Styx Paradise Theatre Album Cover

Album Review: Styx – Paradise Theatre

A hidden gem peered out from the stack of records. So, I thought.

Welcome to the grand delusion.

Still, a rather cool find in Paradise Theatre the 10th studio album from Styx released in January 1981. Wow, 10th way back in 1981 less than 10 years after their self-titled debut. By then Styx was rocking the paradise or at least sold-out arenas across the country. Paradise Theatre arrived two years after Cornerstone which ended the band’s run of nine straight years of releasing an album. Paradise Theatre went triple platinum in the Unites States, produced four singles and became Styx best-selling album peaking at #1 for three weeks.

Unlike a lot of limited edition records with marketing ploys built in, Paradise Theatre, on the ole vinyl, featured a laser etched “Styx” on side 2 of the record while some copies featured a wax design of the cover art. This was the hidden gem I thought I found. Regardless, the laser etching shows up rather striking along with the decorative outline of female statues gracing the sides of the record leading up to the laser etched Styx. All of this gives the album a collector’s feel. Maybe not back then, but today who knows how many remain in good condition. This one appeared flawless and played flawlessly.

Laser etched “Styx” in the vinyl

Even more curious, the original price tags remained showing the album originally sold from the Pacific Northwest store Bi-Mart. They don’t sell records anymore and haven’t in at least 15 years, probably much longer. Paradise Theatre sold for a paltry $6.99. I bought it at an antique store for $15. Took 40 years but the album doubled in value! The front and back covers nearly serve interchangeably as front or back covers.

Back when records were a bit less expensive

Paradise Theatre is a 40-minute, 11 song concept album telling a fictional account of Chicago’s Paradise Theatre. I don’t recall hearing Paradise Theatre in its entirety and though I do know the singles, many tracks on this album sounded new (to me). Honestly, I’m pretty sure I had never listened to this album in its entirety. Two tracks clock in just more than a minute and the final cut just 28 seconds. So, basically eight songs, three of which routinely get played live today. And guess what? Most of the gang remains. Guitarist and sometimes lead singer James “JY” Young, often lead singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw and the occasional appearance of Chuck Panozzo on bass. Primary lead vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung was replaced by Lawrence Gowan in 1999 and drummer John Panozzo, who died in 1996, was replaced by Todd Sucherman in 1995.

Styx Paradise Theatre album front and back covers
The front over on the left, the back cover on the right

Depending on your druthers, you can lay aside three of the songs. The short ones. Notice I did not say throw away. Well, one is. In terms of the listening experience these songs serve little purpose, but they do at least have a melody so let them ride. If you want to experience the album’s intent, then you must include them to help fulfill the overall concept.

The selling point sticker still in good condition

The melody for the opening song “A.D.1928” and the penultimate track “A.D. 1958” you also hear in its fullness on “The Best of Times” which closes Side 1 of the album. “A.D.1928” successfully flows right into “Rockin’ the Paradise” (If the CD release adds a break between the songs it will ruin the desired effect) and within a minute or two a visual of an opening act with a cast of characters dancing and singing comes to mind. Side 1 though delivers the Styx goods in “Rockin’ the Paradise,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “The Best of Times.” All hits off the album and for good reason. Great rockers showing the 1-2 vocal punch of DeYoung and Shaw.

“Nothing Ever Goes as Planned” sounds a bit dated even for 1981 as the rock guitar you get on “Too Much Times on My Hands” makes a distinct switch to more of a 70s disco guitar for “Nothing…” but Styx incorporates a horn section foretelling the ska rage of the early 90s. This song indeed sounds like it belongs in a musical not an album from Styx.

In fact, much of Paradise Theatre sounds like a musical. Not sure if that stems from the listener’s subconscious influence knowing the album concept theme revolves around an old theater in Chicago or Styx truly accomplished the desired feat, but the Broadway-feel feels out of place on a rock music album.

“Lonely People” takes nearly a minute to get started with crowd chatter serving as the opening and fits the musical inspired bill, because once the horn section drops you fall right into a play. Some redemptive sections but not a song I’d hit repeat. Shaw sings “She Cares” and for those following the playbill, he takes on the protagonist of this “play” vocalizing about the primary afflicting drama…at least that’s how it comes across. Not a wholly bad song but the saxophone completely erases Styx from this track.

“Snowblind” kind of grows on you thanks to the hard rock guitar section but not enough to fully draw you in. Despite sounding, at times, similar to “Miss America” off The Grand Illusion, “Half Penny Two Penny” sung by Young, who also sings “Miss America,” keeps the curtains from closing on the second half of Paradise Theatre, just barely. Listed as an instrumental, “State Street Sadie” closes the album with a very short old time piano routine.

All that to say, the first half of Paradise Theatre offers a far more impressive selection of songs while Side 2 fully embraces the “concept” only to fall short of classic Styx chronicles.  On a spinning vinyl record, Paradise Theatre probably accomplished what Styx set out to do but in terms of the general listening experience it sounds more like a masquerade ball.

Grade: B-

Styx Paradise Theatre Songs:

  1. A.D. 1928
  2. Rockin’ the Paradise
  3. Too Much Time on My hands
  4. Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
  5. The Best of Times
  6. Lonely people
  7. She Cares
  8. Snowblind
  9. Half-Penny, Two-Penny
  10. A.D. 1958
  11. State Street Sadie

9 thoughts on “Album Review: Styx – Paradise Theatre

    1. I tried so many different angles to capture the etching especially the outline of the statues. but it is very cool. you can’t see it all when record spins.

  1. Wow dude great score here. Love seeing those stickers and such as I have a few of those in shrink wrap like Thorogoods Maverick and Mellancamps Scarecrow.
    It took me a lot of years later as I became an old man to accept Styx as when I starting high school in the fall of 81 bands like Styx, REO and Journey were to fluffy for me as I preferred walking the hallways of my high school reciting lyrics like Given The Dog A Bone by AC/DC lol…
    Over time though Styx has grown on me and it wasn’t until that Canuck Gowan joined that I went there’s some good stuff there. lol
    This album is pretty good I like the front, back covers the gatefold and most of the songs are good..Snowblind , Half Penny, Rockin, even Too much time I dug basically the Shaw stuff. DeYoung was the pudding pop who wrote the puffy pop tunes…..good band though apologies for the long winded response….
    By the way a fair score.. I would go B+

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