Styx released their best album in nearly half a century today.
Well, at least that’s the scuttle-butt. We’ll get into that in a bit. Even if it’s just hype who really cares? Styx self-titled debut album hit record store shelves in 1972 and nearly 50 years later the prog rockers drop the near 45 minute, 15-song Crash of the Crown proving age really is just a number.
A bit of irony perhaps in that original lead singer Dennis DeYoung released, quite possibly his final studio album last week in 26 East, Vol. 2. Styx and DeYoung have been so far removed, the current line-up of the Chicago-based band have toured together longer than any other iteration of Styx and arguably now stand as a classic line-up in James “J.Y.” Young on guitar since 1970 and co-founder Chuck Panazzo, now part-time on bass guitar, longtime singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw, Todd Sucherman on drums since 1995, Lawrence Gowan on keyboards and DeYoung’s vocal replacement since 1999, and Ricky Phillips on bass since 2003.
Styx seemed destined for the “working band” title in recent decades until such time as they called it a career but released The Mission in 2017 the band’s first album of new material in nearly 15 years and now just four years later (nearly to the date) Crash of the Crown, an album recorded last year during the coronavirus pandemic. Styx teased they might wait until Feb. 22, 2022, the 50th anniversary of their record label signing, to release this 17th album, but with a tour on the books later this year with Collective Soul and, well, who wants to wait in today’s current environment (are we even going to be here in 2022? – I kid. Sort of.), thankfully better marketing heads prevailed.
And yes, the hype measures up to expectations and maybe even Sucherman’s claims of Crash of the Crown “stand(ing) as one of the greatest Styx records of all time.”
Styx Crash of the Crown Album Review
Crash Of The Crown shows Styx in their element, an album easily produced in their heyday that would have topped the charts, because it holds on to a formula that works but without adhering to it. Bottom line, the depth of production on Crash of the Crown brings this 50 year-old band from the 1970s into the modern era. In fact, Styx manages to implement their career into Crash of the Crown with prog rock on full display, elements of rock opera, and a suggestive concept all held together with fresh licks and an updated sound.
The near proprietary keyboards complimented by the vocal ensemble of Shaw, Gowan and Young give Styx a distinct and recognizable sound they rarely stray from which can date the band but Crash of the Crown manages to retain this musical strength without coming across like the album was pulled from a well-worn record jacket with faded cover art.
Crash of the Crown begins with three traditional Styx tracks, if you will, starting with the short, upbeat pop song “The Fight of Our Lives” led by Gowan, Shaw takes vocals on “A Monster” which applies several time signature changes and some oddball arrangements but you get Styx keyboards on full display along with complimenting electric and acoustic guitars, then “Reveries” where classic rock, as defined by AOR radio, meets 2021.
Now the focus starts to change.
A slow, almost gritty ballad, even opera like, makes “Hold Back the Darkness” one of the best songs on the album and one of the band’s best songs. Gowan and Shaw trade-off masterfully in front of the mic as the stripped down approach with just a touch of keys and gives this one a 60s feel. Shaw gives a stand-out vocal performance on “Save Us From Ourselves” as the band definitely makes a statement here on the state of the union without taking sides, more like calling a truce, in this rock lament closed by a great guitar solo.
The title track features a Styx first with three lead singers as Young opens on vocals, Shaw follows before giving the mic baton off to Gowan. So much going on with the varying tones as “Crash of the Crown” incorporates some more rock opera (Mr. Roboto makes an appearance) then closes on a Queen note. Young, by the way, sounds awesome.
It doesn’t get much better with Shaw on vocals and acoustic guitar as he gives a bit of hope for the future in the excellent “Our Wonderful Lives” even if the chorus comes across a little too much soft rock. The familiar keyboards return for “Common Ground” and Sucherman gets a bigger drum role going in this characteristic Styx song. “Sound the Alarm” sounds initially like a farewell from the band – “Sound the alarm / Let the world around you know / The time has come for us to go Is it too late to make amends / Look at all that we’ve been through / And all the things we meant to do / But the time just flew by” – but eventually turns into another optimistic ballad, and dang does Shaw sound great on this.
“Long Live the King” is not your father’s Styx as this quick-paced alternative rock track has Sucherman laying down a great drum beat in another album stand-out. Hey, wait a 38 seconds, I want to hear more of “Lost at Sea.” I suppose you get more as this Beetles like track bleeds right into the piano guided “Coming out the Other Side” showcasing yet another side to Styx on this record.
An updated keyboard approach turns “To Those” into a great rock song that in some ways serves as a compliment to “Come Sail Away.” Finally, Crash of the Crown closes with one more brief filler in “Another Farewell” a track of orchestra music that fuses into the hypnotic “Stream” that’s short on lyrics and ends with a bluesy rock guitar solo.
You cannot describe the mark of a great album by whether it captures you right away or takes a few spins to leave an impression. However, Crash of the Crown manages to accomplish both which certainly puts this record in competition for one of the best Styx albums but also ends any doubt of Styx’s place in the annals of rock music history.
Styx Crash of the Crown Songs:
- The Fight of Our Lives
- A Monster
- Hold Back the Darkness
- Save Us From ourselves
- Crash of the Crown
- Our Wonderful Lives
- Common Ground
- Sound the Alarm
- Long Live the King
- Lost At Sea
- Coming Out the Other Side
- To Those
- Another Farewell