7 Deadly Zens

Tommy Shaw

CMC International Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Question: How does a member of Styx make a solo album that doesn't sound like a Styx record?

It's a tough job, that's for sure. Tommy Shaw has been down this road before, with What If (Pop quiz: anyone remember what film the title track was used in? E-mail me with the answer.) and Girls With Guns - two albums I admittedly don't own. But on his latest disc, 7 Deadly Zens, Shaw is able to create his own unique voice by almost purposely staying away from the same songwriting formula he's used in previous bands.

In a sense, it's not fair to pigeonhole Shaw as just the guitarist/vocalist for Styx. He's also played with Ted Nugent in Damn Yankees, a band that definitely had its own unique voice. So, it would have been easy for Shaw to fall back on old songwriting habits and write songs in the vein of both those bands.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ah, but he didn't do that! Instead, he decided to somehow plow new ground and create a record in a style that some might not have expected from him. As a result, you can't tell when guests like Nugent and fellow Damn Yankees member Jack Blades enter the mix, or when Styx drummer Todd Sucherman takes over on the skins.

Shaw hits the ground running with "Ocean," a solid rocker (featuring, on guest vocals, Ed Roland of Collective Soul) that is just a fun song to listen to. From then on, Shaw keeps listeners on their toes by changing styles often, but not making radical enough changes to make people sit up and wonder what is going on.

From the light rock styles of "Stop Knockin'" (with an interesting harmony vocal that sounds like it's being pumped through a distortion pedal) and "What Do You Want From This Life" to the shuffle of "All In How You Want To Say It" to the mostly-acoustic duet with Allison Krause "Half A Mind", Shaw pleasantly surprises the listener as 7 Deadly Zens unfolds.

But with all the strengths that are on this disc, there is one major stumbling point. On a few occasions, Shaw decides to fall into the trap of making rather bizarre interludes. Big mistake - moments like "Mona Lisa" and "Need Water" end up distracting from all the ground Shaw gains with "Inspiration" and "Who I Am", respectively. And the untitled 13th track, which seems to be a rendition of the album title's subject matter, is a complete waste of time.

Also, while I didn't spend a lot of time on the multimedia part of this enhanced CD, I wasn't very impressed with what it had to offer. Still, to each their own.

Still, the music on 7 Deadly Zens is very good - even surprisingly good if you enter into this disc expecting to hear watered-down Styx. Fact is, this is a vice that you won't mind indulging in - though Shaw should have watched out for "the eighth Zen"with the interludes: overindulgence.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen 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 CMC International Records, and is used for informational purposes only.