Return To Paradise
CMC International Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/06/1997
Sometimes I think that Styx chose the wrong name for their band - it should have been "Phoenix."
Every time it has looked like the band was down for the count, they've always managed to rise from the ashes and come back strong. They came back from their 1983 "retirement" - minus guitarist Tommy Shaw - and released the moderately successful Edge Of The Century in 1990.
Now, after the tragic death of drummer John Panozzo, the remaining members of Styx - including Shaw - have arisen again and released Return To Paradise, a mixture of new studio tunes and their tour-ending concert at the Rosemont Horizon, a concert venue I know quite well. And while the album is a flashback to past glories, it also shows that Styx will go to its grave kicking and screaming.
The three new studio songs are excellent, even though they seem a little syrupy sweet at times. "On My Way" is a solid rocker that is a throwback to the band's mid- to late-'70s days. Shaw is in fine voice here, and the band is as tight as ever. Lead singer/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung (whom I met the day he came to a college class with his daughter our senior years - it's not often you get to debate with a rock star) chalks up a winning ballad with "Paradise," a song from a musical he wrote based on "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" - where was Disney when they could have used him?
The album's closer, "Dear John," is a beautiful and moving tribute to their fallen comrade - don't be surprised if you end up crying while listening to this track. I personally believe it's one of their best. (Why is it that tragedy always brings out the best in a musician?)
The remainder of Return To Paradise is their live show, though Styx commits the cardinal sin of live albums - they fade out at the end of each song. While I can appreciate that this is done to satisfy radio stations who may wish to play the tracks in place of their studio cousins, when I listen to a live album, I don't want the energy level being faded out every five minutes.
Fading out the tracks aside, the live show is proof that Styx hasn't lost a beat since their last live effort, Caught In The Act. Shaw's vocals may seem a little more strained than they would have 13 years ago, but he can still belt out songs like "Blue Collar Man" and "Renegade" as if it were 1981. DeYoung's vocals have not weakened with the passage of time; if anything, I'd argue that time has made them richer.
The only real weakness I hear is in occasional harmonies. They don't flow as freely as they used to on songs like "Rockin' The Paradise" or "Blue Collar Man," but as the show goes on, I did notice a gradual improvement.
Sure, you could argue that Return To Paradise is, more or less, a rehashing of the band's greatest hits. But if it's as interesting a listen as this, then who cares? Styx is able to keep you interested in the songs as if it was the first time you heard "Lady" or "Come Sail Away," and not the millionth. This is what separates Styx from countless other bands - they keep things fresh.
Worthy of special note is drummer Todd Sucherman, who stepped into a very sensitive role with the band following John Panozzo's death, but he steps up to the challenge extremely well. Once could even say that Sucherman has injected new life into Styx with his solid backbeats and rhythm work.
Probably the only real complaint I have with Return To Paradise is the studio work leaves you craving to hear more. Undoubtedly Styx will return to the studio to create a new album, but that doesn't satisfy my cravings now.
Laugh at the dinosaurs of rock if you must, but don't deny that they still produce music that long-time fans - and maybe even new fans - will enjoy long after other bands self-destruct. Styx proves this on Return To Paradise, and serves warning to anyone listening that they are by no means dead. This is one that I've had difficulties taking off my CD player - and you'll probably discover the same thing to be true for you.