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Non-Prog CD Reviews



Review by Gary Hill

Earlier Styx CD’s fell pretty firmly in the realm of progressive rock. This disc comes close. I nearly put it there, but there are enough tracks that don’t qualify to get this into the “non prog” classification. That said this is still an incredible disc. It was the last one before Tommy Shaw joined and it’s so strong that even the weak material is pretty incredible. The closing epic “Suite Madame Blue” is one of the quintessential rock tracks of the 1970’s. If that were the only great song here this would be a worthy acquisition. Fortunately it’s not, making this even more desirable.

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Track by Track Review
Light Up
An introduction that is both typical Styx and seriously prog rock in nature gives way to the main song structure. This is a 1970’s styled rocker that’s quite catchy. They work through a number of interesting changes. This was a big radio hit at the time but with lines like “Light up and be happy” and “When you’re near all I need is just one hit to get me by” it seems unlikely this would have gone anywhere in today’s politically correct world. The track is a great example of how progressive rock elements can be pulled together into a song that’s catchy and entertaining. I like this one a lot and it still holds up well.
A mellow keyboard based section leads this off. They alternate between this and a more hard rocking sound. This is another track that got a lot of airplay in its day. It’s also another that merges more pure progressive rock with catchy mainstream sounds. It’s also another strong piece on a disc that’s full of them.
Mother Dear
A prog rock oriented keyboard solo leads off here. As they move out into the harder rocking portion of the introduction I can hear a lot of Starcastle in the mix. They drop it way back for the first vocals and the keyboards solo around. We are taken on a serious thrill ride with a number of alternating sections. There are some killer instrumental passages that make you think of different bands here and there. The thing is, this jam is seriously prog rock. Call the rest of the album what you like, but this one needs no arguing to fit there.
Lonely Child
With a lyric about “making love in the morning light” with a “Lonely Child,” this song probably wouldn’t make it these days either. Mind you, I’m not saying this is about a pedophile, but I’m saying that the use of “child” in the description of someone I would imagine to be a legal age lady wouldn’t fly today. The worst would be assumed. In any event, this track is another that’s progressive rock to my ears. I’ll give you that it’s not the slam dunk that “Mother Dear” was, but the opening segment is without question prog. The balladic motif that follows could certainly be argued in that direction fairly easily. As to the more hard rocking segment later, it’s got enough prog to land it there combined with the rest of the music here. Whatever you label it, though, while it might not be the best track on the disc, it’s quite strong. That’s an indication of how good this CD really is.
Midnight Ride
This stomper has “James Young” written all over it. Just like his later compositions like “Miss America” this is a pounding stomper that leans toward metallic elements. Just like all those other great tunes, this is a killer.
Born For Adventure
They open this with a quirky jam that combines classical music with hard rock. It powers out from there into a stomper that reminds me a lot of Uriah Heep. This might well be the weakest song on the disc. That said, this is still quite strong. There’s a killer proggy instrumental section later and when they drop it down after and bring it back up it’s priceless. The echoed vocal line is a nice touch. 
Prelude 12
This acoustic guitar solo introductory piece reminds me of Styx meets Steve Howe. It’s a cool proggy interlude.
Suite Madame Blue

And here we have the masterpiece! This song by itself would be worth the price of admission. This is an epic piece in the classic 1970’s style. It follows the pattern of tracks like “Stairway to Heaven” by alternating mellower, ballad-like sections with harder rocking jams in an ever increasing intensity. Musically it has a lot in common with Judas Priest’s “Beyond The Realms of Death.” Lyrically it is close to The Guess Who’s “American Woman.” It transcends both of those, though and is seriously one of the classic songs of the 1970’s. This is a must have for every classic rock fan’s collection. While many think of this as a love song and others as a tribute to the United States, it is both of those and neither. It showcases a person who loves his country but saw that the nation was in trouble and needed new direction to find its way. Deep love of country isn’t blind patriotism but feeling the need to express dissatisfaction and the need for change. Such is the lyrical theme of this. It is such an incredible piece of music and a wonderful way to end the disc.

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