Home / REVIEW: Styx – The Grand Illusion is actually fairly tasty cheese

REVIEW: Styx – The Grand Illusion is actually fairly tasty cheese

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Ayn forgive me, but I’ve been listening to Styx. I’ve been listening repeatedly to The Grand Illusion, and digging it. There, I said it.

Recently I was in Grumpy Old Man mode, complaining about the offenses against Geometry and Theology collected on the Now 18 hits collection. Back in my high school days, even the crappy radio fodder was better made, stuff like Styx. Between that line of thought and South Park, I found myself jonesin’ for some Styx.

Funny, but I never really listened to Styx before. This album was huge in 1977- my freshman year in high school, but I was in the early throes of cultish Beatle worship. I can remember vaguely this stuff playing around me, and I could still sing back some of the hits, but it went in one ear and out the other. I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve never owned a Styx album, though I’ve certainly owned far worse.

By their big, bombastic arena rock style, this band would be a likely target for the punk rockers attacks on “corporate rock” that were emerging about this same time. Styx responded to all that noise, though, with an answer. Most critically, they answered with a good, memorable song to make their case.

I was not yet at all aware of punk rock, and thus missed the real point of the words, but I could still sing them back to you because of the memorable, sweeping melody. That makes perfectly good sense, even if you’ve never heard of Sid Vicious.

Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me
And how can there be such a sinister plan
That could hide such a lamb
Such a caring young man

Hey, that’s a pretty good understated rebuke. Well played. This may perhaps lack the pure rock and roll pentecostal emotional fire of the best few Sex Pistols songs, but it’s a more distinctive and memorable composition than the very bare bones off the rack Chuck Berry/blues songs of the Pistols. Oh, and these guys can actually play their frickin’ instruments.

“Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” frankly shows a lot more wisdom than the cheap nihilism of, say, the Sex Pistols. More significantly, it’s a much better written song than almost anything coming from anywhere in the punk movement, unless you move forward a few months and count Elvis Costello.

The title song “The Grand Illusion” opens the album, and best represents the pomp and circumstance. They particularly get the sweep of the cutting edge synthesizer keyboards whipping up an Epic Statement. Listening to it now the state of the art keyboards sound rather dated, but hey this works. It’s got a real honest to God melody, some good drama, lots of hooks, and outstanding dynamics. Whaddya want, a rubber biscuit?

So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you never win the game
Just remember that it’s a Grand illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same.

OK, granted there’s a fairly high cheese factor here. The profound insights of the lyrics of the title song are a bit shallow. Then again, how profound were the Ramones lyrics? I’m inclined to cut them some slack, and credit them with trying to say something. And they actually did say something fairly memorable there. It just wasn’t so much in the words.

“Superstars” is somewhat less musically distinctive, but still reasonably catchy and well executed. The lyric really catches my attention more here. Check some of this:

You’ve read about me in the papers
You’ve seen me on the movie screen
You know everything about me
I’m your late night fantasy

But don’t think I can’t hear you calling
From the shadow of the 14th row
Cause I’ve had the same dreams you’ve had
A few short years ago and that’s why I know

You and I
We will climb so high
Whoa whoa you and I

And we’ll just close our eyes
And we’ll become our fantasy

Oy, vey. And by “we will climb so high” we mean that you get to give us money for albums and concert tickets and adore from a distance as we live out “our” fantasy. Man, but that’s cheesy.

Yet it’s an admirably direct statement of the stunningly obviously self-serving understanding that ambitious man of the people rockers offer. Really, this is just exactly the schtick Bruce Springsteen has been selling, only he’s more cagey than to ever state the deal so directly. Wouldn’t want people getting the false impression that a humble man of the people is a self-serving schmuck. You have to give Styx some credit here for guilelessness.

But all of this is just the lead up to the real centerpiece of the album, a song I’ve seen described repeatedly with phrases such as “the ultimate guilty pleasure,” “Come Sail Away.” I don’t remember this song near as much as some of the others from back in the day, but it’s really kicking my ass right now. I feel not the least bit sheepish in saying that this is an outstanding song.

Famously, “Come Sail Away” is Cartman’s favorite song. For starters, consider that such import would be placed on this tune that came out when his creator was only seven. That’s indicative of some sticking power right there.

But mostly, this makes sense as Cartman’s song. It’s really a very pretty sad song of broken childhood dreams.

I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on

It’s really even more poignant for Cartman though, never really having had the close childhood friends imagined in the song. Yeah, it’s his fault and all, but still I can well sympathize with his desire to sail away, far away from his crack whore mom and all the messed up people of South Park.

This song really rates as the most emotionally direct and effective track on the record. It opens as an exceptionally pretty piano ballad, and builds up a beautiful head of steam as Dennis De Young sails away. Plus, I give him some extra credit for the freaky stuff about the angels and the starship. What’s up with that?

The second half of the album runs downhill fairly quickly in terms of musical interest, and the lyrics get more hamhanded. But those main four radio hits work pretty effectively. They’re really memorable. They work.

For some reason, Styx has for many years been considered a particularly prime band for cool people to mock. Why that is though, I can’t quite see. Comparing them to modern acts that would be taking up some of their artsy old AOR turf, I’ll take The Grand Illusion over Coldplay any old day- or Radiohead even. This is better music.

To put one more little spin on this consideration, will any of today’s 7-year-old children be remembering Coldplay or Radiohead twenty years from now as a reference point to put into their cartoons and screenplays?

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  • oh, but the first tune on side two, Miss America, is killer.

  • Yeah, that’s decent, and I remember some radio play for that one. I just didn’t have much to say about it.

  • i got to see them on the Pieces of Eight tour. it was bombastic fun in a purely late-70’s sort of way.

    lots of material from Equinox and Crystal Ball.

    i don’t think they really lost it musically until Dennis DeYoung went all vegas on them with Cornerstone and then that Mr. Roboto ooze.

  • Oh man, watching Cartman sing “Come Sail Away” has to be the funniest damn bit of animated TV ever. I was crying! But seriously, Styx rocks..and they still do. I saw them in 2003, with their Dennis DeYoung stand in, having low expectations, but was very pleasantly suprised at how great they still sounded. Warning: don’t listen to Styx for the profound lyrics – listen for the profound riffs, and melodies.

  • Absolutely Paul. If you want profound words, read a damned book. Get you some Dostoevsky or something.

  • Sure, there’s worse stuff today but we should not forgive the sins of Styx. Their nefarious success is one reason worse stuff followed. “Angry Young Man” is a transparent re-write of the Billy Joel of the same name – at least John Lydon didn’t need to crib crap from the “piano man.” If it’s 70s cheese you’re after, have a little class – there’s Utopia, Be Bop Deluxe, Cheap Trick, Klaatu, or simply Queen.

  • Thats trippy, I was just telling my boy about how cool Styx was yesterday.

    Mr. Roboto came on the classics station up here and I was raving about how cool they were till they synchronized with disco/new wave.

    I think, tho, I can be content with the Greatest Hits 2 cd set I ripped from the library.

  • If anyone but you was writing this defense, I’d call it amusing satire. Instead, given your obvious sincerity, it’s a glaring reminder of the Stalinism at the heart of every Randian: that gooey, sentimental, misty-eyed love for mass-minded crap, particularly when its treacly and emotional. Clearly, no sinister plan is going to hide such a lamb as you.

  • JR

    Mark Saleski: i got to see them on the Pieces of Eight tour. it was bombastic fun in a purely late-70’s sort of way.

    Damn, I envy you. I didn’t see them until that Kilroy theater tour.

  • oh, and for extra 70’s bombast, the opening act was Angel.

    and rodney, nobody has to defend liking anything. i don’t give a shit if something is “mass-minded” or not. if i like it, i like it. hey, if Richard Thompson can say that “Oops I Did It Again” is a great song, then i can listen to “Come Sail Away” guilt-free.


  • You’re right, Mark, but some music is more mass-minded than others. Anyway, I probably shouldn’t have said anything. I should avoid reading Al. I reject his views on just about everything, and responding is just a waste of energy.

  • Which episode/season does Cartman sing the Styx song?

    Great review, Cartman

  • > nobody has to defend liking anything.

    Why not? If someone has the pretension to “write” a music “review,” why shouldn’t some purpose be attached to it?

    > hey, if Richard Thompson can say that “Oops I Did It Again” is a great song, then i can listen to “Come Sail Away” guilt-free.

    Similarly, John Lennon praised Olivia Newton-John’s song “Xanadu.” We should know the context there, it’s a gift, a lark, a wink – a celebrity game.

    > … the Stalinism at the heart of every Randian: that gooey, sentimental, misty-eyed love for mass-minded crap…

    Damn, wish I penned those words. Right on.

  • “Side two”. Haven’t heard that in a while 🙂

    Got some good background here on a band I’ve actively tried to avoid (and largely succeeded) Thanks.

  • Actually, I intend on defending my tastes. Not defending maybe exactly, cause that sounds like being on trial. Explaining would be the word, and that’s what I’m trying to do by writing. I’m not just saying ME LIKEY, but trying to break it down for myself even as much as possible WHY I like something.

    “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” I Peter 3:15

    I love a good debate about the merits of cool records. I love to have somebody challenge me on stuff. Few things are more fun than a friendly argument over the finer points of favorite records.

    Rodney’s not very good for the job though, because he’s not connected to anything I write. He obviously hates me pretty bad for not being on board with some pinko left wing political agenda. Anyone who finds any value in Ayn Rand is apparently a communist- which is a precisely perverse sentiment.

    Like Stewart Smalley, I don’t want to take anyone else’s inventory, but obviously Rodney has some personal issues that cause him discomfort. Apparently the best relief from his conditions comes from following around my threads and making silly hateful non-sequiter claims that liking a Styx album makes me a “Stalinist.” If I wrote a positive review of my breakfast, then no doubt my appreciation of a fine buttery English muffin would be further evidence that I’m a Stalinist.

    But hey, if it makes him feel better. Perhaps Monsieur Welch could get together with this Stoller guy and have a Two Minute Hate on Rand and/or Al.

  • Sister Ray

    As an official member of The Cool People, I’ll take the Ramones over Styx. But I admit a secret liking for “Come Sail Away.”

  • Rand is to literature what Styx is to music: Dumbed down junk. Like I said before, Rand wrote a “critique” of Skinner’s popular BF&D in which she admitted she hadn’t even read it (or anything else by Skinner); likewise, Styx looks to Billy Joel for a “message” song. What could be lazier? Hey, I dig kitsch as much as the next guy but let’s have some effort (at least in the stealing). Try Klaatu’s “Hope” instead for this sort of thing.

  • Yeah, I’d still take the Ramones overall well above Styx. But in my father’s house there are many mansions, and perhaps we can set a place at the table for Dennis De Young- so long as he leaves that Mr Roboto crap at the door.

    Mr Stoller, I’m not looking at Styx for “kitsch.” These are straight up some well made songs. I’m not hiding behind a “camp” defense.

    Also, the Billy Joel song sounds nothing like “Fooling Yourself.” The phrase “angry young man” is a common phrase. Such catchphrases are a basic traditional starting point for writing pop songs. Nothing wrong with that.

  • JR

    I have one Ramones CD and I never listen to it.

    Reckon I’d have to vote for Styx.

  • I am not in any way a Styx fan, but I have to admit that there’s no way that Coldplay or even Radiohead will ever figure into the collective conscious mind of the world like Styx did, or really many bands of their ilk in the 70s. Why do I say this? Purely because Styx made a big enough impact to feature in a TV show made nearly 20 years after they were considered “relevant.” That show? Freaks And Geeks,” the episode where Nick serenades Lindsay. Now try and imagine Coldplay or Radiohead fitting a role like that. Not gonna happen.

  • godoggo

    Styx is obviously beneath comment, but I’d just like to point out that Billie Joel actually does write pretty good melodies. I’m not a fan, but still.

  • anybody ever heard Billy Joel’s instrumental piano record? i read that it was pretty good but have never heard it.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I think Styx stynx, and I hate Billy Joel, too, but I must object. “Angry Young Man” is absolutely NOT a rewrite of Billy Joel’s song, much less a “transparent” one.

    BJ’s song is a sort-of satiric critique of the AYM, and then in the bridge, he confesses that he once WAS an AYM himself.

    The Styx song’s tone is totally different: It’s chiding, like, “C’mon, don’t be such an AYM, everything’s gonna be fine, you’re gonna make it.”

    The tempi and melody and harmony are pretty different, too.

    Oh, yeah, and both songs completely suck.

  • Atta boy, Al.

    “Fooling Yourself” is my personal anthem.

  • Mr Sussman, I’m happy to please you.

    Also, thank you Aaman for comment 12. I of course revel in being likened to Cartman. Of course, if you really want to flatter me sometime, you might liken me to Archie Bunker.

  • I thot demonizing people as politcal and ethically depraved according to their aesthetic tastes was something Rand used to do, so why are these peeps who apparantly think Rand is so bad doing the same thing.

    Geez talk about whacko.

  • Oh yes Todd, but that’s SO typical of the left wing reactions to Rand. Take it just a step further. Note the typical such comment here from Mr Welch accusing Randians of “Stalinism.” The left wingnut accuses the capitalist who personally physically FLED from Stalin of being the commie. That’s SO precisely perversely backwards.

  • Vote me in for Styx over the Ramones any day. Al, I like your taste, and damn it, you’ve inspired me to finally submit my review of Styx and REO Speedwagon “Arch Allies” concert DVD. I saw Styx last year and they are better than ever. Coming soon.

  • Outstanding Roy, I’m looking forward to it.

  • > Mr Stoller, I’m not looking at Styx for “kitsch.” These are straight up some well made songs. I’m not hiding behind a “camp” defense.

    Yes you are. It was YOU who called their LP “tasty cheese.” Since when isn’t “cheese” and “kitsch” synonymous?

    > Also, the Billy Joel song sounds nothing like “Fooling Yourself.” The phrase “angry young man” is a common phrase. Such catchphrases are a basic traditional starting point for writing pop songs. Nothing wrong with that.

    The Styx song followed the Joel by a couple of months. The sentiment is IDENTICAL; it’s the same thing except, of course, the Styx song is manufactured for a dumber audience.

    The main problem with Styx is their “fantasy” escapist product falls so far short (of, say, Yes’ “The Gates of Delirium,” released two years prior). Styx’s “straight up some well made song[s]” are built on cliche lyrics and clumsy music.

  • Barry, you should submit your resume to Rolling Stone magazine.

  • JR

    Barry Stoller: The Styx song followed the Joel by a couple of months. The sentiment is IDENTICAL; it’s the same thing except, of course, the Styx song is manufactured for a dumber audience.

    Only a couple of months? That’s pretty impressive considering how long it usually takes to get an album released after recording, mixing, mastering, pressing and fitting it into the label’s release schedule.

  • Who missed me?

    Al Barger: I see you’re still the same [edited]. Never change, baby, never change.

    You’re seriously writing about the emotional value of Cartman singing “Come Sail Away”? That’s willfully dense, buddy. He’s singing it because Styx is a JOKE. Let’s see a good defense and debate of the artistic meaning of Cartman singing bad classic rock since you were never able to defend any of your nonsense in the past. At least South Park is enjoyable cheap nihilism. Styx is boring, uninspired dreck with no heart.

    I notice that Al is unable to defend his taste in music on its own merits and that all his responses are some form of paranoid ad hominem attacks on “left-wingers,” Stalinists and defensive babbling about Rand. What does Rand and your muddled, unread right-wing version of Libertarianism have to do with Styx, exactly? Other than that both are lazy dead-ends for people with no connection to human reality outside their poor, misguided, sheeplike minds. I mean, come on, Styx encourages you to be a “lamb” in the “Grand Illusion” of commercial crap and introverted, weak young people like Al Barger bought this cynicism wholesale to the extent that he calls it “guileless” and “emotionally direct” even today. Is this Bizarro World?

    Classic rock sucks. It’s easy to make fun of Styx because they’re especially sucky even within the genre of classic rock. I don’t know what mode of white male introversion leads people to put on their Dungeons and Dragon hats in the local Indiana chapter of the “Ayn Rand is Hot, Will A Woman Please Touch Me?” Young Libertarians and rock out to classic rock with drug-addled sci-fi lyrics about wizards and dragons.

    The Ramones are a great band. You, Al, cannot possibly understand the Ramones. The Sex Pistols are “cheap nihilism”? Nihilism never comes cheaply and the Sex Pistols were truly shocking to the cultural status quo of their time and faced the brunt of the backlash against punk rock. The Clash and The Ramones were better bands and influenced more future musicians, but The Sex Pistols were bigger in terms of their cultural impact at the time. More importantly, have you ever played music in your life? You REALLY classify the Sex Pistols as “Chuck Berry blues”? Cutting edge synthesizer keyboards?

    I would think the more appropriate example of cheap nihilism is geeked-out excursions into fantastic lyrics about imaginary creatures with boring, meandering, masturbatory 7-minute guitar solos. That’s the definition of soulless, self-indulgent rock, not “guilelessness” — how can something so pointlessly and fatuously abstract be guileless? It’s pretentious without having any refinement, taste, or intellectual and artistic substance, kind of like your posts. Styx challenged nothing and no one — it lulled people into childish, disjointed, thoughtless incoherence and concept-less “experimentation” on their all too predictably idiotic “concept” albums. The melodies, if you can call them that, were predictable and almost completely lost in the cheesy solos, unstructured riffs, and horrid synths.

    The “Angry Young Man” lyrics you quote just prove the fact that Styx was a complacent, unimportant, and apolitical in response to a time of upheaval and cultural change. Those are patronizing, ham-handed lyrics written by young men who are so out of touch that they appear impossibly old and dated in response to a revolution they didn’t understand. Styx clung to the very last strands of commercial viability and cultural indifference they could, and it didn’t work. They were toast, instantly forgotten because they were completely irrelevant to the concerns of the culture by the time punk rock came to destroy the rock dinosaurs. Those “Superstars” lyrics are the very DEFINITION of cheap nihilism: “Hey, man, buy our LPs and you can do coke and be a huge rockstar too in a few years. Pick up that guitar and jam, baby, [edited]. Rock gods!” I’ve noticed a definite thematic pattern in the cheap rock poetry you’re quoting here as well — it’s contrived, everyman drama resolved by some meaningless, empty, panderingly positive platitude. You’re really inspired by this stuff and find it life-affirming? Moving, even? Does it drive you to be the best closet right-wing Libertarian you can be, Senator? That would explain a lot about you. It’s funny, even uncanny, that you referred to Stuart Smalley, because that’s the exact thing that came to mind when I read those horrible Styx lyrics.

    You’re really going to defend that Styx will go down in history as being greater artistically than Radiohead because they’ve been spoofed in South Park? Either you’re totally out of touch and your frame of reference is very limited [edited] in Indiana or you’ve become a parody of your own poor thought and writing by now. It’s no wonder you can’t get Radiohead — now that’s genuine art rock, where the experiments have substance. And that’s why Radiohead will go down as perhaps the most critically acclaimed and one of the most influential rock groups of all time when the story is written. Rock is dead and Radiohead was likely its last great band, transitioning the death of the traditional rock form into electronic and experimental music. Radiohead has lost me too at moments, but I can always recognize their greatness and ambition. Styx was not great, not ambitious, and not art. Domo arigato, Mr Roboto? I mean, come on.

    Stoller: who are you? I think I like you. Keep regulatin 🙂

    Rodney Welch: I think I vaguely remember you, but I like you as well.

    Finally, Matthew Sussman, I think I like you the best. I think you really said it all for this topic with the following comment:

    ‘”Fooling Yourself” is my personal anthem.’

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.


  • Cat

    Come on guys, you’re missing the point. Styx was ‘sing along with the radio on a hot summer afternoon’ music. A few of years ago I was given a couple free tickets to a Styx concert and, never one to pass up a freebee… As my friend and I were driving to the concert, much to our surprise, neither of us could name a single Styx song. Not one. Imagine our surprise when the concert got rolling that we could sing almost every word to almost every song. Somewhere in our little pea brains we’d heard and stored all those catchy but pointless gems. We had a great time at that concert but I didn’t feel a great need to go out and buy the collection. For what it’s worth, I just saw Stevie Nicks on tour (yup, a freebee)and though I remembered the songs, I couldn’t sing along…what’s that all about?

  • > That’s pretty impressive considering how long it usually takes to get an album released after recording, mixing, mastering, pressing and fitting it into the label’s release schedule.

    When I talked to Terry Knight about makin’ records in the ’70s, he always mentioned gettin’ ’em out within a month. The big selling groups always got the sweetheart release schedules; I believe that pertains to Styx in ’76. “Angry Young Man,” think about it, the ACOUSTIC guitar, cheap symbol of political awareness (folkies are always lefties), Styx copped that from Joel – and that’s just vile.

  • Okay now Mr Stoller, you’re arguing that Styx was ripping off Billy Joel because they used and ACOUSTIC guitar. Yeah, I remember when Billy Joel first invented acoustic guitar, and I was thinking damn, Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie were ripping Joel off since well before he was even born. When are they going to start paying him royalties?

  • Nothing to say to me, Senator Al? That’s what I thought. [Edited] 🙂

    Barry Stoller: You should also know that Al does not understand irony and has no capacity to appreciate something’s kitsch or camp value. He does have a passive-aggressive desire to get a reaction out of people by aggressively promoting bad taste and worse ideas, and it appears he’s succeeded here.

    Tell us about the philosophical value of Ayn Rand again, Al?

    That is all.

  • > … you’re arguing that Styx was ripping off Billy Joel because they used and ACOUSTIC guitar…

    No, it’s just ANOTHER obvious instance of cribbing the tune; the acoustic as metaphor for “folkie protest.” There’s also the hook line, the same reactionary message… etc, as I said before.

  • How exactly is the message of “Fooling Yourself” considered “reactionary”?

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Mr. Stoller, you’re just wrong about the stupid Styx tune being a copy of Joel’s stupid song.

    The lyrics are totally different, and express very different ideas (see my previous cmmt, #23) . The songs have distinct structures and chords, and completely different melodies. They also have different tempi. The Styx has a harmony vocal arrangement, the Joel is just solo singing. They’re just not the same, except they have (almost) the same title.

    The stuff about the acoustic guitar isn’t very well thought-out. The lefty/folky significance of the acoustic guitar is quite a stretch, really, considering that instrument’s ubiquity in pop and rock and blues and country. One place you won’t find it prominently, however, is in Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man.” That song is completely dominated by BJ’s hotdogging, overplayed piano riffage. Don’t hear much strumming.

    Your first reference to “AYM” was obviously just in passing, and you were wrong. So what? It’s OK. It makes neither Styx nor Billy Joel any more worth listening to.

  • Eric Olsen

    this thread is CLASSIC: people yelling past each other from not just different worlds, but different universes

    First, regardless of how you feel about Styx, this is a well-written, interesting, compelling review. Give credit where it is due.

    Does anyone really think Al doesn’t get the socio-cultural hilarity of defending a Styx album in 2005?

    But that’s part of the story: it works on at least two levels: yes, Styx is soul-numbing, corporate nonsense that has the patina of rot about it, but it is also all that DONE VERY WELL, with big riffs, hooks, memorable tunes and all the other enticements that make high-end, ’70s arena-rock such a threat in the first place: there is nothing there but the ride was diverting as hell.

    And lastly, BAB, damn, how could so astute a cultural critic so COMPLETELY miss the appeal of South Park: everything they take on they both lampoon AND celebrate. They are fucking REPUBLICANS, please recall.

    That is all, for now.

  • Bob if someone doesn’t want to respond to you, they have the absolute right (and if you’re just trying to stir something I applaud them for it.)

    Keep the right-left politico junk out of music – pleeeeeeeeeease. This section is salvation for me. 🙂

    If you think Styx sucks just say it once and walk away. You’re (in the general sense) not going to convince people either way but the discussion should be the fun part.

  • godoggo

    You really should know better than confusing Libertarians with Republicans here on the Internets.

  • Olsen: I love South Park. That’s why I said it’s “enjoyable cheap nihilism.” Styx, on the other hand, is not.

    You REALLY think this is well-written?
    To quote one esteemed Mr. Eric Olsen, my immediate reaction to this review was yet another “ridiculous post by a ridiculous man.”

    I considered, for a second, like Rodney Welch did, that this might be tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t think that’s Al’s style. I think he HONESTLY thinks Styx is a better band than Radiohead and he HONESTLY thinks those lyrics he’s quoting are meaningful. Yes, he’s picking a horrible band to defend because he’s trying to be difficult, but I don’t think he’s being ironic. He’s gone out of his way to say that he’s not being campy or kitschy.


    That is all.

  • I should say that this is a hilarious piece, although I believe that’s quite unintentional on the Senator’s part. He serves his use as a comic foil, I must admit.

    Here’s my favorite line of all from the comments:
    “in my father’s house there are many mansions, and perhaps we can set a place at the table for Dennis De Young”

    I love how Al falls in love with some stupid phrase he reads in SciFiCon Weekly or in some slightly superior writer’s usage (which means someone horrible, of course) and trots it out without fail. “Go in Peace, MacDiva” — I think the only posture funnier than Senator Al is Father Al, the high priest of Level 7 Dungeon. “In my father’s house, there will be a place at the table for you, Dennis, right next to MacDiva. Peace, my lambs.”

    Senator Al: never change, buddy. I really mean that, in all seriousness even though I quite obviously intimidate the piss out of you 🙂 Even though I think [edited] and are completely ignorant about culture and politics, I get a kick out of you sometimes. You’re one-of-a-kind, I’ll give you that. And your views on pop culture aren’t nearly as disgusting as your views on real, serious issues of politics or race. So that’s as close as I’ll ever come to being nice to you. See? I’m not such a bully, am I? 🙂

    But now …

    It’s time for me to fly!

    (I expect the tribute review to REO any day now. Don’t disappoint us.)

    That is all.

  • REO was better than Radiohead. Wh? Because there are childhood memories (of mine) attached to the former and boredom attached to the latter.

  • Al, I titled this a “Retro-review” and I moved this to Advance.net, a place affiliated with about 10 newspapers around the country.

    One such site is here.

    Also please let your contact know, if you had one, that this article, is published at one more place. That helps to show they get two?, three? for the “price” of one.

    Thank you.
    Temple Stark

  • > The lyrics are totally different, and express very different ideas…

    The VIBE is cribbed.

    Take an example: Klaatu’s “Mister Manson” isn’t dissing Maoists but we know from that gruff guitar they are imitating the 45 version of “Revolution.” Or “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” has different chords and melodies than “Light My Fire,” but, well, it’s obvious Iron Butterfly is reaching for that… vibe… and they are not pursuing the muse honestly.

    > The lefty/folky significance of the acoustic guitar is quite a stretch, really, considering that instrument’s ubiquity in pop and rock and blues and country.

    But it’s in the CONTEXT of the “Angry Young Man,” it’s that artless strumming. Like Melanie.

    > One place you won’t find it prominently, however, is in Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man.”

    No, it’s totally prominent, it is the instrument which signifies the “Prelude” part has gone into the song proper. And, Styx goes for that simple “suite” format, too.

    The message is also cribbed.

    > How exactly is the message of “Fooling Yourself” considered “reactionary”?

    It’s that whole “don’t be pissed off about world events,” “being angry is a bore” (anti-)message. A real empty rock star posture.

    I think comparing the two acts is useful. (Early) Joel is like a Dylan for dummies while Styx is a Yes for morons.

  • Monsieur Olsen, thank you for getting and re-summarizing my point. It’s re-assuring to me that I did make my point clear, cause some of these cats here has been off in Neverland- far, far away from anything I wrote on the electronic page.

    Now I’ve had one point that I was stewing on a bit from Mr Stoller, cause it did seem off. In the very title of this essay I describe Styx as “cheesy,” but I objected earlier in this thread to describing their appeal as “camp” or “kitsch.” Perhaps I may revise and extend my remarks.

    Maybe I’m using terms a little different, but I would take the word “camp” and definitely the word “kitsch” to be condescending. It’s like you’re saying that something is really crap, but you have chosen to amuse yourself by slumming.

    I would hate to be thought of as indulging in that kind of thinking, to be seen grasping at such a dumb, obvious feeling of faux superiority.

    Recapping then, in fact Styx had some significant artistic virtues. They were in some ways superficial or shallow, but it was a hell of an artifice. Philosophy aside, I wouldn’t trade “Fooling Yourself” as a piece of music for the whole frickin’ careers of most of the purely damned musically illiterate punk outfits they were addressing. Iggy Pop springs to mind.

    And as if there was significant philosophy in punk rock. Being mad at the world isn’t a philosophical stance, but merely childish pouting.

    They’re not that deep. Styx isn’t going to make me forget Elvis Costello or Johnny Cash or Prince. However, they do sound pretty good in the jammobile cruising down the county roads.

    They’re also good for cleansing the palatte after a bunch of earthy bluegrass and folk type stuff. It contrasts nicely against the Jonathan Richman I’ve been listening to.

    Thanks for the Advance listing, Temple.

    Also, if all it’s going to take to get some of y’alls goats is a few words of praise for a 70s arena rock band, I’m only too happy to come around and collect. Meantime, you need to be re-stocking your goats, and fattening them up for me: I’ve just ordered up a couple of Kansas albums from the library.


  • ClubhouseCancer

    Yes, OK, they’re the same. Same song. Exactly the same. Billy should sue, immediately. Unless his was actually written after, in which case Mr. Shaw and Mr. DeYoung should sue.

    I had never considered the VIBE.

    Of course, the VIBE.

    Sorry to suggest you were wrong.

  • Eric Olsen

    the copyright lawyers are scrambling as we speak: multiple vibe suits pending

  • > the copyright lawyers are scrambling as we speak: multiple vibe suits pending

    The “vibe” (is that a funny term? this is rock & roll we’re talking about) not about lawyers and courtcases, it’s about looking cool or foolish. The Beatles never sued the Stones when “We Love You” followed “All You Need Is Love,” but JL sure took the piss out of them later in an interview. Dig the distinction, you lawyers. And, seriously, when did so many people start DEFENDING Styx???

  • Eric Olsen

    I was defending the review rather than the band or the album, although isolated Styx songs are perfectly serviceable. It is rather missing the point to attack something on socio-cultural terms when it was not defended on those terms in the first place

  • ClubhouseCancer

    And I am defending Styx’s VIBE.

    And the notion that two sings with similar titles can actually both exist without one being a “transparent rewrite” of the other.

  • eric schultz

    All this commotion over Styx? Hard for me to believe. I have to 100% agree with BAB out there that Styx were drivel and had no cultural significance whatsoever. You want cutting edge keyboards from the 70s? Listen to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. You want bombast at a show? Go see Kiss (and I will defend that one no matter how cheesey of a band they were – they influenced more than just a gereration of musicians – good and bad).

    I am not gonna bunk people in their tastes in music, but I am not gonna let someone slag a movement like punk after admittingly not knowing anything about it. It was far more than just the music – these bands were singing about life – the Clash, the Ramones, the Pistols all sang about the injustices and frustrations they felt in everyday life; not about flying starships and angels while playing the wank-synth on cocane.

    I have memories of Styx when I was a kid too – and they were memories of people giving me shit because I would rather rock out to Kiss, the Ramones, or the Pistols than the crap they were listening to. And all it did for me was make me like bands like Styx even less.

    I would rather hang with the ugly real people than the fake, plastic beautiful people that cannot see the forest for the trees.

  • Mr Schultz, you’re not quite getting the angle of my perspective here. Perhaps I was less than clear in expressing it, but I didn’t listen to Styx at the time- not on purpose anyway. I started with the Beatles, and soon worked my way to punk and new wave. Indeed, I’m known to be something of an obsessive Elvis Costello fan. I’ve owned nearly every Clash album.

    Thus, it’s something of an act of will for me to look back to the stuff that I dismissed in the day and reconsider. Giving Styx their day in court- trying just to listen to the songs without all the sociological crap attached- I find The Grand Illusion quite listenable.

    It perhaps helps my association that I don’t have the specific negative associations with Styx that you do. My particular cool-guy resentments were provoked primarily by Meatloaf, Boston, and the Bee Gees, if memory serves.

  • Who edited me?

    I’ve been censored into oblivion. I feel like the fading picture in Back to the Future, McFly. What’s funny is that [edit] is far dirtier and meaner than anything I actually said.

    Senator Al Barger, you are a [edit] [edit]ing [edit]er. Stop kissing Olsen’s butt every second. You don’t understand Elvis Costello OR the Clash if you completely ignore the cultural and artistic themes of pink and dismiss them as “childish posturing.” Your review struck me as “childish posturing” intended to get a reaction.

    Oh, and calling everyone “Mr.” such-and-such doesn’t lend your ridiculous viewpoints any more credibility or make you seem genteel and refined.

    Sociological crap? How is my criticism going to be dismissed as philosophical or socio-cultural? I wasn’t going deep there 🙂 I gave plenty of reasons why Styx sucked on their own merits, like 7-minute rambling guitar solos, horrible lyrics that resemble a Stuart Smalley self-help convention, and meandering lyrics about wizards and dragons.

    How is this a good review? I find no defense of Styx’s artistic merit in it other than “punk sucks, I like these trite lyrics, they have a few cheesy melodies, they’re emotionally direct and guileless.” Huh? Even Al’s latest “defense” boils down to him backing away from liking Styx in the first place, trying to establish some semblance of credibility by citing better bands, and then saying, “hey, they’re not so terrible.”

    One final “socio-cultural” comment:
    When I think fake, plastic, beautiful people, the first name I think is Senator Al Barger. Right. It makes no sense for any of you introverted white male types to listen to classic rock.

    Listen to something with artistic merit.

    Learn how to spell “palate” before using it. You’re kidding right? Styx is cultural sorbet? Jammobile? Cool-guy resentments? You?

    Either you’re making it way too easy or you’ve just become a parody of yourself by now. This has to be some sort of Andy Kaufman bit, because no one could be so utterly lacking in self-awareness.

    This is Bizarro World, friggin Bizarro World.

    Bottom line: Styx sucks and so does this review, even as a joke (which Al swears it’s not).

    That is all.

  • godoggo

    Something like Grand illusion isn’t even a first draft of a good song. Everything about it is obvious or awkward or both. If you write something like that the only thing to do is trash it and try again. I guess they have pretty good dexterity on their instruments, though, although it would be nice if they could express something with it. The Ramone’s couldn’t play all the fluffy arpeggios, but their songcraft wasn’t a whit more primative.

  • godoggo

    “Primative!” I like that spelling!

  • godoggo

    Actually, let me rephrase that: ka ka poo poo to you too.

  • Clearly, the better Styx songs have longer, fuller, more developed melody than any but a very few people associated with punk. They just actually do as a matter of fact. “Come Sail Away” has a more developed tune than “Beat on the Brat.”

    This does not necessarily imply that it is a better song or record. That might be something else. More sophistication with your instruments and compositional skills gives you a broader palette, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got something to say.

    I’d certainly rate the relative simplicity of “Johnny B Goode” obviously more impressive than “The Grand Illusion,” for example. Nonetheless, “The Grand Illusion” is a hell of a good little pop song.

  • Re-reading Eric’s comment 41: “Does anyone really think Al doesn’t get the socio-cultural hilarity of defending a Styx album in 2005?”

    Wait are you telling me that the cool guys won’t like me anymore if I dig a Styx album? I’ll be ex-communicated from the COOL lounge!

    Alright, how could I have ever been foolish enough to find more value in the classical values of melody and musicianship than in the thrashings of a complete non-musician such as Iggy Pop?

    Plus, I promise to resume being mad at the world as a badge of honor. I have sinned against the sainted martyrdom of Sid Vicious at the hands of The Man, and all the young people being killed by the fascists Reagan and Thatcher. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    Still, as Cartman would say, “Come Sail Away” is heller good.

  • Eric Olsen

    actually, the merits of Styx per se wasn’t the point – it was defending any vilified ’70s arena-rock band as a critical exercise at this stage of the game

  • a complete non-musician such as Iggy Pop

    uhm….just because you don’t like somebody doesn’t mean they’re not a musician.

  • Sister Ray

    Al: “My particular cool-guy resentments were provoked primarily by Meatloaf, Boston, and the Bee Gees, if memory serves.”

    Ah yes, Boston – the scourge of my early high school years. I remember earnestly explaining to a classmate that Creem magazine put them down, only to be told that no one cared what Creem magazine said.
    Little did I know that Kenny Rogers was just around the corner, waiting to invade.

  • Okay Mark, in fairness, Iggy Pop certainly technically speaking a “musician.” Just not skillful enough in basic musical skill and artistic accomplishment to really properly earn the title of professional musician.

    For primitivism, I prefer the Shaggs infamous Philosophy of the World. They almost sound like Captain Beefheart if you hold your head the right way. They had more discernibly interesting personality than the Stooges. I’m just saying…


    Holy crap, Sister Ray. I had put the name of that evil one behind me. He even put his scaly evil to Dolly.

  • Eric Olsen

    Iggy has one of the greatest voices in the history of rock and has lived off his music for over 35 years: what else would he have to do to be a “professional musician”?

  • Greatest voices? Could you please give me a clue as to what specific recorded performances you base that judgement on that I might try to hear what I have not so far?

    Okay, I’ll concede that Iggy is a “professional musician,” in that he gets paid for his services and makes a living at it. Technically though, 50 Cent is a HIGHLY “professional musician” in that he sells a buttload of records.

    Neither 50 Cent nor Iggy, however, has impressed me with being a musician of even vaguely professional quality, which is what I was trying to get at.

  • I recently saw em’ live in London and they reminded me while this heavy rocker has always had a soft spot for em’ (along with Journey and Night Ranger). The fact that Styx provided a part of Damn Yankees is cool as well.

  • oh my….i know what cd i’m listening to tomorrow morning!

  • “actually, the merits of Styx per se wasn’t the point – it was defending any vilified ’70s arena-rock band as a critical exercise at this stage of the game ”

    It’s not about defending Styx? Huh? The stage of what game exactly?

    Olsen, are you really going to define Al’s goal in writing this review narrower and narrower to avoid the reality that he cannot defend his argument, however limited it may be? Now he doesn’t have to defend Styx? It’s just celebrating bad taste and bad music reviews in general now, right? Let the fendless fend for themselves.

    Anyone who honestly thinks Styx is superior to Iggy Pop because they’re “professional musicians” isn’t being camp, isn’t being ironic, isn’t celebrating retro, and isn’t being contrarian for the fun of it — Senator Al Barger does not know a lick about music. This is apparent in any review.

    Let’s have an up and down vote … who here thinks Senator Al Barger did a good review here? Who thinks he’s a good music reviewer who knows what he’s talking about and can argue for it? Who doesn’t?

    I officially nominate Johno to replace him as the music reviewer. Get someone who can write interesting pieces and knows SOMETHING, ANYTHING about music from the last 25 years.

    That is all.

  • Eric Olsen

    how about we leave it at I Like Iggy?

    Al check out his new double-CD career retro, which shows he has massively rocked the rectum for the last 35 years, and if you want melodic rocksmanship it’s all over Brick By Brick

  • eric schultz

    I’ll take Bob up on the review question. I dig music and I write for a living. I’ll write reviews here if someone will let me. Will I get the same grief for a review that Al has? I would hope so. I don’t want the world to think like I do.

    Regardless of the Senator’s musical taste (or lack thereof) he has incited a pretty passionate and heated discussion here about the topic at hand – that Styx suck out loud (and in new and exciting ways even though the GI was a 70s album). Good debates about anything are good just to get people thinking and talking and slagging, if that is what it takes.

    Al bummed me out by slagging Iggy (who, btw wrote China Girl with Bowie and recorded a better version imho) and the Ramones. Just because someone thinks they can play doesn’t make them a superior musician – The Ramones and 99% of the punk movement KNEW they couldn’t play, but they had something to say anyway – musicanship lacking was not a road block. That was the beauty of punk. There was no beauty in Styx (other than Tommy Shaw’s hair) nor Damn Yankees (Ted Nugent’s sell out band – yeah he started that crap much to my dismay).

    I noticed no one took my bait on the Kiss topic – friggin’ yellow bellies.


  • I’m trying to get some glimmer of what y’all see in Iggy, but I haven’t. At the strong endorsement of his art by Monsieur Olsen, I’ve just ordered up a live Iggy DVD. (IMCPL doesn’t seem to have a copy of Brick by Brick.) Maybe a concert video will enlighten me.

    There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t particularly do it for me, but I can see at least some of why people dig it. A very little bit of Pink Floyd goes a long way with me, for example, but I can see how someone would think that they’re the berries. I’m trying to get a clue why Iggy is supposed to be a big deal. I haven’t yet.

  • Mr Schultz- I had forgotten Iggy’s co-authorship of “China Girl.” That’s an outstanding song, so I definitely must chalk 1 up in Iggy’s column. I don’t believe I’ve heard his version, though.

    Also, participation in the unredeemably godawful Damn Yankees costs Styx points retroactively. Not Ted Nugent’s proudest day, either.

    I didn’t mean to slag the Ramones, though. I’ve had more Ramones albums than of all these other groups combined, including Nugent.

  • eric schultz

    Senator Al (if I may call you Al), first off, please call me eric – second, I find Iggy’s version of Chian Girl superior to that of Bowie’s (and I an a huge Bowie fan) because it is a bit more raw and unpolished. I thikn that is a big reason I like Iggy and so many punk bands is that it doesn’t take a glossy sheen (and I am talking more than Tommy Shaw’s hair here) for them to make a statement.

    they got in, they ripped the tunes, they got out. Leave it stripped with all the hairy warts and bad notes – not that I don’t appreciate a band or musician that takes the time in some serious post production (read Frank Zappa, God rest his soul) – but it is nice to have a variety of “good” music to bounce around with.

    I do not catgorize Styx as good. I am a huge Kiss fan – were they cheesy? Absolutley. But they are still out there kicing it (for the bucks to be sure) with some of the best 70s pure rock songs ever written. Styx can’t cut it compared to a band like Kiss – they would run away like little girls at the first rumblings of the huge bass intro of God of Thunder. and that is what rock is all about – scaring the hell out of people no mater what.

  • Mr Schultz, Eric, I appreciate this sentiment, “that is what rock is all about – scaring the hell out of people.” Ever heard the Feederz “Jesus Entering from the Rear”? That one would make even Gene Simmon’s wee-wee draw back up into his belly.

    I was never much of a Kiss fan, though I did see the Lick It Up tour, and currently have their big honkin’ box set (overdue) from the library. There’s no denying “Beth” or “Detroit Rock City” though.

    Listening now, I’m taking Styx more in the framework of “singer-songwriters” than “ROCK!” They’re definitely more, if you will, songwriter-y than is Kiss. Then again, Dennis DeYoung never breathed fire like Gene Simmons, literally or metaphorically. Even I have far more Kiss in the collection than Styx, in the ultimate ratings.

    Do, of course, feel free to call me Senator Al. I’m certainly happy to have the moniker, though to re-iterate the obvious, I was, to use the technical terminology, beaten like an ugly red headed step child by Senator (future president?) Bayh.

    Thus, plain old “Al” is fine. In short, feel free to call me whatever you like. Just don’t call me late for supper.

    I’d be happy to refer to you simply as “Eric,” but here at Blogcritics that would be likely assumed a reference to our Dear Leader and site owner Eric Olsen.

  • “Just don’t call me late for supper.”

    I think he was asking you out, Mr. Schultz.

    Singer-songwriter? Please tell me he’s joking and he knows what that means.

    “Al,” you’re too hard on yourself. You’re not a step child ….

    You rent music from the library, Senator? How do they justify buying a KISS box set with taxpayer money? Wasteful.

    That is all.

  • eric schultz

    A date? Maybe – only if Styx is not to be heard… Anyway – we can go on songwriting and ROCK all day – we got Zappa, we got the Kinks, Ithrown down the Ramones against Styx – maybe not for melodic value, but for pur effect. Who else?

    Soundgarden; my sons’ new favorite System of a Down, Tool, and the list goes on and on and if we wanna talk 70s writers, I will throw out Terrbile Ted Nugent (yeah,the Damn Yankees brain trust) over the DYs old band – I would much rather hear about Great White Buffalos or Mouths like Masseratis than the Grand Illusion any day.

    o yeah – put out the bucks for the Kiss box set – even if it isn’t the one set up like a guitar case – money well spent!

  • Mazeltov.

    I think that’s the Senator’s first “maybe” ever. This will be the Summer of Al.

    Just don’t let him play “Entering from the Rear” because that has a way of killing the mood.

    There’s a kind of hush all over the world tonight,
    All over the world you can hear the sound of lovers in looooovveeeee….

    That is all.

  • Arkpod

    Bob: As someone who just happened by and got caught up in reading the thread. I have to say you look quite foolish. You have tried everything but insult his mother to provoke a reply, all to no avail. Take your toys and go home. If you don’t agree with him, state your position and leave it at that. Years of punk music have seemingly rotted your brain!

  • Listen, “Arkpod.”

    I’m not trying to provoke. I’m right and Al’s afraid of me. He gave up long ago trying to debate me on anything because he knows he’s usually wrong.

    That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to point out when he’s wrong for your benefit, dear reader.

    That is all.

  • Jeff

    As someone who can afford to attend any concert I want to (McCartney, U2, Stones, etc.) Styx is awesome in concert. I have seen them 3 times and they hold their own with anyone I have seen.

  • lelo

    you need new songs get a life

  • Gary

    Styx gave me so many childhood memories with their songs, and isn’t that what’s its all about anyway? Long live Dennis DeYoung!