The Grand Illusion
A & M Records, 1977
REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/13/2006
When I first got into Queen, I couldn't get enough of their music. I amassed Queen's entire discography within months, and then began the search for any artist deemed similar to them, leading me to David Bowie, Elton John and then. According to the critics, Styx was America's answer to Queen, my bombastic, fantastic new favorites.
It's actually more like watered-down, synthed-up Queen, but to their credit, from the cheese factor that's synonymous with arena rock, Styx emerged as one of the best of the bunch. This album was their seventh (released on 7/7/77 for an added gimmick) and is a highlight in the catalog; even though I cringed on occasion when I began playing it, the fact is half the songs on The Grand Illusion remain in constant rotation on classic rock radio.
The first of those is, of course, the album's title track; overblown and anthemic, the crowning feature of "The Grand Illusion" is its fantastic guitar breaks, not to mention its instantly recognizable hooks. The only misstep are the lyrics, penned by vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung -- sentiments like "So if you think your life is complete confusion / Because you never win the game / Just remember that it's a grand illusion / And deep inside we're all the same" are just too overdone when coupled with the rest of the song. But it's a memorable opener nonetheless, so ignore my demand for poetry if it's not one of your priorities.
Up next? Styx taking a jab at the punks of the late 70s in "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)," where guitarist Tommy Shaw takes over and issues a few harmonized threats to acts like The Sex Pistols. Relying heavily on keyboards and synth dates it a bit, but its chorus is a classic nonetheless.
The peak of this disc has to be, predictably, "Come Sail Away," which gained notoriety in the late 90s when Cartman started singing it on South Park. But besides that, I'd have to say this is the closest Styx come to creating their own "Bohemian Rhapsody," and that's not a comparison I dole out too lightly. It starts out with melodic piano and vocals and has a gradual buildup to an iconic chorus, not to mention the lyrics, which invoke either the Bible or aliens ("I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise / They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies").
Also worth a mention is "Miss America," the crunchy, hard-edged rocker from guitarist James Young. The snarling vocals do verge on being laughable, but it's an entertaining track nonetheless.
So maybe it won't ever be cool to be a Styx fan, but it's hard to deny that they're a decent band. And, along with Pieces Of Eight, this album is Styx at their finest and solidified their status in rock history. They may not be Queen, but The Grand Illusion is still good enough to make me weather the odd looks I get when I play this every once in a while. Of course, I sing along the entire time -- but admit it, you do too.