Sunday, August 8, 2010
Styx - Regeneration, Volume I
Styx - Regeneration, Volume I
Born of The Windy City, Styx was forged of the last gasps of the 1960s. Influenced by rhythm and blues and rock n roll, Styx has undergone significant transformation, both musically and as a band. Much has been made of the public divorce of Styx and Dennis DeYoung, both in the press and among fans of the band, but both continue separately as vital and successful artists. This fall, Styx will engage in a once-in-a-lifetime tour, recreating two of their classic albums live: The Grand Illusion and Pieces Of Eight. In celebration of this tour, Styx will release Regeneration, Volume I, a seven song EP featuring new recordings of six classic Styx songs as well as one new track.
Regeneration, Volume I opens with a new Styx tune entitled "Difference In The World", a mellow rocker about the changing of perspective from youth to adulthood; the realization with time that we are responsible in some fashion for the world in which we live. It's a great melody, voiced by Tommy Shaw, and it's perhaps the first Styx song with a shot at real radio airplay in some time. While the new song is a solid add to the Styx songbook, Regeneration, Volume I is all about recreating the past. Lawrence Gowan takes lead on "The Grand Illusion", taking over for the departed DeYoung. Gowan gives a dynamic performance that is likely to appeal to all but the most hardened DeYoung supporters. Styx sticks with the original arrangement with slight variations in the synth and in the main guitar solo. "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" sticks to the original script as well. The version offered here more closely reflects the energy and sound that Styx achieves in its live shows, although it should be noted that the vocal mix of Styx' trademark harmonies isn't quite the same with the current lineup.
"Lorelei" was a minor hit for Styx the first time around. Voiced by DeYoung originally, James Young takes the mic for the updated version. It's a pleasant surprise, as one might expect that Lawrence Gowan would have been the natural choice, but Young brings to "Lorelei" the raw exuberance that made the original work so well. "Sing For The Day" has long been a hidden classic better known to Styx die-hards but which never got a lot of play either on the radio or live. It's a "carpe diem" song; a musical paean to following your dreams. The subtle changes here won't be noticed by most, but there's a vibrancy to this version that cannot be ignored, and Tommy Shaw sings it with all of the passion he did when the song premiered in 1978. Shaw breaks out the 12-string guitar for what has become his signature song, "Crystal Ball". Once again, changes from the original are subtle, but where the original carried all the angst and uncertainty of a young man breaking onto the world at large, a knowing melancholy swirls in and blends with that angst in the current version. "Crystal Ball" turns out to be the most striking recreation on the album.
Regneration, Volume I closes with what is bound to be the most controversial track, "Come Sail Away". While this is perhaps the song Styx is most known for, it is also the one that is most distinctly Dennis DeYoung's. Simply put, there will be some fans who will never accept this version as a replacement from the original. That being said, Lawrence Gowan does a credible job in DeYoung's place, both vocally and in the atmospherics of his keyboard work. While there will be detractors, this is a solid update of a classic song and fits well with the sound Styx achieves in concert.
Styx is certainly not what they once were. No band can lose 3/5 of its core (including one of the original songwriters and singers) without growing into something new. The good news is that Styx rocks with all of the vitality and working class gusto that made them superstars in the 1970's. If anything, Regeneration, Volume I proves what fools the Rolling Stone ed... oops, I mean the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame board are for not enshrining Styx long ago. The vocal mix is a bit different, and Lawrence Gowan brings his own distinctive personality to the chair once held down by Dennis DeYoung. Tommy Shaw and James Young are both a bit older but none the worse for wear. Bassist Ricky Phillips (The Babys, Bad English, Coverdale/Page) is a competent sit-in for Chuck Panozzo, who still shows up and performs with the band from time to time. Of Todd Sucherman there's nothing I can say that hasn't been trumpeted by fans and critics all over the map, except to say that John Panozzo would be proud. From the creative angle, Regeneration, Volume I may seem a bit cynical. Styx and/or its current former labels have released at least fifteen albums since 1995. Of those, six have been live recordings; six have been compilations and only three of new material. This from a band who managed four consecutive platinum albums between 1977 and 1980, and a total of eleven albums of new material between 1972 and 1983. While that pace probably contributed in large part to Styx' original breakup in 1984, there must be a happy creative medium in there somewhere. Regeneration, Volume I proves that Styx still matters, but some new material (beyond the occasional token new track to sell a compilation) wouldn't hurt.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Styx at http://www.styxworld.com/. Regeneration, Volume I and Volume II will be released on October 4, 2011 on Eagle Records. See the full review of the new release here.
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