REVIEW: STYX – “The Mission”
Thanks in no small part to Hollywood, everything that was unfashionable at the tale end of the 70’s is now the height of cool. From “Guardians of The Galaxy” and “Stranger Things” old-school soundtracks to colored vinyl and satin baseball jackets, it has all come back into fashion. There couldn’t be a better time then for Styx to make a creative comeback.
Styx, the band once deemed too uncool for MTV, are back with a brand new album. Ironically, Styx are still producing new albums while MTV itself has long since given up on broadcasting actual music. Now, they are back with their first original album since 2003’s ‘Cyclorama’. That album sank almost without trace and, initially, one might have the same expectations of ‘The Mission’, not least because it is a concept album about a manned mission to Mars in the year 2033! Although its not exactly out of character for Styx (this is the band that wrote “Mr Roboto”, after all) it stills sounds worryingly like a parody of the worst excesses of vintage Prog-Rock.
The incredible thing is that through sheer inventiveness and skill the band manage, for the most part, to avoid Spinal Tap territory and actually deliver an excellent, compelling album. Although original member Dennis DeYoung is not present, the band still boasts an impressive array of talent: Tommy Shaw and James Young on Guitars & vocals, Chuck Panozzo and Ricky Phillips on bass & vocals, Lawrence Gowan on keys & vocals and Todd Sucherman on the drums.
The brief instrumental “Overture” leads nicely into opener “Gone Gone Gone” – a great, uptempo Prog/AOR blast of a song. This is followed by “Hundred Million Miles”; a superb song with the sweetest vocal harmonies and funky guitars, all polished to perfection with a production that lands just the right side of smooth.
“Trouble At The Big Show” starts off mid tempo guitar talk-back before soaring into classic Styx vocal harmonies, while Tommy Shaw’s superb playing leads us out. Its followed by prog keyboards and cosmic soul searching of “Locomotive”. While the album is certainly a welcomed return to the more progressive side of the band’s sound, none of the songs outstay their welcome – ‘The Mission’ is fairly lean at just over 43 minutes long.
One of the highlights of the album, “Radio Silence”, manages to smoothly weave the Mars concept into killer chorus. Complete with tasty acoustics and bounce in the mix, its actually hard to believe that a band 45 years into their career sound this good in the studio! From the piano led balladry of “The Greater Good” to the shining Prog of “Time May Bend” You really have to admire Styx’s commitment to their concept, both lyrically and sonically. It certainly won’t please everyone but that’s by no means a bad thing.
The album’s longest track, “The Red Storm” roves through pianos, drum breaks and guitar solos before ending with an old-school keyboard solo, along with outer space travel-log lyrics “There’s no turning back, going to make it to the mother-ship”. The spoken intro of “All Systems Stable” followed by the piano geek-out of “Khedive” does come rather too close to Sci-Fi audio-book territory, but its a forgivable misstep when its followed by the gloriously 80s joy ride that is “The Outpost” – with old-school keyboards, ripping guitars and soaring harmonies, it sounds like a tighter version of the band’s greatest hits. The album artwork is solid and will presumably be expanded into their upcoming live concept shows.
In what might just be one of the most surprising releases of 2017, Styx have not only produced an outstanding album, but one of the finest albums of their entire career, and who was expecting that? Sounding better than they ever have, Styx return with a blast and deliver the seemingly impossible; an excellent Sci-Fi AOR concept album! While the journey wont be to everyone’s tastes, AOR fans would be foolish not to strap in for a smooth ride to the red planet.