CD Review: Styx, Regeneration Volume I & II

Styx has been a staple of classic rock radio stations for as long as I can remember. They, along with Journey and Supertramp, are firmly established as one of the great "tier 2" rock bands of the '70s and '80s, lacking the passionate following of Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones but avoiding the sad post-glory, state fair tour dates of Bachman-Turner Overdrive or Foghat. You know them. You love them. And somewhere in your closet you probably have a worn copy of Paradise Theater, and somewhere in iTunes you've got a half dozen of their best songs.

So why would you want to buy Styx's Regeneration: Volume I & II, their 17th (!) greatest hits collection?

A good question, and one which may require a brief history lesson.

What the casual fan who best remembers them for "Mr. Roboto" may not know is that Styx had long been, in effect, two bands. On the one hand, they were a straight ahead rock and roll band with progressive, art rock tendencies, fueled by incredible riffs from James Young and Tommy Shaw. On the other hand, keyboardist and vocalist Dennis DeYoung used his deft pop sensibilities to virtually create the rock power ballad with songs like "Lady" and "Babe." For years these impulses worked well together, crafting some of the most unique music of the time.

But the tension between those two tendencies resulted in one of the most bitter, acrimonious break-ups in rock history, rivaling the Roger Waters/David Gilmore feud and creating the script for one of the absolute best Behind The Music episodes of all time. As is always the case, there's a lot of revisionist history going on and Regeneration: Volume I & II is a blatant rewrite of Styx's legacy. This isn't a true greatest hits album; there's no "Babe," no "The Best Of Times," nothing off Kilroy Was Here. Dennis DeYoung's absence is as noticeable as Michael Anthony's in Guitar Hero: Van Halen. It's so obvious, it's a distraction.

However, what this does do is allow the listener to focus uninterrupted on how much Styx actually rocked when they wanted to. This band assembled some of the most memorable, complex music of the era, easily rivaling Boston and Queen when it came to building masterworks of layered guitars. I was delighted to see both "Lorelei" and "Renegade" on the track list, two fucking amazing songs that should be required listening for every aspiring rock musician. And the collection makes room for overlooked gems like "Boat On The River" and "Snowblind," neither of which get the airplay they deserve. Eliminating the operatic diversions and wedding first-dance songs makes for a much more consistently enjoyable listen...

...except for one thing. One very important thing. These songs are all re-recorded by the band in its present form, with Shaw, Young, and Lawrence Gowan filling in for Dennis DeYoung on vocals. They do an admirable job trying to replicate the range and grandiosity DeYoung brought to the table, but it's unnerving to hear the subtle changes in songs who's every modulation in pitch you've committed to memory since 1975. You'd hear a song and know exactly what beat or tone was coming next, but it just doesn't sound right. "Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)" feels flat and "Come Sail Away" sounds like it's being performed by a highly competent Styx cover band. And some songs, like "Miss America," which could have been recorded with William Shatner with equal effect, just don't work. At all.

If you needed any more evidence that this isn't a true Styx record, note the presence of two re-recorded songs by the Damn Yankees, the super group Shaw shared with Ted Nugent and Night Ranger's Jack Blades. Both are great songs, but feel tacked on as if to pad out the play time. And quite frankly, if this was truly a Tommy Shaw album, I would have loved to see his magnificent Miami Vice-era solo song, "Girls With Guns."

So would I recommend Regeneration: Volume I & II? That depends. The music on this compilation is all first rate stuff, played by a talented band who has been touring with this music for years. It offers an interesting window into what might have been had Dennis DeYoung's influence not taken them into such theatrical territory. Fans of the band who have followed them on tour are probably familiar with all these versions, and will want to have a copy for their cassette or 8-track player. And a neophyte who had never heard a Styx song before would probably find this pretty great.

But as a fan that grew up with every synth chord and guitar solo permanently etched in my memory and who, like Eric Cartman, cannot start singing "Come Sail Away" without finishing it, I was ultimately disappointed. Had this been a re-imagining of their music, as opposed to a simple re-recording, I may have felt differently. But it sounds too much like a band trying to erase a memory that none of us want to forget.

Styx's Regeneration Volume I & II will be released on October 4th.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...