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Styx - Kilroy Was Here CD (album) cover




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2.15 | 138 ratings

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1 stars I have yet to award any of Styx's albums a four-star rating or better and, since I've reached the end of what most consider their golden era, I doubt at this point I ever will. I announce that so you'll know how I feel about this band's art. Kinda "meh." I deem both 1977's "The Grand Illusion" and 1981's "Paradise Theatre" to be their high water mark records but the others suffer from an array of shortcomings that cause them to be mediocre fare at best. I recently got to their notorious "Kilroy Was Here," the disc that effectively unleashed the landslide that brought their gravy train to a screeching halt. By 1983 the group could only be considered prog-related in the sense that they were frequently pompous and over-the-top in the way they presented their craft but musically speaking they'd turned into a pop/rock hybrid that did everything possible to be entertaining but nothing to aurally challenge their audience. Yet Styx found out, like many other successful 70s acts, that the youthful denizens of the new decade viewed them as out-of-touch dinosaurs. This predicament caused most of those groups to try things they thought would make them appear hip, trendy and relevant when all those efforts only made them look silly. Of all those guilty of this crime Styx may be the worst of offenders due to this, their dubious "Kilroy Was Here" album. I have a sneaky suspicion that keyboardist and self-appointed band leader Dennis DeYoung bears much of the responsibility for this record. It seems logical that the runaway success of "Paradise Theatre" and the sold-out tours that supported it went straight to his head and planted wicked seeds of grandeur within its confines. I picture him telling the other members that they were now ready to present a game-changing rock opera to the world that would rival the Who's masterpiece, "Tommy," and they unwisely acquiesced. It proved to be their Waterloo.

The album begins with DeYoung's infamous "Mr. Roboto." A mysterious intro leads you into this very New Wave-ish number that sounds like an intentional blending of The Cars and Devo. There's absolutely nothing prog about this song by any stretch of the imagination and the premise it lays out for the plot (tyrannical government outlaws evil rock & roll) is ridiculously unoriginal and wearying from the get-go. I could ramble on for paragraphs about the public's abysmal lack of taste in the 80s but I'll let the fact that this tune rose to #3 on the singles chart speak for itself. Payola surely HAD to be involved. Guitarist Tommy Shaw's "Cold War" is next and it epitomizes the problem with rock music in general at that juncture in time in that it had been castrated and gutted of anything resembling raw power and replaced with a trite rhythm section and tinny synthesizers. Dennis' "Don't Let It All End" follows and it's one of his signature overwrought ballads that I find tiring and tedious. It also shines a glaring light on the absence of depth in their overall ambience despite the studio engineers receiving accolades for their work. I don't get it. I will give a nod to Tommy and lead guitarist James Young for turning in some spirited solos, thereby providing the only bright spots so far. For DeYoung's "High Time" I guess the track's "mechanical" feel was manufactured on purpose for the number but it doesn't do a thing to endear me to the music it fosters. One of the major pitfalls in creating a concept album is that often, in order to further the storyline, the songs come off contrived and presumptuous and I offer this track as solid evidence. The guitar lead is good but it never had a chance of saving this turkey.

James penned "Heavy Metal Poisoning" intending to sarcastically answer the right-wing ignoramuses who stupidly claimed that rock & roll was ruining the youth of America but to deem it as being a specimen of metal is an insult to that genre because it's more of a novelty tune than a serious composition. It does have a certain Alice Cooper meets The Tubes vibe to it that isn't degrading in itself (I have nothing against either entity) but it's as far away from progressive rock as polka music is from disco. Shaw's "Just Get Through This Night" is the first worthwhile cut to be encountered on this record, beginning with its classy intro. While the body of the song isn't anything to write to the folks back home about it's still an above-average tune and Tommy sings it with conviction and a fair amount of passion. I appreciate the group's rare display of restraint during the ending, as well. DeYoung's "Double Life" is a plodding rocker not helped at all by his overly-dramatic, hammy lead vocal. I figure it was supposed to be ominous but it's about as scary as a rubber spider and the whole track falls flat on its face. Shaw's "Haven't We Been Here Before" opens with a curious lullaby atmosphere that's different but soon enough it does the expected and morphs into one of their patronizing, hold-up-your-Bic "rawk" anthems, a ploy that no self-respecting progger would ever endorse or get caught up in. Dennis' "Don't Let It End (Reprise)" was obviously planned to be the climactic finale that would bedazzle the listener but it's so inanely predictable and ordinary that it fatally suffocates under its own dead, flabby weight. In deference to the tune's title, I was relieved that there wasn't any more of "Kilroy Was Here" to endure.

In essence I have no alternative but to side with the majority that've classified this album as being a bonafide stinker. I tried to lend an unbiased ear to its contents but came away in a state of total agreement with that odorous assessment. Its true claim to fame is that only a handful of records have been able to derail a band's career as effectively as "Kilroy Was Here," sending Styx falling from grace as spectacularly as Lucifer tumbling from heaven down into Hades. They were never the same. Amazingly, the record rose to #3 on the Billboard LP charts but it faded fast and settled into so-bad-it's-kitschy cult purgatory. In '84 DeYoung and Shaw each released solo albums and the group, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist as a musical force to be reckoned with in the biz. (There was a lone reunion album in '99 that featured Dennis and Tommy and there are a few Shaw-dominated releases that came after that flop but none garnered an iota of attention.) Once one of the USA's most popular rock bands to ever stroll a stage, they now tour annually like some sort of blast-from-the-past sideshow attraction. While it's hard to knock them for making a buck or two it's still a bit sad to witness. I'll always think of Styx as a group of talented musicians that could've been so much more if they'd only dared to embrace their progness and taken it to the limit. We'll never know. 1.4 stars.

Chicapah | 1/5 |


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