styx

REVIEW: Styx – The Same Stardust (2021 RSD EP)

STYX – The Same Stardust (2021 RSD EP)

Anecdote:  I wasn’t able to get this Styx EP with seven exclusive tracks on Record Store Day, so I knew I would have to pay the “late tax”.  I was surprised that pretty much every copy for sale on Discogs was coming from Russia.  Given the current situation I didn’t want to risk having a record coming in from Russia.  I found one from somewhere else (Estonia perhaps) and bit the bullet and ordered.  Two days later I got an email saying, “We are relocating to Russia!  We will mail your record from there!”  I almost asked to cancel but decided to be patient, and it has finally arrived.  In perfect shape.  Whew.

To accompany their excellent new album Crash of the Crown, Styx released an EP with two exclusive studio bonus tracks, and five live.  Not bad value for an EP when all of them are previously unreleased.  The record is on beautiful, heavy transparent blue vinyl, is low on surface noise, and just sounds wonderful!

The title track “The Same Stardust” opens, and it’s a theme we often hear in science:  we are all, every one of us, made of the same matter from a star that exploded billions of years ago.  It’s a unifying theme, but not a wimpy song.  A crescendo of drums leads us to an upbeat rocker with lead vocals by Lawrence Gowan.  There’s a great little riff after the chorus, and Gowan’s lead vocal recalls the Beatles.  “Walk away from hate!” he sings, reflecting the sentiments of the Fab Four.  Tommy Shaw sings the powerful bridge and then rips into a melodically cool solo.  Easily of album, or single quality.

The second exclusive studio song is called “Age of Entropia” and it is best described as progressive like Styx of old.  Tommy sings this number with a gentle acoustic opening.  It builds into a more robust construction in time, really sounding like only one band:  Styx.  Good song but less instant.

Side two contains the live material, and the side opener is a track as desirable as the unreleased studio songs, if not more: a new live version of “Mr. Roboto” from 2020!  This often shunned hit has finally been recorded again in a live setting, now with Gowan on vocals.  It’s been tuned down a bit, but it still thrills.  As soon you hear that trademark keyboard opening, you can’t help but smile.  Especially knowing how rarely it gets played live.  We all miss Dennis DeYoung but it is clear that Tommy Shaw doesn’t really want to hear about him.  Gowan does an admirable job, as do all the Styx vocalists, as there is a lot going on.  He even adds some of his own flare.  There’s a slightly harder edge on this “Mr. Roboto” and that’s just fine.

Another treat, at least to those in the know, is “Radio Silence” from the excellent album The Mission.  One of the best tunes from that sci-fi concept album indeed, and the first live release of any song from it.  So that’s special, even if Crash of the Crown may very well have topped The Mission.  That’s subjective…but possible.

Classics follow, dominated by Tommy Shaw tuneage.  “Man in the Wilderness” has the same vibe as the newer material, cut from the same cloth.  The heavy solo section is jaw-droppingly cool with wicked wah-wah effects.  James Young gets the spotlight on his heavy hitting “Miss America”.  Always a welcome listen, his unique vocal stylings are necessary for the overall Styx sound.  And that riff!  Speaking of riffs, Tommy closes the disc with the legendary “Renegade”.  Still classic, still awesome, still hard to resist the urge to shake it!  And though it does sound tuned down, Tommy’s voice has an incredible timeless youth.

The Same Stardust is a damn near essential add-on to your Crash of the Crown album.  It would have made an awesome bonus disc to a deluxe version of…oh, man.  After what I paid for this, if they put The Same Stardust on a future deluxe edition of Crash of the Crown, I’ll be pissed!

4.5/5 stars

 

#964.5: The Lists – 2021 Year in Review – Part Two

Here We Go Again:  End of Year Lists 2021

2021:  the year of the hamster wheel.  It sure felt like we were spinning our tires all year!  Sometimes inching a little forward in the mud, only to slide right back.  What a year.  But we did get some great music out of it.

Here at LeBrain HQ, if you go strictly by the numbers, there were two bands that dominated the year, both oldies acts from the 1980s:  Coney Hatch and Iron Maiden!  They (or members thereof) appear numerous times in the lists you’re about to read.  Not so “oldies” after all eh?  Five appearances for Iron Maiden, and a whopping seven for Coney and its members!

Even I was surprised by the lists this year!  All my favourite things, and the stats of 2021, are curated below.


Top 11 Albums of 2021

11. PolychuckShadows Exposed EP
10. Suicide StarIsolation
9. Max the AxeOktoberfest Cheer EP
8. Mammoth WVHMammoth WVH
7. Danko JonesPower Trio
6. AcceptToo Mean to Die
5. Smith/KotzenSmith/Kotzen
4. Iron MaidenSenjutsu
3. Lee AaronRadio On
2. Coney HatchLive at the El Mocambo
1. StyxCrash of the Crown

Top Five Box Sets of 2021

5. KissDestroyer
4. WhitsnakeRestless Heart
3. Def LeppardCD Collection Vol 3
2. TriumphAllied Forces
1. MetallicaMetallica 

My Favourite Movies of 2021

5. Black Widow
4. Eternals
3. Free Guy
2. The Suicide Squad
1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(placeholder) Spider-Man: No Way Home – you have to assume it’ll be my new #1 when I see it!


Top 11 Interviews / Unboxings of 2021 (by YouTube views)

11. Robert Lawson interview
10. Sean Kelly interview
9. Suicide Star interview
8. Coney Hatch live LP unboxing
7. Andy Curran round three
6. Andy Curran part one
5. Paul Laine interview
4. Mike Fraser interview
3. Martin Popoff interview
2. Andy Curran + Mike Fraser interview
1. Iron Maiden Super7 figure blind box unboxing

Top Five List Shows / Deep Dives 2021 (by YouTube Views)

5. Top Concept Albums
4. 5150 Deep Dive with Tee Bone
3. Desert Island Discs
2. Top Maiden Art
1. Top Five King’s X with Martin Popoff

Top Reviews of 2021 by Hits

5. GUNS N’ ROSES“ABSUЯD”
4. STYXCrash of the Crown
3. PAUL STANLEY’S SOUL STATION – Now and Then
2. IRON MAIDEN – Senjutsu 
1.  – Off the Soundboard – Tokyo 2001


What’s in store for 2022?

  • The Book of Boba Fett
  • Jethro Tull – The Zealot Gene
  • Marillion – An Hour Before Its Dark
  • Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool EP
  • new Sven Gali
  • Scorpions – Rock Believer
  • new Coney Hatch live with two new studio cuts
  • new Journey?
  • new Def Leppard?
  • Bryan Adams – So Happy it Hurts
  • Liam Gallgher – C’Mon You Know
  • Thor: Love and Thunder
  • Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  • Disney+: Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, What…If? season 2, Secret Invasion, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
  • The Mandalorian season 3
  • New albums from Ghost, Rammstein, Ozzy Osbourne, King Diamond, Weezer and more

 


TONIGHT.

Friday December 31, 9:00 PM E.S.T. on YouTubeFacebook and also Facebook!

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

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

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.

#910: Fox on the Run

RECORD STORE TALES #910: Fox on the Run

There’s a wily fox that’s been prowling the grounds up at the lake.  This weekend I caught my first real sight of him.  I saw him twice in one day.  He has no fear of humans.  He is usually carrying prey in his mouth.  I’ve named him Reddy, after Reddy Fox from the classic children’s cartoon The Green Forest.

The first time I saw the fox, I was on the front porch rocking away as I often do.  The porch did a lot of rocking this weekend.  The star of the show was the new album by Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen.  The debut Smith/Kotzen CD is turning into an early summer favourite.  In particular, the song “Running” is quite incredible. I didn’t know how well the two very different singer/guitarists would mesh. Like cream and coffee. Glowing review to come.

Styx, Kiss, Queen, Ace Frehley, Rush, and Marillion all saw a lot of porch action this weekend. I was playing one of them when the fox ran past again, this time up close and personal. I saw a flash of red and then the movement. He was swift. He moved with the steady determination of a wild animal completely disinterested in its surroundings. He was within six feet me of when he strode past. It made a hacking sound. It did not care that I was there, nor anyone else that he galloped past on his way to wherever he was going.

On neither appearance did I have any chance of grabbing a picture. There was no way. It happened in two seconds. There only chance would have been if he walked past during the rare instances I was running my lake cam. But he never did. I know I’ll see him again. His blatant disregard for humans means he’ll be back. He wasn’t phased by the Schnauzers barking at him either. He’s like a Borg, only interested in one thing and that’s where he’s going. So long as you’re not in his way, he’s completely disinterested.   He moves swiftly with no hesitation and no pause.  It was an interesting thing to feel so completely outside of nature at that moment.

I’ve been coming to this place for almost five decades.  I missed a few summers, but a fox is a rare sighting indeed.  We’ve had plenty of rabbits, porcupine, skunks, and even a few deer and one bear.  Foxes are elusive.  Not this guy though.

I doubt I will ever be quick enough to get a picture of that fox, but I will make sure to keep my eyes open for a sighting.  At least we know he’s not afraid of the sound of music.  I have the new Styx on deck for next weekend.  Let’s see what happens.

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

 

 

Operation: Concept Albums – an epic Nigel Tufnel Top Ten

Concept albums!  A marathon session with a five person panel. The best concept albums in the history of music (the earliest dating back to 1918). Genre busting lists. A rush of inspiring music, from hip to elders.

Aaron kept tabs on the titles and I’ll post them when I get a chance.  There was one album that was a clear winner, and one subject that crossed over multiple albums.  You’ll just have to watch to see for yourself.*

There was some preamble chat about the latest episode of WandaVision, and a bit on Desmond Child.  We hit the lists at 0:21:30 of the stream.

Thanks for checking it out!  Tune in next week for Top Bootlegs with Harrison Kopp, John T. Snow, Buried On Mars and maybe more.  Cheers!

* If you don’t want to see for yourself, you can try to read Aaron’s hand-written notes below!

REVIEW: Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol 1 (2020)

DENNIS DeYOUNG – 26 East Vol 1 (2020 Frontiers)

It wasn’t that long ago that Styx re-emerged with their best new album in decades.  Now their original singer Dennis DeYoung has done the same on his own.  They say 26 East (to be released in two separate volumes) is to be his retirement album.  If so, Dennis has gone out on an exceptionally high note.

It’s clear from this release that DeYoung is reclaiming his throne. The final track “2020 A.D.” is a essentially another part of Styx’s “A.D. 1928”, a cornerstone of their progressive monuments.  The three trains on the front cover, with the words “Trade Winds” and the year 1962 refers to the origins of Styx.  The trio is Dennis, Chuck & John Panozza — the founding members.

With 26 East, Dennis has turned up the rock side significantly more, to a vintage Styx-like balance of guitar thrills and concrete keyboards.  His voice has lost very little over the years.  His depth and expressiveness cannot be touched, nor can his sense of melody.  Hooks!  Styx albums were always loaded with hooks.  Dennis has not forgotten how to write them.  Not at all.

The epic tracks contain sentiment, humour, anger and the whole gamut of human emotions.  There are rare political slants to songs like “With All Due Respect”:  “Fake fun, fake facts, hey look new tax!”  DeYoung’s patriotic pride comes out on “The Promise of This Land”, and he incorporates influences from coast to coast.  From church choirs to stage productions, all elements are included.

All the tracks are special, but one of the most chill-inducing is “To the Good Old Days”, a collaboration with Julian Lennon.  And to say the least, it has clear shades of John.  Picking other favourites is more difficult, but it’s hard to ignore the bombast of the opener “East of Midnight”.  For something a little different, “A Kingdom Ablaze” has Floydian guitar twangs that really feed the soul.  “Run For the Roses” is a pure epic Styx high-water mark, which when chased by rocker “Damn the Dream” is only that much sweeter.  “Unbroken” offers upbeat feelings that would have fit in on Styx’s 1990 album Edge of the Century.  There are no weak tracks and nothing to skip.  Dennis and co-writer Jim Peterik have really put together an incredible album worthy of its place in the catalogue.

One of the best albums of 2020 in any genre.

5/5 stars