Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Styx - Paradise Theater

Styx
Paradise Theater


Released 1980 on A&M
Reviewed by Lawrence, 20/01/2016ce


So OK I'm being a bit unfashionable by writing about the Chicago band Styx. Why? Why not? It's one of those bands often mocked but still has many believers. People often point to certain songs having meaning to their lives, such as "The Grand Illusion" or "Fooling Yourself (the Angry Young Man)", and I do remember in the 80s while I was at college I attended a spoken-word/speech class where a student chose to read the latter song, adamantly because he really believed it. Of course the guilty pleasure of mine regarding Styx was always "Blue Collar Man", especially since now I'm an office cleaner, and just thinking about that song is enough to keep me going...

But let's look at this unlikely popular group. They were another 70s band that had a freak-hit with the song "Lady", yet somehow unlike many bands of that era they didn't simply fade away afterwards. If you happen to hear a glimpse of their early albums you might surmise why -- way too much musical panache there! Sure singer Dennis DeYoung's overdramatic vocalizing was a target of ridicule for some, as was his showy sub-Yes Religi-oso organ. And Styx didn't quite fit anywhere -- too Pop for Prog, not hard-rocking enough for the metalheads, and mostly (in image particularly) too Hippie for the Punk crowd. But why exactly were Styx lumped in with "Corporate Rock"? There seemed to be a whole lot more to this group than a package...

The thing is I never really caught the true brilliance of this group until gradually I'd noticed later on. I remember when the album Kilroy Was Here came out back when I was a disaffected and jaded teenager. I was in for a shock when I saw their video for "Heavy Metal Poisoning" on MTV -- Styx doing biting social satire right before my eyes(!) In this case about 80s "Satanic Panic" and the Religious Right's attitudes towards Rock n Roll -- it was right on the money especially for a decidedly non-Metal group like Styx.

So for this review it'll be Paradise Theater on the strength of hearing "The Best of Times" on the radio lately, which is making me in a reflective mood these days. The album is a big conceptual rock-opera about a real place in Chicago, following the rise and eventual abandonment of the building, but is supposed to be a metaphor for changing times from the more optimistic 60s/70s to the much more cynical and nasty 80s. I don't really know that much about Chicago outside of once traveling there and reading about the darker, grubbier side of the place in controversial resident writer Peter Sotos' books. Styx's album sees the town in another light -- that of a failed utopia.

I think I remember some complained that Styx were "going Disco" on this album -- and sure enough there is some R&B syncopation here on tracks like "Too Much Time on my Hands", although the cerebral lyrics are on a higher level than most 70s/80s dance music. There are plenty of themes Styx hit on here, such as cocaine abuse ("Snowblind"), estranged relationships ("Half-Penny, Two-Penny"), and urban despair ("Lonely People"). The centerpiece here though has to be "The Best of Times" and its look at the distant barren-ness of today's world, but despite the bleakness of the song there does seem to be quite a bit of forward-thinking hope about it. This has to be the best song Dennis DeYoung ever wrote.

So if you're ready to take the chance on a not-really critically acclaimed but highly regarded group such as Styx, this album would be the best point to start with.


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