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Styx - Man Of Miracles CD (album) cover




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2.76 | 135 ratings

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2 stars We citizens of the United States of America are arguably some of the most aggressively inventive rascals ever to tread Terra Firma. We came up with Ziploc bags and bubble wrap. We thought up nuke subs. We produced the first laser. We figured out how to integrate circuits and make 'em teeny-tiny. Heck, we even made the Moog synthesizer a reality! We think we can do anything but there's something we absolutely cannot do. We can't create symphonic prog for pig poop. ("Hold on, there, bucko," you might shout, "what about Kansas?" To that I say there's an exception to every rule and those Midwestern musical mutants are a pleasant aberration and certainly not the norm.) Maybe it's that the baby boomer generation that populated the 60s and 70s in this country was so thoroughly inundated/brainwashed by Top 40 radio fare in their adolescence that anything that wasn't instantly catchy and lasting less than 3 minutes was deemed intolerable. I'm not sure. Yet I suspect that our British counterparts were reluctantly (somewhat) exposed to a lot more of the classical composers in their impressionable youth and the musicians that eventually founded and cultivated progressive rock had a much more sizeable subconscious ocean of orchestral ideas and patterns to draw from. That's my personal theory but the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I present the All-American band Styx as evidence.

Not being a fan of theirs I realize that I'm in danger of lampooning these guys unfairly but then I didn't put them on Progarchives so I consider them worthy dartboard material nonetheless. I'll admit they're talented dudes and I've actually seen them in concert twice in the last decade, though they weren't the reason for my attendance. (First was a post 9/11 benefit where Paul Rodgers rocked the house and the second was when my lovely- but-musically-bereft wife dragged me to a [belch] Foreigner show where Styx opened.) I won't single them out as the lone perpetrators of faux prog, either. When American groups got jiggy with it they more often than not went tripping down the psychedelic white rabbit hole or bravely explored the uncharted environs of jazz/rock fusion, neither of which came close to replicating what the likes of Yes, ELP, King Crimson and Genesis were importing. Obviously the huge popularity enjoyed by those esteemed groups stateside showed that we Yanks were agog for symphonic prog. No doubt about it. But we couldn't write it or play it to save our gonads. And it wasn't for lack of trying. The boys from the Styx were just a handful of many refusing to accept that frustrating fact.

I picked up "Man of Miracles" because I knew it was far enough along in their catalogue timeline for them to have grown accustomed to toiling in the studio environment so naiveté wouldn't be an acceptable excuse for poor workmanship on their part. One of the first things I noticed on the back of the LP cover was "STYX is still: (insert lineup)" which tells me that in '74 they were either trying to squelch rumors of inner turmoil or publicly admitting amazement that they hadn't murdered each other yet. (I surmise that releasing three previous albums and touring incessantly had increased pressures from management tenfold to pinch a loaf or get off the pot already.) Alas, I wasn't shocked by what I heard. The music I discovered lounging in the vinyl grooves was pretty much what I expected and my expectations were not particularly high.

The opener is the abysmal "Rock and Roll Feeling" and the first thing that comes to mind is a phrase that embodies everything that was nauseating about mainstream American rock & roll in the 70s: "Let's Boogie!" In other words, "don't think, just party till you puke" and the latter exhortation is what songs like this make me want to do. Banal lyrics barfed up atop a forced rock beat that has no discernable purpose is a sin. Guitarists John Curulewski and James Young are responsible for this turtle turd and when they sing "I got this crazy feeling/it's a sickness in my soul" I couldn't agree more. Speaking of upchuck, "Havin' a Ball" follows and it's more of the same inane stoner muck that could constipate a goose swimming in an oil spill. I've sat through infomercials for roof gutters more memorable than this brand of crap rock.

Dennis DeYoung's "Golden Lark" is next and, lo & behold, heavens to Betsy, it's a decent tune! Piano and cello lurk behind the thoughtful melody line and, compared to the band's other vocalists, Dennis comes off sounding like Freddy Mercury. This number actually has atmosphere and a generous dash of character, keeping the record from automatically becoming a skeet target (earning a 2nd star in my rating). His next offering, "A Song for Suzanne," begins with dramatic rainy-day storm rumblings accompanied by a lonesome cello (always a reliable combo) but then things abruptly turn cheesy when they try to become prog monsters and fall woefully short. (The flat-as-a-tortilla engineering doesn't help at all.) Then it's back to appeasing their fist-pumping, fairground rawk fan base with the hives-producing "A Man Like Me." It's difficult for me to imagine music more unimaginative than flotsam like this. The fellas in the studio horn section were the only ones who got anything out of this session in that they received a union-scale paycheck for their services.

"Best Thing" is (according to their discography) a rehashed ditty from their debut they evidently didn't feel got its due the first time around so they tacked it on here. Bad move. This paper-thin slice of Illinois white boy funk fails to motivate even after it morphs into a heavy dirge. It comes off as a mishmash of odd, unfocused ideas coerced into cohabitation. "Evil Eyes" is another DeYoung composition that starts with the ever-popular piano-down-the-hall effect and sounds like an attempt to capture the essence of what had garnered some localized airplay for his schmaltzy "Lady" track on Styx II (it didn't find its larger FM radio audience till mid '75). Unfortunately it's quite lame. The fat, layered vocals are impressive but they're like applying lipstick on a sow. The dreaded "Boogie" beast is back and stinkin' the placed up on "Southern Woman." It's as appealing as day-old Budweiser backwash. Lord, this is SO tiresome! They even manage to make a Hammond B3 organ sound like a cheap Farfisa and that's downright blasphemous. Off with their heads!

On "Christopher, Mr. Christopher" Dennis confirms that he has strong, room-filling tonsil power but, holy cow, does he take himself way too seriously or what? Relax, bro, will ya? The root problem here is that the arrangement's so predictable that you know exactly where the band is going next and, in so doing, they miss the true charm of progressive rock. It's all just so damned AMERICANIZED! And, just so the twin Panozzo brothers (drummer John and bassist Chuck) don't feel left out of this review, let me just say that their playing is as dull as a set of butter knives and leave it at that. A hokey military snare and some pompous tympani herald the LP's closer (the album's namesake) but when the huge vocals come in at least you feel they had lofty aims. The song ends up as a poor, anemic imitation of Deep Purple, though, and it was a genuine relief for my weary head when the needle lifted off the platter at long last and blissful silence ensued.

What Styx evolved into years down the line from this vacant schlock (when Curulewski jumped ship and they recruited little Tommy Shaw) was a vast improvement over what this fledgling, confused lineup was coughing up. I'll admit that I can still listen to "Come Sail Away" without cringing so I don't begrudge them their longevity. It took guts to stick with it when, even after four or five albums, no one knew who in Hades they were and I admire that kind of stubborn chutzpah. But as far as this disc goes, it stynx. When the album cover has more color and pizzazz than the music contained inside you know buying a couple of happy meals from Mickey D's would've been a much wiser and satisfying investment.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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