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It’s a challenge that faces many bands in the genre: you have a significant, iconic back catalogue, audiences who will happily pay to attend your shows having accepted significant line up changes but… what about studio albums? This is a dilemma that Kansas, Yes and many others have faced over the last 20 years as the dynamic of the music business has morphed on account of technology and audience demands. 1984’s live album, Caught in the Act was the marker for the start of fluctuations in the life of Styx, with the 30+ years between then and 2017’s The Mission producing only 3 studio albums of original material. Perhaps that makes it surprising that such a short time later, we have Crash of the Crown, another new studio album about to be released. The Mission was easily the best album the band had produced since the 80s, so let’s see how the follow up measures up…
Well, I’ll cut to the chase: with Crash of the Crown, the band has captured the essence of the band’s greatest musical moments and crafted a classic album that transcends these times. No, it’s not the Co-Vid album because, as the band have said, most of the writing and some of the recording was completed before lockdown. However, the key to great lyric writing is producing words with universal applicability – on that basis, I think many will find this to be an album that speaks to the times but won’t sound like a historic piece when revisited in the future.
For me, one of the strengths of The Mission was the band demonstrating that musical inventiveness and creativity doesn’t need to mean epic length tracks (the longest track here is 4:00 mins long). “The Fight Of Our Lives” kicks things off with a proggy intro of less than 30 seconds, before the magnificent signature vocals of the band kick in, declaring “We will not give in!”… and they’re off! Four part and five part harmonies are something this band takes in its stride and they standout throughout this album. Tommy Shaw’s vocals lead “A Monster”, a track where just when you think you know where it’s going, takes a left turn into a mid section powered by acoustic guitars and mandolins! Todd Sucherman gets a quick drum solo before a dive-bombing JY guitar solo takes us home. The musical inventiveness within this track that lasts for less then three and half minutes is mindblowing. Credit must go to both the band and “seventh man”, producer Will Evankovich, who himself contributes guitars, keyboards, percussion and vocals.
New boy (!) Lawrence Gowan leads “Reveries” and once again, the band’s playing, singing and full range of skills are all on display as the music segues to “Hold Back The Darkness”. With three powerful lead vocalists, the band can craft superb dynamics – an example being this song which begins with Gowan’s voice accompanied by acoustic guitar, before Tommy Shaw’s voice picks up verse 2 with a darker more melancholic edge. An unexpected guest spot from Winston Churchill launches “Save Us From Ourselves”, with Tommy Shaw sounding almost like Don Henley on this one.
The title track is the first time in their catalogue that a Styx track has featured three lead vocalists… JY’s moody baritone gives way to some furious Hammond organ, kicked into touch by a Shaw-led disco section (yes indeed!) , and a classical piano segment; Brian May style multitrack guitar follows, with a vocoder feature and Gowan conjuring memories of Mr Mercury in the final vocal piece. When you see it written down, you could conclude it’s an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach but in fact the shifts and changes in this track are perfectly executed… and they prove to be a great contrast to the more straightforward “Our Wonderful Lives” which follows. Styx with banjos works completely well in this stripped back sing/ clap along track which is as understated as the previous track was overblown – and a shout out to founder Chuck Panozzo’s bass on this one!
The second half, it feels, opens with the Moog intro to “Common Ground”, which is packed full of signature Styx elements, and is followed by “Sound The Alarm” which features some great Shaw/ Gowan duet moments. The short but inventive “Long Live The King” has entirely different sound, including a great 12-string electric guitar riff. The album itself does have an underlying concept of the light at the end of the tunnel, and the dark situations which we sometimes have to go through to reach it. So you have “Long Live The King” among the songs which touch on the more historic aspects, and the Indian-influenced “Coming Out The Otherside” being a very explicit statement of the concept.
Before the closing orchestrations of “Another Farewell”, we have a dazzling “Styx-In-A-Song” epic in “To Those”. Sucherman’s Moon-like drumming on the verse, with Gowan hitting the top of his range is a stand out album moment. The song builds to a majestic chorus and a “stand and be counted” rallying cry.
For a band approaching 50 years since formation, it’s clear that even a global lockdown, cannot hold this line up back. The fresh ideas, creative arrangements and incredible instrumentation are still coming thick and fast and I would go so far as to say this album stands as one of the very finest in their catalogue.
Released on June 18th, 2021
Key Tracks: Reveries, Save Us From Ourselves, Crash of the Crown
1. The Fight of Our Lives
2. A Monster
4. Hold Back the Darkness
5. Save Us from Ourselves
6. Crash of the Crown
7. Our Wonderful Lives
8. Common Ground
9. Sound the Alarm
10. Long Live the King
11. Lost at Sea
12. Coming Out the Other Side
13. To Those
14. Another Farewell
Line-up / Musicians
James “JY” Young / lead vocals, guitars
Tommy Shaw / lead vocals, guitars
Chuck Panozzo / bass, vocals
Todd Sucherman / drums, percussion
Lawrence Gowan / lead vocals, keyboards
Ricky Phillips / bass, guitar, vocals
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Legendary group Styx – James “JY” Young (lead vocals, guitars), Tommy Shaw (lead vocals, guitars), Chuck Panozzo (bass, vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums, percussion), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals, keyboards) and Ricky Phillips (bass, guitar, vocals)–will release their 17th album June 18 on the band’s label, Alpha Dog 2T/UMe, which will be sold as clear vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and on digital platforms. CRASH OF THE CROWN is the follow-up to STYX’s 16th studio album, THE MISSION which was released June 16, 2017.
Fans can pre-order it here and at Styxworld.com starting Thursday, May 6.
The title track to CRASH OF THE CROWN can be heard here:
The song “Crash of the Crown” itself breaks some brave new world ground for STYX. Actually, it’s the first cut in the band’s storied canon to feature three lead vocalists, seeing how it has James “JY” Young unleashed at the starting gate, Tommy Shaw heading up the heroic stacked-vocal middle section, and Lawrence Gowan leading the vocal charge for the final verse. “I’m always looking for the one different thing we can do and still have it be STYX,” the ever-ebullient Gowan notes, “and that’s the song I’m most proud of. The beauty of it is that it’s the culmination of all our talents crammed together into one song, ABBEY ROAD-style. I also got to use some gear I never thought I’d have the chance to play on a STYX record like Tommy’s Hammond B3 organ, my Minimoog, and my Mellotron.”
Efforts to record CRASH OF THE CROWN began in earnest at Shaw’s home studio in Nashville during the fall of 2019, with Gowan — STYX’s criminally minded showman extraordinaire and keyboardist/vocalist since 1999 — in the room together with Shaw and the album’s producer, Will Evankovich, as he conjured up the album’s first song to be recorded, with cosmetic flourishes that reign over the insistent, yearning call for togetherness, “Common Ground.” But the global pandemic that inevitably transformed the way we all wound up living in 2020 changed the course for how many of the band’s home-and-away recording sessions ultimately had to set socially distanced sail. Safety precautions took precedent for all involved STYX bandmembers and production compatriots with much diligent quarantining and testing required before any one of them could travel to Shaw’s tranquility homebase to spread the uniquely ingrained STYX stardust that’s been duly sprinkled across the album’s cosmically chosen 15 tracks.
Of all those who made the trek to Nashville, original STYX bassist Chuck Panozzo — who, along with his late twin brother, drummer John Panozzo, formed the initial nucleus of STYX when they began jamming together in their basement on the south side of Chicago in 1961 — is hands down the most effusive about the experience. “I’m constantly amazed at how Tommy’s songwriting continues to connect with the social consciousness that spans across generations,” marvels Chuck, who plays on “Our Wonderful Lives” and “Lost at Sea,” Lawrence’s all-too-brief aquatic fever dream. “Both he and Will have been able to tap into the core elements of the human condition, which is something that’s not going to change that much in 50 years — or even 500 years. That’s why STYX remains relevant after all this time, because we’re part of the human condition.”
Whether it’s the heady rush of the groundwork-laying opening track “The Fight of Our Lives,” the wistfully observational treatise of “Reveries,” the cautionary extended hand of comfort and redemption that frames “Hold Back the Darkness,” the undeniable uplift of “Our Wonderful Lives” (a beautiful sentiment further embellished by a most welcome, first-ever appearance by a banjo on a STYX album!), or the elegiac clarion call for shared grace in “To Those,” CRASH OF THE CROWN is music that is both concurrently of its time and truly timeless all at once. Although the official release date for this landmark album may be time-stamped as 2021, the omnisciently observational content of CRASH OF THE CROWN readily brings to mind an amalgamation of historical events that occurred in 1066, 1455, 1775, 1861, 1941, and even 2001 without citing any of them by name — Winston Churchill’s prescient wartime observations that permeate the pervasive pleas of “Save Us From Ourselves” notwithstanding. In essence, CRASH OF THE CROWN (or COTC, for short) is a modern-day sonic chronograph of the endless regenerative cycle of the rise and fall — and rise again — of our shared human experience.
“We’ve never been a protest band. We’re more like a gospel caravan trying to send out positive messages wherever we go,” observes CRASH OF THE CROWN co-creator and overall visionary Tommy Shaw, who joined STYX in December 1975 as a guitarist/vocalist and instantly became one of the band’s most important songwriters. “In order to share those positive messages, you have to look at what the problems are first to figure out all the ways you can help make sure everything’s going to be alright. That’s a very important part of how we do what we do.”
Though COTC takes a hard look at some inherently dark subjects, the prevalent light at the end of the tunnel eventually becomes each song’s focal point — a persistent fervor to keep moving forward and achieve the greater good.
STYX’s holy mission for cutting CRASH OF THE CROWN was crystal-clear to its co-creator from the get-go. “Absolutely no obstacles were going to get in the way of how we approached creating this album,” Shaw concludes about the herculean recording efforts of his fellow COTC makers. “And everything came out exactly the way we wanted to hear it.”
For Record Store Day on Saturday, June 12, STYX will also release THE SAME STARDUST EP on blue 180-gram 12-inch vinyl only, which will feature two brand-new songs on side one (“The Same Stardust” and “Age of Entropia”), as well as five live performances on side two of some of STYX’s classic hits previously heard during their “STYX Fix” livestreams that have been keeping fans company during the pandemic on their official YouTube page, including “Mr. Roboto,” “Man In The Wilderness,” “Miss America,” “Radio Silence,” and “Renegade.”
In touring news, STYX and COLLECTIVE SOUL are rested, healthy, and ready to hit the road for their first-ever multiple city tour together. STYX had previously announced their return to Las Vegas with a three-night sold-out engagement at The Venetian Theatre inside The Venetian® Resort Las Vegas on September 24, 25, and 26, which will include an exclusive set list and brand-new stage production. Tickets for various cities, as well as exclusive VIP packages from each band, are available now at StyxWorld.com and CollectiveSoul.com.
Check out the band’s itinerary below, with more shows to be announced soon:
DATE CITY VENUE
With Collective Soul:
Wed 6/16 St. Augustine, FL St. Augustine Amphitheatre (STYX only)
Fri 6/18 Alpharetta, GA Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
Sat 6/19 Southaven, MS Landers Center
Sun 6/20 Brandon, MS Brandon Amphitheatre
Tue 6/22 Louisville, KY Waterfront Park
Thu 6/24 Lincoln, NE Pinewood Bowl Amphitheatre
Fri 6/25 Bonner Springs, KS Providence Medical Center Amphitheatre
Sat 6/26 Camdenton, MO Ozarks Amphitheater
Sun 6/27 Oklahoma City, OK Zoo Amphitheatre
Fri 9/24 Las Vegas, NV The Venetian Theatre (STYX only)
Sat 9/25 Las Vegas, NV The Venetian Theatre (STYX only)
Sun 9/26 Las Vegas, NV The Venetian Theatre (STYX only)
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