Styx comes full cycle with 'Cyclorama'
By ALAN SCULLEY
It's been more than a decade since Styx last had a top-10 hit — "Show Me the Way" from the 1991 CD "Edge of the Century" — and 20 years since Styx had a bona fide hit album.
But Styx guitarist/singer James Young hopes the atmosphere that surrounded the group after finishing its new studio CD, "Cyclorama" is a sign of things to come.
"There was a very similar feeling here to 'Grand Illusion,'" Young said, mentioning the 1977 album that catapulted Styx to arena-headlining stardom. "(On 'Grand Illusion') there were five guys who both personally and professionally were really on the same page and headed in the same direction all at the same time, and the result was our most successful record and what I think up to this time point is our best record.
"Now on 'Cyclorama' we have a similar thing ... I mean, we're all on the same page and we're all going in the same direction. And the feeling at the conclusion of all this is very similar,'' he added.
Of course, that analogy ignores a key difference in the context in which "The Grand Illusion" was released and the situation Styx were in with the release of "Cyclorama" in February. In 1975, Styx had added guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw, and with Shaw becoming an important songwriting and singing contributor, Styx hit a creative peak on "The Grand Illusion."
On the other hand, 1999's "Brave New World" — the first studio CD Shaw had recorded with Styx since leaving the band in 1984 for a solo career — found Styx in turmoil and marked the end of the DeYoung/Young/Shaw partnership.
In making that CD, Young and Shaw had Ron Nevison produce tracks they had written for the project, while vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung worked separately on songs he was providing for "Brave New World."
In the end, the CD had strong moments, but to many fans, it didn't sound cohesive or immediately like a Styx record. Soon tensions within the band became public.
DeYoung, who had been suffering from the Epstein-Barr virus, asked Styx to delay the tour in support of "Brave New World" until fall 1999 because of his illness.
The band declined, and brought on keyboardist/singer Lawrence Gowan to replace DeYoung.
Young, though, admitted that musical and personal differences also were an issue in the decision to move on without their founding keyboardist. While saying he still considers DeYoung a talented musician who contributed greatly to the band's success in their first decade together, Young acknowledged he was never a fan of tender ballads like "Babe" and "The Best of Times" that had become DeYoung's signature within Styx.
And even after DeYoung reformed Styx in 1990 after he had quit in 1984 to begin a solo career — Shaw didn't rejoin until 1996 — Young said the chemistry did not return. The latest split prompted DeYoung to sue the group in fall 2000, seeking ownership of the Styx name and to bar the group from using the band name. The suit was settled out of court last year, with Young, Shaw and original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo retaining the rights to the Styx name. That decision cleared the way for Styx to work on "Cyclorama."
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the renewed musical focus and energy of today's Styx — Young, Shaw, Gowan, Glen Burtnik, now playing bass, and drummer Todd Sucherman — will translate into a re-surgence in popularity for the band, which at its peak in 1981 had scored four straight triple-platinum albums.
But "Cyclorama" seeks to reach out to the group's longtime fans by retaining the classic Styx signature sound, while also trying to attract a new younger audience with a few new musical elements.
"The most defining thing about our band is our ability to create a unique sound when we sing those powerful harmonies with the guitars and the drums cranking underneath. That is Styx," Young said, summing up the Styx signature. "We actually tried to shape all of the songs to begin with in ways where we could have those powerful harmonies choruses like that."
Indeed, such "Cyclorama" songs as "Do Things My Way" and "Fields of the Brave" put the vocal harmonies front and center, while also recapturing the blend of crunch and melody that had always characterized Styx's rocking material.
Elsewhere, the band attempts to inject more of a modern edge into the Styx sound — a move Young hopes will allow Styx to connect with a new generation of fans.
Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon play Friday, June 20, at the Savvis Center. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show cost $65, $47.50 and $37.50.