is actually a reprise of “Mr. Roboto”, but with Tommy singing and more guitars.  The album ends on a bright note, as Jonathan Chance seemingly takes the mantel of rock leadership from Kilroy, vowing to keep Rock N’ Roll alive!  Then Dennis comes in, doing his old rocker schtick, sending up Elvis, Little Richard and many more, and that’s the album.  Great finish.

I think if we were to discuss this album in 1983, I would have raved and rated it 4/5 stars.  I also probably would have overused the words “awesome” and “cool-a-mundo”.  That was 30 years ago…man.  That’s a long, long time.  Listening to it now…

2/5 stars