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Styx - Paradise Theatre CD (album) cover




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2.99 | 190 ratings

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3 stars Somehow Styx managed to weather the storms generated by the punk rock and New Wave movements of the late 70s and enter into the 80s still being considered one of the premier American bands in the world. Since bringing Tommy Shaw aboard in 1975 their knack for producing radio-friendly fare had increased drastically, enabling them to combine a certain strata of prog fans (who liked Dennis DeYoung's grandeur) with the "let's boogie" throng of rockers (who were attracted by the hard edge of Shaw's material). The three albums that preceded "Paradise Theatre" had all gone platinum and the fame and fortune this hardy band from Chicago had craved for so long had become a reality at last. Yet, as usual, that didn't prevent the ogre of dysfunction from invading the Styx family circle. You bring money and notoriety into any group and jealousy and bickering are bound to follow. Evidently the internal brouhaha caused by Dennis' sappy "Babe" becoming the band's first #1 hit single in '79 turned into a real identity crisis. That song's "easy listening" discharge left an indelible stain on what the rest of the members considered their renegade image. The friction got so heated that one day DeYoung received his pink slip. I have no doubt that the pukes in upper management had nightmarish visions of their golden goose getting cooked before their very eyes so cooler heads not only intervened but prevailed and Dennis and his cohorts were cajoled into kissing and making up for the sake of the greater good. In some cases reunions can be rejuvenating and that may explain why "Paradise Theatre" seems to have more energy and enthusiasm than "Cornerstone" does.

The record begins with DeYoung's "A.D. 1928," and in its role as a set-up tune it does avoid being patronizing. It has a classy nostalgic slant that issues a warm invite. Dennis, Tommy and guitarist James Young collaborated to pen the album's thematic number, "Rockin' the Paradise" and it's a big dose of arena rock that efficiently sets the tone for what's to follow. It's a solid piece of work but progressive it ain't. Its tight track is commendable but it confirms to me that they were no longer trying to compete with the likes of Genesis but now had acts like the massively popular Elton John in their sights. There's not a thing wrong with that ambition but this is a prog site and that alteration in their aspirations must be noted. Shaw's "Too Much Time on My Hands" is next and it's not only one of the best pop rock songs from that era but one of my all-time favorite Styx tunes. There's a lot to be said for a perfectly constructed number that contains an unforgettable hook because it's no easy feat to accomplish and this song, by reaching #9 on the charts, did a lot for elevating the record's visibility. Dennis' "Nothing Ever Goes as Planned" follows and it's kind of a Supertramp meets Meatloaf meld spread over a peppy Caribbean rhythm that's just eclectic enough to be intriguingly different. DeYoung's "The Best of Times" is another one of his overwrought power ballads that don't do a lot for me but I'm glad to report that it's a vast improvement over the nauseating "Babe." As a single it hit #3 and gave the general populace even more reason to invest in this album. Styx had become regular visitors to the Top 40 penthouse.

Dennis was on fire, compositionally speaking, and his "Lonely People" made it three cuts in a row. Its odd opening is rather directionless and the tune's pulsating beat brings to mind the pop side of the Alan Parsons Project. The number's verses and choruses are typical Styx stuff but the middle instrumental section has enough quirks and short detours thrown in to give it personality. The horns are a nice touch, too. As much stink as Tommy had made about DeYoung's creations being too commercial it's surprising to hear how light rock-oriented his "She Cares" is. It's not a shabby piece of work and I find the sax solo, while not spectacular, to be a decent change of pace but it does seem a bit hypocritical on his part. Dennis and James teamed up to write the controversial "Snowblind." (Paranoid right wingers swore they heard thinly-masked Satanic messages in the track's background. I surmise it was just tape hiss.) It's a dramatic, heavy-handed rocker that offers nothing new but does provide a broad platform for some passionate guitar licks and probably brought the house down in concert every night. Young's "Half-penny, Two-penny" follows. Its pounding throb propels the metallic riff that roils underneath the song's threatening vocal interspersed with a large-scale chorus. That's all fine and dandy but the overall effect is too prescribed and theatrical for this progger to wholly endorse. "A.D. 1958" is a predictable reprise of the opener and "State Street Sadie" is half a minute of an unrelated ragtime-ish ditty. Maybe it meant something to its composer, Mr. DeYoung.

This disc hit the shelves running on January 19, 1981 and streaked right up to the top spot on the album charts. Styx's string of successes continued unabated and the group reaped the huge benefits of their well-earned triumphs accordingly. Yet the cancer that caused the brief estrangement that almost derailed "Paradise Theatre" before it was even recorded hadn't been eradicated but was merely lying dormant for the time being. Like couples who split up and then remarry, the core problems were never fully addressed/resolved and would arise again to create havoc. But, in the meantime, Styx rightly enjoyed the adulation that came with what many consider their most cohesive and accessible record. There wasn't a lot of prog left in their tank at this juncture yet it's an album I can listen to without issuing an apology.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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