The Grand Illusion
A & M Records, 1977
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/08/1998
There are certain songs that you hear when you are a child that stick in your mind as you grow older. One of these songs for me was Styx's "Come Sail Away," a song that I enjoyed listening to in 1977 on good ol' WLS-AM (Larry Lujack, come back... please), though in my 6-year-old mind, I thought that Dennis DeYoung was singing for someone to "take that drum set away". (Call me a fool, but I still like my version better.)
The album where that song can be found, The Grand Illusion, contains many other songs that Styx has become known for over the years, but while it doesn't have much more than that to offer, it still is a guilty pleasure.
You can hear how the band tries to link certain songs together; at the end of the title track, if you're listening carefully, you will hear a snippet of the rhythm that would become the introduction to the following song, "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)", and on the album's closer "The Grand Finale," not only do you get the melody of "The Grand Illusion," you also get "Come Sail Away" partially tied into the track.
I'm not ready to declare The Grand Illusion to be a concept album, because frankly, I can't tell what it was supposed to be. (It wouldn't surprise me if there was some common theme running through the album; Styx most definitely did this on Paradise Theatre and Kilroy Was Here later on in their career.) And seeing that Dennis DeYoung isn't talking to me these days - see if I ever help his daughter on a test in college again - we may never know.
So, barring pure speculation on my point, what we're left with is the music. And you gotta admit, the songs that have become staples for Styx still sound great (if only a tad dated after 21 years). "Come Sail Away" is still a great track that builds from a simple piano base to a strong ballad, then into one of the best rockers that Styx has ever done. The lead guitar work of Tommy Shaw and the mood music created by James Young all make this track a classic. Likewise, Shaw's performance on "Fooling Yourself" stands out among the works on the album. (Two other radio hits, "Miss America" and the title track, also have lost little of their punch over the years - "Miss America" becoming even a stronger track as the years go by.)
Of the remaining tracks - not counting the "tie-it-all-together" number "The Grand Finale" - only "Superstars" proves to be a disappointment. The other two tracks each have their merits, though "Man In The Wilderness" and "Castle Walls" still don't rank among Styx's best work. Maybe part of it is that these songs get a little too serious in the subject matter. I'd like to say that "Castle Walls" is a little too sci-fi, but let's face it, albums like Crystal Ball and Cornerstone all had a sci-fi bend to them as well, so who am I to criticize on this point?
Is The Grand Illusion a satisfying album overall? Actually, no - you might find yourself expecting a lot more out of the release thanks to the hit singles. But while the album is no masterpiece, it is no failure, either; there are some moments on this disc worth checking out that you won't find on any of the greatest hits compilations.
The Grand Illusion may be one for the fans, but is also a disc worthy of your attention if you want to know more about Styx than what you hear on the radio.