Review Summary: Grand Illusion's hotter younger sister
How do you follow up what many consider your career masterpiece? Make a better one, of course! In fact, why not one like this that's one of the most well-made and consistent rock albums ever?
Many people do consider The Grand Illusion as the best thing Styx ever did, and most wouldn't even rate that album above a 4 on this site. Furthermore, most people see Styx as a band that never amounted to anything better than being a synthy rock band with a couple hits here and there. All of that is very disappointing to me. A band as special as Styx deserves much better.
I think Styx is a particularly special band just for the sheer amount of great music they put out between 1975 and 1982. The first album by them I truly loved was Equinox, but after listening to the other five of the era before Dennis DeYoung ruined everything, I thought to myself "Goddamn, what an amazing band!" Even their first four have good bits and pieces here and there, and Cornerstone is alright too.
Now, to actually talk about the album, the theme of the album is the love of money. This is especially covered on Blue Collar Man, Queen of Spades, and the title track. I don't really consider it a concept album, but more like a batch of loosely related songs. It's amazing nonetheless.
The album has a great flow to it as well as the aforementioned consistent theme. Great White Hope is a kickass opener and has a galloping rhythm that really keeps it rockin' and rollin'. I'm OK keeps the ball rolling as a synth-laced mid-tempo number. It then slows down a bit with Sing For the Day, which isn't quite as strong as the previous two but it still fits the album. It's pretty rare for a band to have three very talented singers and songwriters that actively hold their own as well as contribute, and that really shows here. (My favorite vocalist of Styx is JY, more on that later.) You are then awakened from the trance that song may have put you in with the screeching halt of The Message, a prelude to Lord of the Ring, a grandiose end to the first side of the album.
This is where things really get good. Side 2 opens up with Blue Collar Man, a rock-solid, determined mid-tempo rocker about not taking any *** from life, where Tommy sings "Give me a job, give me security, make me a respectable man...This is my last time in the unemployment line, so like it or not, I'll take those long nights!" To cement how friggin good these lyrics are, he also sings "My mother and father, wife and my friends, I see them laugh in my face, but I got the power, I got the will, I'm not a charity case!" Those aren't lyrics you just sit down and write one day; those come from the heart. They're so good.
Then we have what I firmly believe is the best Styx song, Queen of Spades, and good god damn this is an underappreciated song. The buildup to the choruses is insane. I find myself turning up the volume every time Dennis says "She's there, there, there, there, theeeeere!" before the first chorus. And my god, that guitar solo! Wow! Really, everyone shines here. Best Styx song, no question.
We then come to the often-said centerpiece of the album, Renegade, which is the first Styx song I truly loved and also one of my favorites. I understand the love for this song around the world. It has a groove like no other and JY's guitar chops are insane. I also love when Dennis screams "yeah!" in the background before the first chorus. There's so much done right about this song. A rightful classic. The album then closes with the title track and the gentle instrumental closer, Aku-Aku, both of which finish the album in a good, smooth fashion.
I particularly like the lines from the title track "I hurry through my life, never stopping to see how beautiful it was meant to be; I'm just a prisoner in a king's disguise," and later, "Don't cash your freedoms in for gold." I don't think any song has ever conveyed the sad situation that a high-paying job puts many in, that being the cruel irony of throwing away much of your life to try and achieve a better one through money. That's really an ignored problem in today's world, and the song is truly timeless for touching on it.
Thus ends one of the best rock albums ever made. I would swap Renegade and Queen of Spades around in the track listing, but otherwise, this album has a really nice flow to it and is an exhilarating listen. Oh yeah, it's also nearly perfect.
Don't sleep on these guys. If you skip over these albums, you miss out on some of the best music from the progressive rock and AOR-pop junction, and really just all American music in general.