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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Styx

Crystal Ball

Review by Gary Hill

Crystal Ball was the first Styx album to feature Tommy Shaw and his sound and influence can be heard here – at least at times. In many ways, though, this album feels a lot like its predecessor Equinox. It’s really a great disc and also provides sort of a bridge between the earlier Styx sonic architecture and the elements that would become their new sound with the album that follows it Grand Illusion.

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Track by Track Review
Put Me On
Overall this is a straight ahead hard rocker, ala James Young. That said there are some proggy instrumental segments and full on prog rock jam. We also get a tasty little mellower movement that’s got Dennis DeYoung’s proggier sensibilities all over it. The outro consists of a speeding up, like a record (remember those?) switched from 33 RPM to 45 while the disc is spinning.
Mademoiselle
This rocker has more of the standard Styx proggy bombast. It’s a good tune that feels like it would have fit quite nicely on Equinox. This is one of two pieces here that I can remember hearing on the radio.
Jennifer
The opening non-lyrical vocals make me think of Yes. They pull this out into another energized rocker. They just keep the great songs coming with this one. It’s got some screaming guitar solos on it and this seems like a great transition between the Styx sounds of the previous Equinox disc and Grand Illusion which would be their next album.
Crystal Ball
This is the first song with Tommy Shaw’s trademark. It’s also a great piece of music. Essentially an acoustic guitar based ballad given a more Styx hard rock bombast treatment, this is probably my favorite cut here. It’s a case where the track that got the most airplay is the best one. It still holds up quite well and is quite proggy. 
Shooz
A hard rocker with a bluesy texture, this reminds me a lot of “Midnight Ride” from Equinox. It’s a good tune, but if there’s a weak spot here (and that’s questionable), this is it. Parts of this feel a lot like ZZ Top. 
This Old Man
Here we have one of the most purely prog moments on the disc. The track alternates between musical motifs that are almost world music inspired and some that feel like a prog take on spaghetti western music. There’s an ELP-like break and this is a cool track. It’s one of my favorites here, but I still prefer the title number and the closer.
Clair De Lune / Ballerina
They close with the most progressive rock oriented track on show. The first segment of this is a pretty piano solo, but from there they launch out into an evocative prog rock jam. At first it’s a keyboard ballad treatment, but from there they give us a lot of intriguing changes, moods and motifs. It’s a great way to end the disc and if “Crystal Ball” has any competition for its place as the best cut here – this would be the other contender.
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