Kilroy Was Here


A&M, 1983

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


It’s hard for me to be truly critical of a work of art where the artist tried to be hugely ambitious, regardless of the end product. With 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, Styx tried to make an emphatic statement on censorship, Christian anti-rock groups, dystopia, and personal freedom. What they got, instead, was a mixed bag; sometimes it hits its metaphorical targets, sometimes it misses completely, and it led indirectly to longtime lead-vocalist Dennis DeYoung leaving the band (although he hung on through two more albums, through 1999’s Brave New World).

The dichotomy that both saves and dooms this album is the rift between DeYoung and Styx guitarists James “JY” Young and Tommy Shaw. DeYoung wanted to do more ballads and softer music, JY and Shaw were and are rock and rollers. Add in the chaos of drummer John Panozzo’s growing alcoholism, and it had to be a difficult environment to work in.

Kilroy was the soundtrack to an almost non-existent film. It told the story of a dystopian future United States ruled by the Majority for Music Morality, and the attempt to bring back rock and roll (which had, of course, been outlawed). There is a short my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Kilroy film from which footage was used for the first three music videos released in conjunction with the album.

But enough metaphorical and personal bullshit. How’s the MUSIC?

Mixed, as I said before. Everyone of a certain age knows the title track, “Mr. Roboto”; it was omnipresent on the radio during late 1983. It is also, to a certain extent, a musical meme; it’s often held up as an example of how bombastic and overblown music was in the eighties. However, if you ignore self-appointed guardians of taste who say things like this, it’s not a bad song. There is a certain otaku tone to it that was years ahead of its time.

From then on, it’s like you are the handkerchief tied in the middle of a tug of war rope. DeYoung sings ballads, JY and Shaw do rock and roll. The sole exception to this is the best damn track on the CD, Shaw’s plaintive and elegant vocals on the love song “Haven’t We Been Here Before?” This song alone is worth the price of the album, provided you get it in a truck stop bargain bin.

Other tracks worth mentioning: “Cold War,” a Shaw rocker that reads like a personal indictment of Jerry Falwell, and the really dynamic harmony of “Double Life.” “Just Get Through This Night” is a fascinating curveball in the middle of the CD; a multi-instrumental song that shows what Styx could have been if they’d solved the divide between DeYoung and JY/Shaw. Not quite ballad, not quite rocker, featuring both keyboard and guitar – if only.

However, there are some clunkers here as well. Styx didn’t feature James Young’s vocals enough, but “Heavy Metal Poisoning” is not the answer. Dripping in KISS-like posturing, it’s by far the worst thing on Kilroy. The ballad “Don’t Let It End” is yet another of DeYoung’s cliché-ridden lie ballads; it’s like a worse version of “Babe,” and “Babe” is pretty terrible to begin with.

After Kilroy, Styx would disappear for seven years; 1990’s Edge Of The Century would be their somewhat effective comeback. But for a CD that some critics like to turn into self-referential petty humor, it’s not that bad.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2021 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A&M, and is used for informational purposes only.