Cyclorama
By Allan Hirt

Basic CD Information
Catalog Number: N/A (Official Reference Disc, No Artwork)
Total Time: 58:07
US Release Date: 2/18/03
Review Date: 1/18/03 (updated 2/7/03)

Track Listing and Lengths
1. Do Things My Way (4:57)
2. Waiting For Our Time (4:12)
3. Fields Of The Brave (3:22)
4. Bourgeois Pig (0:49)
5. Kiss Your Ass Good-bye (3:13)
6. These Are The Times (6:44)
7. Yes I Can (3:51)
8. More Love For The Money (3:48)
9. Together (4:46)
10. Fooling Yourself (Palm Of Your Hands) (0:39)
11. Captain America (3:53)
12. Killing The Thing That You Love (5:36)
13. One With Everything (5:56)
14. Genki Desu Ka (6:14)

Rating (on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best)
a) 3.5 (if you put it in comparison to other Styx albums; for a point of reference, I'd give Grand Illusion a 5, Paradise Theater a 4)
b) 3.75 if you like a good album in this genre

Overall Review
I wrote this review initially on 1/18 when I got the advance, but I wanted to give this a good "burn-in" time, which is a good test for any album. This album still is in my music rotation, and I have not tired of it - it gives a good first impression and continues to grow on me. Easily Styx's strongest and most consistent effort in years, with or without Dennis.

What grabs you immediately from Cyclorama is it feels like an album, not a collection of tracks - which is what Brave New World felt like. And after way too many live albums, it's nice to hear what the band can do. You can definitely hear influences like Queen, the Beatles, Sum 41 (yes you read right), and possibly even Cheap Trick or Supertramp at times. Are there some clunkers on here? Absolutely ... out of 14 tracks, I'm not going to like them all. But overall, it really is a good album (and yes, I would recommend it even if I didn't like Styx; if you're a fan, there are sometimes those albums you know you like, but know others would hate). Will Cyclorama be my new Grand Illusion? No. But will I listen to this before most of BNW? Absolutely. The past few years have been acrimonious to say the least and it's time to get on with the music and let that speak for itself and what Styx can do.

I'd be doing a dishonest review if I didn't bring up anything about Dennis - do I miss Dennis in the vocal mix and in other ways? Sure - you now have an appreciation of what he did bring to the table, but it does not detract from the album at all. The current lineup can be very proud of this. I can see me listening to this album, which is not something I can say about some stuff I own (Arch Allies, anyone?). I am not sure about its commercial prospects ... this is gonna be a hard sell outside of the core fans or people who like classic rock, despite some of the songs that sound more modern. Cyclorama is the kind of album that will sell better on tour because people will hear some of the tunes and then go to the souvenir stand.

This album has already caused controvesy with Styx fans vs. dedicated Dennis fans in terms of some of the lyrical content, and what it does or does nor mean/imply. Whether or not the guys intentionally are venting at Dennis (I could see where "Bourgeois Pig" could be interpreted this way, among others), we will never know 100% for sure and I say get over it. If you choose not to like Cyclor ama or buy it for this reason, then don't. Simple as that. But if Dennis and JY/Tommy can move on, so should the fans.

And as critical as I have been of Lawrence and some of his live performances of songs like "Come Sail Away", I absolutely love two of his songs here and have included them as standouts. I always said that if they moved in the direction of "Criminal Mind", it'd be a good thing. Gowan is not Dennis, and he brought himself to the table - he did not try to be a DDY clone on record.

Having said that,
between Cyclorama and Dennis' "My G-d Can Beat Up Your G-d" (which is a good tune that will hopefully be released on an eventual studio effort from DDY), I'd say Styx fans (if they can put their biases down) have lots to cheer about. Cyclorama still sounds like Styx in many ways, but in many ways it does not sound like the Styx of old in any way, shape, or form. Styx definitely looked in the past to go forward, but it's not an album that wallows in the past to make it faux nostalgia and a bad trip (which is a very good thing). You can tell they put a lot of effort in this, and the nearly three to four years on the road honed their skills and sound as a unit - it paid off.

Cyclorama is a welcome addition to the Styx catalog, and an album that bridges old and new Styx that should please fans old and new alike.


Standout Tracks
"Fields Of The Brave", "One With Everything", "More Love For The Money", "Killing The Thing That You Love", "These Are The Times"

Some Comparisons
I'd be remiss if I didn't compare this to other similar efforts (that I either liked or didn't). Compare this to Journey's Arrival (Columbia, 2001) , which was their first effort without Steve Perry. I liked Arrival, but Cyclorama kicks its butt IMHO. And since, the band (Journey) has tried to shy away a bit from it, hence the Red 13 EP. Arrival even went through two cycles - the original Japanese release, which was criticized as being too ballad heavy, and the eventual US/European release which was better and more balanced.

The Genesis album Calling All Stations (1997, Atlantic), their first (and only) without Phil Collins was not a great album, and a commercial flop on a grand scale. So much so the band called off its US tour even after scaling back the size of the venues. It had some decent songs, and promise for the future if they had gone in certain directions.

The Joe Jackson Band's Volume 4 (due March, 2003, from Rykodisc), is another thing altogether. You have all four original members and the album is awesome. I already have put this in my top 10 for 2003. Like Cyclorama, it has a sense of nostalgia while clearly moving forward.

Production
Overall, the production is better than BNW - you can tell it was made as a band. I have equated BNW to Yes' Union and still stand by that (just compare the JY/Tommy tracks to Dennis' - the mixes and sound is different). Since we all know now it really was more like that, it's not hard to overcome the sonic inequalities of BNW (which didn't help it). As you may have heard on the samples up on StyxWorld.com, Todd's drums are tremendous in the mix. The real thing does not disappoint when you hear it on CD - kudos to the mixing and mastering job because everything (meaning all instruments) seems to sit right in the mix and song-to-song, it's not out of whack. The mastering job is good as well - it didn't detract from the mix or bring anything out that shouldn't have been there. As Tommy said:
"We did the record as a band. In most cases each writer would bring the genesis of a song, then throw it to the band to expand upon. It was very much like 'The Grand Illusion' album … you know, all of the songs went through the gauntlet. We all poked and prodded, added and subtracted, changed and molded each one into a Styx song that really represents the band today."

Track By Track Analysis
1. Do Things My Way - Lead Vocals: Tommy Shaw
I didn't like the synth bass/a capella opening much, but it kicked in about 25 seconds in and that was that. This one sounds like an updated Styx sound - old meets new. Good uptempo album opener. This one should be a good live tune. I could see them opening up a show with this until they drop it LOL ("Everything Is Cool", anyone?)

2. Waiting For Our Time Lead Vocals: Tommy Shaw
We've all heard this one, so I won't wax poetic about it. But sonically, it sounds much better not on MP3, WMA, or RM. The "annoying" treatment on his vox aren't as noticeable here - it's harmony stuff that maybe encoding messes up. They'll do this one live especially since it's the single, but I'd sooner hear some of the other tunes :) Here's Tommy on this song:
"The song 'Waiting For Our Time,' that's the one where suddenly we had our centerpiece … that was the jewel in the whole record right there, like a little musical spokesperson. It embodied everything we wanted in a new STYX song. And J.Y. and I just sort of stumbled on that. We started writing and playing around with something. It really kind of came from self-doubt. We almost scrapped it. My wife and these friends were doing some painting in our house, J.Y. and I took a break and came in complaining, 'We're not getting anywhere.' And they were all going, 'That sounds great, I love that part, that searching part, man, that sounds great.' And we're like, 'You do? Let's go back out there and listen to it.' That gave us enough encouragement to stick with it, and the next thing you know, it was pretty much what you hear on the record."

3. Fields Of The Brave - Lead Vocals: Lawrence Gowan
Did Styx become Queen? This reminds me of mid-period Queen, and that's a good thing. I would actually like to hear this one live, and would be a strong tune.

4. Bourgeois Pig - Lead Vocals: Billy Bob Thornton
OK .. I know what you're saying - "Billy Bob"? Well, it's not what you are thinking, and it's short. Don't worry, Styx is very much here on this tune. Not a live tune.

5. Kiss Your Ass Good-bye - Lead Vocals: Glen Burtnik
I almost wanted to sing "Where You Goin' Now" over the first part of the chorus (just try it when you get it LOL). It's an uptempo Glen tune that is pretty good. They'll do this one live at some point I'm sure. Some have likened this to Sum 41, and here's what Glen had to say:
"I know (the punk sound is) stretching a little, but I kind of feel I've always brought -- even on the Edge of the Century album, which was the first album I did with Styx, Love is the Ritual wasn't really your standard kind of Styx song -- so I always feel I tend to bring something a little more to the band and hopefully it fits in. You know, I've got three kids around my house, well, my youngest, my 11-year-old daughter, listens to a lot of young punk bands. So I've been hearing a lot of that stuff through the walls and through osmosis and I've really come to really like a lot of these bands like Sum 41, Blink 182, so that probably has somewhat influenced me and maybe that led to 'Kiss Your Ass Good-bye'."

6. These Are The Times - Lead Vocals: James Young
Again, you've heard this one. Not going to go into detail. Probably the most overall "classic Styx" sounding tune on the whole CD. I didn't take to the MP3, but hearing it for real smoothed out the sonic issues I had. Definitely a tune they'll kick the tires on live. Here is JY on this tune:
"'These Are the Times' is really an intervention song and what the lyrics are have kind of evolved -- what they are at this stage and what they were when Tommy and I first wrote it. When we first started working on it was seven years ago, it was more about, Tommy was heavily involved, and still is, with drug interventions, and very supportive of a lot of groups that do work in that field and I've been through a number of those, notably with our dearly departed first drummer John Panozzo. The song was about intervening in someone's life, kind of in a way that Chuck (Panozzo), who is now openly a gay man who has come out and announced that he's HIV-positive and his struggles with this -- it's about supporting him. Ultimately, what the lyrics finally evolved into, in a way, was the passing of my younger brother from a lymphoma and when we had to take him off life support. When we were in his room, everyone was around crying and it was very emotional and from the next room comes the sound of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze.' This is in the intensive care unit and I said, 'This is my brother speaking to me, speaking to us.' And it lightened the mood. 'I hear voices from beyond the veil,' it sort of inspired that line, Tommy and I collaborated on that. So that song has kind of become about helping those, that there is something to live for, for those that think there isn't."

7. Yes I Can 3:51 - Lead Vocals: Tommy Shaw
This is a Damn Yankees 3 reject (well, reject is a strong word ... the album was never released). Starts off with just TS and acoustic gtr. This one hits me more like one of Tommy's solo ventures, but with a modern Styx sound to it. Good harmony work, and you can almost hear Dennis singing on this one if they had done this with him; it's just that kind of tune. I can see international audiences latching onto this like they did "Boat On The River". Not a hit like BOTR, but it's just one of those tunes. Beatle-esque musical ending. They may/may not do this live; this could stay an album track for me. Not a favorite at all, but tolerable.

8. More Love For The Money - Lead Vocals: Lawrence Gowan
Styx meets the Beatles and Queen ... I really think Lawrence is showing his influences on his sleeve based on this album. Suprisingly, Larry is 2 for 2 in my book. This coming from the guy who hates his renditions of Dennis tunes live. That's saying a lot.

9. Together - Lead Vocals: Tommy Shaw
OK, a track I genuinely don't like. Welcome to modern Tommy, although vocally, production is better than 7DZ. It kicks in around 1:00, but it feels like an album track. Would have been a hit around 1980 - reminds me a bit of REO when it kicks in.

10. Fooling Yourself (Palm Of Your Hands) 0:39
This is the a capella "Fooling Yourself". Nice to have, and cool to hear Brian Wilson, but not a track I needed.

11. Captain America - Lead Vocals: James Young
From the second this kicks in, you know this is all JY. Reminds me more of something from "City Slicker", actually. This is more typical solo JY with Styx playing backing band IMHO Although this is better than a lot of the solo JY stuff. I can see them doing this live a few times but ultimately dropping it from the set.

12. Killing The Thing That You Love - Lead Vocals: Glen Burtnik
The piano intro lets you know this is a moody tune. I can see this one being done live. In some ways reminiscent of "Criminal Mind" to me. I like this one (take the Dennis lyrical content controversy out ... I don't listen to lyrics). And when you hear it sung, you can tell it was once called "Lennon's Assassain". The instrumental part when it's heavy is reminiscent of older Styx, too.

13. One With Everything - Lead Vocals: Tommy Shaw
This one is more old Styx-sounding in many ways, with a modern twist. Vintage synth emulation (more Keith Emerson in sounds and solo style - you'll hear when you get the CD). Odd-time middle, which is a nice thing to hear in 2003 :) I took to this one instantly. Another live tune.

14. Genki Desu Ka - Lead Vocals: Harmonies and little solo flourishes from LG and TS
This is not Aku-Aku. It's a bit more uptempo, and is definitely a modern sound - closer to things like "I Will Be Your Witness" from BNW. The Tenacious D bit kicks in mid-way through ... it's entertaining. And after after the short bit, it has a short a capella bit to wind up the album. Album track, probably not going to be played live.