While you’re reading this review, think progressively. Really focus on it. Think of rock music from the 70s, and just add some experimentation to it. Good, now that we’ve got your imagination active, let’s talk about Styx. There’s a lot that can be said about them. Where to begin, I wonder. Well, how about this: Styx were the first band to ever have four consecutive triple platinum albums. Hmm…that doesn’t seem “progressive" enough for the mood I’m trying to conjure up, here. Let’s see…how about the fact that the band was originally known as The Tradewinds? Or the fact that the only changed their name to Styx as it was the only thing that all of the band members didn’t completely hate? This isn’t working as well as I’d like. I guess I need some hallucinogens or something to keep up with those classic prog-rockers. Oh well, let’s get to the point, shall we?
The Grand Illusion
. Styx’s breakthrough, the beginning of their platinum run, and the album that spawned “Come Sail Away" (widely cited as the definitive Styx song). You could pretty much say that Styx did a really good job with this album. Well, actually, that’s just what critics and consumers will tell you. Well, in this line of “work" I get to traverse into both of those professions, so I’ll be straight with you: The Grand Illusion
is a damn fine album. Is it the pinnacle of Styx’s career? No, not by a long shot. Was it truly the album that catapulted Styx into their mainstream success, and eventual carving into the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history? Oh yes, that’s the truth. If anyone tells you otherwise, well then that person is lying
to you. Yes, lying
with italics. You can even mention that to said liar, if you wish (though I don’t recommend it; it may not accentuate the point as well in polite conversation).
Now, let’s get to The Grand Illusion
’s triumphs, as well as shortcomings. Typically, the music on the album is fantastic. It’s ambitious, emotive, and just “out there" enough to work. Everything from ripping guitar solos, to fever dream keyboards, to fantastic synthesized soundscapes make up the crux of The Grand Illusion
’s sound. However, the album isn’t all sunshine and roses in the musical department. Let’s be honest here: progressive rock of this era could be ridiculously annoying. Styx prove to be no exception to this rule on The Grand Illusion
. In some spots, it seems as though they tried too hard to get something special, and wound up with just a jumble of…noise. This, however, isn’t all that important to the overall effect of the album.
Oh yes, speaking of the “overall effect," I suppose I should mention that this record is a loose concept album. While it doesn’t feature an actual plot and characters, The Grand Illusion
is centered around a theme of “the struggle to overcome self-deluding superficiality in order to affirm one's genuine value," according to the band. Now, since we’ve established that Styx are trying to send us some sort of convoluted message here, let’s get to the lyrical aspect of the album (as that would be Styx‘s window to becoming raconteurs). The lyrics are (much like the music) typically progressive rock. They range from profound, thinking-man’s rock to cheesy, D&D nerd’s rock (okay, maybe not that bad, but it helps you get the picture, eh?).
Right, so now you have a general idea of the album’s contents (I hope), so let’s get to the albums contents
(which would be the actual songs). First off, let’s focus on “Come Sail Away," since it was arguably the reason why The Grand Illusion
, and eventually Styx themselves, succeeded. Believe the hype: the song is as good as people claim it to be. From the wonderful piano intro, to the lyrics about everything from pirates to aliens, “Come Sail Away" is one monster ballad. Everything about this song seems to flow perfectly. While it’s not the best song Styx have ever written, it’s still one of the highlights of this album, and most worthy to be considered to be what it is (that is, all that stuff about it launching their career, etc.). The title track is also one of the better songs off of The Grand Illusion
(it also happens to be the introduction; surprise, surprise). Right from the beginning, front man Dennis DeYoung’s vocals sum up the provocative, rock star ambitions that The Grand Illusion
will evoke. He sings:
Welcome to the grand illusion/
Come on in and see what’s happening/
Pay the price, get your tickets for the show/
The stage is set, the band starts playing/
Suddenly your heart is pounding/
Wishing secretly you were a star.
Songs such as “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Men)," and “Superstars" showcase the irksome end of the prog spectrum. Poppy, brash, and thoroughly annoying, The Grand Illusion
probably would have been better off without them. Songs like these represent Styx’s desire to write music that people would enjoy enough to become addicted. However, they could do that just fine, with their well-constructed, immersive songs, as opposed to whatever they were shooting for with tracks like that. Conversely, “Miss America," “Man in the Wilderness," and “Castle Walls," are the experimental Styx that you want to hear. These songs are all very well-written and far superior to the pop drivel I previously described. Their only real shortcoming is, as you may have already guessed, a certain sense of cheesiness in the lyrics and instrumentation. That’s not so bad, though. After all, we all need our dairy products. The Grand Illusion
concludes with “The Grand Finale." It’s a short filler, whose only real purpose is to reaffirm the ideals that Styx preach in the title-track. It is, however, a fast, powerful song, that allows The Grand Illusion
to go out with a proper bang.
All in all, this is a good album. I can’t find myself recommending it, as Styx have released better. However, if you simply wish to experience their “big break" (or if you’re a collector of sorts), then The Grand Illusion
is a fine purchase. While it’s far from perfect, it’s still a very solid effort, from a very quizzical band. My only regret now is not having an odd enough mind to keep this review in it’s intended “progressive theme." Oh well, perhaps if I ate some cheese…