Review Summary: Styx's first major label release is a largely uninspiring offering which nevertheless contains a few golden nuggets hidden among the dross.
The driving force behind Styx was always Dennis De Young. The velvet larynxed front-man performed duties as lead vocalist, keyboardist, accordion player, producer, and main songwriter for the oft maligned group during their long recording career. Whether you love or hate the growing preference he portrayed for syrupy sweet ballads and hammy cabaret tinged excesses throughout his tenure there is little doubt that he contributed to the band's signature sound more than anyone else. 'Equinox' was the band's fifth album and first release for major label A&M and while there are certainly strong signs of how the band would eventually develop into a flaccid commercial rock act there are nevertheless some prime cuts of riff laden overblown hard rock to get your teeth into.
Styx's music during their classic period from Equinox through to Pieces of Eight has often been described as pomp rock. The music had a grand bombastic feel with extended instrumental passages, overblown choruses and ostentatious guitar riffs littered with large doses of flowery synth. Tommy Shaw had not yet joined Styx so guitar duties were undertaken by James 'JY' Young and the soon to depart John Curulewski. Listening to some of the heavier and more powerful music on Equinox it is clear that when he was let off the leash James Young certainly showed that he had the chops in abundance. 'Born For Adventure' is a case in point with an irresistible main riff built upon an urgent bassline and some competent lead passages. James also gets to flex his fingers on 'Lonely Child' which features some enjoyable wah-wahed soloing that lifts the song out of mediocrity. But the album highlight is undoubtedly 'Prelude 12/Suite Madame Blue'. After the short acoustic guitar prelude a rolling arpeggio ushers in De Young's unmistakable vocal with its impeccable control and heavy vibrato. The balladic opening section gives way to some mournful Oberheim synth before JY's classic riff takes over to propel the song onward and upward into a morass of harmony vocals to its triumphant conclusion. Unfortunately most Styx albums have their share of forgettable ballads and embarrassing formulaic rockers and Equinox is no exception in this regard. Hit single 'Lorelei' is repellent in its sugar coated airiness, opener 'Light Up' is eminently forgettable and elsewhere the album is littered with uninspiring material such as 'Mother Dear' and the cringe-worthy 'Midnight Ride'.
Equinox is by no means a great album and pales when compared to The Grand Illusion or Pieces of Eight. The influence of Dennis De Young is rather too strong on here and while he undoubtedly had the capability to pen some memorably ambitious power ballads the overall quality on offer is rather disappointing. The injection of Tommy Shaw into the mix would help to offset De Young's ascendancy over the subsequent years and act as a foil for his music hall excesses but ultimately Styx were destined to become a limp-wristed AOR act, although it must be admitted that they were hugely successful in that regard.