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Styx - Styx II CD (album) cover




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3.14 | 131 ratings

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4 stars Too few progressive fans have explored Styx in their pre-Tommy Shaw formation. The five albums that preceeded his arrival have distinct prog leanings, and absolutely deserve an honest listen. In 1973 prog was getting airplay, so many bands followed in the afterwake. Styx had the technical ability, and explored this direction with intriguing results. I don't want to mis-represent however, these are early seventies rock albums with prog workouts - not prog albums.

Another contributing factor to the experimentation in the music, was of course the mind expanding drugs still heartilly consumed in the first years of the seventies before cocaine (and Tommy Shaw) took over. This album reeks of marijuana, yet remains focused and ambitious.

"You Need Love" features a Texas boogie-shuffle driven along powerfully by the rhythm section, fronted by dual "lead guitar and churning organ runs. Typical seventies verse/verse/chorus structure is in place, but when they reach the chorus the Texas vanishes and it's pure Lennon/McCartney territory complete with tight, three-part harmonies.

"Lady" roots the album, and lets you know this isn't going to be a by-the-numbers affair. "Lady" features a beautiful melody that stays with you for hours. It begins tenderly with piano and voice, building to the powerful chorus, and concluding with a Bolero rave up. The guitar solo is especially tasteful, never stretching over into indulgence. And those incredible harmonies, produced with just the right touch of echo. Perfection.

"A Day" is an eight minute lava lamp, black light, velvet poster, smokey room excursion - and the first prog workout on this album. It begins slowly with acoustic guitar, autoharp, bass and percussion, followed by the voice of John Curulewski. He along with Dennis DeYoung and John Panozzo were the main purveyors of progressive ideas within the band, and when he left, it appears quite a bit of that spirit went with him. His voice is clear and strong, and nearly the same range and timbre as Dennis DeYoung. After 3:45 of gorgeous build up, the rhythm section goes Miles Davis, and those dual lead guitars swoop in and dance for a minute or so. They are then overtaken by a wonderful and dexterious organ solo, which as it comes to an end, signals the re-emergence of the original theme.

"You Better Ask" is another Curulewski composition, and his last on the album. This is Seventies southern rock. The kind of thing you would hear from an ambitious bar band. It's confident, and competently executed. Not prog, but quite nice.

"Little Fugue In "G"" composed by Bach, and played by Dennis DeYoung on the Cathedral of St. James pipe organ in Chicago.

"Father O.S.A." segues from "Little Fugue In "G"" and is the second prog workout. This song in many ways forshadows "Come Sail Away". It's sound is ENORMOUS, powered as it is by the same pipe organ as the intro. There is a strong Beatles vibe as the structure is very "Hey Jude", starting out simply before building to that anthemic, arena rock sway. Just a whiff of pomposity - but it's never overbearing. A wonderful track.

"Earl Of Roseland" shows us what would both elevate Styx to superstar status, and kill them off commercially - unchecked Dennis DeYoung. Embryonic precursor to the themes behind the Paradise Theater album, featuring childhood stories, memories of better times, and neighborhood trials. Musically this is a pretty straight-forward rocker, guitars and organ battle, with the percussion and bass crashing and rolling along. My beef here is with the harmonies. Styx is a unit with the tendancy to overindulge in certain respects, and where early Styx is concerned it often landed on the vocals. Just because you have the ability to do tight three part harmonies, doesn't mean they need to be on every track.

"I'm Gonna Make You Feel It" - wraps up the album with James Young on vocals. James has a fine voice and it's featured well here, as on the opening track "You Need Love". This is another rocker, and it burns along quite nicely. A main dual-guitar riff is supported by swirling organ and explosive percussion. The guitar solo here is also James, and it's tasteful and well played. James is really the rocker of this period, later on Tommy would provide the bridge between him and Dennis that resulted in their superstardom.

There's quite a bit here that prog fans can sink their teeth into. Styx are young and hungry, with a few more albums to go before they hit it big. All of the early albums deserve some attention, but perhaps this one should be first. It has everything this lineup had to offer (short of the superior production offered to them by A&M for their album Equinox). We all know where they went from here, but the horizon is fuzzy at this time and Styx don't quite know which way to go yet. That fact alone allows several sides of the band to shine on this release. Definately worth a listen, and the remastered cd improves somewhat on the overall sound quality of the album

Tychovski | 4/5 |


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