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4 stars The first album to feature new guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw as a member of the band is an interesting entity. While not as strong as some other albums, there are tracks buried in the mix that showcase Styx as a band beginning to spread their wings and take flight. "Crystal Ball" stands as one of the strongest tracks on the CD, but DeYoung's haunting "Ballerina," and Shaw's "Mademoiselle" also stand out. Most absent from this album seems to be input from James Young, who only stands out in the first track "Put Me On." Perhaps more input from him might have given this album the balance it needed.
Report this review (#17361)
Posted Friday, December 26, 2003 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars Just another album of Styx with its share of good songs. Notable as the first album for Tommy Shaw as he replaces so much better Curulewski, his songwriting adding up to the ensenble of good radio-friendly songs . He was the third writer as De Young and Young . The title track and the final one are the highlight on here
Report this review (#17362)
Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars STYNX... A band I heard a little as a teen (Kilroy Was Here) and one of many to see connected to prog/ art rock, more or less to my surprise. And since the song 'Crystal Ball' evokes memories of my first love - featured in a cassette made by her - I gave Styx another chance with 2 euros (the first being even more awful Paradise Theater). I would have been pleased enough if the whole album had been hard rock ballads in the style of the title track, but rockers like 'Put Me On' are not my cup of tea. 'This Old Man' and 'Ballerina' with its Debussy intro are okay, but three mediocre songs is not enough. I hope there are better reasons (albums) for Styx to be here in the first place.
Report this review (#35839)
Posted Thursday, June 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is one of the two Styx discs that I give a perfect rating and it's worth every bit of that 5 stars!!! I understand that most people think "The Grand Illusion" is the group's greatest achievement, and it is certainly one of the 70's most loved albums, but "Crystal Ball" is the perfect album in every way!

Released in 1976, this is the first disc to include ex MS Funk guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw. Turns out that Tommy is a hell of a songwriter to boot, penning the title track, for which the album was actually named! When this album wants to be heavy it is: "Put Me On." When the album wants to be melodic we have "This Old Man" and "Ballerina," in my opinion, two of the greatest Styx songs ever!!

Someone before me mentioned this album "is so dark it sounds demonic." Well said Brendan, because this album is dark, so very moody that it captures you and doesn't let you go. Certainly the band's darkest album and possibly the reason I love it so much. Throughout the rest of their career I was looking for this mood and luckily it shows up now and again in songs like "Castle Walls", "Man In The Wilderness", "Pieces Of Eight", "Half- Penny, Two-Penny", and most recently the excellent "These Are The Times" from 2003's "Cyclorama." I think it is the moodier side of Styx that keeps me coming back and it all began right here on possibly Styx's best offering!

It's a shame that Dennis DeYoung strayed from this writing style and that by the end of the 1970's Styx was a completely different band. Luckily, now, even without Dennis, the band is writing some of the best material of their career.

A new album in 2006? I think so. All I can hope for is something a third this good!!!!!

Report this review (#40248)
Posted Monday, July 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I knew that this was not a great album but I knew that this album contained excellent tracks: "Crystal balls", "This Old Man" and probably "Clair de Lune / Ballerina". I still purchased the CD because judging from experiencefrom cassette format, "Crystal Ball" is truly different. It has beautiful combination between nice vocal, excellent acoustic guitar work and tight composition. This is the kind of song that you want to hear over and over even though it's pretty straight forward. It has nice melody and excellent songwriting. Style-wise, "This Old Man" is similar, it's only different in melody. These two songs are very accessible to those who like rock music in general. The other famous track is "Jennifer". Keep on rockin' ..! - GW

Report this review (#44312)
Posted Friday, August 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars I had heard once (can't remember where) that Styx was perfect band for 13 year old boys, because they were all about bold emotions and big gestures. Depth of feeling wasn't implied, it was poured out in bucketloads. I have to admit that I was on of those 13 year olds who feel in love with the band. I am mortified to think of the hours I spent, pining away on a girl, replaceing her name for 'Babe', or really feeling that she was my 'Laaaaaaady of the morning'. (I guarantee you, I am not the only one who did this.) It is now 23 years later, and I am embarrassed that they took up so much emotional space in my life. Thank God, Pink Floyd and Rush stepped in to clear my head of illusions (no pun intended).

I started pondering this as I listened to Crystal Ball for the first time in over a decade. It had never been one of my favorites, but it always felt like there was quality there. I am sad to say that the album doesn't quite hold up. Overall it just a mediocre album with not enough original songs on it to keep it interesting, and it will likely be another decade before I pull out disc and give it another spin.

It goes wrong right from the get-go with 'Put Me On,' a clever idea ruined by too many changes in tempo and textures. I know it is supposed to represent the entire listening experience of an album, but frankly it just gives me a headache. 'Madamoiselle' follows and represents an uptick in quality, hurt only by the over the top choir of high pitched harmonies that shout out the chorus. 'Jennifer' is just dull (how many songs will DeYoung write about his various loves). The real stand out track, 'Crystal Ball,' saves the entire album. I strongly feel that is one of the greatest songs the band produced. Listening too it, as it is, in the middle of the album, makes everything that came before and after pale. It contains strong harmonies, great vocals by Shaw, and a blazing solo. A career highlight for Shaw, and it was only his first solo spot in the Styx oveure.

'Shooz' is a solid rocker, but borrows too heavily from Foghat. 'This Old Man' is uninteresting and really goes nowhere, the lyrics being some of the most heavy-handed DeYong has composed. It does perk up with 'Ballerina' bringing it too a solid close.

I hate being too hard on this album, as you can feel they were really reaching out for a new sound and they were feeling out how Shaw was going to fit. It really is a transitional album for the band, closing out the Wooden Nickle years and going Platinum with 'Grand Illusion' the following year. The basic spark is there, but it would need more time to come through.

Final thought: with the exception of the title track, disposable, but interesting historically.

Report this review (#61222)
Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars Many Progheads feel embarrassed to admit they like the music of STYX, probably because nobody knows for sure if we are talking about a Prog band, honestly I can't care less, even when I believe they recorded outstanding Prog material until "The Grand Illusion", the important issue here is the music and STYX really rocks.

"Crystal Ball" is a crucial album for the band, after several years and their most Progressive releases, John Curulewsky leaves the band and is replaced by Tommy Shaw, who despite his appearance of California Boy and hook with the feminine public, had an interest for Progressive Rock, while Dennis De Young progressively became more interested in POP, Tommy Shaw provided the balance between creativity and commercial success that the band required and was responsible for some of the best tracks the band ever released.

But we are talking about Crystal Ball, the first artistically solid album with economic success; after many years, STYX had ceased to be a local phenomenon of Chicago and gave the step to become icons of USA Rock.

The album starts with "Put Me On" and it's pompous into, where guitar and keyboards blend to create one of the most memorable songs in STYX's career. For the first time they trademarked chorus with at least four members singing simultaneously are used, while Dennis and JY take turns for the lead vocals. Contrasting sections, frantic rhythm, sold melody and outstanding guitar work open the album with the strength required to prove it is the dawn of a new era.

"Mademoiselle" is another track from this album that became a symbol of the band and was played along all their career in different concerts and gigs, this time Tommy Shaw takes the lead vocals and does a good job. Less frenetic than the precious but intelligently constructed, the song flows from start to end, another nice moment.

"Jennifer" is a power ballad with POP fugues, not the most memorable track from the band and soon forgotten after the release of the album, probably the most important characteristic of "Jennifer" are the excellent chorus that work perfectly with Dennis vocals. Not Prog at all, but very strong and solid Rock & Roll.

"Crystal Ball" is the first 100% Shaw song of the band, and must say that is outstanding, despite apparently being a simple ballad, has an excellent melody where Tommy gives every thing in his performance with a great backing by all the band and one of the best Moog solos by De Young. Would had liked a different ending rather than the bland fading, but despite this minor flaw, it's excellent material.

"Shooz" is probably the weakest track of the album is it wasn't because I saw the name in the tracklist, I would had not remembered this filler, no need to review it, just use the skip button.

"This Old Man" is one of this cases in which I can't understand how such an excellent song has been forgotten, De Young does an awesome job creating a dramatic atmosphere, his voice, even when no the best in town, blends perfectly with his own keyboards and JY's guitar, around the middle the dark and haunting mood is simply outstanding, a song that deserved a better destiny.

"Clair de Lune/Ballerina" starts with a fantastic Debussy rendition, but suddenly Dennis vocals replace the classical section for an interesting soft melody with a great job by JY in the guitar and a perfect supporting job by the Panozzo twins in the bass and drums, several dramatic changes that link perfectly one with the other proved us that this guys were ready for something greater, probably not as serious and complex as their first three releases, but if they wanted to be a massive band, the had to change, and they did it with class.

I will take the risk and rate "Crystal Ball" with 4 stars, a couple of weaker songs, plus the fact that the album is not a masterpiece, don't allow me to give a higher rating.

I know people will ask me "How could you rate so high a barely Prog album?" and I will answer "Who cares, I consider it essential for any Rock collection". If it's Prog great, if it's not Prog in a traditional sense.It's a prove that there is great music outside the Prog scenario.

Report this review (#182727)
Posted Wednesday, September 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
2 stars Put me on, put me off

The previous Equinox album had taken the sound and style of early Styx and streamlined it, giving it a more glossy production and strengthened their Pop sensibilities and thereby gearing it towards more mainstream audiences and the FM radio. Maybe they felt that they went too far in that direction because with Crystal Ball they reverted slightly toward their old style; this album rocks harder compared to the very lightweight Equinox. Indeed, several tracks remind me slightly of Rainbow!

The progressive side of the band is still here, but it wears rather thin on this album. The opener Put Me On is a basic, melodic Hard Rock song and Shoots is an abomination of middle-of-the-road hard Rock 'N' Roll and is so ordinary and generic that it becomes silly. This song is anti-progressive and it too reminds me of (the very worst sides of) Rainbow and Deep Purple from the late 70's/early 80's. The rest of this album, however, is quite enjoyable!

Crystal Ball was the first album with Tommy Shaw in the band and he contributes the very good title track. The title track is among the best songs and it is a nice semi-ballad with softer acoustic verses and a harder rocking chorus. This song also remind me slightly of Rainbow, but this time it is more in line with the good era of that band (i.e. the Ronnie James Dio-era). Mademoiselle reminds me slightly of 10cc, which is not a very good thing! Jennifer is hardly remarkable (as few songs with female first names as titles are) but still a quite ok song with an adlib chorus.

Like of Equinox, the more progressive songs are towards the end and also like on that album, this album too ends with its longest track which, once again, consisting of two parts. The first part being a classical piece by Claude Debussy. As a side note I can mention that this has also been performed by Rick Wakeman.

Crystal Ball is one of the more typical Styx albums. It was the beginning of a new era in the band's history and even if they would make a better album after this one, Crystal Ball is still one of the better Styx albums with only a few weak and distracting moments. I generally prefer this over Equinox, but it is not a remarkable step forward by any means.

Two (and a half) stars.

Report this review (#227604)
Posted Monday, July 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars First Styx album with Tommy Shaw. Very melodic, heavily orchestrated pop-hard-rock (or AOR) with choral vocals. Whenever they have some catchy melodies and have some attractive moments in their songs, the albums isn't as bad as could be.

Music is slightly connected with prog-rock, using elements of pop-hard-rock and prog- rock both. Technically musicians are far from virtuosity, but as prog-related band are attractive enough to be listened.

Different from their very early raw rocky works, this album contains many elements of typical Styx style ( characteristic sound for their moment of popularity). However still not polished and balanced till their final product. 50/50 of good/bad songs proportion.

I don't think this album could be interesting for people outside of Styx fan club. Somewhere around 2,5.

Report this review (#262945)
Posted Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars It's 1976, and Styx has a new member in Tommy Shaw. Is anything lost from their awesome Equinox album? Well, maybe some. This is a solid album, but it doesn't compare to Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, or Equinox. The first 2 rockers, "Put me On" and "Mademoiselle" are fine classic Styx rockers along with "Crystal Ball" and "This Old Man". These are all 4-5 star tunes. However, "Jennifer" bores me and "Shooz" is the JY Young contribution, typical hard rock, nothing special. "CLair de Lune/Ballerina" never really seem to go anywhere and end on a riot of pomposity that seems forced. Overall, this is a good Styx album, and most Styx fans should enjoy it, but anyone new to Styx (Is there anyone?), would be better to start with the prior 3 mentioned albums, which showcase them at their finest. So....a solid 3, almost 3 1/2 stars.
Report this review (#275608)
Posted Tuesday, March 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Crystal ball is their sixth album from 1976 and is a big release in Styx career. Styx always combined in a good manner pomp rock with grand orchestrations and aswell have a good doze of progressive elements, but they were less progressive then their country fellows Kansas for ex. They manage to go shoulder to shoulder in second half of the '70 's with Kansas being the most well known bands in USA in thet times. Already from this album appears a hit Mademoiselle, the band got more and more fans, their combination of art rock with pompous arrangements over some progressive elements get the attention to most of the audience in midd to late '70 's in american scene. The rrangements were very good composed, with realy solid progressive elements like opening track Put Me On, maybe the best piece from here, aswell a new member arrived Tommy Show who brings a fresh air, he did both vocals and guitars in Styx music. This album , is less consistent then Equinox but far better then Man of miracles, the a passages are well constructed, more progressive elements are arranged here, givig overall a good release, maybe for some listners who considered Styx a commercial band with not much to do with prog, this album, the next one and the one before will show a solid song writting for sure with a clear progressive side on almost all pieces. This album desearve 3 stars , at least from my side, not among my fav from them, the two album remeining my fav are the previous one Equinox and next one Grand illusion. Still a fairly good and decent work.
Report this review (#308501)
Posted Saturday, November 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
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 ˝ stars. Still it is well worth investigating for fans of "America's answer to Queen" as some refer to them.

Report this review (#445016)
Posted Monday, May 9, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Album number six, which was issued in '76 during the sixth year of Styx's professional career, 'Crystal Ball' continues the upward curve witnessed on the previous years 'Equinox', though quite what the number six has to do with this American prog-rock outfit is anybody's guess. After the crude-yet-enjoyable machinations of their ambitious, Copland-inspired debut and the refined class of follow-up Styx II, the Chicago-based outfit hit something of a duff patch before the belated single success of 'Lady' catapulted the five-piece into the national American eye. But first the duff patch; personified by two poorly-received albums, both 'The Serpent Is Rising' and 'Man Of Miracles' managed to severely over-egg the sonic pudding with far too much sub-prog-rock excess, and not enough pomp-pop colour. However, for 'Crystal Ball', the balance was re-aligned. A catchy, hard-rockin', colourful and rather adventurous set, 'Crystal Ball' finds Styx laying the groundwork for the series of excellent and career-defining albums that were to come, the likes of 'Cornerstone', 'The Grand Illusion' and 'Pieces Of Eight', whilst also proving a damn fine album itself. Tracks such as the bluesy rocker 'Shooz', the yearning, fast-paced balladry of 'Jennifer' and the seven-and-a-half-minute closer 'Clair De Lune / Ballerine' ooze hard-rock finesse, the group's synthesized rock sound bursting forth thanks to an impressive and vibrant production. Those who enjoy the classic Styx albums should find much to enjoy here then, with 'Crystal Ball' proving one of the higher peaks scaled by this hugely underrated 1970's outfit. It may not be progressive rock English style, yet in the end who gives a damn. Styx can rock out with the best of 'em, and 'Crystal Ball' is clear proof. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2013
Report this review (#913181)
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I will state right up front that I love this record. It was one of my favorite LP's in high school, and I probably listened to it 100 times. I don't understand why Crystal Ball isn't given the same respect as Equinox. Crystal Ball isn't any less progressive in my book. This is a high quality album overall.

"Suite Madam Blue" from Equinox, for instance, is great, but "Born for Adventure" is simply irritating. Is there a bias against Tommy Shaw at work here? The man can obviously sing, and I don't see the ability to write music that's broadly appealing as a crime! If I'm picking favorites, I would probably go with "Ballerina" and the title track. This is an excellent hard rock album with prog overtones. I'm giving it four stars.

Report this review (#1295312)
Posted Thursday, October 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars This was the record that kicked off the classic Styx era that featured great songwriting, concept albums and a bunch of hit singles. Fortunately Crystal Ball lacks the latter and thus makes it one the band's most cohesive records to date. This was also the point when the young Tommy Shaw entered the scene and began contributing to the band both as a musician and songwriter.

The band has always had memorable opening album tracks and Put Me On is by no means an exception even though it does tend to be overshadowed by Light Up and The Grand Illusion. The opening track is upbeat and featuring quite a few quirky moments, which is in line with the rest of the material. Put Me On transitions into the album's first single Mademoiselle written by DeYoung and Shaw. Remember that I wrote that this record had no hit singles? Well, Mademoiselle was actually a Top 40 hit in the US and Canada but is completely overshadowed by the hit singles that came on the next couple of albums. I actually think that Mademoiselle works really well in the context of the album, making it a worthy album track independent of the fact that it was a single. I don't really know why but the structure of this composition somehow manages to remind my of Seaside Rendezvous by Queen.

Jennifer is another solid album track from Dennis DeYoung that works well with his quirky vocal delivery. The title track is probably the most famous track of the bunch and was the first solo songwriting credit for Shaw. It's a strong composition with great solo spots for DeYoung on synthesizer and Shaw on electric guitar. After such great momentum, the album delivers its only weak track in the shape of a straightforward rocker Shooz written by Tommy Shaw and James Young. In its defense, this is actually one of the better compositions that was written/co-written by Young and features Shaw on lead vocals.

After the first five compositions, which ranged from great to solid album tracks, comes two compositions that transform Crystal Ball to the status of excellence. It's worth to mention that these tracks are rarely performed live thus making them two of the band's most underrated moments. This Old Man is a moody piece by DeYoung that feels very pompous and almost symphonic in its style. Clair De Lune/Ballerina begins with a piano intro of Clair De Lune Claude Debussy which is then followed by Ballerina. This is another track where DeYoung shows his love for theatrical performance and I can easily see this composition being performed as a part of a musical with soaring vocal harmonies from the performers.

Crystal Ball is where the songwriting kicked into the next gear and turned Styx into a real contender on the late '70s pop music scene. The next two albums would really show just that. Highly recommended to fans of melodic art rock music.

***** star songs: This Old Man (5:11) Clair De Lune/Ballerina (7:09)

**** star songs: Mademoiselle (3:57) Put Me On (4:56) Jennifer (4:16) Crystal Ball (4:32)

*** star songs: Shooz (4:44)

Report this review (#1340792)
Posted Monday, January 5, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
2 stars Crystal Ball is a good representation of Styx's output: lush, heavily orchestrated pop-rock, sometimes interesting, sometimes nauseating. With Tommy Shaw's joining of the band, Crystal Ball skews more towards the pop-rock. This isn't something to immediately shy away from, because Shaw's guitar playing is excellent, and his vocals are solid, too. In fact, I'd a Shaw-led Styx over a DeYoung led Styx anytime; however, Crystall Ball as a whole fits into a wishy-washy middle ground of classic rock that is enjoyable to listen to at the time, but not memorable or appealing enough to remember for long afterwards.

The album opens with a bouncy, lush, and dynamic rock tune "Put Me On." Terrible lyrics aside, the song writing starts off nicely and shows off the band's flair for blending styles. Unfortunately the next two songs are throw aways; especially the somewhat insulting "Jennifer." If songs about underage girls or that feature gibberish choruses are your thing, than you'll like it more than me. Luckily the title track, "Crystal Ball" stands out as an excellent song thanks to its contrast of hard rock/ballad feel. Easily the best song on the album. The closing tracks are also fair tunes that are sort of semi-ballads with some interesting variety and occasionally standout instrumental work. The album closes to more lazy songwriting in the form of gibberish vocals.

After several listens of this brief album the only thing I can remember with clarify is the Shaw-led title track, and DeYoung's cartoonish vocals everywhere else. Not a great place to start for newcomers interested in learning more about this iconic prog/pop group, and not a very good album in general, though still fun for the occasional listen.

Songwriting: 2 - Instrumental Performances: 3 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

Report this review (#1458028)
Posted Monday, August 31, 2015 | Review Permalink

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