Mr. Roboto

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

 

 

Advertisements

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

WTF Search Terms: Musical Inquiries edition

Welcome back to WTF Search Terms.  These are real search terms that somehow led people to mikeladano.com.  Today, I thought I’d answer some people’s musical questions.

Click here for the last WTF Search Terms XV: Fan Favorites – Thussy Edition.

WTF Search Terms XVI:  Musical Inquiries edition

1. why is lenny kravitz last two cds a disappointment

Lenny Kravitz has sucked since cutting off his dreads.  Scientists call it “Samson Syndrome”.

2. whats the dirt on richie kotzen screwing bandmates wifes

Great question.  Kotzen was actually screwing Rikki Rockett’s girlfriend/fiance while on tour with Poison.  Kotzen later married her after being terminated by Poison.

3. glenn tipton can’t play anymore

Incorrect.

4. iron maiden lyrics “what information do you need”

“We want…information…information…information!” – The Prisoner

5. does blackie lawless ever talk to anyone? 2013

Blackie Lawless has taken a vow of silence and now speaks through a computer like Stephen Hawking.

6. i wonder book list of names in the rock roll band kiss used to be in ks benny gene simmons paul stanley ace frehley peter criss and vinnie vincent

I wonder what this person is actually asking.

7. quite riot mr roboto

No.  It’s QUIET Riot, and Mr. Roboto was by Styx.

8. did malcomb mcdowell sing in a rock band?

No.  But there’s this musical:

9. back street boys with guitar

Next.

10. lebrians bb pin

I am not posting my BlackBerry pin, thanks.

SAM_2571

Be sure to check back soon for more WTFs!

Part 0: A Few Words for Days Gone By…

I decided to do something special for Part 250…by not doing Part 250 at all.

This isn’t one of those bullshit prequels, like when George Lucas says, “Oh, Episode I, I had that written for decades,” when it was pretty obvious he was making it up as he went along!  Nope, this isn’t like that.  I started writing the Record Store Tales over 10 years ago, and what you see below is the original first chapter.  It existed solely for the purpose of background and context, but I excised it in favour of starting things faster with the second chapter, “Run To The Hills”.  Since that became Part 1, it makes sense that this earlier introduction should be Part 0.  With hindight, I kind of wished I’d kept it in, so here it is!  And don’t forget to check out my new complete Table of Contents, should you wish to read  more!

KATHRYN GEOFF MIKEYeah…don’t ask. That’s me on the right.

A Few Words for Days Gone By…

What is childhood made of? In my mind, when you’re a kid, life consists of two things:

1. School
2. Summer Holidays

That was the cycle.  To break it down to the core, to an 11 year old life was 10 months of school followed by two months of glorious, warm sunny freedom.  Sure, you’d get to go home at the end of the day, but you were never truly free until the end of June. No more pencils, no more books, all that stuff.  It was way better than Christmas holidays.  The Canadian winters offered such fun treats as shoveling, besides snow pants, parka, boots (laced up too tight), and mittens which prevented you from using your fingers.

Our summers were boisterous. My sister Kathryn and I were like peas in a pod. We would play some kind of game every day, usually under my leadership. I would declare that today, we were going to play Star Wars. Other possible declarations included building fleets of Lego ships and cars, and having a giant war. Or inventing a new ball game.  Once GI Joe came along, we’d dig trenches in the yard, as well as forts and garages of twigs and leaves, and have an entire day (or week) dedicated to Cobra Commander’s new secret weapon. Aside from an occasional rebellion from my sister, our summers were mostly uninterrupted merriment.

STAR WARS

My sister and I both clearly remember one such rebellion, where she wanted to do things her way.  It involved our Star Wars figures.  We were already mid-battle.  I was setting up a perfect counter-offensive. The Millenium Falcon would sneak attack Vader’s base, take out his Tie Fighter early in the melee, while Luke would take out Boba Fett. Leia and Lando had to distract Jabba The Hutt, so that he couldn’t stop Luke when he eventually confronted the Emperor. Game over! The plan was perfect. Now I just needed my sister to coordinate the battle with me, under my command of course.

Much to my disappointment, she had moved around some of the figures and now had them seated.  Luke and Vader were next to each other. “Why are Luke and Vader sitting there? Luke is about to attack and Vader should be getting into his ship.”

My sister continued playing with the figures, and without looking up, replied, “Luke and Vader want to be friends now. They’re having tea.”

It didn’t matter that half the figures were hers, if she didn’t know how to play Star Wars right. So I’d yell a bit, act like a big brother usually does, and eventually she’d go along with the plan, or cry and leave.  The evil Empire would be defeated once and for all, thanks to my brilliant leadership and strategy.  We were definitely pals, growing up.

For years, this was the way of the summer holidays. We’d be doing something awesome at home, or at the cottage, but it would always be something cool. It didn’t matter where we were: games continued wherever we went.  We’d make a game out of anything.   You give us a pile of junk and we’ll make a game out of it.

STYX FRONTAll things do come to an end. The Star Wars trilogy ended in 1983 and something needed to fill the vacuum. While GI Joe and later Transformers would temporarily take its place, I was getting older.  My attention was drifting.  I was looking for something cool, new, and exciting.  Video games didn’t hold my attention and neither did sports.

Starting in 1983, several things happened in a short time frame.  Styx released a single called “Mr. Roboto” that some of my friends at school were obsessed with.   Then I heard a song called “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC, and it was pretty cool too.  Then, a newer band called Quiet Riot came out with an album called Metal Health that would go on to sell three million copies.  This was my first rock cassette purchase when I was in the 6th grade.  Something connected…

AC/DC.  Van Halen.  Ozzy Osbourne.  Black Sabbath.  Def Leppard.  Motley Crue.  Iron Maiden.  Who were these people? I had a lot to find out.

Continued in Record Store Tales Part 1:  Run to the Hills

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