Qobuz new release review (June 2021)
Now four decades past their commercial peak, Styx has no business making an interesting album, much less two interesting albums less than five years apart. But somehow the band has found time between the long and lucrative touring runs they continue to make through summer’s amphitheaters and winter’s casinos to write, arrange, and record two intriguing sets of new material over the past few years. 2017’s The Mission was the band’s first new album of originals in 14 years and it was a revelatory shot across the bow, marking their return to the New Releases section with an imaginatively conceived (if slightly daffy), well-constructed, and immaculately recorded concept album that evoked the creative energy of the band’s heyday in an organic and modern way that was far less embarrassing than similar recent efforts from some of their contemporaries. Had The Mission been the group’s final album — after all, do legacy classic rock acts even need to make new albums these days? — it would have been a high note to go out on; however, it’s clear that whatever inspiration prompted that album’s exceptional quality is still very much a part of the band’s DNA.
Similarly, Crash of the Crown is a conceptually linked batch of songs (though their “regular folks versus The Man” concept is definitely more diffuse than the interplanetary travelogue of The Mission) that highlights Styx’s strengths in an age-appropriate way. The band is neither trying to magically time-travel and pretend like it’s 1977 again, nor are they attempting any sort of sad, doomed bid for contemporary relevance. Instead, the dozen proper songs (three tracks are interstitial bits) feature what’s expected from Styx — big choruses, melody lines played on vintage synths, occasional guitar fireworks, and lots and lots of multilayered vocals — and are accented by somewhat surprising filigree such as banjo, dulcimer, and tabla, showing that the band is still willing to explore new sonic avenues. While some may want to call Crash a “return to form,” thanks to familiar elements like the “Sing for the Day”-style open chords of “Common Ground” or the soaring harmonies of “To Those,” this is very much not a retro album. Yes, Styx is definitely still a band of Baby Boomers making rock ’n’ roll in the year 2021, but they have continued to grow and evolve their sound comfortably and organically, making them a laudable outlier among their peers. © Jason Ferguson/Qobuz