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Styx - Brave New World CD (album) cover




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2.82 | 71 ratings

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3 stars You once bought yourself a car, a decent model that had the potential to be improved upon, and ultimately you made it into quite the machine. You drove it around for a few years and had the hottest wheels in the hood. But then some parts began to wear and after a major component breakdown, you retired it for some years. Eventually you spent the money to get it rolling again, but soon it was back under wraps in the garage. You finally paid for the repairs for that key component and got the car on the road, looking as sharp as ever. You planned a big road trip, but soon problems began and you had to scale back your ambitions, in the end making a more modest trip as the car just couldn't take the long haul anymore. Were you disappointed? Sure! But was the resulting road trip really that bad? Or was the disappointment more in that it didn't live up to expectations founded on past joys?

A Long-winded Background

Styx splintered in 1984. After years of multi-platinum-selling albums and being one of the biggest bands in the U.S., the band fell into shambles as first Tommy Shaw (vocals/guitar) left and then founding members Dennis DeYoung (vocals/keyboards) and James "JY" Young (vocals/guitar) bided their time by pursuing solo careers. Rhythm section twins Chuck (bass) and John (drums) Panozzo stopped playing altogether, Chuck seeking other ways to fulfill his days and John falling to drink. The reasons for the breakup were largely due to Tommy Shaw's frustrations with Styx, in particular Dennis DeYoung. Dennis, a highly talented song-writer and a man with great vision for the band's sound and visual presentation, was known for being very stubborn, demanding, and difficult. In Sterling Whitaker's book, "The Grand Delusion - The Unauthorized True Story of Styx", nearly all people interviewed recount stories of Dennis' tirades and tantrums, his accusative and abusive tone and language with other band members and management and road crew, and general difficulties in working with him. Some state they never want to work with him again while others are more forgiving, acknowledging his talent as an artist and recognizing that such talent can mean moodiness and relationship challenges.

As far as the other members were concerned, Dennis dictated tour schedules and the direction of albums and even pushed his opinion of what songs would be released as singles. After the huge success of "Babe", every Styx album included at least one schmaltzy, adult-contemporary pop love song, something that got under the skin of Tommy Shaw and JY. The "Kilroy Was Here" tour tore the band at the seams, and Shaw was the first to leave. A reunion several years later produced a single album with one hit song, but Shaw was not involved and it would take a few more years for the classic Styx line-up to reconvene, oddly, for the purpose of simply re-recording their first big hit, "Lady", so that it could be included on a greatest hits package, the original holder of the recording rights, Wooden Nickle, not being willing to release the rights to A&M. Magic was in the air during that recording and the band agreed to go out on tour. Sadly, John Panozzo's alcoholism had spoiled his health to the point that he could not participate in the recording, the rehearsals, or the ensuing tour, and he was replaced temporarily by young drummer Todd Sucherman. The "Return to Paradise" tour was a huge success, yet tragically near the end news reached the band that John had succumbed to his health issues. A double live album and video was released and a tour for the 20th anniversary of "The Grand Illusion" was scheduled, though Dennis was already reducing the dates as his Broadway musical project, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was going on simultaneously.

Then came the talk of recording a new album, the first to feature the classic lineup since 1983. The elation of the 1997 tour was rapidly fading. Dennis had developed an illness caused by fatigue that made him sensitive to light. Add to that his predilection for being a homebody that didn't feel comfortable being away from home for long, and it was decided by him that the recordings would take place at his home studio. For those living around or not far from Chicago, this was acceptable; however Tommy Shaw was at this time living in California, and he soon tired of living out of a hotel during the recording sessions. Dennis' studio was good, but not as good as studios out in California, and furthermore Tommy didn't enjoy standing in stockings on Dennis' carpet (no shoes allowed) in a room with the lights always dimmed. He at last decided to head back to California and do his part of the recording there, and JY would run the tapes back and forth between the two studios. Tommy was already feeling the old sentiments that made him want to quit the band back in 1984. Dennis was adamant about how the recording would proceed and the direction of the album.

Meanwhile, Chuck Panozzo, who was HIV positive, finally developed full-blown AIDS. His health was so poor that on the days he did struggle down for rehearsals, he was often took weak to perform adequately. It came down to Dennis deciding that if Chuck didn't record anything for the album, he would get no credit. Tommy and JY said they'd fight to have his name on the album, but Chuck summoned the strength to get into the studio and lay down several tracks.

To further complicate things, Tommy Shaw had decided to loosely base the album on Aldous Huxley's book, "Brave New World" and he commissioned artwork to reflect the concept. Dennis was against it and in the end hated the cover art. Tensions increased as the album came to a wrap, the band once again on the verge of crumbling.

The resulting album was not what it should have been. Fans were thrilled to have the classic line-up (minus John Panozzo) release a new album. But whereas Styx's most well-known albums in the past had always been collaborative efforts among the members, "Brave New World" was seen as more like a Tommy Shaw solo album and a Dennis DeYoung solo album sewn together with a bit of frayed Styx thread. DeYoung claimed that when he heard the resulting record, he cried. He said it had the potential to have been so much better if only he had been able to guide the album's creation more. Fans' reactions were tepid. The record company waited to see what the band would do. Dennis declined to tour right away on account of his health condition. Tommy and JY said they would replace Dennis and tour anyway. And with that, Dennis DeYoung, founder of Styx and writer of some of the band's biggest songs, was out of the band.

My Review

Is the album so bad? I actually have quickly grown to like it. First of all, I've never heard any solo albums by Styx members, so I can't say how much individual songs sound like a Tommy Shaw solo record track or a Dennis solo track. But the album is clearly divided into the Tommy/JY recordings and the Dennis recordings, the former adhering to the "Brave New World" theme with three songs including the album title in the lyrics, and the latter contributing very Dennis-esque tracks. Individually, I find most of the tracks enjoyable with some pleasant surprises. The biggest disappointment is the lack of cohesion that the band once exhibited, working together rather than against each other.

Styx has never been a true prog band and no one in the band has ever stated otherwise. But they always felt free to borrow prog elements and sew them into their songs. "Brave New World" features some very mature song-writing, especially from JY who was always more the hard-rocking, party-rock member of the band. "Heavy Water" and "What Have They Done to You" are indicators of his abilities to come in the future. The opening track, "I Will Be Your Witness" is rather a slow start to the album and sounds more like a song from The New Kids on the Block album "Ten", which my wife has and I think is rather good adult contemporary rock. Not what I'd like to hear from Styx exactly, mind you. "Number One" and "Everything Is Cool" are typical of the rock style to come out of Tommy/JY Styx since these recordings, good and catchy rock songs but not very prog-related. The title track feels a little more developed with more musical variation and interest than any standard rock songs. It's my favourite on the album. Tommy also sings a lyrically-witty, upbeat and fun rock number called "Just Fell In". It's a rare case of Styx sounding like they are having fun.

Dennis' contributions provide a lot more variety, from the surprisingly lovely ballad "While There's Still Time", which is performed with acoustic guitars rather than electric piano and string synthesizer, to the brass and cool bounce of "High Crimes & Misdemeanors (Hip-Hop Hypocrasy)", to the soul-filled piano ballad "Goodbye to Roseland". "Great Expectations" has reggae grove with a sound like an eighties mature rock band in the neighbourhood of The Police or Toto, and "Fallen Angel" has that musical approach that seems to be written with a stage performance in mind.

Yes, perhaps this does sound more like a Tommy Shaw / Dennis DeYoung "Union" album (Yes reference) rather than a Styx album. It's not the grand road trip that was hoped for with the reunion and the resulting successful tours. But I am not disappointed with it. I can get into most of the songs and regard the album for what it turned out to be: less than what was expected but still good in its own right. That said, most fans and music journalists agree that the greater majority of the Styx catalogue surpasses this. Even their albums "Cyclorama" and "The Mission", recorded without DeYoung, are musically better albums. Not easy to find, "Brave New World" is decent enough in my opinion and worth having. But for the true brilliance of Styx or even a half-decent prog rock album, this is not recommended. It's more for fanatics like me who bought it to own a piece of one of the band's more turbulent periods.

FragileKings | 3/5 |


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