Brave New World
CMC International Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/26/1999
Being a native Chicagoan, it's almost in my genes that I have an affinity for the rock group Styx. I gre up listening to songs of theirs like "Come Sail Away" and "Babe" overtake the airwaves of stations like WLS, when they were the premier kick-ass rock station around. I even went to school with the daughter of vocalist/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung (quite a charming girl, to be honest). When the band returned to the scene two years ago with the live album Return To Paradise, I welcomed the band's comeback wih open arms, and even thought the new material on the disc showed signs of a return to greatness.
So why do I feel bad that I'm disappointed in Brave New World, the group's first studio release in almost 10 years? Maybe it's because the group has turned away from the rock vein that first made the band famous and have gone down the weaker path of adult-contemporary schlock.
It's not that Styx isn't trying to play rock - they make several stabs at it during the course of the album. But the biggest problem is that the emphasis on the powerful guitar work that powered such songs as "Renegade" is gone. If the rhythm guitars are heard at all, it's buried in the mix - surprising, seeing that guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young (along with DeYoung) produced the album.
There are a few signs of home early on. "Brave New World" sounds like something that Shaw would have included on his recent solo album 7 Deadly Zens, and has the most hope for the album. DeYoung turns in a few nice ballads with "While There's Still Time" and "Goodbye Roseland," both of which sound like vintage Styx work.
But things quickly turn Utopia into Dante's inferno on Brave New World. Tracks like "Number One," "High Crimes & Misdemeanors" and "Heavy Water" show how poor rock can sound when it is executed wrong. The songs are not exciting, and they just don't live up to the expectations one would have of a typical Styx song. "High Crimes & Misdemeanors" brings back memories of "Love Is The Ritual," one of the weaker songs off their previous studio effort Edge Of The Century. Don't even get me started on "Just Fell In"; I don't know what the band was thinking with this one.
Even a lot of the ballads on Brave New World fail to impress. "Fallen Angel" is not typical of DeYoung's work, and while it starts off more promising, it quickly falls apart. The songs that aren' quite ballads but aren't quite rock numbers, like "I Will Be Your Witness," "Great Expectations" and "Everything Is Cool" just don't sound like the right direction for Styx to be taking. Even the harmony vocals - one of Styx's best-recognized trademarks - don't have any kick to them.
I'm not saying that Styx's reunion is a bad thing; I honestly believe that this band has a lot of life left in them and their music. But if Brave New World is a sign of things to come with Styx, then you can cancel my reservation.