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Styx - Brave New World CD (album) cover




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2.85 | 66 ratings

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3 stars A flawed album but one I enjoy

In the mid 90s Styx mounted a highly successful reunion tour with the core members in tact, the tour so many fans waited years for. With momentum on their side after the tour they attempted to pull off another feat with a new studio album. Rather than capitalize and set aside their personal gripes with each other, they blew it. The resulting sessions brought back the divisions and animosity that plagued them for so long. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say both camps played their role in sinking any chance of continuing their legacy, and DeYoung was right to call the album a "missed opportunity." This could have been a great project had the DeYoung camp and the Shaw/Young camp allowed it to be, instead, many of the criticisms you read about the album's failures are not unfounded. It can sound less than cohesive, unfinished, sometimes like demos, and it fails to capture the magic that could be glorious when these three musicians set aside their bickering and helped each other reach their potential. When I first heard the record I hated it, and I nearly wrote a scathing review early on. Instead, the disc got stuck in my car during a difficult personal period, when I simply kept playing it because I was often too distressed to rotate discs as I normally would. I ended up liking this flawed record. Despite the Shaw/Young camp's tragic decision to toss Styx's undeniable leader, and damn the consequences in quality, the album that almost "never was" has its moments. The band even stopped recording it at one point during their hostilities, only to be forced by the label to finish it, lest lawsuits begin. There are so many little details working against this album that its very presence is something of a miracle.

Despite less of the art rock glitter and prog-rock influence of the 1970s, the material on "Brave New World" could have been Styx-ized had there been true collaboration. It would still be more straightforward rock but it could have been quite different. Instead, the Shaw tracks can sound like Bon Jovi while the DeYoung tracks sometimes sound like he was being paid to pen ballads for American Idol contestants. Neither scenario a compliment. The songs from the two camps could not sound more indifferent towards each other, this really is two solo albums having a shotgun wedding. It is somewhat ironic that Shaw and Young's vision for the album was a conceptual commentary on a bleak future, not unlike what DeYoung tried to do with the Kilroy theme those two hated so much. This time around, it is DeYoung's songs who sound like they are mostly removed from the album's themes. The roles have reversed in that compositional sense. Shaw had control here, while DeYoung was being blindfolded and tied to the tree, after just consuming his final meal and being offered a cigarette.

Shaw/Young's tracks are almost completely devoid of any DeYoung presence, it sounds as if they stripped away whatever significant presence he may have offered laid their songs. It's a shame because some of those tracks could have benefited immensely from Dennis' talents, which remain very much in tact. Their tracks are mostly very catchy rock songs on the heavy but accessible side, driven by Todd Sucherman's more aggressive drumming style and a desire to have fun. James delivers his usual kitschy vocal (such a character) as he trades line with Shaw on "What have they done to you." Tommy's voice is a bit thinner and more warbled than in his youth but he can still hit the high notes. "I will be your witness" features a groovy guitar part with tons of swagger and a light, easygoing chorus---pretty effective pop songwriting. "Heavy Water" approaches a crushing sound as the heavy James vehicle this time out. The title track is reprised at the end like they did with Kilroy, with bits of "Heavy Water's" chorus coming through. These guys were writing rock songs they could bring to the stage and command. I would guess all of these songs sound much fuller and heavier on tour than here.

Dennis' material ranges from the pure sappy ballad (While There's Still Time) to the introspective (Fallen Angel) to the playful (High Crimes & Misdemeanors) which is subtitled "Hip Hop-Cracy." You really have to hear that one! "Great Expectations" is a strong track in the show tunes style DeYoung has embraced since working Broadway. He closes his tracks with "Goodbye Roseland" which is a poignant and personal farewell to his old neighborhood, his father, his youthful memories. Dennis' father died around this period of the same disease that recently took my own Dad. To say I found the song moving would be an understatement, as I was hearing it the week I buried my Dad, nothing like coincidences. DeYoung was left standing on the shore as the Shaw led band sailed away to a new future without him. Dennis may have had the last laugh though. While Styx proper rocks the casinos and state fairs, DeYoung has released a new solo album that some fans call the best work by any Styxian, alone or together, since 1980. It is called "One Hundred Years from Now" if you wish to check it out. They carry on separately now, but like the Floyd situation, their work apart will never match what they did together as a true band in the 1970s. Tommy and James enjoying performing more than recording, Dennis enjoys perfecting the studio sound. Fans will have to decide for themselves where their interests lie in these musicians. The base seemed as split over things as the band themselves.

If you never liked Styx in their glory years, you sure as hell won't like this album. But for me it is a nice coda to a band I enjoy, despite the obvious flaws. I like this album more than Kilroy despite the fact that many Styx fans reject it. I have a feeling most PA reviewers would give this two stars (or 1), but I have to bump it to three personally. I had fun.

Finnforest | 3/5 |


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