Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pop-Rock That Evolves To Robo-Techno: Styx Greatest Hits

The Good: Nice lyrics, Good instrumentals, Overall decent sound
The Bad: Some lame tracks
The Basics: Definitely worth a listen, Greatest Hits from Styx informs those ignorant to the band of one of America's most accomplished musical acts.

There is something fun about reviewing Greatest Hits albums of groups I suspect I do now know well. It gives a very pure listening experience from which the reader may determine whether or not the album adequately reflects a decent listening experience, something they would recognize and/or something they might gain an appreciation of an artist from. When I picked up Styx - Greatest Hits all I knew I knew about the group was "Mr. Roboto" - which I loved rocking out to as a little kid - and what I caught on a VH-1 Behind The Music special, which was basically the section on their concept album Kilroy Was Here. I like concept albums, but this is not a review of Kilroy Was Here.

On Styx - Greatest Hits, the listener discovers just how ingrained Styx is in the world of rock and roll, whether or not the listener knows it before listening. Sure, there's "Mr. Roboto" for children of the 80s who recall when rock and roll was creative and branches of pop-rock were birthing Techno. But for those of us foolish to believe songs like "Renegade" ("Oh mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law . . .") and "Come Sail Away" were Queen tracks, well Styx - Greatest Hits sets us straight. For those growing up in the 1990s to big hair bands, "Show Me The Way" is instantly recognizable. I'm told "The Best of Times" was a perennial graduation favorite before the yearly deluge of graduation songs and "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" seems to have become a Classic Rock favorite on those stations. In short, going into the album, I thought I knew only a single track and this would be a good album to decide if Styx's Greatest Hits were worthwhile (I recently heard of Alien Sex Farm's Greatest Hits and was astonished over the existence of a Greatest Hits album for a group I had never even heard of). Instead, I found an album where at least seven of the sixteen tracks were known to me.

As an outsider listening to Styx - Greatest Hits, the experience is very much one of "Ohh . . . I know that song!" or "That's Styx?!" It is worth mentioning that the liner notes for Greatest Hits are extensive, though they do not include the lyrics. It is also worth noting that the career of Styx is rather rocky, as they note in their liner notes and one might observe by the track listing. Despite having twelve studio albums and a live album, the sixteen tracks on Greatest Hits are culled from only eight of those albums (and one of the tracks was remade for this disc). That's not to say Styx is bad, but it does seem to suggest that their career was rather hit or miss. Either the culled album produced singles that charted well or the album sank into anonymity outside the fan base.

So, if you listen to Greatest Hits, what may you expect? Odds are, you'll discover you already know some Styx songs. These are flat out rock and roll, with a somewhat theatrical sound. So, for example, "The Grand Illusion" is so strong on vocals but backed with such pounding keyboards it instantly evokes the idea of amphitheater concerts and arenas. There's a big sound to it.

Styx has a fairly varied - though solidly rock and roll - sound. So on "Come Sail Away," Styx does a classic rock ballad that feels downright sunny, "Show Me The Way" is rock that evokes images of big hair bands of the late 80s, early 90s, and "Mr. Roboto" insinuates the keyboards and quirkiness of Techno music. Overall, Styx - as embodied by Greatest Hits - is a rock ballad band. "Lady '95" (the reworking of their classic "Lady"), "Crystal Ball," and "Lorelei" are classic, almost archetypal, rock and roll ballads. They have strong vocals backed by pounding drums, guitars and/or keyboards.

There is something unsettling, though, about the arrangement of the album. The final track is "Don't Let It End," which is an anthem that strives to have the listener keep on rocking. Then the album ends. Go figure. Wisely, the group puts "Come Sail Away" and "Suite Madame Blue," which sound remarkably alike at their beginnings, a reasonable distance away from each other on the album.

All of the Styx tracks here were written by either Dennis DeYoung or Tommy Shaw and both are quite talented. The songs cover a wide variety of topics from running from the law ("Renegade"), revelations of self ("Mr. Roboto"), the desire to escape with a loved one ("Come Sail Away") to outright social commentary ("The Best of Times"). Anyone who likes rock and roll, especially a diverse classic rock sound will like Styx Greatest Hits. Odds are, you already know half the album.

The best track remains - even out of context - the fun, weird and compelling "Mr. Roboto." I was not fond of the schmaltzy, patriotic, idealistic "Suite Madame Blue."

For other “Best Of” albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Words & Music - John Mellencamp
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams
All The Best - Tina Turner


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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