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Styx - Paradise Theatre CD (album) cover

PARADISE THEATRE

Styx

 

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2.94 | 176 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "I wish the summer winds could bring back Paradise"

I realize this isn't the last Styx album, but like Drama, Final Cut, and Presence, it is one of those titles which represent the conclusion of a band's most worthwhile era. All long lived bands have hills and valleys but generally there is a core period when the music had optimum essence, and for Styx that period concluded with "Paradise Theater," which stands as one of the finest pop/rock albums of 1980. Loosely conceptual, it laments the decay of the United States and its economy using the Theater as metaphor. Whether he intended or not, I believe the metaphor also applies well to our collective collapse of values, and even in this case, of coming band stagnation. As Howard Bloom once mentioned about DeYoung's thematic visions, there is an aura of warning and collapsing civilization running below the often optimistic sounding music of the band, the clues can be noted throughout certain lyrics and album art. Styx itself was not immune. While the band's three writers continued to watch their artistic marriage fall apart, DeYoung somehow managed to spin the magic one more time. While the productions were growing more polished and alienating one part of their fanbase, "Paradise Theater" was a monstrous success and a remarkably fitting swan song to this fan. I can't believe how good it sounds after all this time.

"It's a wonderful concept on Dennis' part?the building was originally built to stand forever, but because of the Great Depression it fell on hard times, and ultimately became a parking lot" -James Young

"The builders had this slogan: 'Not for today, but for all time', and the place only lasted thirty years. They screwed up from the beginning. They built this monstrously lavish theater in 1928, the year before the talkies really came in. Except they didn't know the talkies were coming, so they didn't pay any attention to the acoustics, which were so bad people preferred to go to their little neighborhood theaters where they could hear. It struck me as symbolic of what's happening in this country." -Dennis DeYoung

The music of "Paradise Theater" features some of the most finely composed melodies, repeating themes, and lyrics the band ever did, and most of the credit has to be given to Dennis DeYoung. By this time Shaw was feeling marginalized and admittedly was devoting too much time to partying and contributing less. It showed, but Dennis and JY carried this one anyway. The album is bookended by AD1928 and AD1958 which refer to the lifespan of the Theater that was supposedly built to last forever, the musical themes spring from "The Best of Times" which is one of the finest melodic ballads ever written. Perfectly recorded with soaring feel-good vocals and guitar harmonies, the song contrasts the emotional heights with a tinge of sadness and longing, just amazing stuff. DeYoung continued his roll here with "Nothing Ever Goes as Planned" which is another masterful track, completely unique in the Styx catalog. Listen to those little guitar brushstrokes here and there, the horns, and the facial expression you can literally hear happening right through your speaker from his delivery. "Rockin' the Paradise" and "Too Much Time On My Hands" filled in the middle of side 1, a perfect side of rock and roll. "Rockin" was one of the last great moments of collaborative Styx bang-for-buck as they were becoming more soloists within a band. "Too Much Time" was a Shaw hit which barely made the album as a last minute addition. Listen to the unassuming but creative drumming and interesting timing of parts which adds to the vigor of the track.

Side two was less rock-solid but could not sink this particular ship. JY actually carries this side with his epic "Half Penny, Two Penny" which discussed the darker side of the album's themes. "Snowblind" was a chance for JY to use a creepy voice as they discussed personal degradation here, and Shaw came in with his lines about cocaine. DeYoung continued the discussion of the country's problems bleeding into the personal with "Lonely People" which again utilized horns and had a smokier vibe than his usual fare. Tommy's "She Cares" is the album's biggest liability as Shaw's indifference seems almost callous here-I find it hard to believe that he could not have delivered something more fitting once attuned to the quality of the songs around him, and realizing the album's conceptual theme was truly very good. Instead he offers up a rather light and inoffensive doo-wop track which is not horrible, just well out of place.

"Paradise Theater" is for me, among other things, a bit of longing for America's finest hour in the middle of the last century, before we began the slow process of self destructing from within. And it marks the symbolic end (for me) of this great rock band. None of the band's three writers would ever approach this level of quality again, individually or under the Styx moniker. Paradise was (and is) gone for good, and in my opinion DeYoung's documentation of the moment was nearly perfect. Side one is five stars, side two drops the average down unfortunately.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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