Lawrence Gowan

REVIEW: Styx – Crash of the Crown (2021)

“I don’t think Styx will ever top The Mission.” — Me

“I think Styx just topped The Mission.” — Also me

STYX – Crash of the Crown (2021 Universal)

Remarkable!  49 years old, and still putting out some truly superlative records.  What’s the secret?

Like their contemporaries Journey and Whitesnake, Styx have expanded to a seven-member band including new guitarist/songwriter/producer Will Evankovich.  With just as many songwriting credits on the new album Crash of the Crown as Tommy Shaw has, this addition feels appropriate.  James “JY” Young and Chuck Panozzo (original bassist, now part time) are the only links to the distant past.  Styx have not always been the most focused on new music (14 year gap between Cyclorama and The Mission) but it seems like Evankovich has sparked their creativity.  Two albums in a row, Styx have risen to high-water marks, pleasing fans and stunning critics.

If there’s a blatant concept this time it’s not as obvious, but recurring musical themes hint that there might be more going on than just 15 new tracks.  Crash of the Crown is assembled from smaller chunks of music that flow together in one seamless whole, but the individual songs are all under four minutes, including two brief interludes.

Opening with a wicked Lawrence Gowan keyboard bit, “The Fight of Our Lives” is a powerful and catchy intro to this distinguished album.  Tommy Shaw: lead vocals, backed by the increasingly thick Styx choir.  Pay attention to the main guitar theme as it’ll be back.  Beatles-y chords are another recurring affair.  (The Fab Four sound like a major influence on both Crash of the Crown, and the new Dennis DeYoung album 26 East Vol. 2.)

A progressive guitar/keyboard riff brings us to “A Monster”.  If anything it’s a song about the last two years.  “Here’s to the prisoners trapped in their cages,” could certainly be about the current time, “a monster chasing its tail”.  Big guitar solos and hooks make this an unorthodox and complex little winner.

Acoustics ring on “Reveries”, the first Gowan lead vocal.  It has a big powerful chorus and the acoustic base is reminiscent of classic 70s Styx.  But before too long, Tommy Shaw and JY rise up for a massive tandem electric guitar break.  Stuff like this is why they need a third guitarist now, so the rhythm doesn’t drop out live.  “Reveries” flows seamlessly into the dull rain of “Hold Back the Darkness”.  The foreboding tune, like clouds warning to stay ashore, is spare with piano and acoustics forming the basis.

Winston Churchill’s words form a part of “Save Us From Ourselves”, always a nice touch in a rock song.  It possesses a more upbeat pulse, but no less powerful.  The Tommy Shaw refrain in the chorus is typically bright and rhapsodic.  It builds into something stageworthy, and leads into the title track and single “Crash of the Crown”.  Individually, this song impresses less on the radio.  It belongs on the album, flowing in and out.  It’s a component of a larger piece.  Incidentally it’s the first Styx song with three lead singers.  In order:  JY, Shaw and Gowan, each with completely unique sections.  Stick with it, and a riff from “Fight Of Our Lives” returns to knock you back in your seat.  Then there’s some instrumental wickedness and robot vocoder madness.   It is like three or four songs crammed into one and it’s boggling why it was chosen as a single.  Except to impress the fact that Styx aren’t playing around.

You need a bit of a break after a workout like “Crash of the Crown” and so the folksy “Our Wonderful Lives” is the ideal tonic.  A huge singalong chorus is backed by simple kick drums, acoustics, and accordion.  It’s a beam of hope on an album born from dark times.  Sounding a bit like “39” by Queen, and completed with a blast of Beatles-y horns.

The dark growl of a Hammond B3 transitions into “Common Ground”, slower and thick with the modern Styx harmonies.  It has some very different parts, one pounding with heavy drums and one light and flighty.  While it stands as a song to itself, it also works to transition into “Sound the Alarm”, an RSD single and album highlight.  This handsome Shaw ballad is reminiscent of some of his past best and serves as a bit of a hippy-like anthem.  “There is no future in the way it was,” Shaw sings correctly.  All at once, it has ingredients similar to “Show Me with Way”, “Mr. Roboto”, “High Enough” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”.  There’s sorrow, there’s hope, there’s bombast and a digital pulse.

The digital pulse leads directly into the drum-heavy “Long Live the King”.  It’s also the most Queen-like, with an absolutely May-ish solo.  Imagine if you tried to build a Queen song on top of the drum beat from Guns N’ Roses’ “You Could Be Mine”.

Gowan has a brief piano segue called “Lost At Sea” before the proper song “Coming Out the Other Side”.  This calm ballad has a taste of India with the tabla, but manages not to sound like the Beatles this time.  It recalls rebirth, and there’s a killer solo to go on top.  “To Those” goes full-blown upbeat triumphant Styx, a brilliant refrain brimming with adrenaline.  “For those who do survive, find beauty in your lives.  Don’t be afraid of love, stand up and rise above.”

Instrumental segue “Another Farewell” steers into the final track “Stream”, which sounds and reads like an ending to a story.  Whether the band intended to or not, it seems they’ve made another concept album in Crash of the Crown.  “We’ve never been a protest band,” insists Shaw, “We’re more like a gospel caravan trying to send out positive messages wherever we go.”  If that’s the case, then “Stream” must be the happy musical ending, an upbeat drift into the fade.

Perhaps there’s a clue to Styx’s meaning in the packaging.  Morse code hidden in the CD tray reveals the words “WHOS GONNA SAVE US FROM OURSELVES”.

According to the lengthy liner notes, Styx went into Crash of the Crown with no compromises and came out of it with the album they wanted.  With a diverse set of instruments at hand, they clearly had no inhibitions.  The end result is an album less direct the The Mission, but dense with ideas compacted into mere minutes of songs.  Fortunately most of those ideas were really excellent.  Any time a band like Styx makes an album, there’s a fear it will be the last one.  It sounds like this band has plenty more fuel left in the solid rocket boosters.  Whatever the future holds, Crash of the Crown is the kind of triumph any young band would hold as their magnum opus.  With Styx, there is so much history it’s futile to compare.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011)

STYX – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011 Eagle Records)

Although legacy bands like Styx may not write and record new music as often as they used to, there have been a couple interesting effects from this.  Legendary discographies have been mined by a handful of classic bands, playing rare tracks live that haven’t been played on a stage in decades, if ever.  Sometimes, bands play full albums.  A few even play two!  Styx chose The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight for live resurrection.

Dipping back to 1977 and 1978, Styx picked two of their best records to perform.  Kind of the “sweet spot” between Tommy Shaw joining the band on Crystal Ball, and the drama with Dennis DeYoung on Cornerstone.  There are numerous of songs they never played live with Lawrence Gowan on vocals before, if at all!  They had to re-learn their own songs to put on this concert.  You can’t accuse them of taking the easy way out!

Tommy even tells you where the side breaks come!

With Todd Sucherman on drums, the songs are naturally heavier here.  Gowan’s voice lends a different sound to them too.  Bassist Ricky Phillips is rock solid as always, but original bassist Chuck Panozzo still comes out to play bass on the odd track live.  His rumble on “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” is nice and prominent in the mix.

The songs have other notable differences, like more guitar solos.  James Young does Dennis’ old spoken word part on “Superstars”.  Some might wonder, “Why listen to this, when you can play the original albums with the original members any time you want?”  It would be unwise to compare the talents of Gowan and Dennis, but why can’t you just be a fan of both?  Some people want to hear Gowan singing “Come Sail Away”, and especially “Castle Walls” which was only played once before in 1978 and a handful of times in 1997.  There are many such songs on this recording.  “I’m OK” (which Gowan sings) was dropped after 1979, until this tour.  “Lords of the Rings” (James Young on vocals) was only played once in 1978.

There are stories, and songs for the diehards.  This isn’t a package for someone looking for greatest hits.  It’s also not the same as listening to an old album.  This is for the Styx fan who loves the past and present equally.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Gowan – Strange Animal (1984)

GOWAN – Strange Animal (1984 CBS)

Strange Animal was only Lawrence Gowan’s second solo album, and one of his best sellers.  It’s also one of his most dated sounding, with programming and production honed in on the 1980s.  Regardless, you can’t knock the musicians:  Tony Levin (bass/Chapman Stick), Jerry Marotta (drums), and Chris Jarrett & David Rhodes (guitars).  Gowan basically lifted his studio band from Peter Gabriel.

Opener “Cosmetics” was a single, though just shy of cracking the Top 40.  It’s terribly dated sounding, with that wretched brittle synthetic sound that even Queen resorted to at one point.  So you might love it!  The piano is delectable and Gowan is as smooth as pie.  “Desperate” is darker, but I sure do hate synth hand-claps!  Fortunately this is a great song, akin to 80s Phil Collins.  Another really smooth one is “City of the Angels”, like a waltz at midnight.  Progressive rock invades “Walking on Air”, which lightly tip-toes from gentle rock to more aggressive guitars.

A delicate but powerful “Burning Torches of Hope” sits right at the middle of the album, and it is so very 80s.  Levin makes some animalist noise on “Keep the Tension On”, which sounds much like its title.  Taut, powerful, and even heavy in a certain way.  It’s melds right into a march on “Guerilla Soldier”, a killer song with terrific verse hooks.  Massive song!  It feels like this album builds to a close.  Especially when you consider the last two songs.

Finally, at the end of the album comes the familiar hits.  First:  a huge Chapman Stick groove, on the poppy upbeat title track.  “Strange Animal” is an awesome song: strictly fun, and incredibly so!  The melody stays in your head for days, and you’re hooked.  Ominous spiritus, ahh!  And then it’s his most famous song, “A Criminal Mind”, otherwise known as “the one that Styx play live”.  Solo, in the studio, “A Criminal Mind” is just as haunting, just as powerful, and just as unforgettable.  It also had one of the most disturbing music videos we had seen as young kids, and our reaction was revulsion.  On album, it is a capstone of a pretty terrific record.  It really feels like it should have opened.

Though ultimately it is up to the listener, unless you grew up with Strange Animal in the Walkman nestled in your back pocket, the programming and 80s-isms are a bit distracting.  It’s also strange how Gowan left all the big firepower stacked at the end of the album.  In the CD age, it just makes the whole thing more rewarding at the end!

3.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Gowan – Lost Brotherhood (1990)

GOWAN – Lost Brotherhood (1990 Atlantic)

I like to think of this Gowan album (a gift from Aaron at the KMA) as “the one with Alex Lifeson”.  Gowan has worked with some incredible musicians besides Styx, including Tony Levin (several times, including this album), Robert Fripp and Jon Anderson.  Gowan’s fourth album Lost Brotherhood has a distinct Rush tone on several tracks and so it easily became a favourite.  It’s important to note though that it’s not just Lifeson on this disc, but also Ken Greer from Red Rider providing the guitars.  Though Lawrence Gowan is primarily a keyboardist, this might be his most guitar-heavy album.  (Of note, future Triumph contributor Mladen Zarron also plays additional guitar on this album.)

“All the Lovers in the World” was the single, a hit as I recall, and still excellent today.  You can’t forget that chorus.  It sounds so very 1990, like Presto-era Rush, especially when Alex rips one of those patented Lifeson solos that’s more about the guitar tone than banging out a million notes.  In the back, you got Tony Levin dancing gleefully all over the neck of his bass.  One word:  breathtaking.

A Levin groove commences a nocturnal “Lost Brotherhood”, a serious prowler that you could easily mistake for latter-day Styx.  Lawrence has a way with writing piano hooks and “Lost Brotherhood” boasts a tasty one.  “Call It A Mission” could be Rush for all you could tell, if not for Gowan’s huskier voice.  The pulse of this song is like a “superconductor”, if you catch my drift, and the solo is slick and different.  Then it’s “The Dragon”, dramatic and weighty.  Levin is hitting some deep notes which just makes “Dragon” rumble like the titular beast.

Gowan goes for acoustic ballad territory on “Love Makes You Believe”, another big chorus.  Ken Greer accents the song with very slight touches and Tony adds so much texture.  They really crank it on “Fire It Up”, a rocker that would have led off side two of the original vinyl.  This boogie just stomps!

“Out of a Deeper Hunger” is another ballad, at least until a nice crunchy guitar kicks in on the excellent chorus.  Rock territory is reclaimed on “Tender Young Hero”, another Rush-like monolith with memorable chorus.  Gowan’s got a knack for a chorus, and the snare sound on drummer Jerry Marotta is a dead ringer for Peart.

Tinkling keys are the main feature on the delicate “Message From Heaven”.  Light, but still heavy.  Dramatic as hell.  But closer “Holding This Rage” is a masterwork, combining the piano and drama in a way that just reaches out and grabs you by your humanity.  Sounds like Marillion.

“Holding this rage isn’t your answer boy,
Holding this rage won’t lead you on.
Holding this rage will tear you to pieces boy,
Look what it’s done.”

By the fade out you’re…one again…breathless.

Though my Canadian bias is showing, it is a good thing that today, million of people get to hear Gowan’s special talents with Styx.  Though with Styx, Lawrence is part of a band led by Shaw/Young, as a solo artist he is the captain and always had the goods all along.  Lost Brotherhood is an excellent “first Gowan” album to check out due to the emphasis on guitar and of course the presence of one Alex Živojinović.

4/5 stars

#799: Mix CD 10 – “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” (2003)

GETTING MORE TALE #799: Mix CD 10 – “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” (2003)

Welcome back to an informal series of stories on the subject of musical rediscovery!  It is a blast listening to mix CDs (or tapes) that you made ages ago. To get you caught up, you can check out the below if you so choose!

This is one I have been looking forward to, for a couple reasons.  One, I love the cover artwork.  I recently reconnected with an old friend from the UK named RooRaaah.  He drew this rabbit, “Rab C. Rabbit”, and I always thought the crude sketch was hilarious.  If I hadn’t used it on my 10th mix CD, I might have lost it forever.

The second reason is that I burned this CD in the aftermath of dating Elli, as told in Record Store Tales Part 15: Dating a Radio Station Girl.  I was seeking all sorts of music, from heavy and angry to soft and soothing.  There’s a healthy dose of nostalgia, as I knew I could always return there to fill the holes in my heart.  There are even some rarities here, the kind of things you found by browsing Limewire.

As usual, I opened with a comedy bit:  Trey Parker and Matt Stone yelling “Dude!” at each other, from the movie Baseketball.  “I guess you’ve got a point there.”  Then straight into the brand new Anthrax:  “Safe Home”.  We’ve Come For You All was fresh and this song captured part of how I felt.  “My whole world has moved on.”  It was a strong, albeit mainstream single for the thrash pioneers, and one that still holds up.

From there to full-on nostalgia:  “Mr. Roboto”!  Wow, she must have really done a number on my heart to make me go all the way back there, the first rock record I ever bought.  At this point in my history, I lost my original LP copy and hadn’t yet got one on CD since it was so hard to find.  Hence the Limewire download.  A co-worker picked up the Styx CD for me in Toronto a year or two later.    Then, first of three Motorhead tracks is a wakeup:  “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care”.  I was definitely pissed off!  But then it’s onto the Faces classic “Ooh La La”, a taste for which was acquired by repeated viewings of Rushmore.

Albums and artists tend to repeat on this CD.  Even certain songs repeat!  Jellyfish’s excellent “The Ghost at Number One” is the first of two appearances.  I can taste the nostalgia, as I retreated to a simpler time, sitting in front of the TV watching music videos on Much.  I always appreciated the Beatles-esque track, which I haven’t heard in years.  Back to the 80s again, and the Gowan classic “A Criminal Mind”.  Comfortable MuchMusic memories in the basement.  A dark, plaintive song that spoke to me.  “And you will never break me, till the day I die.”

Motorhead’s “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” reflects a fresh appreciation for punk rock in my post-Elli haze.  You could thrash out to it and just rock the frustrations till they were gone.  This song will lift you up no matter how deep the hole.  A real weird rarity follows this, a Limewire discovery:  Mike Patton & Dillinger Escape Plan covering Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”.  And they fucking kill it, too!  Just a bootleg, but good enough for a mix CD.

Back to the movie Rushmore.  One of the most impressive tracks in that movie is the Live At Leeds version of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” by The Who.  Once a co-worker told me exactly what that song was (from expanded edition of Live at Leeds), I grabbed it (before buying the CD later on) from Limewire.  The track is an utter marvel, and I maintain the live version is the superior one.  I couldn’t believe it was actually live!  It’s as clean as a studio cut with perfect harmonies, but with explosive live energy.  It’s my favourite Who song, hands down.  It’s the kind of song that made me feel smug, like “Yes, I have fucking great taste in music.”

The first repeat band (and song) is “The Ghost at Number One”, this time live.  Jellyfish’s immaculate live version is tight as a drum.  Then, a magnificent double repeat:  Styx, now with Lawrence Gowan on lead vocals, with “A Criminal Mind”!  And not just “A Criminal Mind”, no; live in Kitchener Ontario, this one!  It’s cool that James “JY” Young threw down that wicked guitar solo right across town.  So this one is special to me no matter how you slice it.  The centerpiece of the CD, perhaps.

Don’t read anything into “Crabsody” by AC/DC being on this CD.  It’s not on any of the US albums, so I downloaded it when I searched for “rare AC/DC” on Limewire.  (Strictly a novelty song, incidentally and not a lost AC/DC classic.)  You can definitely read “nostalgia” into the next track.  Back to 1981 (Jesus!) and “Believe It Or Not” by Joey Scarbury.  And I clearly went for the most mangled transition I could manage, since the very next song is “Chinese Arithmetic” by a Patton-fronted Faith No More (second appearance for Mike).  The track opens with Patton announcing, “The word of the day is…fuck.”  Which he then repeats a few times, before seguing into “Vogue” (as they often did).

Finally it’s back to Gowan again, and “Strange Animal” (featuring Tony Levin on the Chapman Stick).  The rhythm that Levin lays down is a beast!  Even in shitty Limewire quality, this song moves.  Motorhead make their final appearance on the war ballad “1916”, a song which I found real affecting at that time.  I got the album as soon as possible.

Ending the CD (sort of) is CKY, whose only real claim to fame is an attachment to the Jackass guys via Bam Margera’s brother Jess.  The details are lost to me now, but I would have heard this song either a) on a Margera DVD or b) on a mix CD played in store.  It’s a good little ballad circa the millenium, and it suited my grey heart.  It’s been years since I last played it, and I can hear what I liked in it.  Thank God I’m not that sad sack o’ shit anymore, though.

The real final track is just a coda, a preview of the new Metallica song “Frantic” via a show called MTV Icon.  Remember, when they paid tribute to Metallica and had Snoop up there doing his thang to “Sad But True”?  Well Metallica closed the show with their own song, and then I guess the credits must have rolled or something, because this thing just fades out before James can even deliver one “Fran-tic-tic-tic-tic-tock!”

I put some effort into typing out an interesting looking tracklist on the back, and Rab C. Rabbit looks fab on the front.  I even glued the two together to make the insert.  Here’s the funny thing though.  I guess I must have needed a case to put this CD in, so I swapped out one from a local band called Vacuity, and threw their CD in the trash.  The vacuity.net sticker is still on the back.  This is funny, because one of the guys from Vacuity worked at the Record Store, and, well, he really wanted me to like his band.  When he and store parted ways, I parted with the CD!  Dick move, I know, but he was kinda a dick.

I think this my mix deserves:

5/5 Rab C. Rabbits

 

 

 

 

#727: An Aaron Xmas

GETTING MORE TALE #727: An Aaron Xmas

How many Aarons do you know? I know several, but only one that bombards me on a regular basis with mystery parcels!

We’ve written about Aaron many, many times in these pages.  There is a whole series of videos called Mike and Aaron go to Toronto, where we spend our money on all things musical.  Then there are the numerous albums and even holy grail items he’s found for me over the years.  Aaron is a non-stop fountain of music!

The truth is, he sends me far more stuff than I send in return.  Hopefully he’s not keeping track too hard.  But now it is Christmas!  I sent him a couple CDs last week (Max the Axe and Styx), and he has returned the favour with interest (as he usually does).  Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?

Riiiiiiiip!

Christmas came early indeed!  Aaron and I have discussed Gowan before.  Many today know Gowan as the lead singer of Styx, but before that he had a couple decades worth of a solo career under his belt.  I told Aaron, “I want to start a Gowan collection, all of it.”  Amazingly I didn’t find any last time we were in Toronto, but Aaron doesn’t quit.

Check this out:  the two Gowan albums I wanted most!  Strange Animal, and Lost Brotherhood.  Woah!  What names in the credits!  Tony Levin on stick and bass, on both albums.  Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Kenny Greer (Red Rider) on guitar for Lost Brotherhood.  Talk about the best of the best of the best.  And between the two albums, I get all the Gowan songs that I like (so far)!  Those would be “Strange Animal”, “A Criminal Mind”, and “All the Lovers in the World”.

But that’s not all!

Clearly, Aaron remembered that I once had a crush on “Sporty Spice”, Melanie C.  I even owned her first solo album Northern Star.  I still think Mel C is the best Spice Girl; she even worked with Bryan Adams.  She’s arguably the most talented and the one with the most integrity.  My crush is long gone, but she’s still beautiful today; even more than 1996.  Yeah, I still like Sporty!  Knowing this, Aaron bought me the “Unofficial” Sporty Spice In My Pocket book.  From this, I learned that Mel C once worked in a fish and chip shop.  What a couple we could have been.  I love fish!

 

You know, I wasn’t actually looking forward to Christmas, until now.  It’s been a horribly downer year for us.  Thank you again Aaron for the thoughtful gifts.  I’m feeling the spirit now!  Maybe I’ll go put some Christmas lights on.  I’m a “Strange Animal”, that’s what I know, but Aaron seems to know what makes me tick.

Thanks buddy!  Did you know that Sporty Spice was kicked out of a gym in Japan because they saw her tattoos and thought she was Yakuza Ominus Spiritus!

 

 

REVIEW: Styx – Regeneration Volume II (2011)

STYX – Regeneration Volume II (2011 Eagle Rock)

Long nights, impossible odds?  If you wanna discuss impossible odds, then let’s discuss re-recording your old hits.  It’s not usually a good idea.  In Styx’s case, it gave them a chance to sell some product while out on tour, but the new versions are no replacements for the old.

“Blue Collar Man” has that big fat organ riff, but it’s…different.  Technology can’t reproduce magic, and the original “Blue Collar Man” was pure magic.  It’s also missing Dennis DeYoung’s inimitable backing vocals.  The current Styx sure can sing, but Dennis’ voice was a big part of the chorus.  “Renegade” is more successful.  Todd Sucherman really stretches out on the drums.  The kid’s got talent!

James Young’s “Miss America” has more bite than the original.  “Snowblind” benefits from the re-recording, having more depth now.  Styx also get points for redoing “Queen of Spades”, now starring Lawrence Gowan.  Styx have plenty of hits, but just as important to fans are the deeper cuts.  Any time they get a little more spotlight is a good time.  “Queen of Spades” rocks regally, riffy and progressive.   “Boat on a River” is pretty authentic to the original, while “Too Much Time on My Hands” has some different keyboard flare.  Both are worthy inclusions.  This isn’t to say any of these versions are superior to the originals.  That’s impossible.  This is just to say they are enjoyable to listen to.

The bait to buy the re-recordings are two Damn Yankees songs:  “Coming of Age” and (of course) “High Enough”.  Styx have been known to perform “High Enough” in concert, but what are they like without Jack Blades and Ted Nugent?  Surprisingly good.  Styx can handle the singing, and James Young can riff and wail with the best of ’em.  “High Enough” in particular sounds great.  Lush and with more balls.

Interestingly enough, it looks like all the guys recorded their parts in different studios, all over the place.  Gowan was recorded in Toronto, and of interest to Rush fans is that Terry Brown co-engineered his parts.  The marvels of the modern world.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Styx – Regeneration Volume I (2010)

STYX – Regeneration Volume I (2010 Eagle Rock)

I know what you’re thinking.  “Styx re-recordings?  Why the  hell do I need those?”

You don’t.  That’s why they added a new song (“Difference in the World”) exclusive to this set.

Initially, the EP Regeneration Volume I was sold exclusively online and at Styx concerts, but it was reissued with Volume II to regular retail as a double CD set.  Volume II has its own exclusives, which will be discussed in a separate review.  Aside from the cleaner sound, the most obvious difference is the more modern drumming by Todd Sucherman.  Original drummer John Panozzo had his own style and the difference is obvious.  That’s neither good nor bad; just an observation.

“Difference in the World” is a melancholy but good song.  Styx have a lot of good songs.  Tommy Shaw wrote another one.  There you go.

“The Grand Illusion” features singer Lawrence Gowan on an old Dennis DeYoung classic.  Considering how long Gowan has been with Styx now (almost 20 years!), it is justifiable to re-record old songs with him on a low-key release such as this.  It’s harder to justify Tommy Shaw’s “Sing For the Day” and “Fooling Yourself” which are damn near note-for-note accurate to the originals.  Tommy’s orchestral re-imaginings on his solo live album Sing For the Day! are a lot more interesting.  The biggest difference are Gowan’s backing vocals.  Put these versions in a Styx shuffle and they won’t be too obtrusive.

James Young takes the lead on “Lorelei”.  Of the re-recordings, “Lorelei” is clearly the best.  Dennis DeYoung sang the original, but James sings it live today since he’s the co-writer.  Doing a studio version with James is more than justified.   “Crystal Ball” is still as epic as it ever was, but has more edge with modern production.  The guitar solo is to die for.

What about “Come Sail Away”?  Unnecessary and perhaps detrimental to this EP.  Doing it live without Dennis is one thing.  It’s not a song you want to leave a Styx concert without hearing.  Gowan’s fine, but redoing this one in the studio can never live up to the original in any way, and you’re digging your own hole by even trying.  Magic cannot be recreated, only imitated.

3/5 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 – Styxworld Live 2001

STYX – Styxworld Live 2001 (2001 Sanctuary)

There are plenty of live Styx albums, the majority with current singer Lawrence Gowan.  2001’s Styxworld is as entertaining as the title implies.  It really does represent the world of Styx:  oldies, solo hits, and obscure tracks too.  Because the Styx lineup in 2001 included guitarist/singer Glen Burtnik, there are a couple songs he wrote that Styx don’t play anymore.

Styx have had a credible career, post-Dennis DeYoung.  Adding Gowan, a solo star in Canada, was a brilliant move.   Though Gowan and DeYoung don’t sound alike, Lawrence is capable of performing Dennis’ more dramatic hits like “Come Sail Away”.   You wouldn’t want that song dropped from the set!  But Gowan also adds his own solo material:  “A Criminal Mind” (from 1985’s Strange Animal) is more than welcome.  A great song is a great song, and “A Criminal Mind” has since become a part of Styx.

Credit should be heaped for including lesser-heard classics like “Boat on a River” in the set, just as good as any of the missing songs.  You’ll also hear “Rocking the Paradise”, “Miss America”, “Sing for the Day”, “Crystal Ball”, “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” and “Lorelei” (James “JY” on lead vocals).  Essentially the setlist was whittled down to songs co-written by Tommy Shaw or James Young, with “Come Sail Away” being the only solo DeYoung-written song.

You could fill a whole other album with missing songs like “The Grand Illusion” or “Renegade” but what makes Styxworld strong are the songs included in their place.  Like it or not “Love is the Ritual” was a minor hit for Burtnik-era Styx, and an effort seems to have been made to include everybody’s material.  A big hit (though not by Styx!) is “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Patty Smyth and Don Henley…written by Smyth and Burtnik.  It’s cool to have a Styx version though it’s shortened for the stage.  Of course there’s “Criminal Mind” by Gowan, and even the ballad “High Enough” by Tommy Shaw’s Damn Yankees.  Though it seems like a ballad-heavy set, there is plenty of rock and roll.

Check out Styxworld for a taste of this period of Styx history.  If you like Gowan, it’s a win.

4/5 stars