Since I’ve got most of their original (non-compilation) albums I guess I’m considered a fan. What I find interesting in this discussion is the repeated observation that Styx was a mindless sell-out band. In spite of the criticism, Styx rejected commercialization of their music for a long time, with DeYoung proudly noting in a 1990’s interview that there would never be a TV commercial with the adapted lyric “The Best of Fries” as a jingle and Shaw contrasting in a later interview that they would never be like Barry Manilow [who is well-known for his Pop ballads and having started as a jingle writer for many successful products].
I found Styx appealing not only for their considerable musical skill but for also for their habit, during the height of their success, of putting out theme albums with strong social commentary. That included Paradise Theater (mentioned before) and Kilroy was Here* – which basically jumped the shark and was a reason for Tommy breaking away.
An even greater appeal for me was the social observations in many of their songs – albeit not usually the most radio-successful of their singles. Castle Walls and Pieces of Eight are excellent examples of great social commentary that the average radio-listener has never heard, and both Renegade and Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) gain different meanings in the context of the album (Pieces of Eight) as a whole. FWIW I like Rush for their social commentary, as well, but Styx had better vocal harmonies.
Progressive Rock (e.g. ELO, ELP, Kansas, Yes, and even Styx) has been criticized by the subsequent musical splinters – Rap/Hip-Hop, Punk, New Wave, and Heavy Metal – as pretentious and showy, exceedingly and senselessly complex, etcetera. But this is kind of a sour grapes attitude: Since it is difficult to reach the technical levels of Progressive instrumental expertise, they reject that element. Rap and hip-hop either drop everything but the drums or substitute in sound samples – even forgoing actual singing. Punk and Heavy Metal emphasize basic power chords (but keep the harmonies and soaring vocals), while New Wave and Dance Music (aka disco-resurrected) rely on synthesizers and synthesized drums. [There are, of course, notable exceptions, but the generalization serves its purpose here.]
While the Album-Oriented Rock format was fine for 12" vinyl and great for selling whole albums to existing fans, radio stations typically ignored the key songs of an Album’s conceptual story in favor of mass-appeal singles. Thus, the programming managers’ selections would favor singles from the Pop end of the spectrum and give radio listeners the impression that the Progressive bands were pumping out mindless drivel with obscure references. The post-Progressive generation points to that ‘mindless drivel with obscure references’ in order to reject concept albums and musical story-arcs as pretentious intellectual snobbery. [I have faith that anyone smart enough to tune a radio is smart enough to notice and understand shared themes or references between two or more songs; if critics find that preposterous then they’re denigrating their own intellect.]
The latest DeYoung-less incarnation of Styx has mostly done greatest hits and cover albums (including concert captures) and Cyclorama wasn’t that incredible. While it had some decent tracks and even some social commentary, I would venture to say part of the album’s problem may have been lack of DeYoung’s influence in instrumental arrangements and sound-engineering quality and maybe even that their signature tri-tone harmonies are generally missing.
*As crazy as the idea seemed, the concept was not robots and prison ballads, but the future of musical censorship and right-wing totalitarian governments which DeYoung predicted correctly – the Moral Majority, Tipper Gore and censorship of lyrics, the media ratings board (now also the ESRB), and even political imprisonment in America.
Next phase, new wave,
Dance craze, anyways
It’s still rock and roll to me!
. --Billy Joel
. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
. From Glass Houses