The new Styx album Crash of the Crown dropped a few hours early on the evening of June 17th around 9pm PST. I’ve been eagerly awaiting it’s release for months so I happily gave it a few listens before bed last night and a couple more top to bottom listens this am… I’m pleased to report that it is a very solid Styx album. This is the Shaw/Evankovich era of Styx as most of the tracks are written by Tommy Shaw and Will Evankovich. Lawrence Gowan joins in as a writer on about a third of the album as well.
I really like the overall sound of this release. It’s a progressive rock feast with some very solid songs. It harkens back to the signature sound of their heyday, while also sounding very much like modern day Styx. Gowan has keyboard sounds he prefers and they are similar to (but not exactly like) the keyboard sounds that former member and band founder Dennis DeYoung would use. I believe this is the first Styx album to ever feature a Mellotron. Speaking of keyboards, I do feel that some of the songs could have used a little more in choice places on some of the more guitar heavy songs in order to stay rooted to the true Styx sound. For example I’d replace the piccolo solo at the end of “Our Wonderful Lives” with a keyboard part (ah-la-Fooling Yourself) but that’s a very minor gripe, because all the keyboard parts sound pretty great and that piccolo part in the aforementioned song is a really cool and different choice that works fantastically.
Tommy Shaw takes about 75-80% of the vocals on this album, with the occasional Gowan lead vocal and sadly JY is relegated to only a couple of lines at the beginning of the title track, which is a shame. I didn’t necessarily need a whole JY song, but I would have enjoyed hearing his iconic baritone in a couple more choice spots on the record. I do not have my pre-ordered vinyl yet so I haven’t read all the liner notes, but it feels like a very Shaw heavy album in the guitar department as well. I can only really pick out JY’s style in the solo at the end of “A Monster” and “Save Us From Ourselves” but I’m sure he’s playing a lot of other guitar parts elsewhere. Mostly I hear the excellent melodic phrasing that is a signature trait of Tommy’s guitar style.
Now that I’ve got my longtime fan gripes out of the way, there is a lot to praise on Crash Of The Crown: The harmonies! The excellent acoustic guitar work! The soaring choruses and Chuck Panozzo’s bass playing on a couple of tracks! Not to mention Todd’s exquisite drumming, Ricky Phillips bass runs and inspired songwriting by Shaw, Gowan and Evankovich.
There is a wealth of great Styx moments here and it’s an overwhelming act to process it all on the first listen. This music rewards any listener who gives it repeated listening. There are subtle hooks, repeating themes, and the whole record has a nice, natural flow to the sequencing of the song order. Had the band released this album after parting ways with DeYoung as the follow up to Brave New World in the late 90’s Styx might have regained some of the mainstream popularity they rightly deserve. Sadly, I think Cyclorama, while a decent record, didn’t quite sound enough like Styx (apart from a few tracks like “These are the Times”) and the subsequent barrage of live releases, cover albums and lack of new material relegated their still excellent live show to smaller and smaller venues, state fairs, and casino gigs.
Here in 2021 we are currently experiencing a strong Styx renaissance of new material. For my money, 2017’s The Mission is a modern Styx classic that has a depth to it that is unlike any other Styx record while at the same time returning to classic Styx production that flexes their signature sound. This follow up, Crash of The Crown is a far lighter affair, but that’s not a bad thing. At it’s core Styx are an uplifting rock band full of hope, and after The Mission’s journey to the inhospitable Martian landscape, Crash of The Crown returns the band back to Earth with an exceptional exploration of the adversity, challenges and resolve of the human experience that may resonate more with both casual and long time Styx fans. There is no heavy concept about deep space or a dystopian future where robots ban rock music, but rather a buoyant and hopeful and adventurous rock record that I think may be destined to be a Styx classic.