Styx - Cyclorama Review
Posted by Jodes Serner on 02.25.2003
Cyclorama is a Roboto Free Zone!
Styx has pretty much done it all in it's 30 year plus career. They were the 1st band in history to record 4 (I believe it's 5 now) triple platinum albums in a row, #1 albums and singles, and huge worldwide tours.
What made Styx so unique from other American bands at the time was their diversity. From beautiful ballads, progressive "art-rock" to flat out bombast heavy rock n roll, Styx was able to keep that chemistry together throughout the 70's and early 80's, but by 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, creative tensions mounted and Styx split up shortly after.
Flash forward to 1996. Styx fans rejoice when the "classic" Styx lineup of Dennis Deyoung, Tommy Shaw, Chuck Panozzo and James "JY" Young along with drummer Todd Suchermann (replacing an ailing John Panozzo) do a 75+ date Return To Paradise tour. Many thought the hatchet was buried and Styx would finally venture into the new millennium by releasing an all-new CD from the classic lineup. Sadly, during the Return to Paradise Tour, founder John Panozzo passed away and Todd Sucherman became Styx's full time drummer.
In the meantime, Styx was experiencing a "comeback" of sorts, with their music being featured in movies, television and commercials. It was prime time to release a new CD and tour. A CD was released, 1999's Brave New World, but it wasn't what the die-hard Styx fans had expected musically. That wasn't all though. Dramatic changes were coming for Styx before everything was said and done. Chuck Panozzo was gravely ill and could not tour, so he asked former Styx member Glen Burtnik (who replaced Tommy Shaw in Styx in 90-91 for their Edge Of The Century album while Shaw was in Damn Yankees) to play bass (very few new about Chuck's health condition at this time, Chuck only announced to the world that he had Aids in 2001) but the biggest shock at the time was Dennis Deyoung's inability to tour as well, due to Epstein Barr Syndrome, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as it's also known (which he is still battling). This had put all the momentum for the tour on hold. Tour dates and been booked, contracts had been signed, and the label was ready to drop them if they reneged on the tour.
So, Styx went on without Dennis Deyoung. Canadian Lawrence Gowan, an award winning and platinum selling artist in his home country, was recruited to play keyboards and do lead vocals for Dennis’s songs. His dynamic keyboard playing and his energetic performances were a perfect fit for Styx.
Styx hit the road and after 400+ concerts later (and still going here in 2003), finally delivering their first CD without co-founder Dennis Deyoung, Cyclorama.
Does it measure up to Styx of the 70's? Well, absolutely, positively 100%, yes! Back in their heyday, Styx did everything as a BAND. Somehow, they lost sight of that and it eventually lead to disaster. They stopped working together as a group, and the group as a whole suffered. Thankfully that doesn’t happen this time around.
The first thing you see when you open up the CD is the songwriting credits, each Styx member contributed to the each of the songs, whether it was the lyrics, arrangements or the music itself, something that hasn’t happened since their Pieces Of Eight days. Not only does it hark back to the days of old, it does a pretty damn good job of bringing Styx into the future as well. The songs are amazingly well crafted with heavy doses of progressive-rock, alternative, punk, pop and bombastic rock n roll that Styx is famous for. This is definitely a CD that will win them back their old fans, and will win them new fans.
Cyclorama brings Styx face first into the new millennium and ready to take no prisoners! This is the Styx CD that the fans have been waiting for over 20 years. It is definitely a refreshing breath of air in today’s music scene.
The CD kicks off with Tommy Shaw lead “Do Things My Way”, a nicely polished modern sounding rocker that starts out with some “chanting” (I kid you not) then kicks it into gear with a song about a good relationship gone bad. It could have easily fit onto another project of his, Damn Yankees. But make no mistake, the trademark harmonies are there and this is definitely Styx. Like many songs on the album, you’ll catch yourself humming/singing along with it in no time. What really stands out the most is Glen Burtnik’s bass playing on the track, especially when the song fades out.The rocking Styx is back, no doubt about it!
I’ve always found Styx’s music to be one of inspiration, hope and never giving up on a dream. “Waiting For My Time”, the 1st single release, delivers in that aspect. The chorus is classic pompous Styx with big harmonies. Add James Young’s crunching power chords which take over from the acoustic guitar of Tommy Shaw give the song a very modern, almost Creedish feel to it. I personally think the first verse has a “Wanted Dead Or Alive” feel to it in the way Tommy sings, and I think the song would definitely carry it over once played live. It’s also a change of pace for Styx, since there is no real guitar solo in the song, but no worries, there are plenty of songs that make up for that!
Fields of The Brave is possibly one of the most beautiful songs Larry Gowan has ever written and it’s one of many that stand out on it’s own on Cyclorama. It’s definitely not your run of the mill, flavour of the month pop song. Its meaningful and sentimental lyrics make you stop and think about how things were and the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we can have a better life today. Drummer Todd Sucherman really stands out here, his “military” style snare drumming, combined with Larry’s piano give the song even more of a “nostalgic” feel.
Styx gets back to rocking again, this time with special guest Billy Bob Thornton doing the lead vocals on “Bourgeois Pig”. It’s one of those songs that could be “dedicated” to the rock n roll egos of today (insert name here). It definitely one that will get the crowds up and rocking when played live. It also the only track that Chuck Panozzo contributes to on the CD.
The next song is probably the most diverse, yet pleasantly surprising number since 73’s stoner classic “Plexiglass Toilet”. Glen Burtnik’s “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye” is a high energy, up-tempo rocker in the style of Sum 41 and Blink 182, with a tip of the hat to Buddy Holly and Squeeze to make it work. Oh, I can’t forget the reggae-influenced bridge too! No it doesn’t sound like classic Styx, but it pays off in the end because they were able to pull off a something that nobody thought they could do. It could very easily be played on alternative or college radio. It’s another stand out track that screams to be played live. Comedy rockers Jack Black and Kyle Glass (Tenacious D) provide backup vocals.
Up next is James Young’s “These Are the Times”. It catapults you back to 1977 with this endeavor. This is James Young at his best. Written as a tribute to James’s late brother Rick and to give inspiration to Chuck Panozzo’s fight against Aids, “These Are The Times” is a near seven minute rock opus that hooks its claws into you from its hypnotizing first notes to the spine tingling instrumental ending and doesn’t let go. This is the song that Styx fans have been waiting for the past 20 or so years!
“Yes I Can”. Wow. What can I say? It’s beautiful song with a beautiful sentiment without being all mushy. Although originally written by Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades for the Damn Yankees 3 recording sessions (which I’ve heard might see the light of day after all), its Glen Burtnik and Tommy Shaw’s vocals are the highlight of this unique sounding acoustic ballad. What also makes it work are the different instruments used on this song: not just guitars, but an upright acoustic bass, mandolin, dobro, tambourine, and harmonium. What does this all mean? It means you have yourself what could quite possibly be Styx’s biggest hit since Show Me The Way in 1991. I can see it showing up on television shows, say like Smallville, or on a big movie soundtrack. To sum it up, it’s simply outstanding.
Larry Gowan returns for “More Love For The Money”, a pure pomp-rock flavoured song that could have easily fit onto the Padadise Theatre album. It’s definitely influenced by Queen and the Beatles, with a bit of Roger Waters lyrically speaking. The chorus again is pure Styx. The vocal blend gets better every time I hear this song. The Hammond organ gives the song a nice touch as well; it doesn’t overpower the feel and the message that the song tries to portray. It might just be me, but when I hear this song, the feel of it reminds me of the Cheers theme, especially the “Where everybody knows your name” part. Nice guitar work from both Tommy Shaw and James Young as well again give it the feeling of old. I hope I don’t get flamed for saying this, but I could hear Dennis Deyoung easily singing this song, since it’s very similar in style I believe to songs like “Why Me” and “Nothing Ever Goes as Planned”.
Tommy Shaw returns for the mid-tempo “Together”. It’s another one of those songs that’s straight from the heart, and it gives a very positive message throughout it without sounding preachy. The cool part of it is it’s sound in general. I’m a sucker for a waa waa pedal, and Tommy delivers the goods here, combined that with a Hammond organ, and the ever so uplifting Styx harmonies, you’re almost in progressive rock heaven. Why almost? That comes later on in the CD!
“Palm of Your Hand” is the accapela version of “Fooling Yourself” with special guest Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys helping out on background vocals. Some might find it redundant, but it’s a refreshing little number, and vocal blend is second to none.
Captain America is another trip down memory lane. It’s another heavy rocking number by James Young. It was written after James Young met Peter Fonda at Sturgis last year, and also I believe to stir up patriotic feelings in a post 9-11 world. I can definitely see this song being a hit with the military, especially with lyrics like: “Captain America what do you see, millions of your brothers say they’ll fight to be free” or “When there’s love, there is grace, there’s hope left in this place, and the smile on your face, gives me faith in the human race”. Not only are the lyrics powerful, when James Young shares the bridge of the song with Tommy Shaw, it kicks this song up another notch. Again, fans of the old stuff from Equinox,Crystal Ball,Grand Illusion, and Pieces Of Eight will love it!
Killing The Thing That You Love is definitely the most controversial song on Cyclorama. Many fans of Dennis Deyoung believe it’s an attack against him, even though the song was written in 1994, before he did his Broadway play and before he got sick. Hell, Glen wasn’t even a member of Styx when the song was written! But I’m not here to discuss that issue though. Glen has answered that question on his official website Palookaville if you want to find out more. The song itself is very dark, moody, and chilling power ballad, which surprising fits well with the rest of the CD. Glen honestly sings this song with everything he has. It is truly the most poignant and powerful song on the CD. Another great example of an epic rock song that only Styx can provide, clocking in at almost six minutes.
One With Everything is the perfect response to get the Styx fan back to the rocking side. This is going to be the song on this CD that everyone will want to hear live. It’s definitely a stadium type rocker that grabs you, shakes you around and then asks you if you want more! It has everything that classic Styx was all about but lost for most of the 80’s: Captivating lyrics, heavy bass, bombastic guitars, over the top keyboard riffs, heart pounding drums and of course amazing harmonies! Another epic six minute Styx rocker!
Cyclorama ends with the very poppy and artsy “Genki Desu Ka” (or as my five year old niece says Can’t Keep This Car!) that harks back to the “Aku-Aku” days of the Pieces of Eight album. They also go back to the Kilroy Was Here days, since “Genki Desu Ka” is Japanese for “How are you feeling?” It’s a pleasant little stripped down number in which the harmony stays with you. Right after this song, Tenacious D do a little comedy skit and then Styx does their tribute to those who fell during the 9-11 tragedy, another accepella number, which I believe is called “Life Of A Stranger”. It’s a touching tribute to end off the CD.
Styx does everything right for Cyclorama. Tommy Shaw and James Young have nailed it, especially with the inclusion of Glen Burtnik and Larry Gowan, it’s definitely has paid off. They have brought so much more to this lineup than was ever thought possible. Their work and performance on this CD is nothing short of incredible. Todd Sucherman should also be commended, because you know that if the drums are great on the CD, they will be even better live! (Anyone remember the live version of "Brave New World" off of Arch Allies or the entire Return To Paradise CD? His work on those was outstanding!)
Bands like Journey and Boston take note, this is the type of new CD your fans expect! You can learn a lesson from what Styx has done here.
The 411: There’s a little something for everyone here, epic rockers, great ballads, and tremendous musicianship. The lineup here works and they’ve recorded quite a spectacular CD, which is the best since their heyday. Forget the controversy surrounding the lineup changes and just listen to the music. Pure and simple, this is a great classic rock CD! All fans of the 74-82 Styx lineup should have this CD, Cyclorama recaptures the spirit and the essence of what the band once had. It's a must have!