Styx – Man of Miracles (1974)

Styx_Miracles4 out of 5 Stars!

One of the seemingly forgotten Styx albums from the early days of the band’s career, Man of Miracles showed the group steadily heading in the direction that would eventually bring it fame and fortune.

The straightforward hard-rocking tunes (most featuring James Young on lead vocals) and the more melodic AOR and Pomp Rock tunes mixed with a generous amount of Prog Rock influences (usually with Dennis DeYoung on lead vocals), are rather evenly distributed. Some standout tracks include the heavier “Rock & Roll Feeling,” “Havin’ A Ball,” and “Southern Woman,” while the better AOR/Pomp Rock songs include “Christopher, Mr. Christopher,” “Evil Eyes,” and “Golden Lark.” Yet to me, the best tunes included here are, undoubtedly, the most Prog-oriented ones, “A Song for Suzanne” and the glorious title track. And despite the numerous styles on Man of Miracles (or, for that matter, the majority of early Styx albums, up until around 1978’s Pieces of Eight), the group nevertheless sounds cohesive, with the “juggling of musical styles” quite balanced, which proved a band hallmark.

Although Man of Miracles didn’t include any “hits,” I found much of the material easily digestible and ended up playing the album rather often through the years, more so than many of the group’s later “hit-oriented” collections.

Although the next album, Equinox, would become the first to truly catapult the band to loftier heights, Man of Miracles proved itself a worthy and solid launching pad.

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Styx – The Grand Illusion (1977)

Styx_GrandIllusion5 out of 5 Stars!

While reading album reviews on some music-related websites regarding this band’s output, it becomes instantly apparent that people either love Styx or detest Styx with every fiber of their being. Either the praise flows in abundance, or the venom spews forth, with very few “middle of the road” attitudes. Then again, it stands to reason—as the band’s career progressed, Styx could squarely fit into no particular category. The group wasn’t always Progressive, not always commercial, not always hard-rocking, not always ballad-meisters. Styx had its own sound, which changed through the years as the mood struck and musical trends changed. But whether you loved or hated the band, one thing was certain—Styx would not be ignored.

I’ve always considered myself a fan of the band (perhaps because of its “local sons” status, seeing as the group was based in my hometown of Chicago). Although, like many fans, I also faced major disappointments (Mr. Roboto being a prime example). Nevertheless, when Styx was on its game, it was, in my eyes, one of the best bands in the biz. Although there’s usually a debate among Styx fans which of the albums is considered the “masterpiece,” most fans agree it’s one of the three albums marked by the arrival of guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw—Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, or Pieces Of Eight. (The last album of the pre-Tommy Shaw period, Equinox, comes darned close, but doesn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye.)

My selection for the masterpiece would have to be The Grand Illusion. It has everything you could love (or loathe) about Styx all rolled into one record—the pomp and circumstance (“The Grand Illusion,” “Castle Walls,” and the middle section of “Come Sail Away”), the kick-ass arena-type rockers (“Miss America”, “Superstars,” and the second half of “Come Sail Away”), and the ballads (the opening section of “Come Sail Away” and “Man In The Wilderness”). The three unique lead vocalists (an updated version of Three Dog Night, if you will) proved a formidable and blazing team, and The Grand Illusion displays a band with purpose, with imagination, with talent, and drive.

Unfortunately, commercial radio attempted to shove this album down everyone’s throats (as they would with the Pieces Of Eight album the following year as well, then the over-sappy DeYoung ballads that ensued), which helped to create that strong dividing line between Styx-lovers and Styx-haters. Fortunately for me, I never listened much to commercial radio, so I didn’t have to contend with the “overkill,” therefore The Grand Illusion probably remains fresher to me than to many others. It still represents everything good to many (or horrid to some) about one of America’s most recognizable and successful acts, and has a special place on my shelf.

 

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