Big Bang Theory
By Allan Hirt

Basic Information

Label: New Door Records/UMe (USA/Canada)/Frontiers Records (Europe)
Release Catalog Number: B0004414-02 (US)/FRCD246 (Europe)
US Release Date: May 10, 2005
EU Release Date: May 16, 2005
Canada Release Date: May 24, 2005 (same catalog number as the US)

Review Date: April 22, 2005

Track Listing (52:06)
1. I Am The Walrus (The Beatles) 4:41 - Lawrence Gowan lead vocals
2. I Can See For Miles (The Who) 4:29 - Tommy Shaw lead vocals
3. Can't Find My Way Home (Blind Faith) 3:25 - Tommy Shaw lead vocals
4. It Don't Make Sense (You Can't Make Peace) (Willie Dickson) 4:10 - James Young lead vocals
5. I Don't Need No Doctor (Humble Pie) 4:24 - Lawrence Gowan lead vocals
6. One Way Out (The Allman Brothers) 4:42 - Tommy Shaw lead vocals
7. Salty Dog (Procul Harum) 4:02 - Lawrence Gowan lead vocals
8. Summer In The City (The Lovin' Spoonful) 3:25 - Tommy Shaw lead vocals
9. Manic Depression (Jimi Hendrix) 4:00 - James Young lead vocals
10. Talkin' About The Good Times (The Pretty Things) 3:57 - harmony lead vocal; sounds like Lawrence Gowan in the forefront
11. Locomotive Breath (Jethro Tull) 3:33 - James Young lead vocals
12. Find The Cost Of Freedom (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) 1:14 - full band (sounds like Ricky is prominent here)
13. Wishing Well (Free) 3:39 - Tommy Shaw lead vocals
14. Blue Collar Man @ 2120 6:30

Ratings (on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best)
Overall: 4
Track Listing: 4
Sonics: 3.75

I. General Comments
I will be the first to admit that when I heard that Styx was going to do an album of cover tunes, I was a bit skeptical. I will also admit that tribute albums/cover albums are usually mediocre at best, with a few tunes being very good, and others, downright horrendous. The rationale for Big Bang Theory largely stems from the success Styx found from getting their live version of "I Am The Walrus" played on radio. "Manic Depression" has also been a live staple for about the past year. Styx themselves played many cover tunes early on in their career. On the old StyxWorld site, there was even a setlist up there which I remember included tunes like "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull, so this album is an insight into the formative years of the band.

Tommy Shaw is no stranger to cover/tribute albums, as he has played on many including ones to Pink Floyd, the Who, and Kiss among others, and he and Jack Blades have a new Shaw/Blades covers album coming out this summer called Influence.

The standout tracks in my opinion are "I Don't Need No Doctor", "I Am The Walrus", "Salty Dog", "Manic Depression", "Locomotive Breath", and "Blue Collar Man". "I Can See For Miles" is good, but is more of a straight reading and I think Styx could have made their own a bit more. Styx had fooled with the Who on live radio on WPLJ awhile back (with Dennis), so I was slightly disappointed in this one.

Big Bang Theory also includes the songs the band recorded at legendary Chess Studios, "It Don't Make No Sense (You Can't Make Peace)" and a revamped version of "Blue Collar Man". The former is OK, and is a hybrid of acoustic blues and electric. The acoustic part works much better and it would have been interesting to hear that way all the way through.

The reworking of "Blue Collar Man" is probably the thing that will intrigue Styx fans the most. I like it. It is now done in a more jangly, bluesy feel which fits right in with Tommy Shaw's roots. This is my favorite TS tune on this CD. While I do like this, my only real comment would have been that if Gowan had used an organ instead of a piano, I think it may have added a bit more of a bluesy feeling, but the piano also works well here. Other artists "reinvent" themselves or their tunes frequently, and I would be curious to hear Styx do this type of treatment to other tunes.

The harmonies are impeccable all the way through (good example: "Find The Cost Of Freedom"), and the performances overall from all players are good. There is nothing glaring here (like "Brave New World (Reprise)" from Brave New World) which makes you question the production or performances.

Unfortunately, not every tune here works for me. "One Way Out" is played well, but Tommy's vocals actually ruin it for me. This should have been a good showcase for him given his history, but for some reason it feels like his vocals lack a bit of energy and grit as you can hear when he was younger on songs like "Blue Collar Man" (the one from Pieces of Eight, not the one on here). "Summer In The City" feels the same to me. "Wishing Well" is better, but still not what I would have expected. I hate to say it, this is how many felt about DDY's voice to some degree when he "went Broadway" with the added vibrato, etc. In this case, Tommy is singing these almost too straight for my liking. Again, the knock here on the vocals is not to take away from the musical performances at all. I guess it's just coincidence that the Tommy Shaw tracks are the ones I like the least on this album.

Once again, both Lawrence Gowan and Todd Sucherman continue to impress me on Styx recordings. Gowan's outings on Big Bang Theory are among the strongest. While I am and will always be a fan of Dennis DeYoung, both Cyclorama and Big Bang Theory show what Lawrence can do when he is being himself. He sounds very "at home" on these tunes.

If you read a few of my reviews of Styx live or the past few releases, you can clearly see I am a fan of Todd's drumming. He is arguably one of the best drummers on the scene right now. He has great intuition and feel and plays to the tune, not to showcase his drumming. He can do the "wow" fills, as well as lay back on a tune like "Salty Dog".

JY sounds like he is having fun on this record, and his tunes showcase him well.

Big Bang Theory marks the recording debut of Ricky Phillips, and his bass playing is rock solid and does not call attention to itself, which is where it should be.

II. Sonics
This album sounds good ... my issue is that it is too clean for its own good. Sure, things are digital these days, and heaven knows I've done plenty of my own digital recordings, but there could be a bit more vintage grit applied in the signal chain. Here is a good example: in "I Don't Need No Doctor", it does sound like vintage Styx, but lacks what appears to be that analog and tube sound that grits it up a bit. There is nothing wrong with the production - it's recorded flawlessly - but my number reflects the overall lack of a vintage vibe that I didn't feel.

III. Artwork
My copy is an advance release, and only has a basic front insert with the album art and a backing insert with the track listing. When I buy the real copy on May 10, I will update this section. The European release will come in a slipcase.

IV. Conclusion
While I do not see this CD being a logical followup to Cyclorama, it is a nice ride and fun to listen to - definitely recommended for fans of classic rock who or Styx fans who want to hear the band in a whole new light. It's a solid album. In the Styx catalog, ultimately this will become an interesting curio. What stands out more to me is that hearing the band as it is configured now (Gowan, Phillips, Shaw, Sucherman, and Young) on tape for the first time, you can hear chemistry. Let's hope this translates into a good album of originals that they are supposedly working on and will record sometime in the not too distant future.