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Styx - The Serpent Is Rising CD (album) cover




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2.99 | 125 ratings

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3 stars 'The Serpent Is Rising' was the second Styx album I ever bought and it has been in my possession for just barely over a year. After 'The Grand Illusion', I could have picked any of the more highly rated classic albums, but I really didn't know much about the band and wasn't sure where to go next. When I saw the SHCD of 'Serpent' on Amazon was limited to one copy remaining, I hastened to snatch it up. Only after did I learn that not only is it one of the band's least successful and least popular albums but even the band themselves have expressed their dislike of it. Is it really so bad?

Admittedly, after the first three or four listens, the only track that stayed affixed to my memory was the hidden track, 'Plexiglass Toilet'. The silly 'Banana Boat' spoof was catchy and humorous. Yet many critics regard that song as the lowest point of Styx's career.

Recently, I have been adding to my Styx collection and I decided to pay a close ear to the often derided third Styx album. As I have become more familiar with the band's seventies output, I know that the music of Styx is based on the triad of hard rock, prog, and catchy chorus melodies with harmony vocals. With three songwriters and three lead vocalists, I feel there are some similarities between Styx and Queen, though with organ and synthesizer instead of piano, Styx's music sounds more like a cousin to Uriah Heep and Yes.

The opening track, 'Witch Wolf' has turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable rocker. In league with post- fantasy era Uriah Heep, this track packs a real punch. Similar is 'Young Man', the third track. Both songs are co-written and sung by guitarist James Young, who is frequently referred to as a hard rock guitarist in the Wikipedia pages about Styx and their albums. He takes lead vocals on two tracks on side two as well, the piano and guitar romp rocker 'Winner Takes All' and 'Jonas Psalter', a song about a pirate. Both of these tracks, however, were written by Dennis DeYoung with the latter again approaching Yes territory in its style.

DeYoung contributes lead vocals on only two tracks, 'The Grove of Eglantine' and '22 Years', where he shares the lead with Young. The former of these two most closely reflects the sound that would make the band famous later on: mid-tempo prog rock with a strong emphasis on keyboards and lots of powerful chorus vocals, plus hard rock guitar, although the song has a strong sexual reference. '22 Years' is a straight-forward, boogie rock and roll song with lots of lyrical and musical cliches. It's easy to imagine a band like Poison or Faster Pussycat or even The Black Crowes covering this live. Personally I find this one of the less interesting tracks on the album in spite of the performance.

One interesting point is how many tracks were written and sung by John Curulewski. On side one, he delivers 'As Bad As This', a song with just acoustic guitar, vocals, and some percussion. This song easily passed me by before, but I am picking up interest in it more when I listen carefully. I still think the hidden 'Plexiglass Toilet' track, which follows here, is well executed with all the right emphasis on having fun. Curulewski takes up a lot of side two, having written '22 Years', 'The Serpent Is Rising' and the spoken track 'Krakatoa'. The title track was ranked the number one Styx song by Classic Rock History, a move they justify by saying their choices were based on the quality of the music rather than popularity. I rather like the track, and it does lean more into prog territory (again close to Uriah Heep) than a couple of other regular tracks. The sound seems to become intentionally distorted near the end and the song ends rather abruptly without any musical conclusion after the final chorus.

'Krakatoa' reminds me of Hawkwind's poetic interludes, only Curulewski is shouting his head off as bizarre effects begin creeping in. The tracks concludes with an early version of the THX audio track 'Deep Note', which was taken from a track called 'Spaced' by Beaver and Krause. The final track is a rendering of Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus' with all five members given vocal credits.

Reasons why this album might not stack up well to other albums are the fairly high number of Uriah Heep-like rockers and fewer Yes-like prog tracks. 'As Bad As This' might have been regarded simply as an unusual track for Styx but the toilet song has been more damaging than helpful. 'Krakatoa' and 'Hallelujah Chorus' are interesting additions, but on an album of mostly prog-influenced hard rock, they stand out as being puzzling.

Perhaps they greatest fault of the album is that it seems more like a collection of songs created by individual members at their own devices and whims rather than a collective effort focusing on the band's sound. Dennis DeYoung's lack of mic time is certainly noticed, though I don't mind the Young emphasis on hard rock. Young has some great powerful, soaring vocals though once or twice he seems to struggle with hitting the notes.

My own opinion is that, along with the other first four albums, 'The Serpent Is Rising' features a few tracks really worth taking in while the rest are more of curiosities. I still give it 3 stars.

FragileKings | 3/5 |


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