Story & Photo by Scott A. Smith
It was a lifetime ago when Styx broke their temporary studio dry spell and released the wonderful “The Mission” back in 2017. The CD found Styx — guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw; guitarist/singer James “JY” Young; singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan; drummer Todd Sucherman; and bass players Ricky Phillips and Chuck Panozzo — in an enthused, ready-to-impress mode. The songs weren’t just distinct; they were bold with purpose. And those songs and the subsequent 2017 Styx tour dates existed long before COVID-19 was ever a blip on any medical official’s radar.
Then, no one could have predicted how COVID-19 later would fiercely impose an unprecedented halt to concert tours, Broadway shows, movie-theater screenings and so much more. COVID-19’s ugly, unwanted presence was — and still is —horrendous. Thankfully, Styx has countered the virus’ doom and gloom with an inspired new album, “Crash of the Crown.”
Written before the pandemic struck and recorded during COVID-19’s wrath, “Crash of the Crown” stands as a 15-song testament that the guys in Styx aren’t slowing down anytime soon. The disc opens with progressive-like patterns that signal the arrival of the first song, “The Fight of Our Lives.” Not surprisingly, the trademark vocal harmonies of Shaw, Young and Gowan remain crisp and tight, providing a soothing aural delight on top of grade-A instrumentation. The lyrics of “The Fight of Our Lives” quickly get down to business, seemingly placing COVID-19 in Styx’s gun sights — “We will not give in … the game is ours to win … this is our moment now, this is the fight of our lives.”
Gowan’s skills on keyboards and synthesizers come into view on “A Monster,” a song that boasts the same style of layered vocals heard on Styx’s “Pieces of Eight” song from 1978. The acoustic guitar introduction and shifting rhythms of “Reveries,” like the moodiness of ‘Hold Back the Darkness,” also impress in an almost effortless way.
Shining on their respective six-string guitars, Shaw and Young lend imaginative flourishes to the album. The solos on “Save Us from Ourselves” are short in length but carry loads of inspiration. On this same track, the bass and the drums remain adventurous without ever wandering into excessive busyness.
A folksy acoustic guitar signals the beginning of “Sound the Alarm,” which benefits from an almost simple song structure. “Hope is alive … and we have survived,” are among several lines that stand out as the song plays.
As the CD’s final track, “Stream,” unfolds, shades of Badfinger, Faces and Pink Floyd are allowed into Styx’s soundscape. Impeccable slide guitar occupies a portion of the center-stage sonics, resembling the prime guitar chops of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, circa 1975. “Stream,” like every song before it on “Crash of the Crown,” isn’t very long. Although some of the playing is progressive rock-like, the songs themselves are tightly edited, as if each could be a radio single from years ago.
Styx might not ever surpass the sheer songwriting and performance quality or the bona-fide staying power of their “The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” peak, but you know what? The band doesn’t have to. By continuing to create new music with the goal of pleasing fans and garnering the attention of possible new listeners, Styx is doing what all great artists should do — putting the metaphorical car into “drive” and rolling forward with new ideas with recording equipment nearby, even when a killer virus threatens to stomp out those sounds and the very breaths of many.
For so many people in the world, hope wasn’t easily found over the last 16 stressful, grinding months, but genuine rays of optimism and healing can be discovered within almost every chorus, every verse and every guitar solo on “Crash of the Crown.” Yeah, the new Styx CD is that good.
Final grade: B+