I spent a few days up in the mountains of northern Arizona with my dog Marty recently. Sitting there at camp, staring out into the forest got me thinking about the album cover for Styx’ “The Grand Illusion.”
This led me down the rabbit hole of re-listening to the four pack of middle era Styx albums that my brother John used to listen to with great regularity in the early 1980s. Here’s some capsule reviews:
The Grand Illusion (1977)
An epic ode to mindfulness and its antithesis – jealousy, The Grand Illusion is wall to wall brilliance. It rocks, hard. It progs, progressively. Dennis DeYoung’s carnival barker persona is here in full flight, tempered by JY Young’s roaring round toned fuzz guitar and Tommy Shaw’s piercing melodics. Brothers Panozzo pin down the rhythm section – playing the parts with as much melody they can shoehorn into the proceedings while remaining nearly invisible. Their best album?
Pieces of Eight (1978)
Side two of Pieces of Eight is wall to wall barn burning super hits – “Blue Collar Man” anthem, the proto-metal of “Queen of Spades”, Shaw’s epic “Renegade”, “Pieces of Eight” yet another pocket symphony by DeYoung crammed into a 4 minute song.
Side one, by comparison is awfully obvious and played with a frightening level of conviction.
Cornerstone picks up where Pieces of Eight’s side one leaves off, but manages to push things forward. Less fantasy, more human, but still a little goofy and stiff in that Gentle Giant/Camel kinda way. The original vinyl packaging was something special… deluxe fold out with the cover inside of a cover inside.
Paradise Theatre (1981)
Not sure if I can bring any analysis to the table here that hasn’t already been said, but I hear another great DeYoung concept that was somewhat diluted by having to include other band members output into the scheme of things. Fortunately, their songs of decay did fit into the modern decay narrative of side 2.