Review Summary: どうもありがとうミスターロボット
A fascist regime is ruling the nation. Uniformed personnel are stationed at various checkpoints, arresting anyone they deem to be threats to the peace with no due process. The media is controlled by the deep state, churning out propaganda which is consumed mindlessly by the masses. At the head of it all is a madman autocrat who utilizes religion to veil his insidious agenda while he mercilessly persecutes the innocent.
We’re talking about Styx’s 1983 concept album Kilroy Was Here
, of course. Why…did you have something else in mind?
Kilroy Was Here
is arguably the most ridiculous concept album in history. The story's protagonist, Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (played by frontman Dennis DeYoung), is a rock star who has been imprisoned by Dr. Righteous (James Young), who is the head of the MMM (the Majority for Musical Morality). The MMM – a metaphor for fundamentalist Christian groups who at the time were accusing Styx, Queen, ELO, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and others of corrupting youth with backwards masked messages – systematically locates and incarcerates musicians. Anyway, Kilroy escapes from captivity disguised as one of Dr. Righteous’ robot minions in order to join forces with Jonathan Chance (Tommy Shaw), who is on a mission to bring back rock ‘n’ roll and take down this oppressive anti-music regime. The storyline follows them as they fight to keep freedom of expression alive. Simple, right?
For as disjointed and convoluted as the storyline becomes – and believe me, its translation to an actual album is precarious – Kilroy Was Here
is still a very catchy and enjoyable rock opera. ‘Mr. Roboto’ is the album’s obvious calling card, and for good reason. Featuring the most infectious, stomping beat and engaging, synthed-out chorus in Styx’s entire discography, the song is a surefire hit even if you’re not privy to the storyline. ‘Don’t Let It End’ is another song that made the band’s eventual Greatest Hits
compilation, a piano-driven power ballad that is romantic but doesn’t fit the atmosphere of the record at all. It’s a good standalone single, but it’s further evidence of the rift that was widening between Dennis DeYoung and the rest of the band in the early 80s.
‘High Time’, despite being a far less successful single, is a much more natural chapter within the rock opera and represents the revolution against the MMM. Atop a bouncing rhythm, DeYoung sings about how the demagogue, Dr. Righteous, rules over the nation using propaganda and the media (“I flip the switch on my laser video and there's the man staring back at me / He starts to speak in a voice so righteous, about the sins of society / He's got answers to all my problems, says he'll decide what I should hear and see / I try to change to another station, but all I get is more of his morality”) and sings of rising up against this oppression via the united front of the next generation (“But I see the kids of a new generation, and they won't stand for this mind control / They're gonna change this world we live in, they're gonna bring back the rock and roll…Take a chance on what I believe in, win or lose, I know it's right / 'Cause it's high time for us to start a revolution”).
One of the reasons that Kilroy Was Here
is generally considered a cut below the band’s best work is because the vast majority of supporting tracks/non-singles are dedicated to keeping the storyline afloat. As a result, the band would tend to place a higher emphasis on these songs “fitting the theme” rather than simply writing the best music that they could. Regardless, most of these moments are still fairly enjoyable – be it the boisterous, anti-establishment pop-rocker ‘Cold War’, the booming authoritarianism represented by Dr. Righteous (James Young) on ‘Double Life’, or the wistful duets of ‘Haven’t We Been Here Before’ which encourage listeners to “learn from the past” and proclaim, “The future is ours, and we'll be the ones who go on.”
Elsewhere, ‘Heavy Metal Poisoning’ is a well-intended but ultimately grating James Young-led track which is supposed to be Dr. Righteous’ most menacing moment but features regrettable lyrics like, “First we'll spank your big behinds, then we'll twist your little minds.” To its credit, it trolls the real-life fundamentalists who became the impetus behind the concept of the MMM in the first place with a very loud, audible backwards message at the beginning of the song that when played back reads “Annuit coeptis, Novus ordo seclorum” – translating to “God has favored our undertakings; a new order for the ages.” It’s the same message that appears on the coat of arms of the United States of America. ‘Just Get Through This Night’ is a Tommy Shaw ballad that goes down smooth and features on-topic lyricism about hiding out and escaping the MMM, but is ultimately not that memorable. Neither song is offensively bad, but they are emblematic of Styx’s modern perception as a kitschy glam-rock band.
At the end of the day, Kilroy Was Here
is a bloated and insanely cheesy album, but also one that is a lot of fun if you’re willing to go along with the concept. It’s built to entertain more than it is to impress musically. Longtime fans of Styx will find plenty to like here, but to the casual listener, Kilroy Was Here
should be de-prioritized compared to cornerstone LPs like The Grand Illusion
, Pieces of Eight
, or Paradise Theater
. It’s a particularly interesting album at the moment, offering up themes that vaguely mirror the unrest currently unraveling in the United States as well as across the globe in 2020. The idea of rising up against an oppressive regime is timeless, so in a weird way – and despite all of its over-the-top theatrics – Kilroy Was Here
is relatable and will never go out of style. It's fascinating that Styx's oddest offering is also somehow one of their most enduring.