Styx dives into its past with The Mission (out June 16) the band’s 16th studio album, it’s first in 14 years and a return to form as they invite the listener on a journey to Mars through this concept effort the classic rockers spent two years writing and recording.
Styx is no stranger to concept albums finding smash hits in the 1980s with Paradise Theater and Kilroy Was Here. So, The Mission hardly qualifies as ground-breaking since it’s not the first time Styx or any band for that matter embarked on a journey to a faraway place and put it to music. Ambitious, though, it is.
It’s hard enough to write an album filled with tracks mostly separate from one another. Try writing an album of songs with one leading into the other creating a storybook with the music as narrator. The Mission which chronicles the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033 probably won’t produce any singles or get much radio play. OK, who are we kidding, don’t expect any of the songs to air on traditional radio. And the new album probably won’t generate new fans but certainly those who moved on from The Grand Illusion and Paradise Theatre or perhaps simply forgot about the band might return to the fold.
The Mission begins with “Overture” and moves froward from blast off on the rocking “Gone Gone Gone” as each song develops the story of leaving earth on a trip to Mars like the adventure getting there with the vintage “Radio Silence,” trials faced on the rhythmic “Red Storm” and finally ending with the quirky “Mission to Mars.” It’s a fun album and quite creative when you think about it. “The Outpost” surely stands out, keeps that familiar Styx sound but feels new with a bit of modern rock flare, “Time May Bend” offers solid guitar work while the dreamy “Locomotive” meanders a bit and “Hundred Million Miles From Home” features classic Styx melodies.
The album comes in around 42 minutes with 14 songs though “All Systems Stable” is a mere 18 seconds, “Overture” and “10 Thousands Ways” come in less than 90 seconds and the cool piano heavy “Khedive” is around two minutes as these shorter songs serve either as setups for the longer tracks or perhaps “intermission” between acts. The Mission certainly feels theatrical and as the closing song “Mission to Mars” comes to life you can almost see cast and crew singing together on stage towards a final climatic ending.
Overall, The Mission definitely sounds like Styx and in many ways picks up where the band left off before the break-up that ended their headlining arena days. It’s got lots of 70’s guitar, 80’s synths and the classic Styx harmonies with lead singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowen and lead guitarist and singer Tommy Shaw trading on main vocals along with driving classic rock guitar chords, fully heard bass and strong supporting keyboards.
Styx consists of Shaw, Gowen, original guitarist James “J.Y” Young, original bassist Chuck Panozzo, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips representing the longest running line-up in the band’s 45 year history. But it’s the first album of original material featuring the current members as Phillips came aboard after 2003’s Cyclorama but played on the covers album Big Bang Theory in 2005.
“Hundred Million Miles From Home,” “Radio Silence” and “The Outpost” probably comprise the handful of songs that manage to standout as individual efforts. But with the resurgence of vinyl that’s not a bad thing. You want nostalgia? Then open the record jacket. Indeed, The Mission fully involves the listener, requiring set-aside time to follow the band’s adventure from beginning to end. Even better? Surely, it’s an album destined for the live show something Shaw mentioned he’d like to play in its entirety.
At the very least, for those who’ve seen the band anytime in the past 10 years, hopefully The Mission means a new stage show but certainly guarantees a variety in the setlist instead of the same old fare along with the exact same in-between-song conversations.
Styx – The Mission Track Listing
- Gone Gone Gone
- Hundred Million Miles From Home
- Trouble At The Big Show
- Radio Silence
- The Greater Good
- Time May Bend
- Ten Thousand Ways
- Red Storm
- All Systems Stable
- The Outpost
- Mission To Mars