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Styx - Crystal Ball CD (album) cover

CRYSTAL BALL

Styx

 

Prog Related

3.08 | 113 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Shaw arrives as Styx version-two ascends

After the release of their first A&M album "Equinox," John Curulewski decided to leave Styx in a move that has to be near the top of the list of "most ill-timed band departures." After struggling for so long he just missed the big time. Then again, it is unlikely they would have reached the heights they did with him in the group. JC was not popular with many in the Styx circle, he not only butted heads with DeYoung but he was described as quite negative by others. However, he was undeniably talented and officially he left to spend more time with family. At his last gig he was rebuffed by DeYoung for not cutting it, and he quit on the spot. Styx now needed a replacement and they needed one fast. When someone suggested Tommy Shaw the others were more concerned about his vocals than his guitar playing. While Shaw was never all that impressive to me as a solo artist, he gave Styx what they needed to complete the puzzle. A very versatile guitarist, a good live performer, another songwriter, and most importantly, a guy who could fit into the high parts of their killer three-part vocal attacks. They flew Shaw in and asked him to sing the high part of "Lady" as his audition. DeYoung asked him to join on the spot. Styx was complete and ready for a level of success that would see them surpass the Stones, the Beatles, and Zeppelin by releasing FOUR triple-platinum albums in a row. If I'm not mistaken, no other band had ever done that. "Crystal Ball" was not one of those high-sales albums, but it was a fine introduction for Tommy Shaw to the public.

Crystal Ball feels very similar to Equinox to me despite the change in personnel, but shows modest growth. Styx were now improving with each release. They always had formidable talent but it took them longer than others to reach their creative peak and make albums that showed off their full ability. Crystal Ball is just one step below that peak. The title track was given to Shaw, quite a vote of confidence in their newest member. It's a succinct but dramatic classic Styx track with light, emotional verses and a pumped-up, powerful chorus with those great vocals. The song made a huge impression on one teenage girl who was struggling with suicidal thoughts and drug problems. She wrote to Shaw about it, and in turn he flew to her hometown and met her family, getting involved in an attempt to help this girl. I thought that was a pretty amazing move for the young musician.

"Shooz" and "Put Me On" are somewhat underwhelming to me, the former being stock hard rock without enough sizzle, the latter being a predictable song but with a peaceful, lovely section during DeYoung's vocal. The album featured a great single in DeYoung's "Mademoiselle" which was a strong example of early collaboration between DeYoung and Shaw. A sophisticated art-pop track with lots of pomp and a nice use of rhythm guitars to ground the song. A special mention goes to the warm and sentimental "This Old Man" which DeYoung writes for his father. It is a loving tribute and another example of how family was important to him and perhaps another reason the band were targets for derision. While other rockers had wives and families that were important to them, not all were willing to risk being uncool to speak about them in such direct terms. While it may have cost them some cool points at the time, the messages in many Styx songs resonate and hold up years later as positive and refreshing. The album closes with the proggy "Clair de Lune/Ballerina" which begins with a wonderful classical interpretation by DeYoung, and ends with a blazing war of guitars between Young and Shaw. In this song, the title track, and "Mademoiselle", you can hear the elements of where the band would be heading very soon.

Styx is a great American rock band despite what you been told by the misguided Styx-haters. Despite a few misses their 70s canon delivers an armful of amazingly likable works. Crystal Ball is full of great moments though it falls just shy of 4 stars for me. 3 ½ stars. Still it is well worth investigating for fans of "America's answer to Queen" as some refer to them.

Finnforest | 3/5 |

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