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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Styx

Brave New World

Review by Greg Olma

This particular release from Styx is often overlooked but for the life of me, I don’t know why.  While it sees the return of Tommy Shaw, it also marks the first full studio album without founding member John Panozzo who died a few years earlier.  While I would not hold Brave New World as one of the best Styx records, it is a really good disc of varied tunes.  Even in the band’s heyday, Styx always held one foot in the prog-rock arena and this 1999 disk is no different.  Some songs are pomp-rock and others are ballads but overall, the album as a whole has a very progressive feel.  The reason behind this is because the band wrote songs and threw caution to the wind when it came to style.  In my opinion, that was the reason Styx became one of the biggest groups in the 70s and early 80s.  Brave New World harkens back to that idea that a good song is a good song no matter what style or genre.  Radio ignored this release back in 1999 but I think people should give this one a listen.  They might realize that the band was still able to come up with “the goods” on the cusp of the millennium.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
I Will Be Your Witness

The album starts off with a Tommy Shaw composition that begins with a little intro music before it properly starts as something that would have fit nicely on Cornerstone.  It has your typical Shaw hooky chorus and some cool modern guitar riffs (for the time).

Brave New World

Shaw gets the honor of having (and singing) the title track which has a number of different elements.  There are some Middle Eastern sounds that sit alongside a chorus that has a heavy Journey vibe.  Add to that some vocals that give the song an epic feel and you have the definition of a classic Styx song.

While There’s Still Time

Dennis DeYoung finally puts his stamp on this record with this ballad that is pure DeYoung.  For Styx fans, you will get the last sentence but for those non-Styx fans, what I mean by that statement is that DeYong was able to craft the perfect ballad and still have rock fans loving it.

Number One

This song has a very modern feel and is one of the heavier rock tunes on Brave New World.  Even though I tend to like the harder edged Styx material, this song is one of my least favorite on offer here.  It’s not bad, it just doesn’t have the “x factor” that many of the other tunes possess.

Best New Face

Here is another song that is similar to the previous one but it has a funky swagger that makes it infectious.  Shaw has a knack of writing very catchy pieces, and this one is no different.

What Have They Done to You

James Young and Shaw trade some vocals for this cut that has a very “big” sound.  It has many of the earlier Styx qualities like big vocal harmonies, guitars that are rocking but not taking over the tune, and very catchy melodies.

Fallen Angel
This is your typical DeYoung ballad, and that is not a bad thing.  It has a very Paradise Theater vibe to it and would have fit very nicely on that record.
Everything Is Cool

Things start off with a bit of a short intro before a heavy guitar riffs brings things to a legitimate start.  Shaw is the creator of this rocking tune that has a very 80s vibe.  Like many of the tunes on this disc, this one also contains an infectious chorus that will be stuck in your head for days (in a good way, of course).

Great Expectations
If Styx and Toto ever collaborated, then this track would be the result.  DeYoung sidesteps his ballad style and comes up with this really cool tune.  It has a bit of a lazy summer vibe to it due to its reggae elements.  What makes Styx a great prog band is that they take chances and produce songs that are stylistically different than your typical Styx cut but still manage to make it their own.
Heavy Water

The record goes back to heavier territory with “Heavy Water.” This Young/ Shaw penned piece has them trading lead vocals over heavy guitar riffs mixed with some acoustic guitar parts.  Again, we get those classic Styx vocal harmonies in the catchy chorus.

High Crimes & Misdemeanors

Like the opening cut, this tune sounds like it was possibly a demo for the Cornerstone album.  It has a very 80s Styx sound but with more modern lyrics.

Just Fell In
This is a weird track.  It has a 60s/early 70s vibe but the horns take it to a different place.   “Just Fell In” is definitely the odd man out on this disc.  No other song is remotely like it, and it doesn’t even sound like a Styx song.
Goodbye Roseland

DeYoung’s final addition to this record is another ballad that is in the Paradise Theater mold.  There’s not much to say about this tune other than if you like his songwriting, you’ll find this one to be on par with his other work.

Brave New World (Reprise)

Things end on a high point with this Styx/Toto hybrid of a song.  I’m glad they ended things with a really cool tune that is not exactly like “Brave New World” (without the reprise).  They were also able to sneak in a really good guitar solo that makes this cut stand out even more.

 

 

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