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Movement for the Common Man C
...should be retitled “Bowel Movement for the Common Man!!!!” Haw haw haw! OK, I’m just joking. I promise I will be fair to Styx from now on... This is a 13-minute epic that was meant to be a newer version of the Aaron Copeland classic “Fanfare for the Common Man,” but the parallels are apparent to no one but Styx! (There is a small snippet of the Copeland piece, but that’s about it.) This is sectioned into many distinct parts. The first is a regular piece of hard rock that wouldn’t be out of place on an Aerosmith album or something. It doesn’t do anything particularly memorable other than blatantly ripping off “Cool Jerk” and Dennis DeYoung’s unrestrained, nasal vocal style makes it sound like he snorted a little too much cocaine. But anyway. The guitars are OK, but hardly amazing.
At around the four-minute mark a bunch of bongo drums come in for no good reason other than to stop the “Cool Jerk” rip-off. And I appreciate that! Then, some rambly jazz-fusion comes in. It really isn’t so bad, but then again, I really don’t know anything about jazz fusion. It doesn’t even last a minute so really there’s no time to analyze it. Five and a half minutes into it, and they stop everything and give us a very dumb sound-byte from someone with a Chicago accent standing on the street ranting about the economy. ....ohhhkaaaaayyy...
Then there’s the very clumsy rock ‘n’ roll version of “Fanfare for the Common Man” that I hope to God that Aaron Copeland never heard. I’m sure he’s rolling in his grave that I’m playing it right now. Luckily, this only lasts 45 seconds. After that, a song titled “Mother Nature’s Matinee” comes in that sounds a lot more like Styx from their classic period. There’s a lot of guitar, annoying synthesizer, and Dennis DeYoung’s insane wobbly vocals... Oh yeasssssh! ...Really I don’t have a problem with Styx’s classic sound. I just like to jab it a bit with my elbow!! But the problem I have is that the song is it’s just *bleh!* Not a single moment of this is interesting in any respect. Sure, John Curulewski’s guitar is OK in some spots, but he’s just a pimply teenager. I also like hearing that hammond organ though I liked it better when I heard it on Genesis albums! ... I will lend them one compliment... they did a nice job developing the final five minutes. They flip from rock ‘n’ roll jammy parts to ballads to more pompous stuff sort of interestingly. Now if these parts were anything particularly worth hearing, we might have had something...
Now to explain the rating... (God, I wrote way too much) I didn’t feel like it was cruddy enough to warrant anything in the D-range. They at least had spirit and ambition... the energy in the hard rocking parts are felt albeit not done too well. The variety in this piece is well appreciated although the collage went too far. If only the melodies were more interesting or these guys had any idea about how to actually create living textures or were instrumental virtuosos in any way ........ So, basically, these guys were amateurs.
Right Away D
I wish I knew who sings lead vocal on this, because he sounds retarded. I don’t wish to be politically incorrect or anything, but this guy sounds like a complete doofus. It could be Dennis DeYoung for all I know. He has those incredibly nasally warbles. They’re sort of unappealing to the ears to begin with, but he’s singing in to the microphone as though he was Tina Turner. Absolutely putrid. But the song he “ruins” couldn’t have possibly been messed up any further, since it wasn’t much to begin with. It’s just a typical blues rocker with a loud pompous chorus and a completely lifeless chord progression that just repeats endlessly ... until fadeout.
What Has Come Between Us B-
The beginning of this song is really bizarre. It starts out with a rapidly played piano and some detached guitar chords come in and stomp around over everything. They might have had something there, but they should have worked on polishing that out... It comes off as a complete mess, sloppy and rather dumb. But after that, a rather nice folk ballad pops up. DeYoung sings more like he’s wearing tights and singing to children, which comes off much better than pretending to be Tina Turner. When the chorus comes in, it’s an incredibly pompous thing with all the guys coming in to sing together. There’s the classic Styx sound. Extra props for the harpsichord! ........ But then they lose it for that idiotic, ploppy part in the middle with that stupid piano riff and the aimless guitar solo. Ick.
Best Thing B-
Wooo! This one made it to the charts! It peaked at 82! ... Unfortunately, it was only up from there... But really, this isn’t a terrible song. It’s better than “Babe.” It’s one of their hard-rock/progressive bits. It develops from hard rocking to slow rocking bits almost at random, though I’ll admit that it develops rather well (it’s smoother than a lot of famous Rush progressive songs at least). Once again, though, they just don’t come up with the melodies to support it. They just don’t. This is forgettable even when it’s playing. But at least that noodling organ is pretty neat.
Quick is the Beat of My Heart B
They might be onto something! Once again, this is completely detached from their classic sound, this time sounding much more like Aerosmith than anything else. It starts out really well with some crunchy guitar fret noises and an OK rock ‘n’ roll singer belts out a forgettable melody with some silly lyrics along with some Who-like power chords. After that part comes the rock ‘n’ roll jam where everyone gets to solo. I guess this proves that they were fairly good instrumentalists although it also proves that they were just a second-tier group. Their instruments are flashy, loud and busy, but they don’t have personality. Ah well... Nice try, I guess.
After You Leave Me C-
So basically these guys’ forte were just writing their own music. I haven’t heard the George Clinton original, but I’m sure it didn’t sound like this. The first few seconds are OK; they give us a dark power riff that’s reminiscent of Black Sabbath. They’ll resume that again, but not until they slow it down and give us the same riff with a wussy organ. When the dark guitars come in again, it’s OK, and they do a nice chorus there. But then... GRRRR... the wussy organ comes in again. BLAH!!! So, the development of this song is really messed up. The lite-percussion-heavy middle eight section is really stupid. And, if you even dare actually listening to this, you’ll have to witness Mr. Nasal-voice try his hardest to sing like he’s some sort of soul-singer... but he isn’t, of course. The sooner he realizes he was just meant to sing dorky songs about futuristic robots the better.
Styx II (1972)
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You Need Love B
Why thank you, guys. John Lennon didn’t convince me of that, yet. But now that I heard Styx, the message is now received. I NEED LOOOOOOOOVE!!! ...Anyway, the beginning the song is a copy of Yes’s general style combined with an eerie similarity to The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” But, if we can look past the unoriginality, I think you’ll notice an incredible improvement from their debut album. For a start, the instrumentals sound MUCH tighter and MUCH better mixed. Styx was always about presentation, and it’s much appreciated at such an early stage. This is a tremendously fast-paced song with some really neat, tight guitar rhythms that make it snappy. The verses meld effortlessly into the chorus... and there’s even a middle eight section and a coda... so these guys had an idea of how to properly structure their songs. But I’ll be damned if there is one piece of melody in here that sticks. It’s all show, but they can’t seem to write melodies that are worth remembering. I hope you’ll realize that this is a fatal flaw.
Do you know what I like best about this song? It’s that ultra-high-pitched whistle synthesizer at the beginning. Yeah, I know. You can barely hear it. But that little piece they probably lifted from Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” is too cool for words. Oh, and Dennis DeYoung manages to come out with a melody that’s actually pretty memorable. This song starts out as a ballad, and he’s singing a rather pleasant song about his wife. It starts to lose me when those flashy drums and heavy metal riffs come in... They really don’t add anything except noise. I probably shouldn’t give such a song an A-, but ... seriously that whistle synth!!!!!!
A Day B
This isn’t the worst thing ever. In fact, I kinda like it. It’s a very low-key, jazzy sort of song with a pleasant and only slightly nasal vocal performance from John Curulewski. The melody he sings is sort of rambly, which fits well with the general, low-key pace of the song. So all of that is OK. ...That really weirdo bit where his voice trails off in the distance catches me off-guard, but it’s crazy enough to be fun. But they really didn’t have to make this eight minutes long. There’s an extended, sort of jazz-fusion bit in the middle where they noodle around a lot. But they’re not very good at noodling. To be sure, they’re passable, but they’re really no better than the average band you might hear at the nearest pub. ...Not very inspired.
You Better Ask B-
You have to give Curulewski his due credit for being a pretty decent singer. Who knows why DeYoung was so dang oblivious to that cumbersome nasal warble he has... And then Styx got rid of him just because he wasn’t nasally enough!!! NOT COOL!!! ...But wow this is one really bland rock ‘n’ roll tune. It has some swing to it and it starts out to be rather likable and toe-tapping... but it grows rather tiresome by the end. At least it’s inoffensive.
Little Fugue in “G”
Some little nobody called “Bach” composed this one-minute organ piece. Why was he called “Bach?” I bet the kids made fun of him at school. “How many cookies make up a Bach?” they would say. .........Ooooh, terribly sorry for the bad joke. I so sincerely mean it that I won’t even erase it. It’s the hour of midnight right now, which is the time when all of my favorite bad jokes are made.
Father O.S.A. B-
And that little ole organ tune morphs into this more pompous one. Yeah, this is the surefire sign of the fiendish work of Dennis DeYoung. (Apparently this Bach fellow is quite a well-respected dude... and his name isn’t pronounced like “batch.”) That was mightily pretentious thing to do, but whatever. You could call it ambitious, too, if you wanted to. Anyway, there’s an awful lot of pomp going on here with very little that’s actually memorable. The only thing I find likable about all of this is the instrumentation... Those organ sounds are mixed so well with the guitars ... and that dulcimer at the end ringing around while the guitarists go nuts was also a cool idea. But the vocal melody sounds too much like he’s ripping off his own “Lady,” and he’s not doing it very well either. In the end, it’s yet another melodically bland Styx song.
Earl of Roseland C+
You know, the structure of a decent song is all here. They have a really cool introduction with tight drums rolling around and a sort of vocal fanfare that sounds neat. And then some riff-rock comes in with Dennis DeYoung giving an able performance. ...But absolutely none of this produces anything that I actually care to listen to. Couldn’t they have at least come up with vocal hooks? Why did they use this empty old riff?... Why not come up with something more memorable? ......... I rarely run across such well-done songs that have so little substance. Who are these guys?
I’m Gonna Make You Feel It B
Actually, this isn’t an all-too-terrible attempt at heavy metal. They have a pretty good handle on their instruments and they pack the appropriate punch. (The synthesizer noise in this section was pretty cool as well.) I’m not a big fan of that rolling drum line that plays throughout in almost a military-esque fashion... all it serves is to clutter the thing. But the tight vocal layers coming out during breaks sound neat... and the guitar solo in the middle isn’t bad at all. Better than the stuff from Styx anyway. This is just two minutes long as well... So, COOL!
Unfinished Song A-
I’m reviewing The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings compilation, and this is the song that’s sandwiched in between the tracks from Styx II and The Serpent is Rising. ...Hey, the song seems complete to me! Oh... heh... this isn’t literally an unfinished song... you can tell from the lyrics that’s actually what the song title is... To my surprise, this is really quite good. It’s a Dennis DeYoung ballad, but it avoids all the Dennis DeYoung cliches. It doesn’t begin too promisingly... He sings old cliched lyrics with a cliched piano, but there are actually a few solid hooks in here ... which is something I haven’t heard so far in this CD compilation. Naturally, this being a DeYoung ballad, it’s going to progress into something incredibly pompous... but at least he doesn’t turn it into one of those pounding, quasi-heavy metal things except for maybe the electric guitar solo. This is much more like Elton John than Styx, and that’s cool. If they mixed this a little better, it would have made a great home on the album, I think.
The Serpent is Rising (1973)
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Witch Wolf B-
This isn’t such a terrible song, either. Man... I come in these early Styx albums expecting everything to suck profusely, but this ends up being just an adequate ZZ-Top-like piece of hard rock. Even that riff they’re playing is vaguely memorable, and John Young’s freaky wail sounds appropriate for the material (he’s reminiscent of Geddy Lee, who wouldn’t emerge out of Canada for a year or so). I can’t say how, but even the guitar playing is rather cool. Though, despite it all, the song gets on my nerves. (I’m trying to be as nice to it as possible, you know.) The second half in particular... they change the drum beat to something more prancey, which doesn’t fit the material... and then they do those demon laughs and turn it into a ballad. At least they were trying to do something different I guess, but the transition was just clumsy.
The Grove of Eglantine B
There’s *something* here in this heavy-progressive ditty. Just a minor hook in the chorus that Dennis DeYoung manages to capture. That was probably an accident, but after sifting through those first two albums, I haven’t heard the dude sing any sort of melody worth a rat’s behind. I guess we had “Lady,” but ... well, you know. Every time that song comes on the radio, the cat starts to dry heave. (Oh yes... someone wrote that in my college newspaper’s callers line a few years ago. Classic!) Despite that one hook, the rest of this isn’t anything to write home about. This being DeYoung, it’s pompous as hell! There are all sorts of power chords and electric guitar solos. He’s getting a little better mimicking other prog acts of his day... working in that foofy acoustic bit in the middle was surprisingly nice. ...This isn’t really a bad song at all, but it ain’t memorable either.
Young Man C
Those very Styxian power-cries of “YOUNG MAAAAAAAAAAN” are terrible. Let’s just get that out in the open. ...I *really* hate that. The power of their combined voices when they’re singing all at once at the top of their lungs is potent enough to make even Roseanne Barr cry. And this song is otherwise pretty rotten, too. It’s just a lot of obnoxious power chords, organ noodles and wanky guitar solos. They stop everything in the final third to deliver a ballad... that’s a funny habit of theirs ... and James Young sounds completely stupid. They’re better off writing DeYoung-style fruity songs.
As Bad As This B-
It’s not as bad as all that. Oh, it’s that guy who left the band before they hit the big time, John Curulewski. I can assume that the left the group, because he was the only one who dared to write reserved sorts of songs. He’s also the one who wrote “A Day” in the previous album, which came off as sweet and rather likable. Well, here’s a similar song ... except it’s a lot more flat. Curulewski’s vocals are nice, though, and he comes off as rather earnest; plus, it is a lot more pleasant than DeYoung’s or Young’s. ...The second part of the song is a really weird tropical parody called “Plexiglass Toilet,” which is an incredibly comical novelty song about a small child who is leaning to cope with going to the bathroom in grown-up toilets. ....... It’s really rather funny. I mean... Styx has to be one of the most tight-assed groups on the planet, and here’s something incredibly silly. I really can’t believe this exists.
Winner Takes All B
To be honest, this is almost a B+, but then I remembered that this is another one of their mostly forgettable heavy-rock numbers with those pompous old vocal warblings of DeYoung. But the one thing I like about this is it keeps its beat going, and they don’t interrupt it with one of those stupid ballads. OK, there’s this section in the middle where they rip off those bouncy guitar tones from The Beatles “Getting Better,” but ... well, Styx have done higher crimes than that in their past. The melody is passable although it still needed more to it for it to be memorable.
22 Years B+
This is actually pretty fun. I know it’s just an average, forgettable bar-rock tune, but this shows to us that Styx could have rocked out normally without all those overblown theatrics if they wanted to. It’s just that they never seemed to want to ... in their later incarnation, anyway. This is another one of Curulewski’s songs, which I guess explains why it’s not so pompous. He and DeYoung duet through this, and that provides another clear source of entertainment.
Jonas Psalter C
Oh god, I don’t even have to look at the credits to know that El Fruity Master DeYoung wrote this thing. The introduction bears all of his favorite things... an even mix between guitars and synthesizers and all those rapidly played power chords. Of course, that’s his voice singing there... and as usual, he sounds like he's getting strangled!! ...Well, the song is a mess, and if you listen to it, you’ll probably hear why. The first half is so overblown that it isn’t even funny... he really didn’t know what he wanted to do with it, which is evidenced by that showy piano that he brings in to play some aimless arpeggios. The middle of it is a little better ... although that’s just a lot of aimless, show-off guitar stuff, except nobody’s really impressed. ...I will give them that the end is a little neat. Instead of a proper coda, DeYoung belts out a long note, some mystical wavy noises come in, and then this sequence that sounds like “Greensleeves” comes in.
The Serpent is Rising C-
Is that Curulewski intentionally trying to nasalfy his voice to sound more like his bandmates? Why do that to your perfectly listenable voice? Yeah... Dennis probably had more range, but his voice is annoying unless you take a tranquilizer before listening to one of his songs. Don’t succumb to peer pressure, dude!!! I’m running out of pills!! ...Anyway, here’s another really clunky progressive rock song that’s even more annoying than “Jonas Psalter.” The ultra-smooth progressive-rock developments sometimes had me surprised in Styx II have been reduced to the terrible ideas they present here. ...Once again, this is a total mess. Boo!!
That’s John Curulewski again, but this time, he’s not singing a song. He’s just screaming some over-dramatic speech with some incredible echo effect done to his voice. Slowly, some synthesizers start to play a bending chord ... which then turns in to the THX theme. The audience is now listening, indeed. ...I would like to say this is the best song in The Serpent is Rising, because it’s not actually a song, but that wouldn’t be honest. This is pretty retarded.
Hallelujah Chorus B-
And for no real reason, they start singing that famous Handel theme. It’s done fairly straight, except we can obviously hear the cartoony voices of the Styx members in there. Um... gee... I guess this is a pretty good song. The song itself is better than a B-, but I’m still scratching my head over its mere inclusion.
Man of Miracles (1974)
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Rock & Roll Feeling B
“It’s a goooooooood feelin’/It’s a rock & rooooooll feelin’” Shouldn’t this have been recorded by Spinal Tap? Even some of those goofy guttural belches in there ring of Spinal Tap. Ah well. At least partially inspiring Spinal Tap comparisons means that the song is marginally fun. Of course, this song is an incredibly dumb metal-rocker with some incredibly overblown guitar passages and vocal performances. Surely, I heard these guys do worse than this...
Havin’ a Ball B
John Curulewski and James Young seemed to have formed a songwriting partnership; those two not only co-penned this song, but they co-penned the last one! Well, the two don’t work too horribly as a team. Curulewski’s vocals seem to take town Young’s nipple-electrocuting warbles, and they both seem to know how to write somewhat formidable heavy metal tunes ... which of course is not what you’d expect from Styx. We expect those fruity Dennis DeYoung things, right? Anyway, this is just a tad worse than the previous song, although I have a fondness for that bass groove. There’s some nice electric guitar soloing in here, too.... Really, this isn’t bad.
Golden Lark B-
It’s a shame that this would-be mystical ballad about a lark turned out to be so incredibly plodding and boring and without a vocal hook in sight. You get the idea that DeYoung’s heart was in the right place... The song is played and orchestrated well, and he refrains from the bad habit of turning to overly pompous, quasi-metal choruses. His vocals actually sound nice here... He still has that powerful voice, but he seems to be working around that nasal quality. If the guy just had an idea of how to write a vocal melody, this would have been pretty dang good!
A Song For Suzanne A-
And Suzanne appreciates it, I’m sure! ...The funny thing is that this is much more pompous and unbearably Styx-like than the subtler “Golden Lark,” but this is a better song. Yeah... I can’t believe it. It’s like I want Styx to turn into Styx or something. I’m very hesitant about awarding this song a A-, because that seems like an overly positive rating. But I do enjoy this song. It’s one of their more progressive sorts of songs. It starts out with some rain and thunder noises, and some quietly, cosmic arpeggiated chords slowly fade in. Easily, this is the most interesting texture/atmosphere Styx ever did to this point... Then, some really rapid piano chords pop up that reminds me of some Queen record... But then the melody actually captures my interest a little bit with DeYoung’s loud warbles actually sounding a bit passionate here. Some nice harmonies are thrown around here and there, which picks up the effort. Another cosmic bit in the middle where they were evidently having fun messing around with synthesizers provides us another intriguing texture. The power chords inserted throughout are actually nicely used... This thing is over-dramatic as hell, but it actually has decent songwriting to back it up this time. So, Dennis, I don’t hate you after all!
A Man Like Me B
Here’s James Young again, and he’s not with Curulewski this time, so I guess that left him free to sing like his nipples were getting electrocuted again!!!! AAAAAAAAAAA!!! ... OK, Young’s not really a terrible singer... He’s really no worse than Geddy Lee. It’s just that he gets annoying sometimes. He sounds OK here, giving an able heavy metal performance to this song that rocks a lot harder than you’d expect Styx to. That’s the only nice thing about these early Styx records. They like to RAWK! But if you were expecting anything original or particularly exciting, then you’re in the wrong place of course.
Better than The Beatles! I’m glad I’m reviewing these Styx albums again, because it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t listen to it very closely the first time around. I didn’t even notice that this was a cover that The Beatles played early on in their career, and I should have. Anyway, it’s verrrrrrrrrrry surreal hearing them do this old rockabilly song although not quite as surreal as hearing them do that “Plexiglass Toilet.” I’m not sure whether the act of hearing them do rockabilly is weirder than hearing them sing a catchy melody for once! Well, anyway, they really do a nice job of it. It might not be better than The Beatles’ version, but Styx proves that they can get a really good snappy beat here and again. Anyone who bought copies of the 1980 LP re-release, this track was replaced with Dennis DeYoung’s snooty old ballad called “Unfinished Song,” which I identified as a bonus track from Styx II. You’ll get both of them on The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings, so it’s alllllllll good.
Evil Eyes C
DENNIS DEYOUNG, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH YOU??? ... er sorry, I won’t scream at you. This is another one of his foofy little ballads, but it really has a difficult time developing into anything. I can’t complain too much about it, because I realize how bad he can get with his song developmental ideas (that pompous crap), and this is fairly reserved for him. But I sit through this thing waiting for DeYoung to do some sort of development that I’m even mildly interested in even if it’s not a particularly good one. This is an over-dramatic song, but it’s structured with the usual verses and chorus, and it goes along at a snail’s pace. Oh man! This man is so evil that he’s starting to have me long for his famous ballads... stop it... stop it...
Southern Woman B
Really not bad. This is another one of their flashy hard rockers with another nipple-electrocuting vocal performance from James Young. As with all these fast rockers, Styx manage to do a fine job keeping the beat going. But the problems are all the same... they just can’t come up with an original song to save the day. This song could have been recorded by pretty much anybody... and not necessarily people with record deals. The instrumental solos (an electric guitar and an organ) are fine, but even they aren’t original at all.
Christopher, Mr. Christopher B
Once again, this song would have been pretty good if they tried to write nice melodies. It’s structured like a good song... It has the instrumentation all playing the right things in the right places. And unlike “Evil Eyes,” this has a nice snappy pace, so it doesn’t have much of a chance to grow stale and moldy. The towering, sort of epic introduction is nicely done, and it fades nicely into a cute little ballad. (Man... if you want to talk about song development, Styx surely had Rush beat in that department.) But I just wish there was something memorable about it. It sounds nice, for sure.
Man of Miracles D+
I can’t understand why the title tracks were by far the worst things in both this album and the last album. I was always under the impression that title tracks were supposed to be the best song! Or at least the hit song. But in Styx’s case, the most irritating songs are the title tracks. Dude. Well, what do you want me to say about this? It’s CRAP! THAT’S WHAT IT IS!!! Why is it crap? Because the music within it is CRAP. ... Lemme splain... The introduction is so COMPLETELY overblown that it makes their infamous 1983 Mr. Roboto movie/music-video seem like My Dinner With Andre. The rest of the song consists of an ugly guitar riff James Young’s most nipple-electrocutingly terrible vocals since Styx, and that’s saying something. It suddenly shifts into a sort of synthscape (so much for their smooth developments), and it shifts back out to bring us these idiotic guitar solos and stuff. It’s cluttered, messy, and just no damn good.
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Light Up A-
They must have been thrilled to be working with a big time label, because for the first time in their careers, it seems like they had it together. True, they're not being too terribly original with this. It's basically the same sort of thing Yes does. Nonetheless, this is a generally memorable theme, which apart from “Lady,” probably, they never did this effectively. The song starts out with the obligatory extended introduction. A sort of space-age synthscape fades in and some power riffs come in to give it that glamorous stadium-rock feel. Soon enough, the chorus comes in. It's sort of a vocal-heavy thing fully equipped with their trademarked nasally voices... the important thing is the song is catchy. They work in some nice bouncy guitar licks to keep the festivities punchy. They work in a nice, more “Vaudevillian” interlude occasionally, which I find to be quite enjoyable! The overall mood of this song is certainly optimistic, and quite romantic. It's a good way to start a Styx album, really. That's good, because I basically assume that every Styx album is going to suck (especially after struggling through those first four albums).
Impressive! This sounds even more firmly in the genre of “arena-rock” than that last track. That genre has an automatic negative connotation to me, but I wouldn't have a problem with the genre if every song was this enjoyable! It starts out with another synthscape, but it's rather simple and unpretentious. Quickly enough, the main hook comes in, and they completely nail it. Everything about it is good. The vocal melody is very hooky, the bass guitar is good, they work in some nice guitar licks in here... It's nothing earth-shattering, but it's shockingly good. Dennis DeYoung might suck 75 percent of the time, but this 25 percent is what makes the whole Styx experience worth it.
Mother Dear A
This isn't bad either. The way the vocals sound as well as the chords they choose, it's like they're emulating The Who, but that ain't a bad band to emulate. Although the interlude is much more like early King Crimson. Oh well, let's forget about comparisons. Let's just say that the main melody is catchy and likable. The more spaced-out sections are perhaps even more likable with unpretentious synthscapes. My only real complaint is this goes on for a bit too long... they could have cut off the last minute...
Lonely Child B
The melody isn't quite as transfixing as the others, so all that manages to shine through is that Dennis-DeYoung-ness that I'm sure tends to repel most of us. Making it weirder is the lyrics, which could be interpreted as a creepy song about a pedophile. (“Lonely child be my lover / we'll make love in the morning light / weave your magic spell around me / and come spend your life with me.”) I know it's not really about pedophilia, but the beginning of the song is so ambiguous that I think it's actually about a child, so the stuff about making love catches me by surprise. Anyway, this is a sort of typical Styx song. A lot of layered-on nasally vocals and some fairly ill-advised instrumental choices. That busy guitar solo that closes out the song, in particular, had no reason to be there than just to make noise. Bluh.
Midnight Ride B
Here's a bit of riff-rock for youse guys. It's actually not bad as far as these things go, but that chorus has the most annoying high-pitched warbles that can possibly be conceived in a mainstream album. (If there's a more annoying one, then I don't want to know about it.) This one was written by James Young, who seems to be the guy who wanted to turn Styx into a Led Zeppelin clone. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm glad that it inevitably turned into Dennis DeYoung's glam-boy project. Give me a Yes clone to a Led Zeppelin clone! (Oh boy, there's how much I care about Led Zeppelin.)
Born For Adventure C+
...but when I hear Dennis DeYoung actually start singing, my excitement level doesn't get that hearty. Although, he co-wrote this with several other members, so we don't get the complete cheesiness that a Dennis DeYoung composition really deserves. As a whole, I also have to commend this group for going this far in an album producing generally notable and enjoyable songs. “Born For Adventure” is OK, but it's far from distinctive. It's based on some tight riffs (which are quite good, surprisingly), but the song never really takes off. We have a cheesy guitar solo in the middle, and there's nothing about the melody that's memorable (except, perhaps, a goofy medieval vocal styling at the end of the chorus).
Prelude 12 B-
John Curulewski made this brief, half-baked acoustic number I suppose going after the same sort of effect as Phil Collins' “More Fool Me” from the landmark Selling England By the Pound. While this is just a piddly thing, I will say that it works into the following number pretty well...
Suite Madame Blue B
You can pretty much tell this is a DeYoung solo composition by the song title. Oh yeah... and his singing is just as pompous as the title makes it sound! It even has some of that old formula that he would later perfect with “Come Sail Away.” The verses are light and acoustic, and the chorus features harder, more heavy-metal instrumentation for the chorus. These parts are OK, but it's fairly bland and forgettable. The last half of the song is more of a rock-jam type of thing with some surprisingly well-done electric guitar riffs and some cool layered vocals! This part is perhaps a tad clumsy, but there's some real energy there... This is something, I'm afraid, Styx won't do too well during their 'heyday.' Ah well. Enjoy it while it lasts, I guess.
Crystal Ball (1976)
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Put Me On D+
Oh yuck. Yuckity yuck yuck yuck. (I'm not laughing; I'm disgusted.) Are they puttin' me on? This song has all the classic trademarks that we all loathe about Styx, and they don't even bother finding decent hooks to go along with it. Geez, what happened to those simple Yes, Genesis and King Crimson clones that were so wholly adequate in Equinox? This song has a wholly inadequate introduction consisting of an arpeggiated, boring synthesizer loop and boring guitar lines. Now, this part isn't so *bad*. The bad part comes when these guys actually start singing. The introduction suddenly stops, and there's a jerky transition to a running rhythm section featuring very intrusive electric guitar riffs. It's not usually a bad thing when Styx wants to rock out a bit, but here it's just bad. This is clumsy, clunky and rather painful to listen to. Their whiny nasal chorus voices pipe up quickly and, disgracefully, it sounds more annoying than usual. Even worse is when James Young starts to sing who sounds like he's trying to cough up a hairball. God, I hate listening to that. I never thought I'd say this, but the song gets a lot better when Dennis DeYoung's sweeter-than-usual vocals come in for a very brief ballad part. He sounds like an angel compared to that demon James. (Maybe they were doing that on purpose? Wouldn't put it past 'em.) Another neat part is the end of the song, which sounds like a tape malfunctioning. (Another reason I like the ending was *because* is was the ending.)
This is better, but it's still woefully far from where this group needed to be. Luckily, they're not trying to do anything more than just deliver a typical arena-rock anthem. Unfortunately, its paper-thin hook makes it terribly unmemorable. The instrumentation isn't even that good. The bouncy guitar riff reminiscent of The Beatles' “Getting Better.” It has its moments (notably toward the beginning), but it overall didn't turn out to be as bright and bubbly as it should have been. The vocal-layered chorus is way too typical of Styx. Without solid hooks, what's the point of even listening? This also marks Tommy Shaw's first vocal... Wow, he's an annoying singer, too! Welcome the band, man!!
DENNIS DE YOUNG! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU??? This is his composition and his composition alone, and there's no excuse for this being so weak. That said, it starts out well sounding a little like a bossa nova with a fast-paced light rhythm section and an OK vocal melody and a formidable vocal performance (for him), but the song quickly goes on this hard-rockin' bit with towering and boring electric guitar riffs and a verrrrrrrry clumsy rhythm. Holy crap, what was he thinking? Nothing about this part is enjoyable. The electric guitars couldn't sound more stilted! The part in the end when James Young shreds his guitar didn't fit that bossa nova rhythm. Nothing about this song is good. ...Well, except for the coda, which is a pretty relaxing sythnscape with wind chimes and everything.
Crystal Ball C-
Oh no. This is Tommy Shaw's first solo composition with the band, and this is making me miss the toilet guy more than anything. It starts out well enough as a rather nice acoustic folk song. I mean, the melody isn't anything too special to speak of; it's not too far removed from Yes' attempts at the idea, as I recall. But because Styx must be Styx, they crank up the electric guitars, the drums, and the whiny wails and go all freaking pompous. Now, there are times when I enjoy their pomposity... But when their melodies are this bland, it just comes off as empty. All show and no substance.
For a most shocking turn-of-events, I used to think this track represented the utter worst of Crystal Ball. But I'm listening to it now, and I think it's one of the best. This was supposedly a collaboration between James Young and Tommy Shaw, but this has James Young written all over it. It's a generic blues number. Yup. That's James. It starts out with a light riff and some snapping right out of the West Side Story before going all-out with their bluesy riffs and flamboyant lead singing. Luckily, the guitar riffs are pretty dirty and fun to hear. They do this bending thing with the guitar solo in the middle that is pretty interesting. Well, here you go.
This Old Man C
This is a song with its ups and downs. It starts as a towering Medieval 'epic' with neat power chords, huge vocals and decently solid vocal hooks. Unfortunately, these are the sorts of hooks that are OK when you first hear them, but the more they repeat, the duller they get. Nonetheless, the part when they introduce those military drums and gong noises is admittedly pretty cool. The part where this song really falls apart is that curious “cosmic” section in the middle with this clumsy organ riff and the guys repeating “bshhhhhhh” and “aaaahhhhhhh,” sounds that are oddly reminiscent of a Pepsi commercial. How weird.
Clair De Lune/Ballerina B-
Yup, the beginning of this track is a very straightforward rehash of Debussy's classic piano piece. And then they think they had the compositional talent to actually 'add' something to it that would actually compare. Of course, it won't compare. That was Debussy and this is Styx. But anyway, the Styx part is pretty good for Styx. DeYoung's vocal melody has a certain amount of charm to it even though the melody is very simple and cheesy. The one thing they do right is forgo having a pounding heavy metal section, a decision that I wholeheartedly endorse! So, this thing is just hopelessly hokey and not so much annoying. That said, there wasn't a great reason to extend this for so long (it's a seven-minute track), and those electric guitar solos at the end are pretty lame. They're empty guitar licks that are all show and no emotion. Ah well. At least DeYoung comes out with an OK hook. It gets a little lost at the end, because they layer on so many airy guitars on top of it! But anyway. Here you go. One of the best songs of Crystal Ball.
The Grand Illusion (1977)
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The Grand Illusion A-
This is already a huge improvement over everything in Crystal Ball and even most things in Equinox. They seem comfortable here, happily immersing themselves in the prog-pop genre, and not giving a damn about anything else. I know how poorly we all think about pop-prog, especially when it's done with whiny high-pitched voices, but heck! At this point, I'm immune to the evil sonic effect those voices have. What end up caring about is the song, which is well-written and catchy. It opens with some confident, pounding stadium-riffs, which gets things off to a grandiose start. This gives way to a vocal melody that is utterly catchy in the verses and the chorus. They work in a number of competent and not-too-flashy guitar solos in a way that actually seems to compliment it. So, in spite of being Styx, this is a very nicely done song. I only give it an A- because it all seems a bit lightweight to me. It's a nice composition, but the creativity was minimal and it didn't completely succeed in getting me riled up like it wanted to. In other words, it's hollow. Also, the lyrics are childish, but I won't get into that.
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) B+
I've been half-consciously trying to force myself to be cranky so that I could give this song a less-than-positive review, but I can't do it. This is so bright and cheesy with such simplistic instrumentals that it seems like it was composed for the benefit for 12 year olds (and the lyrics sound like they were written by 12 year olds). But I can't help it. It's such a pleasant song. The melody is catchy, the instrumentals, while simple, do a few nice things to keep the texture alive. They don't abuse the synthesizer sound at all ... the acoustic guitars are still heavy in the mix. The wanky synthesizer solo at the end seemed aimless, but at least it wasn't stupid. Overall, it's very nice.
Oooooh man... This is just too much. Whenever Styx decides to emphasize their combined vocals on a song for more than, say 1/3 of it, then count that as a bad idea. This would have been a pretty rotten song without it. The choppy three-note guitar riff is so banal that it hurts ... and combining it with those vocals killed a few of my brain cells. The melody doesn't have any hooks in it like the previous two songs had, so what's the point? Why would Styx record something like this? (...OK, that was a stupid question.)
Come Sail Away B
The first time I ever heard this song was in 1999 when someone forced me to listen to South Park Eric Cartman's butchered rendition of it. I can't remember exactly what I thought about it, because I had never seen an episode of South Park, and the only thing I knew about the name “Styx” was that it was a river that I read about in high school English. ...I'm pretty sure it was this event combined with accidentally discovering “Mr. Roboto” that turned me into a Styx fan for a brief time in the middle of 2001. ......Well, this can only mean one thing......... “Come Sail Away” is an evil song, and it must be punished! You're a BAD song with that froofy piano introduction and the heavy metal chorus! BAD Dennis DeYoung with your whiny voice (that interestingly has the same aesthetic quality as Eric Cartman's), BAD cheesy cosmic instrumental interlude, and BAD metalified chorus with your pounding electric guitars and appealing, anthemic repetition of “come sail away, come sail away, come sail awaaaaaay with meeeeeeeeeee!” Even though I sort like this song, I don't find it as wholehearted experience as they were probably going for. I wish I could say that I really wanted to sail around with this guy, but I find him rather irritating, frankly. Also, DeYoung certainly had written more appealing melodies in his time.
Miss America A
The biggest surprise here is that this was written by James Young, who actually comes out with a menacing guitar riff, a catchy melody, a playful minor-chord parody of the Miss America theme song, and (get this) decent lyrics that are a scathing commentary on beauty pageants. (“Well it's true just take a look - The cover sometimes makes the book / And the judges, do they ever ask to read between your lines / And in your cage at the human zoo, they all stop to look at you / Next year, what will you do when you have been forgotten”) It's not John Lennon, but it's nice, eh? Another shocker is James Young's vocals, which have frequently been irritating in the past. Here, those over exaggerated intonations are surprisingly energetic and fits the scathing lyrics very well. Wow!! Very good, Mr. Young. This is very impressive, indeed.
Man in the Wilderness C+
There was a big push for something terribly dramatic here, which comes as a disappointment just coming from the previous track, and it doesn't really work. I will say that this melody is a lot better than pretty much anything from Crystal Ball, but this is just a huge, towering, lifeless song. (Although the chorus picks up some steam... although I suspect I'm just captivated by that flute synth that is fluttering everywhere.) The flashy singing sounded like they were supposed to represent human suffering, or something, but they seem fairly ridiculous considering that the music itself is so plain. Basically the rambly last half of this didn't need to be there.
Castle Walls C
I have a huge internal debate with myself whether this Dennis DeYoung composition is better than “Come Sail Away.” On one hand, this isn't annoying. I can listen to it pretty solidly without cringing. On the other hand, the melody isn't as nice, and it's rather boring to sit through. Perhaps the more enjoyable a Styx tune is, the more my ears perk up, which means I'm more susceptible to becoming annoyed by it. You never know. ...Well, about the actual song, it begins as an ultra-serious Medieval ballad. That part is OK, but quite unmemorable. In the middle, they try to pull a Pink Floyd, but they didn't have enough real talent to be able to pull off the creepy, psychological atmospheres like they wanted to. So, all those synthesizers and stuff were little more than an exercise in technology and scales. They revisit the Medieval theme for the final third, and my brain is already numbed by this point.
The Grand Finale C
This brief rehashing of many of the songs that had come previously in the album gives me the most telling clue about how pretentious they were ... as though they thought they had just created the best album in the world and they wanted to remind everyone about how great everything was! Yeah, that's pushing it, guys, and in pretty bad taste anyway. I can't even think of a moment when something like this actually worked. I mean, there were several great albums that did a variation of the opening song for the closing song (think Sgt. Pepper sans the 'get back to reality' bit or Rust Never Sleeps). But a medley of the previous songs? ...No.
Pieces of Eight (1978)
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Great White Hope A-
Yeah!!! As long as you're going to do glitzy arena-rock, you'd might as well make it as thunderous and awesome as humanly possible. Yes, I'm saying this about Styx. This is, by all accounts, a top-notch arena-rock tune. Should I be surprised that this is a James Young composition who dazzled us in similar respects with “Miss America” in The Grand Illusion? The drums are absolutely thunderous, the main melody is catchy with the growling, glitzy vocal intonations of a boxing announcer. Oh, how exciting this is, shockingly so.
I'm Okay B
In that brief period in 2001 when I considered myself a Styx fan, I was feeling a little depressed, and I considered this song a sort of message of hope. (Do you realize how utterly embarrassed I am for admitting this?) But I don't want to let my resentment for ever having been a Styx fan force me to deny that I get a slight glimmer in my eye when I hear it. That's even though it has probably the hokiest melody on the planet. I suppose the most redeeming factor is that wild pipe-organ solo in the middle, and the relatively uncouth synthesizer solo at the end. It shows that these dorks were peaking their heads out of their shells for a bit, and I like it! You might never get pristine melodic powers, but do keep that energy going!
Sing for the Day B
These guys were feeling really happy, apparently. Tommy Shaw wrote this song, which is so optimistic that I'd imagine even Stevie Wonder would have felt a bit uncomfortable singing something so syrupy. (Well, Stevie would surely have given it a catchier melody, but that's only because he's awesome.) But this melody is good by Styx's standards, and I really like the instrumentation here, which presents an appealing combination of acoustic guitars and straight synthesizer sounds. The production is just as crisp and lovely as it is on ABBA albums from the era. All in all, this is quite a pleasant listen.
The Message B+
Somebody was experimenting with synthesizer tones! I guess that's what you get to do if you're successful and you have a lot of cool new gadgets to tinker around with. They create mostly a bubbly texture, and some towering avant-garde chords play in the foreground. I don't know how they did it, but this is very cool. It's only a minute long, too, the perfect length for such a song.
Lords of the Ring A
I'm probably going on a limb here, but sometimes I can't believe how good this song is. I mean, when you read the song title, you can pretty much automatically guess that it's going to be hopelessly dorky. Let me tell you, this is so dorky that Rush never got this dorky. While the lyrics are one thing, the compositional qualities are another thing. The chords are brilliantly chosen for such a fantasy epic, they keep a steady drum section most of the time to keep the experience fun. The instrumental interlude presents a variety of ideas and textures, and it's all brought together in the end by an oddly compelling conclusion. Shockingly good.
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) C+
Considering how decent this album has been so far, I'm dismayed that the biggest hit of the album is relatively lame. Meant to be an anthem for people on the unemployment line, it's really no surprise that it struck a chord in the foul economy of the late '70s. The guitars are nice and crunchy, but they come off dull and cliché by the end. The vocal melody is OK, but non-distinctive. At least that organ riff that pops up every now and again is pretty cool.
Queen of Spades C-
Oh yeah, now I remember why I generally find these guys insufferable. Man. I don't even think I cared much for this song back in 2001, so... The problem with this six-minute prog epic is that they completely lost the enthusiasm and energy that they've been exhibiting so profusely in the first half of the album. This is a much more “serious” song, you see, and the result is a very stiff and rather boring song. The first two minutes of it is a twinkly bit of balladry that does nothing interesting, and the rest of it consists of a bouncy guitar riff that's about as interesting as my chemistry professor. Yeah, expect serious nappage.
For the lack of a better term, I'm bummed. They've completely resumed in their artistic missions to be insufferable bores. It starts out like they're trying to emulate a sort of folksy/union chant. It deserves all the groans that I give it! Quickly (but not quickly enough) it suddenly jumps into a more fast-paced organ-riff rocker. The melody is OK, but once again, it's not very memorable. The instrumentation is OK, but it's way too stiff to rock the way it's supposed to. I'm giving this a B- only because it's better than “Blue Collar Man.”
Pieces of Eight C
Dennis DeYoung gives us another one of his boorish power-ballads with ultra-serious intentions and zero inventiveness. Really, I probably wouldn't have complained too much if they weren't feeding me some truthfully diverting stuff in the first half of the album. Returning to Styx in their business-as-usual modes is more than a little bit disconcerting. Once again, the melody is OK, but hardly distinctive. The instrumental interlude consists of what sounds like a jolly take-off of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, but it comes off as stifled. Come on, guys!
They developed a rather pleasant instrumental texture that's fit for the ears of people standing in an elevator, but it never actually does anything. It's just a texture that slowly fades in, plays over and over for three minutes, and then fades out. Tommy Shaw whispers the song title at times, which I assume is a Pokemon of some sort.
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Ew! Remember in my Pieces of Eight review when I said that I was upset at the last half of the album for sounding so stiff and boring? Yeah, consider “Lights” an even stiffer version of the last half of Pieces of Eight. I mean, this thing is so bereft of life that the only way I can entertain myself listening to this is imagining these guys are a bunch of zombies, jerking around. Geez, this is terrible, but nothing is more terrible than that really stupid ending when they repeat two notes as though it was a broken record. Does this mean you've completely run out of ideas? ... Hm, it's not like they had many of those to begin with. The melody and harmonies have some value to them, but they're utterly impossible to enjoy.
Why Me C
They're trying to one-up Supertramp here with this direct clone of their style, but it's completely devoid of their melodic prowess. I mean, the chorus has a little bit of value to it, and I like how those back-up vocals sound. But in the end, this is entirely forgettable and all it succeeds in doing is making me wish I was reviewing Supertramp. That saxophone solo is a little crazy, and I like it. Also good: the synth-heavy outro is a little bit funky really fun to listen to.
OK, let's look at this rationally even though I'm playing this song right now and it feels as though my head is about to explode. This ballad is bad. How could this have been a hit when it's so unbelievably lame? I can't recall anything else like this in their back-catalogue; most of their songs have been unbelievably cheesy and horribly annoying, but that was all child's play compared to this. It starts with a dated electric piano playing bland notes before Dennis DeYoung's whiny vocals come in at their most obnoxious. Trust me, that took some work on his part. Oh god..... the chorus just popped up again, and I'm going to barf. I've got to stop listening to this.
Never Say Never C-
Hey, don't look at me! I've never said never, ever! ...Um, I'm also glad that this mid-tempo rocker isn't so overtly annoying as “Babe.” I start out thinking this song might not be too horrible, especially since I'm relieved to hear Tommy Shaw's slightly less annoying whine on lead vocals instead of DeYoung's. But in the end, this song is as dull, boring and stiff as anything else on the album. The chorus is so hookless and boring that I can hardly believe there's someone out there who likes this album. Bluh!
Boat on the River B
Wow, this is a pleasant change-of-pace. There's absolutely nothing about this that rings of Styx... It's like that one Kiss song where they suddenly stopped sounding like themselves to mimic Rod Stewart, and I liked that too! I mean, this thing that sounds like a European folk song with its bouncy mandolin strumming, accordions and oompah trumpets isn't a particularly great song. The melody is fine, but not especially likable. But hell: This song is OK! Get that? IT'S OK!!!!!!!! That's all I ask of you, Styx.
Borrowed Time D+
Aw, man! I was hoping for a Jacques Brel cover, or something, since they were going all European, but then I remembered that this was Styx, and they were going to back to business-as-usual as soon as possible. Although there's a slight new-wave influence here with that bouncy drum line and quick bass. Other than that, this is a regular Styx song as far as I can tell. And what can I say about that that you wouldn't have guessed? It features another overtly obnoxious vocal performance from Dennis DeYoung and another one of their cliché vocal-heavy choruses. The melody is terrible, and the harmonies are bland. What else can I say? It's not as soul-draining as “Babe.” But pretty much every song in existence has that going for it at least. The part in the middle where they're interchanging “No!” and “Yes!” back and forth is also unintentionally hilarious.
First Time C
This is a decidedly mixed bag... On one hand, it begins as an electric-piano-led love ballad with lyrics so unbelievably corny that it marks a new low for Styx (and that took some work). On the other hand, the childish melody has at least something going for it, and the bouncy strings in the chorus are kind of nice and Beatles-esque. DeYoung's vocalizations, as whiny as ever, are at least not annoying me to death. It still gets a 'C' because I hate it. It sounds like they were directly trying to get a spot on some sort of adult-contemporary radio station, which could never have succeeded due to the voice. But it has some unexpected good qualities.
James Young? .... You're the same guy who wrote those excellent Styx ditties “Miss America” and “Great White Hope” in the previous albums. But I didn't expect this out of you—an extremely dumb hard rock song with a generic, boring riff. Even worse is his vocals have started to sound like an electrocuted version of Dennis DeYoung, which is what he sounded like in those Wooden Nickel recordings. Oh man, why did he have to revert back to that? And the synthesizer solo in here has to be the most annoying synthesizer solo ever.
Love in the Midnight C+
Is it just me, or is this song title retarded? Just who are these guys? Um, they're Styx. That says enough. This song doesn't start out too badly as a folkish number that has me hoping that Shaw was going to give us another “Boat on the River.” But then a chorus comes in with those layered Styx vocals, and those dreams are utterly shattered. The rhythm is clunky and dull. The last half of this, Shaw seems to have tried to turn it into an Alan Parsonsish art-rock song with a sort of ominous choir coming in and synthesizer gadgetry noodling around. It's not terrible, but it is weak. Ah, never mind. At least it isn't annoying. For that, it earns its place as one of Cornerstone's finest moments. It's one of the best things about poop. Good bye.
Paradise Theater (1981)
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A.D. 1928 A
…If you’ve been following the Styx discography in chronological order, and you suddenly listen to this song right after barfing during the final moments of Cornerstone, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at this very short but very sweet-natured piano piece. The melody of it is probably among Styx’s finest … and it doesn’t show much glitz. Of course, the song has self-importance, but … the nostalgic sense of it is, in a nutshell, well done.
Rockin' the Paradise A
You knew it was gonna happen. The Styx Glitz. The electric guitars flare up in their quasi-'50s rock glory playing a catchy riff and Dennis DeYoung starts singing loudly. …… Yet, through something that can only be explained by magic, the song is actually quite enjoyable. The melody, while it’s absolutely nothing you’d want to consider brilliant, is actually pretty catchy. The instrumental interlude, though totally generic, is completely enjoyable. Probably the most surprising thing about it all is DeYoung's vocals. They're excellent. He shows all the excitement required by such a song. I especially like those guttural intonations are spot-on. What happened here? Did I step into an alternate universe where Styx was a good band?
Too Much Time on My Hands A-
Once again, I must ask, how could Styx have done something so thoroughly offensive as Cornerstone and come back with a follow-up album that starts out this strongly? What's more, there was a distinct attempt here to update their sound (a synth-pop groove going off the whole time), but they managed to meld it perfectly with their bombastic vocals and power-riffs and such.
Nothing Ever Goes as Planned A
Do you remember in Cornerstone where Styx so blatantly tried to copy Supertramp's style and failed so miserably? Well, here they are again mimicking Supertramp... and completely redeeming themselves! Oh, those bouncy electric piano sound so fun and bubbly! Some minor tropical fragrance to the instrumentation as well as some funk trumpets were good touches to make it a terribly fun and exciting time. Oh man... Seriously, this is from an alternate universe where Styx was a good band.
The Best of Times B
Wow, Dennis must've really loved that piano melody he came up with in “A.D. 1928,” because here it is again. This time, it progresses into a chorus and everything... Well, the piano melody is nice and I welcome the chance to hear it a second time. But the chorus is really weak, concentrating a bit too much on their layered, screeching vocals and it also comes off as rather stiff. They were obviously going after some sort of 'epic' stance, but it didn't really work.
Lonely People B
It starts out quietly as some guy is playing the saxophone in an apartment complex somewhere and another guy screaming at him to shut up. Obviously, they took a few listens to The Wall or Scary Monsters before writing this material! Anyway, that's not a terrible introduction. When the actual song starts, it’s not very promising. It's rather bland, but then it picks up a bit as DeYoung gets a bit more passionate. The chorus isn’t very good, but let’s not forget that this is Styx! I still kinda miss the beginning of the album when they sounded like the parallel-universe version of themselves; now they've become distinctly average. I will say that in a bold, un-Styxian-like move, they insert an instrumental interlude in which part of it is actually interesting. The synths they choose is shaky and unstable and the electric guitar solo is similarly unstable … makes some pretty good listening!
She Cares C-
Yikes! Does anyone else notice that this album is sinking? This melody is so trite that I'm surprised that even Styx would be responsible for such a thing. ...Heck, The Carpenters probably wouldn't write a melody this cheesy, which is too cheesy for AM pop radio. Kiss would, though, definitely. What's nice about it, I guess, is Tommy Shaw's vocals aren't very annoying. When they bring in the layered vocals for the chorus, it's not that bad. ...But still. This song stinks.
Ha! Here's something I didn't know before... Tipper Gore sued Styx over this song, because it apparently contains the phrase “Satan move through our voices” when played backwards. I mean, this is ridiculous on more than one account. 1) The phrase-in-question actually says something when it's played forward. 2) Even if Styx did it intentionally, then so what? Can't you say “Satan move through our voices” without fear of getting sued by the future Second Lady? This ordeal is said to have inspired the concept album Kilroy Was Here, which is a crappy album, and now I am free to blame Tipper Gore directly for that. (On that note, it's interesting that Tipper Gore may have indirectly inspire “Mr. Roboto.” You can't say that about everyone.) ...So, where was I? I can tell you that listen to this song the whole way through, multiple times, and not once become in need of an exorcism. But I'm also not moved by it or even particularly like listening to it. It's inoffensive, at least, but it's also one of their stiffer, more ultra-serious numbers, which I have a tough time getting into. So, blah, blah, blah... What's next?
Half-Penny, Two-Penny B
Obviously, this hard-rock song is one of James Young's thingies. Anything hard-rock on a Styx album I guess I can automatically assume is his without even looking it up! Well, it's not the worst thing on the planet, but it's clear this guy's melodic talents peaked with the two songs from The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight. The riff is played quickly and tightly, which is good, but it's not a terribly memorable riff. The vocal melody is even blander. Hm. There's a sound-effects interlude filled with street noises, which isn't that interesting. Young also takes an opportunity to shred his guitar, which is fine. It's nothing terribly unique, but it also doesn't adhere strictly to the boring cliches. The last minute or so of this track tacks on the “A.D. 1928” theme for the third time, and this time with a saxophone. Hmm... That bleeds into the last track.
A.D. 1958 B-
Man. Dennis DeYoung was so in love with this melody that it officially surfaced in four of these tracks. It might be a good theme, but we don't wanna hear it that much. ...Yeah.
State Street Sadie
This is just a tiny 20-second snippet of a simple old-timey tune that fades out. It's the same idea as “Her Majesty” from Abbey Road, but this sounds more like cowboy saloon music from the movies. Um. It's not bad. I guess.
Kilroy Was Here (1983)
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Mr. Roboto A+
What do we have here? A spaced-out synth-scape intro, a goofy synth-pop groove, cheesy theatrical vocals and some of the most incredibly pretentious and geeky lyrics I've ever heard. And yet, through some incredibly bizarre force of nature, this song not only *works*, but it's just about one of the most goshdurn awesome experiences ever conceived by mankind. Dennis DeYoung usually sucks, but for some reason everything actually came together here so well that I almost think he knew what he was doing. The melody is extremely catchy in the *good* way, and all those spaced-out noodly sections and robot-voices are fun to hear. I can't believe it, but this is a Styx song and it's a massive classic.
Cold War C
And it quickly begins to sink in that “Mr. Roboto” was basically the only reason for this album to exist. They were also more than willing to sink in with the '80s, so you can expect more of those drum machine and synth-pop grooves. Unfortunately, whereas the groove worked wonderfully in “Mr. Roboto,” this disjointed thing is just lame. Tommy Shaw's melody is boring, too. What I do find kind of likable about this, however, is that ultra-polished guitar riff. It packs a punch! Unfortunately, that's only a minor part of this...
Don't Let it End D
NOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!! OH, THE HUMANITTTTTTTTT... This is so brutal that I can't even finish that sentence. Why are they doing this to me??? I thought I told you that your electric piano ballads were complete crap when I reviewed Cornerstone, but you completely didn't listen to me. The good news is that this is better than “Babe.” The bad news that pretty much everything is better than “Babe.” There's a decent hook in the chorus (I'm feeling nice), hence the non-F rating, but I can't take this saccharine.
High Time B-
For some reason, I don't think this song sucks. I hated it in my original review, but I can't remember why I hated it so. I suppose it must have been the introduction, which is an overly cutesy throwback to vocal pop songs from the '50s. Yeah, that's an embarrassing introduction, but that's basically over after the first thirty seconds. The rest of the song is a mostly inoffensive, overblown Styx rocker (if there is such a thing) with a bouncy electric guitar that's right out of The Beatles' “Getting Better.”
Heavy Metal Poisoning C-
Here's the nadir of James Young, although I will admit that his weird, low-pitched singing is crazy enough to be fun. I also really hate listening to the guitars as it's just opening, but somehow it gets better as it progresses. As you'd expect from Young, he gives us a hard rock song... and since this was the early '80s, you can expect it to resemble trashy hair metal. Yeah, this is such a trashy hair metal song that it has Spinal Tap written all over it. It's funny in its unintentional way, and amusing enough, but this starts to grow tiresome after more than one listen.
Just Get Through the Night C
Tommy Shaw was trying to go cinematic with this one. A light synthscape while a slightly out-of-tune banjo right out of the soundtrack of Once Upon a Time in the West wails in the background. This intro comes off as a bit pedestrian and it's a little boring to be honest, but it's not bad. Good try. What comes next is a fairly standard Styx power ballad. The melody is OK although unmemorable. Tommy Shaw tries to sing well beyond his vocal range, which just makes the song seem even more pompous. That electric guitar solo in the middle is truly lame.
Double Life C-
Wait a second.......... This is ANOTHER James Young composition? I thought he was only allotted one per album. He gave Styx some good songs a few albums back, but the basset hound has been sucking lately... Why are you giving him the benefit of the doubt? Well, this song isn't so much *bad* as it never takes off. The melody doesn't go anywhere. The instrumentation is just your ordinary early '80s pop-rock fare with a mid-tempo drum machine, horn synths and a pulsating bass rhythm. The synth-heavy fade-out sounds like they were trying to emulate Alan Parsons, but that was pretty much doomed at the start.
Haven't We Been Here Before? D
Yeah, haven't we been here before? I thought I told you to stop it with the saccharine ballads! The one thing this song has over “Babe” and “Don't Let it End” is they spare us the electric piano. But that doesn't mean this song sounds like it should have an electric piano. Not only is it so cheesy that it's unbearable, but the melody has precisely zero hooks in it. Nothing. I listen to this song and feel it sucking my essence out of my ears. Just the fact that DeYoung and Shaw felt the need to do an “Up-Where-We-Belong”-style duet in this gives me reason to stab my temples with plastic forks.
Don't Let it End (Reprise) C-
Oh god, LET IT END. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE!!!! I'm not sure what possesses Styx to end their albums with medleys of their earlier songs. If we really wanted that, we'd just play the original songs again. I guess they were going for a big Broadway finale...... But nobody wants that. It was bad enough when Styx was not pretending to be on Broadway.
Caught in the Act (1984)
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Music Time F
If it's music time, then you'd better turn this song off and go listen to The Bee Gees or something. This studio song makes the worst of Kilroy Was Here look like The Bee Gees. This is pretty embarrassing '80s fare. It comes fully equipped with the dated '80s organ synths and ultra-polished guitars. The riff is so bland that they might as well have just been playing random notes. Dennis DeYoung's vocals are just weird. Wildly warbling around and he barely even sounds like he's singing with the music... if you can even call it music. I believe I've been one to generally be kind to Styx. But here, they're the musical equivalents of chickens running around with their heads cut off.
Mr. Roboto C+
Ah yes, here's the live version of that one song about the robots. They could do nothing that would have devalued the catchy melody, but this isn't even worth half of what the studio version is worth. Listening to Dennis DeYoung's barely-engaged vocals makes it obvious that he was dancing around with a costume of some sort. There's one point where he's wailing, but it sounded like he suddenly choked on a hairball or something. Wow. The instrumentals try to play exactly what was on the studio version... so unless you like imaging what sort of sinister things were happening to DeYoung to make him sing so weird, then this is basically worthless.
Too Much Time on My Hands B-
This is still one of Styx's better synth-pop oriented songs. Proving that Dennis DeYoung isn't the only one who could sing weird, Tommy Shaw puts this really nutty warble to his voice, including this part where he does this demented little laugh. It's not quite as difficult to listen to as the previous song. But once again, apart from the worse singing, this is exactly the way it was in the studio. Well there's that dumb thing at the end where they speed it up like crazy. That was awkward. At least James Young's guitar solos aren't as bizarre as the singing.
Nooooooooooooooo!!! Couldn't they have at least spared us this utter monstrosity? ...Ah, I guess those pimply dorks in the audience all wanted to hear this, and they can't disappoint them! Is it OK that I forget to listen to this? .... Oh god, it's playing right now, and I can't stop it........ I must hold on. Babe I luffff yyyyyuuuuu! ooOOooOOoohhhhh! At the very least, this isn't as overtly offensive as the radio version. The instrumentation is a little more bare-bones here, which helps matters. But I still hate it and it deserves to die. If it was possible to give the death penalty to rock songs, then I'd give it to this one.
Ah yes, the song that Tipper Gore proved to the world that Styx were nothing but a sect of Satanists. If her husband turns out to be right about Global Warming, then I'll believe anything she says! ...They have an extended introduction to this effect, and they proceed to play this soooong. And what do you know? They prove that they can sing a song without making it completely weird after all! It's a little boring, though, and James Young's guitar solo is a little bit loud and show-offey. But that isn't unexpected. Alright then.
The Best of Times B-
They open this with a rendition of “State Street Sadie” while Dennis proceeds to sing that fine piano ballad that opened Paradise Theater. His vocal performance, again, is a little bit shaky. He does a few bizarre intonations as though his voice were giving out or something... I mean, seriously, I can't understand what prompted him to sing like this. He thought he was being theatrical, apparently... He was trying to be “soulful” at the end like Tina Turner, but his voice keeps giving out. Amateur! The overall rendition of the song is OK, but it's nowhere near as good as the studio version. Why am I listening to this? I could be twiddling my thumbs right now... or trying to lick my elbows...
Suite Madame Blue D
Styx suddenly remembered that they had a back catalogue as they cover this so-so song from Equinox. Dennis once again is being an idiot. ..........I really don't believe this. There's a part in the middle where the instruments stop playing and he sings for one sustained note for about 15 seconds. What a jerk. This song goes for nearly nine minutes long, and it's like dying a slow death. That synthesizer solo is similarly stupid. They turned a perfectly mediocre song into something disgusting. I'm not going to write anything else about it.
Rockin' the Paradise C
This is more terribleness. Again, just listen to the studio version. When people tell you that Styx songs are generally well-produced, believe them, because that's all some of these songs had going for them. The original version of this was pretty exciting, but this one sounds much more sluggish, and we have to hear through Dennis DeYoung AGAIN.
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) C+
You know what this song means? It's a Tommy Shaw composition, so I only have to bear through Dennis DeYoung on back-up vocals. Though Tommy Shaw's vocals are rather weak, and he also tries out these weird, warbly intonations at times. This really isn't a terrible rocker, though. (I think I may have underrated it in my Pieces of Eight review... Maybe I'll revisit it when the doctor reinstates my Prozac prescription.)
Miss America B
That extended introduction featuring James Young growling at the audience was completely unnecessary. At least that catchy riff is still intact, but I completely miss Young's excellent vocal performance from the studio version. He sounds like a complete weakling here, when the studio version had a memorably sinister edge to it. He's being a little bit weird here... He sings a little too highly pitched at times, and at one point he starts mumbling. All in all, this is very smart compared to DeYoung.
Don't Let it End D
Should I say it?.................. Yes. OH LET IT END, PLEAAAAAASE!!!!!!! I still say this ballad isn't as terrible as “Babe,” but it's still a terrible song. The melody is boring. James Young gives us a rather bland guitar performance, but that only fits the bland nature of the song. I'm bored. Even Dennis DeYoung is boring. (At least he doesn't do anything particularly bizarre here... this is a “serious” song, you see, but not serious enough to get freaky with it.)
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) B
They're really taking their sweet times with these songs. Luckily, this is one of Tommy Shaw's compositions, and his weak vocals are quite tame. Man... I can still hear Dennis over-sing in the background. This is one of Styx's better songs, of course, and the sloppy instrumentation doesn't do much to make the experience unlistenable. That synthesizer solo is pretty amateurish, but it isn't offensive or anything.
Crystal Ball D
Crystal Ball isn't an album that I, or probably anyone else in the audience, really needed to be reminded of. Well, here they go, trying to murder us. ...But I will say that the folky beginning isn't bad. It isn't until 15 seconds when it starts to get boring. It isn't until the electric part pipes up, it becomes mind-numbingly tedious. Now, why didn't they perform the plexiglass toilet song? That's what I paid my money for!!!
Come Sail Away C
Any Styx concert wouldn't be complete without this piece of pig's garbage. Dennis DeYoung introduces this song telling us “Sometimes dreams dooooooooooo come truuuuuuuue.” Thanks, Dennis. I so believe that now! ... Luckily, DeYoung's weird theatrical intonations are kept to a minimum here, but when he incites the audience to sing along with him by screaming “From the heart!” I want to smash things. Once again, this is extremely weak compared to the studio version. There's just no reason to have this. The Pink Floyd instrumental interlude has none of that charm.
Edge of the Century (1990)
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Love is the Ritual A-
Well, there goes my dignity. I can honestly say that I'm actually finding this slick stadium-rocker to be quite a nice treat. It was something that Tommy Shaw's replacement, Glen Burtnik, had previously written and intended for his own solo album. But you know something this unpretentious and fun would only serve to enhance a Styx album! This is very much a product of the late-'80s/early-'90s, but it's pretty fun to listen to. Rock 'n' roll purists are going to hate this for sounding so polished and prissy, but I don't mind it. The melody has some nice hooks in it, and the rhythm is nice 'n' beefy. It's mostly forgettable, but that doesn't stop it from being a decently effective toe-tapper. Of course, you're not going to come into a Styx reunion album expecting.
Show Me the Way B-
Oh, here is Styx as I know them. It's a Dennis DeYoung ballad!!! Heaven help me! As you might know, I sat through many-a-Dennis-DeYoung ballad over the last month, and they all pretty much sound alike. I think he probably got a bigger budget to record this one, because this sounds rather nicely polished. The melody is corny, and so is the dated instrumentation. I don't hate it, though. It doesn't offend me, so there's no reason to waste your hate on this.
Edge of the Century B-
This is another one of those Glen Burtnik songs that I assume he meant for his solo album before Mr. Nerdy Boy paid him a visit. It's an ordinary bar-rock song, and it's not bad as far as those sorts of songs go I suppose. I mean, if you like Huey Lewis & The News, then you're probably going to like this. The melody is OK, but I think Mr. Burtnik probably hit his peak with “Love is the Ritual.”
Love At First Sight B
If there's such a thing as rock 'n' roll hell, I'm almost certainly going there for giving a song like this anything above a D-. Yes, it's another one of DeYoung's fruity adult-contemporary ballads that I'm technically deathly sick of by now. ...But hear me out! It's has such a pretty melody, doesn't it? I know it's not saying much, but this is unquestionably one of DeYoung's finest ballads. It's very radio friendly, and it's better than Wilson-Phillips. I know, that's not saying much.
All in a Day's Work B-
This bluesier song is weirdly good. It's led with acoustic guitars and has an OK melody and absolutely no drums. I know, the thought of Styx playing a song without drums scares the bejeezus out of me, but it's not too bad. Very dated, though. Just like everything on DeYoung's Boomchild, I could definitely picture this as a TV theme song somewhere. I really wish I didn't watch so much TV in the early '90s...
Not Dead Yet B
Not altogether a bad song! I know that I'm not supposed to be impressed with these generic bar-rock songs, but at least they're meant to be fun and unpretentious. This is a cover from the obscure rock band The Bad Examples. But this riff has been floating around since the '50s.
World Tonight C-
Not too good this time. It's a very dull and generic bar-rocker. It's not unlike “Edge of the Century” or “Love is a Ritual,” but those were sort of fun. This is as soulless as a song like this deserves to be. It's a limp fish. Blech. It sounds like the Ghostbusters theme, too. That means it also sounds like Huey Lewis & The News.
Carrie Ann B-
Alright, Mr. Dennis. We're getting a little tired of your ballads. Two is plenty for you, sir. Quit hogging the spotlight! ... And, besides, wasn't there a basset hound in the recording studio with you who didn't a solo songwriting credit for anything here? Didn't you notice that his solo album completely ruled over anything that you did? Hmph. DeYoung, hogging the spotlight as usual. ...And this song isn't anything that we haven't heard before. It's well-written and tuneful, but entirely cliché and dated. The middle-eight section is pretty good, though. Um... It's not bad, actually. God, I wish I could hate this.
They let the basset hound take lead vocals on this, at least. This is the sort of song he would sing, and he shares a songwriting credit with DeYoung. Its sounds very similar to Pat Benatar's “Heartbreaker,” right up to the rhyming scheme in the chorus. I'm not going to complain about that, though. Styx are usually quite good when they blatantly rip people off. (Was this supposed to be a response to that song? ... The lyrics have the sexes all turned around!) This is almost hard-rock-ish, except they were too busy worshiping St. Huey Lewis to *actually* turn into a hard rock band. ...Not that we would particularly want Styx to do that. Young does seem to turn in quite a cool guitar solo. He's a decent guitar player, I think. He got better with age.
Back to Chicago C
It starts out like a ballad, but it eventually progresses to more of a Vegasy showtune. It's not very good at all. The melody is dumb, and DeYoung's showy vocal performance gets terribly obnoxious. That's nothing you wouldn't expect from the guy, though. It's funny, this is the only song on this album that strikes me as theatric. ...I guess it's weird hearing a Styx album that concentrates mostly on rock 'n' roll ... even if it's the Huey Lewis variety.
Styx Solo Album Song Reviews
Dennis DeYoung: Desert Moon (1984)
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Don't Wait For Heroes C
The problem I have with this song is not that it's so '80s that it hurts. In fact, I love '80s pop music in general! The problem is that it's just so freaking bland. And obviously, it just blindly follows the '80s pop trends in what I assume was a blatant attempt at getting a major pop hit. Dennis DeYoung is someone who I thought at least had some imagination. (His imagination wasn't ever really inspired, but at least he tried usually.) The melody is boring and forgettable, and the instrumentation is just the typical loud drums, synthesizers, and uber-polished guitars. There's a calmer bit in the middle with smoother synthesizers and the drummer is given a break... Yeah, BORING! I'm not even sure his fans would have wanted this. But then again, I'm not sure how his fans think. They might have loved this for all I knew.
Dennis, let me introduce you to melodies. You can hear them in Beatles albums and Supertramp albums, which I know you've heard because you ripped them off before. Melodies can be a very good thing, if you weren't aware of that already, and they are especially important if you're going to write radio-friendly '80s pop music. If you think “Please” has a good melody, then I have news for you. It's bland and forgettable. I axe you, do we really need more radio-friendly stuff from the '80s that are bland and forgettable? ...That's quite a vibrant vocal performance you're giving, at least. I think you're overdoing it, but I'm not going to harp on that. The instrumentation is very polished and very '80s, but somehow the guitars sound slightly grittier here, which is nice.
Boys Will Be Boys C
I have a confession to make. The first time I listened to this (which wasn't very attentively), I thought it was a hoot. I really have no idea why, because I think it's kinda stupid now. This synth-pop track sounds like it's a tribute to those '60s beach party movies, but tries to update it for the '80s. The groove is sort of fun and energetic, but when I listen to it more than once, it really starts to rub me the wrong way. I possibly shouldn't give this a C, but I sort of want to give it the benefit of the doubt. It's stupid but sorta fun. The uber-cheesy vocals (a chorus of bubble-gum singers with some dorky sounding guy singing those low-pitch cliché beach party notes of “dum-diddy-dum-dum”) are extremely silly. Dennis does some play acting, as though he were one of the rowdy boys. ...Um, isn't that gray hair I see on the album cover?
Wow, I never thought I'd live to see the day that Dennis DeYoung covers Jimi Hendrix. ...God, I can't believe I'm going to say this: This really isn't that terrible. I mean, Dennis still has those nerdy, nasally and overblown vocals, and it's pretty obvious he thinks he's a better singer than he really is. But I've gotten so accustomed to hearing his vocals that it doesn't bug me very much at all. Another surprise is the guitars are actually pretty nice sounding here. They're nowhere close to the original and seem more inspired by hair-metal than anything, but ... still, they come up with a few nice things here and there. Well, OK, this is good.
Desert Moon C-
God, I'm really being nice to this guy. This thing is six long minutes and so saccharine sweet. I should be getting upset with this, but I'm not. This must be a good day. I watched the MTV music video for this song about five days ago, and I wanted to puke. Geez, Dennis really has a knack for making music videos that make songs sound worse than they actually are. Of course, there's the notorious “Mr. Roboto” video, which I didn't bother re-watching before writing my Kilroy Was Here review. Probably a good thing. But still, this song isn't the great shakes...The first problem is that the instrumentation is just really boring. Synthesizers are here doing their usual things, and the drums are plodding the same mid-tempo patterns throughout. (They're so uninteresting that that's the only real way to describe them!) An electric guitar solo comes in occasionally, and sounds like he's in a half-daze. I wouldn't be surprised if he was, because this is so boring. The melody isn't terrible this time, but it's also something I wouldn't like getting stuck in my head. This is still not worth listening to, but at least it isn't offensive.
He's going for a lite-rock thing here, again, with subtle electric pianos and a cheesy vocal melody. Again, this isn't very good at all, but I'm also curiously not getting annoyed with it. I'm really beginning to suspect that I've just become completely numb to bad adult-contemporary probably from banging my head against the closet door so often. Well, I'll have to say that Dennis DeYoung smoothed things over in such a predigested state that it's sort of like a nice poison pill. Even that sort of strange instrument that comes in the end (a harmonica synth?) sounds phony.
Do you hear that (harmonica?) synthesizer at the beginning of the song. It's playing basically the same thing as that flute synth in “Lady.” The introduction of this song also has these sweet little Christmasy choirs singing “bum! bum! bum!” The atmosphere is a little stale, but it's nice. Then this incredibly stale heavier rocking bit comes in and completely spoils the atmosphere! ...Oh well. Again, this song is so stale that it's almost like listening to silence. That shouldn't be a very big surprise since most of these songs are like that. The melody is forgettable. Does this song even exist? Maybe I'm imagining this whole album.
Dear Darling (I'll Be There) D+
No, I'm not imagining this album. Whenever I dream about music that I make up, it's usually something so weird and disjointed that it creeps me out when I wake up and think about it. This album just ain't creeping me out. It's boring the crap out of me, but what else is new? I'm sorry, but these bland melodies really start to get to me, and this is even blander than the rest. The instrumentation is very '80s, of course, and it doesn't have an ounce of personality. I'm trying to be fair to it... but after sitting through so much of this, I get more and more restless.
Tommy Shaw: Girls With Guns (1984)
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Girls With Guns C+
I might not like this song very much, but I will say there is something extremely sexy about girls with guns. Case in point: Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 3. Yeaaah, Tommy Shaw knows what I'm talking about. .......Of course he couldn't have known back then because the movie didn't exist in 1984, but I'm sure when Tommy Shaw sat in that movie theater in 1992 to witness the blessed event when Lethal Weapon 3 hit the screens, he smirked and said to himself: “Yeah. I did know what I was talking about.” ...OK, I guess I should quit stalling and write about the actual song. When it comes right down to it, there's really not that much to write about. It's a lame '80s pop song. Loud drums. Power synthesizers. A crap-load of reverb. It's very cheesy and, unfortunately, not in the awesome way. The melody is lame. Tommy Shaw's vocals are weak, weak, weak. I'm being nice to it with that C+, because I'm not sick to death of this album yet.
Come In and Explain C-
I'm not sick of it yet! I reaaaaallly don't like this song, but I can happily report that I'm still hanging onto my sanity by a thread! (As far as I'm able to judge this, I guess.) It starts out with some dark guitars chords. Sounds kinda evil, and kinda promising. But then Tommy Shaw starts to sing and the whole thing is shot to hell. Just your ordinary guitar-heavy '80s pop. The synthesizers are a little less intrusive than the previous song, but the whole experience is quite a bit blander. Those parts where Shaw sings plainly with those loud drums are barf-worthy. What a pathetic little voice. A middle-eight interlude sounds like it's about to fall apart. Yeesh.
Lonely School B-
Holy crap. Haven't I read everywhere that Tommy Shaw was always having these scuffles with Dennis DeYoung, because DeYoung would always compose these cheesy radio ballads? And what's Tommy Shaw doing here? HE'S COMPOSING A CHEESY RADIO BALLAD! But in his defense, this is about a billion times better than “Babe.” That's no compliment, but I will also tell you that, for some bizarre reason, I kinda like this in a lame sort of way. I'll forget the melody tomorrow, but it's likable. The instrumentation is overproduced garbage, but I also don't hate that, either. (((((Oh man... The only reason I would recommend anyone listen to this godforsaken album is just to hear Tommy Shaw try to hit that high-note in the final third. It's so pathetic, it's hilarious!!!)))))
Heads Up D+
It's sorta good when it starts up... It has an upbeat, ultra-polished ABBA quality about it with a decent chord progression and a cool piano in the background. But after 45 seconds, the main portion of the song pipes up, and it consists of a bare, awkward guitar groove, and I'm sick to death of it after 10 seconds. The song never regains its dignity after that. Bleughghgh.
Kiss Me Hello C
He sounds so much like Dennis DeYoung here that I had might as well call him Dennis DeYoung. The other thing Shaw was reportedly arguing endlessly about was all of DeYoung's theatrical antics. But as I hear this start out, I'll be hornswaggled if it doesn't sound theatric. I'm beginning to suspect these rumors weren't even true... The piano at the beginning has a distinct Paradise Theater vibe, except it's a lot more depressing. The really dark instrumentation works to heighten the drama, and Shaw tries really hard with a showman's vocal performance. I'll tell you that I like the first minute and a half of this. But it never shifts out of that dark tone, and Shaw never finds new melodies. Considering it goes on for a bloated seven and a half minutes, I'm surprised I'm not climbing the walls by the time it's over. ...Well, it might be little more than a boring '80s blur, but it's not bad.
Fading Away F
Oh yuck... I sat through that monstrosity previous track and went away awarding it a C. I can stomach it all! But this is just faaaaaaar too much to ask. I don't even know what this thing is supposed to be. I'd imagine he was trying to be quirky, but ... dammit. This is terrible. It's an upbeat sort of song with these really disjointed ska-like electric guitars... or at least I think those were ska-like guitars. I am so mindblowingly flabbergasted at weird this sounds. And it's not the pleasant sort of weird; it's like it's trying to give me a brain aneurysm. That middle-eight section is even worse. This is the soundtrack of Hell. And I mean the torturous kind of Hell. Ya don't want to go here.
Little Girl World C-
Saved from the murky depths of F-dom because I'm glad I'm not listening to “Fading Away” anymore. I get the idea that he was trying to write a song sort of like Paul McCartney's “Mull of Kintyre,” except with so much reverb that I can barely hear anything. Really! To the thirteen people in the universe who have ever listened to this album: Don't you think Shaw was overdoing it with the reverb? Granted, it was probably a good idea to mask his wimpy little voice, but ...yeesh. And he brings in those huuuuge drums, of course. I'm not sick of those by now. The only problem with trying to write something with that nice folkish vibe is he can't write a good melody to save his life. And this is just bland. And lame... And boring........ And really sucky. (Wait a minute... what happened to the guy who wrote that European folk ballad “Boat on a River?” I almost forgot about that. He fell into a black hole no doubt. ...And I thought the guy was already in a black hole.) Oh, but I like that horn synthesizer tooting around like it's from Britain or something. I'll give it a C-.
Outside in the Rain D+
This is better, because he's not embarrassing himself with folk music or ska. This is just an '80s power pop song. It would have made a perfectly boring three minute song, but I get really freaking tired of it as it goes twice that long. He also does a smart thing and hires a female singer for much of this. She has absolutely no personality in her voice, but I'm glad I'm finally listening to a singer who is supposed to sound like a girl. I really wish Tommy Shaw would write a decent melody. Seriously, he's making me miss Dennis DeYoung. Anyone who makes me miss Dennis DeYoung is evil. More evil than paper cuts.
Free to Love You C-
I've basically lost my will to live by now. I know the worst is over, but it feels like my brain has just been torn up by shards of glass and it needs time to heal. Basically, “Free to Love You” is a bland and forgettable '80s pop song. It's not nearly as offensive to th' ears as the previous three tracks. In fact, this song is like heaven compared to those. But still, the melody is boring. The rhythm is bouncy. Too bouncy. I wish I was watching basketball. I hate basketball.
The Race is On C+
The race is on, indeed! Can I listen to this song the whole way through without collapsing? We'll see!! The good news is this song has a sort of fun, bubbly groove to it. It's very Police-ish. Come to think of it, listen to that vocal performance. Oh god... Sting??? At certain times, he unexpectedly shifts tones to a ballad about a minute into it, but even that's sort of likable in that wimpy sort of way. I also sort of like that saxophone. A little grimy. A little '80s. It plays too low at times. It plays too high at other times. Not bad!
Tommy Shaw: What If? (1985)
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Is this Tommy Shaw, or is this John Boogar Mellencamp? ... No, this is Tommy Shaw. But he was trying to give old Mr. Cougar-head a run for his money with this power-pop song with loud drums, polished synthesizers, and gritty guitars! Oh, a seedy saxophone takes over in the final third!!! No sarcasm: I like that saxophone! .... As a matter of fact, I like this song. It's all very well done. It's the best possible '80s production that money could buy. The atmosphere is polished with a driving-enough of a beat that it can get the old foot tapping. It just needed a more memorable melody. And Tommy Shaw is still a crappy singer. But at least he did a nice thing and supplemented his vocals with back-up singers. That's what was missing from Girls With Guns. That and good taste.
Remo's Theme (What If) A-
Oh, here's the ultimate theoretical question: What if Tommy Shaw was capable of putting out decent '80s pop music? Wait! It's not theoretical! He's doing it RIGHT HERE!!! HOLY CRAPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!! (Was that too obnoxious? I'm sorry. I do that a lot.) He's doing more of that Mellencamp-inspired power-pop stuff, and it's quite good. Again, he's using a good mix of gruffy guitars, fun '80s snare drums, and—best of all—those female back-up singers! Oh! Listen to the melody! It's actually good 'n' catchy! I'll put this right up there with anything by Johnny Blimp Handicapped any week of the day! It's that good! It's only sin? Those brief stabs of the horn synth. They didn't need to be there.
Reach For the Bottle C+
OK, this is just boring. He's going for a sort of gritty-bluesy piano pop song, but Tommy Shaw should be aware that he's capable of pulling off such a thing as convincingly as I can (i.e., not that convincingly). The pacing of the song is OK, but still too sluggish for my taste. Shaw tries to put a little “umph” and “soul” in that vocal performance, but he's too much of a little dork to pull that off. The melody is forgettable. But the instrumentation is good, at least! The flashy metal-inspired guitar solo in the middle ain't half bad!
Friendly Advice F
Here's myyyyyyyy friendly advice: Lose that lisp! It makes you sound like a panzy! ...What's with that lisp, anyway? I didn't hear that in the previous three songs. It's like he bit his tongue or something. ...But complaining about that lisp is such small potatoes compared to the rest of this song that's just sooooooooooooo bad that I'm surprised that even Tommy Shaw could come up with something so bad. First of all, those electronic-induced calls of “uh! uh! uh!” throughout is freaking retarded. Lose those. The melody is extremely simple and dumb. Lose that. To make matters even more embarrassing is that sudden ending! Like someone was sick to death of it and just flipped off the switch. ....On second thought, that was the best possible ending for it. Should have turned it off sooner, though.
This is Not a Test B+
Maybe the whole point of “Friendly Advice” was just to make this song sound awesome. The rhythm has actual drive to it... The riff might be a little cheesy, but I like it. The melody is pretty catchy. It has a middle-eight section, and that's pretty catchy too. Shaw's vocal performance has a little bit of verve to it, surprisingly. The lyrics are about a nuclear bomb, and it ends with a huge nuclear blast, and that is cool. The guitar is busy at work, and it plays quite a few good licks! Even that scream-singing at the end gives a nice apocalyptic vibe. Oh god. I can't believe I'm enjoying this.
See Me Now C+
Not bad, but not good either. The instrumentation sounds nice, and Shaw's vocals are good enough for the radio I suspect. But the melody is extremely bland, and so this just a very nothing-experience in the end. It's hardly offensive, and I can like it well enough if I'm not paying attention to it. But I'm paying close attention to it right now, and I ain't liking it.
True Confessions D-
As opposed to false confessions? ... OK, I'm seriously freaking out right now. Tommy Shaw's lisp is back, and so is the retarded vocal melodies and the bad instrumentation. This Jekyll and Hyde quality of this album is making me very confused! This appears to be something like a piano-boogie tune, which sounds a lot more like something Dennis DeYoung would try to pull off except DeYoung would be better at it. That piano-boogie is just clunky, and so are those synthesizer stabs throughout. It's not so ungodly as “Friendly Advice,” but it's still making me go bonkers.
Count on You D
The good news is that the non-lispy singer is BACK! The bad news is that he's singing a REALLY FREAKINGLY BORING BALLAD THAT WILL MAKE YOU GO COMPLETELY MAD IF YOU DARE SITTING THROUGH THE WHOLE THING. It's similar to “Unchained Melody,” a song that I find boring as it is, but this takes it to a new level of utter boringness. The corny lyrics, the canned-sounding drum-beat, and Shaw's wussy vocals is amateurish. Zzzzzz!!!!! The worst thing about it is that it never ends. Goes on for six minutes. GIVE ME STRENGTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Nature of the Beast C-
Zzzzzzzzzz... If you were still sleeping because “Count on You” bored you to death so effectively, there's no reason to wake up for this sluggish pop-ballad. It's surely an improvement; the instrumentals are more involved and polished, but the melody is flat and dumb. ...Man, I'm bored. This sort of song makes me can't wait to go to the bathroom next.
Bad Times C
He's being merciful on us and closes the album with an upbeat song with a mercifully short three-minute running length, but it's still boring as all heck. The melody is forgettable and bland. The vocals aren't embarrassing, but they're still wimpy in that special Tommy Shaw way. The Vegasy horn section gives the song some added verve, but they don't fix the fact that the melody is boring. Hm. I can be glad for one thing: This album is over! (Yay!)
Dennis DeYoung: Back to the World (1986)
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This is the Time B-
Not bad, Mr. Man, not bad. If you're going to make cheesy adult-contemporary music, this is a way to go about it. The melody isn't great, but it's fine. It has a well-placed and decent middle-eight section. The instrumentation brings us a nice combination of synthesizers, electric guitars, saxophones and drums. It's definitely dated to the mid-'80s, but it's mixed well enough that it avoids sounding *too* dated. I mean, I don't know why anyone would want to listen to this unless you're under some weird quest to review every solo Styx album. But as long as we're here, this ain't that shabby.
Warning Shot B-
Man! This guy is really going neck-deep in the cheezoid ballads! Not that you wouldn't expect him to, considering his status as Dennis DeYoung. Again, this isn't bad as far as bad ballads from the '80s goes. I like the way that it starts out, giving us a decent melody and a classical-inspired chord progression. Even that foofy guitar solo sounds like something Mozart might have come up with if he had the ability to compose for the electric guitar. My main complaint with it is the middle-eight section is very clunky. Bringing in the full choir at the end probably wasn't a good idea, since the song didn't pick up enough inertia to deserve such a thing. ...You have to earn a full choir. Dennis, you should know that.
Call Me D
This ballad is even more cheezoid than the last one. You can tell that right away in the first three seconds with that lightly played electric piano and that bedroom-saxophone. This song is so slow that I'm willing to bet that he didn't even consider those last two songs ballads... even though they were. I'm also going on a limb and saying that I could envision something more groan-inducing than this. In fact, I'm positive those things exist. But he should have done something with this melody, which is as flat and lifeless as a roadkill cat, and it's BORING.
Unanswered Prayers C
ANOTHER ballad. As if just having to bear through another one of his ballads wasn't bad enough, he makes this one six-and-a-half minutes long. The sad thing is, I sort of liked this for about three minutes, which is the length a cheesy ballad like this should have. Seriously, Dennis, why didn't you just write another ballad instead of padding the album like this? I mean, they're basically all clones of each other, anyway, so it wouldn't have been hard or anything. I will say that the melody is pretty good, and I like that sitar-like instrument he works in. But after the three-minute mark, the whole thing just gets overblown with these overextended guitar solos and mediocre saxophone. Fading in that piano at the end wasn't a good idea, either. Very pretentious, too!! Grr!!! ...Oh wait, expecting Dennis DeYoung to be unpretentious is like expecting Britney Spears to be sober.
Black Wall C
Guess what this song is? That's right. A ballad. But maybe this is a different sort of ballad since it has a slightly disheveled electric guitar in it. The electric guitar helps heighten this serious as hell ballad's sense of drama. Again, I wouldn't call this a terrible thing to sit through, but it's so slow and boring (not to mention nearly six minutes long) that I'd might as well be sitting through noting. Come on, Mr. DeYoung, show us some of that famous nerdular spirit of yours!
Southbound Ryan B-
This song starts with what sounds like a squeaky and annoying harmonica solo. It screeches so loudly that it hurts my poor eardrums! Things get better after that point as an upbeat dance song pipes up. It's not a particularly good dance song, but this is the first song of the album with an actual beat so excuse me if I just get excited over that fact. I wish he would have thought through some of this more... The melody could have been more infectious, and I don't know why he had to use such cheap synthesizers in such a boring fashion. Oh right. It was the mid '80s.
I'll Get Lucky B+
Well, hey, this isn't too bad! This is also a rocker like the previous song, but it's quite a bit more inventive and it has a melody that's slightly worth a damn. So, I guess that makes this a successful one! It reminds me of the theme song to a kiddie show from the '80s. And maybe it should have been. The '80s technology runs rampant through this, but the synthesizers at least provide some various textures throughout from the heavy stadium-style synthesizers to the quirkier synth-pop variety.
Person to Person C
It's not a ballad, and that'll be one of the things I'll remember to be grateful for next Thanksgiving. But that doesn't automatically make this a very good song. He's going for more of a power ballad in the style of a cheapish Broadway musical. A boring bass pounds away regularly, and showy electric instruments do cliched things throughout. The melody is terribly boring and repetitive, but DeYoung delivers it as boisterously as he could. Maybe this would have worked better watching him prance around a colorful stage, but as it stands, I'm falling asleep.
James Young: City Slicker (1986)
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City Slicker A-
(“I'm a city slicker / Do you get the picture? / I'm a city slicker / I'm a nitroglycerin mixture”) Not exactly the work of a budding William Shakespeare, but I find it amusing that he found a reason to rhyme “picture” with “nitroglycerin mixture.” And... oh wow... This song is very enjoyable. It should come to no surprise that he decided to compose a hard rock song, since that was his specialty when he was with Styx. And, wow!!! This riff is pretty catchy! He also does a nice job using his powerful albeit somewhat untamed voice to deliver a boisterous performance. It doesn't aim to be anything other than a fun song, and that's exactly what he achieved. Good job, Mr. Basset Hound!
Something to Remember You By B+
Well... I think I just figured out that James Young was responsible for most of that annoying, classic “Wall of Styx” sound we used to always get in their bombastic choruses. This sound is indistinguishable from their sound in 1975. But don't you remember that Equinox is the greatest Styx album of all time? And this James Young guy is apparently unpretentious enough to continue to strive to do nothing else but deliver a fun song. The melody is good. The instrumentation is solid. No dated synthesizers or anything. The rhythm is toe-tapping and good. Young's lead vocals are spirited. Geez, this probably guy should have been in control of Styx.
...Ah, you knew that a ballad would happen eventually. James Young never attempted to write a ballad before, as far as I'm aware, so it's pretty much anybody's guess how this would sound. ...Well, give me this over the miserable crap Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung were trying to pawn off to us in their '80s solo albums. Again, I don't think James Young cared much about current musical trends, as this is a piano-ballad more inspired by Paul McCartney than those billions of pop stars who were on the radio at the time. It even takes a bit of a Beatles-esque turn at the end of the chorus. It's not a great ballad or anything, and the hooks are a little bit weak... But I actually find it to be mildly enjoyable.
Still Feel Your Love A-
WHAT???!! ... This is too much. I'm living in a bizarro world right now listening to what Styx would have sounded like if they were actually a good band. The verses are light and sprightly with a good bass-line cooly noodling along with a bouncy synthesizer and Young's lead vocals sounding a bit untamed for their own good, but he finds a nice melody. The chorus is more typically Styxian, but it fits in well and isn't annoying at all. There's even a good middle-eight section with a classically inspired chord progression. The guitar solo in the middle --- meh --- but this is actually a good composition and I really enjoy listening to it.
Runnin' Out of Time B+
This is more solidly produced than the previous song, but I actually prefer the funny quirkiness of that one. I'd imagine most of the traditional Styx fans would love this. It's filled with bombastic guitar chords, and a very showy vocal performance. And I'd say this is roughly the same thing as “Great White Hope” except without the glittery instrumentation and sound effects. It's about as good as that song, too.
Chain Me Down B-
Heavy metal! I don't like heavy metal that much, but I like it when it's fun like this. He comes out with a pretty nice electric guitar riff, and his electrifying vocal chops carry themselves remarkably well over the guitars. ...I'm not too sure what he was thinking with these awkward rhythm changes in the middle. And those scraping sounds in the instrumental interlude are a little weird. But, the song carries enough decent energy to keep me through all of this. Naturally, he takes some time to do a little soloing in this. ...Not a great solo, but it's not very overextended, either. Man, this guy was so unpretentious that his guitar solos didn't even last a long time!
No Mistake B-
Not terrible. I'd still take this over anything Dennis DeYoung wrote in his solo career (even the stuff I said I liked). It's almost a C+. But I swear, this is still pretty good. It consists mostly of a one-toned guitar mood, and a sort of disconnected, Styxian-layered chorus that repeats endlessly. But the texture he created for this is mesmerizing enough to carry me through it despite the lack of a compelling riff or a good vocal harmony. It's not anything I need to listen to twice, but it's not bad either.
Prisoner of War A
If James Young just wanted to concentrate writing songs like these, I would be happy as a clam. Just like the verses section of “Still Feel Your Live,” it consists mostly of a quirky groove. But that bass-line is so catchy! And I like those muted guitars that come in occasionally, and he provides a few tasteful, minimal licks with his guitar. His lead vocals are outrageous consisting intermittently of crazed whispering and growling. This probably is not even that good. I don't even know why I like it. Listening to this reminds me a lot of Wesley Willis. But I don't know why I like listening to his songs, either.
Wild Dogs in the Night C+
This is a little too Styxian for its own good this time, concentrating more on those heavy vocal harmonies in the chorus and less on the quirkiness and silliness of some of the other songs. The vocal melody isn't much, either, I'm afraid. The central theme of this song is the heavy guitar licks, which aren't the best things I've ever heard out of anyone.
Empty Promises C-
Well... Young turned on the radio just in time for him to record the final song, and he figured out that songs sound differently in 1986 than they did in the '70s. Come on! Get rid of those huge snare drums and deep synthesizers, and go back to those charming ballads and that goofy groove stuff. ...Or at least try developing your melodies a little better. This is as empty than most of the stuff from Dennis DeYoung's albums, and I thought that guy was a bimbo!
Tommy Shaw: Ambition (1987)
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No Such Thing C+
Not bad! I mean, it sucks, but that's exactly what I was expecting to hear. This isn't bad when it comes to Tommy Shaw. We're given a nicely upbeat, clean guitar riffs and Shaw's hair-metal vocals. Nothing about the riff is catchy, and I'd wager the noise coming out of an air conditioning vent has more convincing passion for heavy metal than his feathery, high-pitched vocals. But whatever. This isn't offensive. It's bland, though. This was a dime a dozen.
Dangerous Game C-
Oh look, now he's starting to sound like Phil Collins! The '80s was a pretty good decade for music... to whoever wasn't trying to imitate Phil Collins. (How did such a gifted drummer turn into the Antichrist of pop music?) But I digress. Tommy Shaw created this Phil Collins wannabe. It's only about five minutes long, but it seems to go along forever. The instrumentation is as fake and plastic as it gets. The melody is boring. The lyrics are dull and cliché. Nope. I don't like it. Not one little bit. And I'm not being a snob. (OK, maybe I am. Just a little bit. ...But I like ABBA, lest you forget.)
The Weight of the World D+
Am I in a bad mood, or something? I didn't think I was. But I'm only into the third track, and I'm starting to get really pissy. This usually doesn't happen until the fifth or sixth track. This is not a good sign for you, Mr. Tommy Shaw. Not a good sign at all. Oh man... this is like a bad '80s nightmare or something. The dated production standards are definitely there, but that doesn't bother me. It's the BLANDNESS of this that's killing me. It's so sterile, that I feel like it's dissolving my bones. Does that make sense?
Tommy Shaw might have had ambition—he was without a doubt the most successful ex-Styx member—but I wish some of that would translate into musical ambition. I do hope I'm being fair with these scores, and I think I'm able to handle bad '80s music more than most snobs. But HOLY CRAP, WHY CAN'T THIS GUY FIGURE OUT MELODIES? I mean, even that last album he released had one or two on them. This song is just one huge show. Loud drums, flashy vocals, a lot of guitars—typical '80s stuff. And there's no substance. No hooks whatsoever. This is tortuous.
Ever Since the World Began D
I'm going dribbling insane! This is a ballad that's so '80s in worst imaginable sense possible. Let me put it this way: Bonnie Tyler is a genius compared to this. You can probably guess what this song sounds like. Reverb-ridden electric piano, cheesy saxophone, a huge drum sound in the chorus. Oh, why do I have to put up with this? The melody is bad, and the chord progressions are as canned and generic as it gets. Give me strength!
Are You Ready For Me? C
Back on top again now, eh? The best thing that Tommy Shaw could have done was to only release songs that are fast paced and use a lot of crunchy guitars. The bland melody is still here, but at least this is something you can tap your toes to. The guitar solo in the middle has too many notes, but it's halfway decent. I mean, at least it distracts me from the banal melody.
Somewhere in the Night B-
Oh man, I am going insane. I'd have to be if I give a song like this a mild thumps-up. I said that “Ever Since the World Began” made Bonnie Tyler look like a genius. “Somewhere in the Night” at least sounds like it belonged on one of her albums. The melody is OK. Shaw tries to sing it with as much soaring loudness as he possibly could, but his whiny little voice doesn't do it the justice that the good lady Tyler could have given it. Why is it that Tommy Shaw making me start to appreciate Bonnie Tyler?
Love You Too Much C
Bland! Banal! ...Oh, but it's sort of fun, I guess. It's an upbeat song, and so it has a beat you can dance to! This reminds me a little of some sort of John Cougar Mellencamp song. That's usually not a good sign for any artist... unless you happen to be Tommy Shaw, because that style suits him more than anything else.
The Outsider D+
This album is driving me crazy. I'm in a good mood right now, so it's the album's fault. I swear, Mr. Shaw just needs to sit down and think through his melodies before he takes them to the studio. He's relying way too much on his producer to make everything seem professional, but there's absolutely nothing here at all in terms of ... oh ... ambition. Come on, dude!
Lay Them Down D+
Surprise! Tommy Shaw ends the album with another one of his boring songs. Do I have to write anything else? I suppose I do. The world doesn't smile on Don Ignacio when he writes one-line track reviews. Um. This is basically pop music again that's heavy on the guitar. I will claim that his guitar licks aren't bad. The overall production isn't terrible, either. Very slick, very inoffensive... it's instrumental in creating this bland atmosphere. The melody is el-stinko. Oh man. Did I write enough?
Dennis DeYoung: Boomchild (1988)
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Beneath the Moon B-
Not such a terrible opener. It's certainly less annoying than the song that opened Back to the World, since this is straight pop-rock, and not a cheesy '80s love ballad. I'm giving it a 'B-' by default, since this song does absolutely no harm to me in any way imaginable. That's probably inflating the grade a bit too much, though, because this melody is about as empty as it gets. I forget what the melody sounded like moments after I turn it off, and I don't lament that notion as I'm listening to it playing. The instrumentation is fairly good, though. It's '80s sounding, but the drums aren't stupid and loud, and he centers the sound on polished guitars, pure pianos, and decent sounding synthesizers.
The Best is Yet to Come B
Not so bad this time. I definitely wish the melody was more interesting, but this is sort of fun to listen to. It's a bouncy song based on a synth-pop riff that's rather intricate. Obviously, he was inspired by Eurythmics for this, but that's not a terrible band to be inspired by, you know! He seems to want to be returning to his progressive rock roots with a number of odd instrumental interludes, which have some surprisingly inventive chord progressions.
What a Way to Go B-
Seriously, Dennis DeYoung's solo recordings wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so dang terrible! Well, at least I'm not being murdered by an endless barrage of ballads like I was in his previous album! *Brrrrr!* Anyway, this isn't the worst composition that I've ever heard in my life. Its melody is OK, but it has that elevator muzak quality about it. The instrumentation is well mixed, but it's also rather cheesy. Mr. DeYoung should have been trying to push his boundaries. You know, not writing cheesy '80s music that sounds like it belongs on a children's TV show.
Harry's Hand B+
That twinkling piano at the beginning immediately makes me think that he's going to try to rewrite “Come Sail Away,” but as soon as he's starting to sing, it starts to sound exactly like the beginning of “American Pie.” After its somewhat folk-rock beginnings, it adopts a very cheesy stadium-rock chorus that's ... um ... pretty good. The melody actually has hooks in it, and he compliments it nicely with a tasteful electric guitar. Well, well, well! Not bad, Mr. Dennis DeDorkus.
Blah. Once again, I express my deepest relief that he's laying off the ballads, but this wannabe Huey Lewis and the News rocker is as stale as can be. It starts out with a chorus of vocals (never a good idea for this guy), and a most-lame stadium rocker commences. Not that I'm surprised he came up with a lame-o rocker; all of his rockers are pretty much lame. But he's surely capable of coming out with a catchier melody. This melody stinks! It's not even good enough to be on a children's TV show... and, again, that's what he seems to have been shooting for.
Who Shot Daddy C+
This starts out sounding almost like he was going for some sort of '80s funk piece, but after it plays for awhile it's very apparent that it's as stale as all these other mid-tempo rockers. This is a little more fun to listen to than the previous song, but the melody isn't much catchier. He tries to come up with a dance-riff, but it's played too slowly. I don't know who's going to want to dance to this—elephants, maybe. Ah well. I like some of the synth-horns! This is very much a product of its time. Late '80s. It's not much better than Paula Abdul, which might be a compliment.
Outside Looking Again B
You know, just because these songs remind me of '80s cartoon theme songs, it's making my heart a little bit softer toward them. Like it or not, DeYoung might have actually been a decent person for some TV studio to ask to compose a theme song for them. He has that whole kid-friendly vibe going, he can write decent vocal hooks, and he produces his songs well. Of course, I have no interest in listening to the theme song for Rescue Rangers outside of the context of watching the show again, so I don't want to listen to these Dennis DeYoung songs either. ...But I've got to be slightly “objective” about it, that this is pretty good for a lame '80s song.
Won't Go Wasted C-
FINALLY! A BALLAD!!! ................... Ew, a ballad. Seriously, dude, nobody wants to hear songs like this. This is way too slow-moving and boring to have been successful on the radio, and it's way too corny for me to want to have anything to do with. As you'd expect, this has a lot of synthesizers, electric pianos, and REVERB DRUMS! The melody stinks. Boo. Sorry if this track review was incoherent, but I'm through listening to bad '80s ballads like this. Forever.
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