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Styx - Styx CD (album) cover




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2.80 | 125 ratings

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4 stars Styx in the throat...

To someone whose first exposure to Styx was the sickly-sweet hit single "Babe", this album comes as a bit of a surprise - and it's really not too bad, as a fairly typical 1970s hard rock album with Prog pretensions.

"Movement for the Common Man" begins with a foot-tapping drum beat, quickly joined by the rest of the instruments in a blaze of typical hard rock sound, a mixture of Free, Deep Purple and even Status Quo in places, with a vocal sound somewhere between Bon Scott and Brian Connolley.

The subtitled song "Children of the Land" is presented first - a standard up-tempo rocker with a catchy tune and plenty of rock energy. A couple of guitar solos are worked in - some nice pentatonic blufferama with strong flavours of Lynyrd Skynrd. This drops down to a Santana-esque drum break, and disappears altogether for an interesting tuned percussion solo.

The changes feel a little too much, as an over-flanged bass and guitar pick up the next section - but it's not completely overdone. This builds to include the organ and a searing lead guitar to go off on a jazzy groove with flavours of Dave Brubeck. Suddenly, this is all stripped away, as a train passes, then voices babble on - somewhat similar to the vocal snippets in "Dark Side of the Moon". Background city noises are interspersed - and I'm reminded a little of the Woodstock soundtrack in the ambience that's created - but, of course, transposed. It's easy to see how this all ties in with "Fanfare to the Common Man".

Duly, Copland's "Common Man" theme is presented, with lashings of Hammond and slightly clumsy harmonisations - nevertheless, a very interesting interpretation indeed, especially as it predates ELP's rendition. Next we fly off into a Moog-led groove, then the vocals join in for what appears to be a new song section, that's actually well constructed. More widdly woo on the guitar, with Skynyrd flavours is cut across with a tension-building riff, dropping back artfully to a more mellow flute-sounding synth lead, and a more laid-back, reflective section that hints at songs like "Babe" to come later in Styx's repertoire.

A twangy acoustic, drenched with synth moves energetically towards yet another widdly guitar solo, an organ cut-across... the kitchen sink is thrown in here in a style that Boston were to claim in the late 1970s.

All in all, a very interesting Proggy piece that's nowhere near as bad as reviews I've read of this album have led me to believe - a really nice surprise. Maybe a little piecemeal - but I'm not sure how valid a criticism that is when we're talking about Progressive Rock!

This seems to be a template for much that came after it, and really, I can think of little by way of precedent. A very impressive opening.

Styx with it...

Moving along, "Right Away" also carries flavours of the great Boston debut album - the tune seems very familiar. When the chorus kicks in, though, it's in Spooky Tooth territory, reminding me strongly of "Sunshine Help Me" (The Last Puff). Again, a strong hard-rock style song is presented, with proggy flavours - the organ and piano backing with the strong vocal harmonies contributing in no small way. However, in terms of structure, this is less interesting than the preceeding track - and the guitar solo is somewhat on the sucky side. Ah. Make that both guitar solos suck like a sucking thing in suck street. Good song though.

The agitated piano entry to "What has come between us" provides a great contrast, and a good flow to the album. Styx return to the slightly piecemeal style, and the energetic entry fizzles out into a slow song reminiscent of so much late 1960s/early 1970s rock. The harpsichord sound provides a nice backing - but sadly the phrases are badly tailed off so that a song with great potential, strong melodies and powerful execution feels somewhat unsatisfying as a whole. There's plenty to like about it though - the keyboard instrumental section is rather nice, and well broken up, and the harmonies may remind some of Yes with the triad movement inherited from Buffalo Springfield. There's also a guitar solo which... here's a clue... rhymes with "ducks".

"Best Thing" is yet another song about love/relationships, never a welcome thing in Prog for me - but that riff is chunkier than a chunky Kit Kat, and the organ lends it a huge and dirty sound - a bit Black Sabbath in a way. This runs off into a very interesting direction with a little keyboard ostinato and swooping vocal harmonies before plunging back into the dirty groove. Not spectacularly proggy, but very cool indeed - a real headbanger.

"Quick is the Beat of my Heart" is another very tuneful rocker, with lush organ, a nice range of textures, good riffs, an exciting overall sound, a great keyboard solo and another noodly aimless guitar solo.

"After You Leave Me" (written by George Clinton) has more interesting textures - including guitar harmonics in the intro, and great songwriting with fantastic vocal harmonies - but no real surprises, except, maybe the ending, which has a distinct early Queen sound about it.

It's yet another great song though - completing a sextet of sonourous succulences; a veritable late night box of chocolates for the ears. And very tasty too.

Out in the Styx

Easily up there with the proggiest that Uriah Heep have to offer - but with a slicker professionalism and more consistency in the songwriting - this is a great melodic and finely arranged 1970s hard rock album - comfortably Prog-Related enough that any Progger can own it (and listen to it) without shame. For fans of that 1970s sound, this is a goldmine, and an essential purchase - but beware the guitar solos that go up to 11...

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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