Need a fix of classic rock and can't quite find it on the radio? Epic/Legacy offers a two-disc set that could be just the ticket. Mullets Rock! offers 35 hits from the '70s and '80s for the rocker in you. Included are Deep Purple's seminal "Smoke on the Water," Foghat's "Slow Ride," Foreigner's "Hot Blooded," Cheap Trick's "Surrender," George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone," Boston's "Smokin'," Kansas' "Carry on Wayward Son," and more.
Other artists include Mountain, Ted Nugent, Billy Squier, Rick Derringer, Journey, Toto, ELO, BTO, Argent, Meatloaf, Molly Hatchet, and more. The disc is notably missing one band from the period — how do you create a compilation with Journey, Cheap Trick, Boston and Kansas, and leave out Styx? But Chicago's biggest export before the dawn of Smashing Pumpkins has a brand new album out for classic rock fans:
You can never go home again.
But you can build a new one. And Styx has definitely moved to a different house.
Chicago's '70s rock heroes ("Come Sail Away," "Lorelei," "Renegade") fell apart to egos and solo projects in the mid-'80s, returned for an album without Tommy "Too Much Time on My Hands" Shaw in 1990 (Edge of the Century), and then began touring with Shaw, again, a few years ago.
But the first Styx album in 15 years to feature the classic vocal lineup of Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw and James Young (1999's stillborn Brave New World) proved the Styx of Paradise Theatre and Cornerstone would never truly rise again.
DeYoung, the band's chief hitmaker, exited the band after BNW's release and Shaw and Young have since led a new lineup around the country (including, ironically, Glen Burtnik — who had replaced Shaw for the band's 1990 reunion). This month, the new lineup, featuring Canadian Lawrence Gowan in DeYoung's position on keyboards, delivered the first Styx album in the band's 35-year history sans DeYoung.
Cyclorama finds the road-seasoned band delivering a solid rock album that offers the occasional nostalgic nod at the Styx of old, but mostly focuses simply on delivering some solid songs. Oddly enough, the track that sounds the most like classic Styx comes not from Shaw, but from Gowan, whose "Fields of the Brave" captures both the sing-song ballad sense of the '70s era band, along with a broad lyrical palette and a big, dramatic, heavily harmonied chorus. Shaw's songs, on the other hand, sound like Shaw songs; once he stepped out of Styx in the '80s, his writing seemed to move in a different direction and has never gone back.
The "new" Styx seems very focused on proving that its members were an important piece of the band's classic pedigree. Shaw reprises the chorus of his Grand Illusion hit "Fooling Yoursel,f" with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys providing harmony, and James Young follows that with "Captain America," a riffy rocker that calls to mind "Miss America," his "big number" from that same 1977 album.
And there are plenty of digs to be read on Cyclorama against former leader DeYoung, if you care to look for them. There's the fake "concept" album cover art (abounding with strange pictures of carrots and fuzzy bunnies), which could be a skewer at DeYoung's affection for "concept" albums. There's a song with Billy Bob Thornton guesting that accuses: "you big pop star/you took it too far/you forgot where you came from." And there's the damning "Killing the Thing That You Love," which manages not only to put "Quasimodo" in a lyric (DeYoung staged a musical version of Hunchback of Notre Dame that was originally called Q-Modo) but also talks about someone who "blisters from the sun that's too bright" (DeYoung's contentious exit from the band came after an illness which left him "light-sensitive").
Whatever bitterness there may be lurking behind some of Cyclorama's songs, it helped turned out some strong new material for the group. Shaw offers one of his best ballads in the lilting "Yes I Can," Young provides one of his strongest co-writing credits in "These Are The Times" which allows him to use his trademark "slow" voice at its spooky intro before careening into a bombastic, classic Styx vocal chorus. Burtnik's "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" finds Styx ready to compete with the punky Blink 182's and Good Charlottes of the modern rock scene, and Gowan's "More Love for the Money" is reminiscent of Breakfast in America-era Supertramp.
There's filler here; while the closer "Genki Desu Ka" includes guest vocals by John Waite and Jude Cole (where did they dig him up?), it's a completely pointless group chant exercise. And there's a "comic" bit at the end of the disc with Tenacious D that's embarrassingly lame.
Styx fans will miss the big ballads tailor-made for radio; Cyclorama doesn't include anything begging to be a radio (or prom) hit. But it does offer some moments of classic rock bombast and harmony that recall another place and time.
It's a different house, but there are still echoes of home.