Friday, August 24, 2007

Deep Reflections on Styx Greatest Hits

A pesky co-worker of mine always plies me with bad music. Sure, we're roughly the same age and work at the same agency. Sure, we both lived Midwestern childhoods played out to the soundtrack of album rock stations like KQRS in Minneapolis and WAOR in South Bend. But we took different paths on Redneck Trail: He to the hair metal bands of Poison, Motley Crue; I to classic rock bands with real musicians, like The Who and Led Zeppelin. I've long since moved on to depressing confessional singer-songwriter Americana folk/rock. He still throws in Twisted Sister.

But there's still a level of crossover and disagreement, and this is where Midwestern rock tastes find that nuance the coastal types will never understand. We both love Rush. We both love Boston. We both love Ozzy (although I stopped at Randy Rhodes' untimely death). I imagine we can agree to like both Pink Floyd, although I stop after The Final Cut. I'm sure we both have weaknesses for Cheap Trick and Triumph. He worships Guns 'n' Roses; I know they were truly good but never really seek them out. We both loved Van Halen, but he prefers Sammy, which is a travesty of musical justice. He takes bands like Tesla, Warrant and Sebastian Bach seriously. 'Nough said.

So anyway, last week he plops Styx Greatest Hits on my desk. This is interesting. Styx for me is one of those bands like Kansas: They were constantly on the radio and even MTV, yet I never really loved or hated them. My older brother and music mentor was mute on the subject. (He normally had very strict rules... no more Journey starting with Escape, no more REO Speedwagon starting with Hi Infidelity, no more Queen starting with The Game, no synthesizer music, period.)

So after a couple of days of staring at the disc, I popped it in and put on the headphones.

It was fascinating. As I moved through "Lady," "The Best of Times," "Lorelei" and "Too Much Time on My Hands," I realized that these guys were definitely underrated. Solid musicianship. Amazing singing on a group level. Deceptively complicated songwriting. Top-notch production values. I was ready to retroactively embrace this band named after a mythological river in Hades, until I met Cerberus himself in the form of track #5.

On some musical level, "Babe" might be a great song. Maybe if the Vienna Philharmonic performed a classical arrangement, I would be wowed by its harmonic transcendence. But I'm sorry, the song sucks.

From this point on, I realized that Styx evolved into a war between rock and schlock, in the forms of Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung, that pop music has ever equaled. "Renegade": great song. "Don't Let It End": suck. "Blue Collar Man," please kick "Mr. Roboto" in the lugnuts. And then the final insult:

"Every night, I say a prayer in the hopes that there's a Heaven." Show Me the Way. Show Me the Suck. Suck Me the Suck. Suck Suck the Suck. The song sucks. Sucks with a capital U and an "x" at the end, as in sUUUUUUUUx. Seriously, it really really sucks.

And now I understand the look on Tommy Shaw's face when, in an interview for Behind the Music, he remembered the day when DeYoung said, "I need you to write songs about robots." Thanks, Brett, you can have your disc back.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dude! Styx?! Are you kidding me?! How can you even listen to that tripe?! I'm embarrassed to know you. (Uh, could I borrow the disc? It's for a friend. A distant friend.)

Stephen Dashboard said...

I used to listen to "Pieces of Eight" in the music listening booths at Coffman Union in 1979. In h.s. we all pored over "The Grand Illusion," and "Lorelei" is, IMHO, a very good pop tune. But I'm with you dude -- "Babe" suuuuuuuuuux big time. "The train is coming...I see it in your eyes" --then SMACK we're both under that train's wheels.

We could only hope.

kimberlyoh said...

GNR.... best concert EVER!!!!!!!!!!

The Wordman said...

all I will cop to is I get a sick tug of nostalgia whenever I hear "Come Sail Away" -- what a stupid song, but I can't help myself.

back in high school, I spent a weekend science club trip in Death Valley with a gang of incredibly geeky fellow students (including my first ex-girlfriend) ... at night, when we sat around the campfire with the gila monsters and kangaroo rats encroaching on our ring of flickering light, these horrid people regaled me with their varied deep analyses of Mr. Roboto, Come See the Paradise, Grand Illusion, etc. ad nauseam -- they thought DeYoung was a god, and they were also very keen on his post-Styx solo work.

I suppose if I had any sense at the time, I would've run out into the cactus patch and rammed needles into my eardrums, but I was young and apparently could tolerate this sick-making offense to my aesthetic constitution.

also, anyone else think that DeYoung in the picture provided looks like he was separated at birth from Eugene Levy of SCTV?

Marc Conklin said...

That's it! Actually, I'd say Eugene Levy crossed with Fee Waybill of The Tubes.