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Styx - Crystal Ball CD (album) cover




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3.26 | 225 ratings

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4 stars Breakthrough Number 2! I know many people do not consider Styx to be a prog band and going back to their first album, it is obvious they likely never would have made it in Progland.

History: They jumped on the bandwagon of prog on that first album but it seemed forced as if they were attempting to find a place in Progland. That is my least favorite album of the John Curulewski (JC) era. Then Serpent and Miracles came out in quick succession and each album in my opinion had plenty of prog leanings and they were better defined. I do like songs on both those albums. I feel that without them there could be no Equinox. The production quality of the albums under the Wooden Nickel label was nothing to be proud of. Equinox (OF COURSE) was the pinnacle of JC's time with the band. They jumped ship to A&M and production was strong.

EQ remains one of the absolute best Styx albums to me and so many others. I struggle with it being #1 as it teeters between this album Crystal Ball. Just to clarify, JC didn't leave the band after recording EQ to be with family; he walked away after a spat with Dennis (Control Freak) DeYoung who wore the pants in the family. JC didn't get along with anyone well and was always the dissenting voice so his departure was going to come at some point. The rest of the band didn't want to get stuck with him as they assigned hotel rooms as he was such a negative person. He had threatened to walk many times and this time the band said: "Fine! Don't let the door hit you in the lutimus maximus on the way out." Wooden Nickel did squat to promote their albums so they left that label but A&M did no better frustrating JC and others. Seems A&M were too busy drooling over the unexpected mega sales of the Frampton Comes Alive album they labeled. Frampton was a nobody who got famous with a live record. A&M shifted attention to pouring money out to promote that mess and shafted Styx. This was one of the reasons JC was disillusioned. EQ would have been a smash had A&M pushed it.

Crystal Ball All this being said, JC left just as they had to tour the EQ album so that frantic search quickly led to Shaw. Interestingly enough his choice would become probably the best fast addition to any band. Crystal Ball as I said is one of my absolute favorite Styx albums tied with Equinox. Many of the songs some reviewers here have yawned over are my favorites and ones that many rave over were more sleepers to me. I am a big Proghead but also love solid non-pop rock.

CB has that and some prog flavoring to spice things up. I consider "Put Me On" to be the best track on the album and probably one of the absolute best opening songs of any album. It is prog to a point moving from one section to the next and avoids the usual Verse-Chorus-Verse structure. The catchy intro with dualling keys and strings followed by the extreme high pitched harmony vocals that hurt my vocal chords just thinking about it, Then JY's usual over the top vocals are perfect for that song. While some do not like his singing, I find that some songs that he sings could not be done well by any other member. The guitar solo is pure guitar on speed and one of the greatest quick solos of all time. That transitions into another softer section and crashes abruptly into the DeYoung-Shaw "Mademoiselle" which are a fitting intro to Tommy's talents within the band. His voice is better than JC's was in my opinion. The harmonizing guitars near the end are incredible in impact.

"Jennifer" doesn't ping my Excite-O-Meter anymore than "Lorelei" on EQ did. I am just not a love song kind of chap. The title track is okay but not tremendous until it drops into the guitar solo and the climax ending. Shaw's vocals are perfect for the song. It does have a prog feel to it. Shooz is an awesome punchy track that many do not like. I love Shaw's vocals and that slide guitar solo is great. "This Old Man" has the feel of some tracks off their earlier albums which I like. The final track "Clair de Lune / Ballerina" leaves me wondering how they could finish such a great album with such a bland and lifeless song.

In all I can see why most critics think it was a lesser offering to Equinox but I feel that some of the finer tracks are a good progression from where they have been to where they were going. Styx lasted 2 more albums but DeYoung's forced push away from their roots into the trap of Ballad Land killed the band and his stubborn refusal to continue the hard rock and light prog direction sent the band into Grand Delusion land. Crystal Ball represents an awesome new beginning to a band who already had melded musically. Shaw fits like a glove.

Sidscrat | 4/5 |


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