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!
* 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.