One of the most enduring and prolific bands to effectively straddle the line between prog and pop rock, Styx were a defining factor in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s rock world with records like The Grand Illusion (1977) Pieces of Eight (1978) and Paradise Theater (1981) and still maintain a solid listenership and concert draw to this day. Next year will mark their 50th year together as a band and the 50th anniversary of their eponymous debut album; for right now they’ve followed up 2017’s The Mission with Crash Of The Crown, their 17th studio release to date.
The best way to describe Crash from the outset is as a perfectly fresh throwback; appropriately dated in substance for a legacy act but not sounding stale in production at the same time. “The Fight Of Our Lives” begins with a very proggy, “Foreplay”-esque organ intro, unfolding into Styx for the body of the song and ending in loose “Bohemian Rhapsody” fashion. The melody and mysticism of “A Monster” and “Reveries” dig deeper into Styx’s prog side, while the relatively tamer “Hold Back The Darkness” slows down to let the band’s instrumental capacities shine through clearly. “Save Us From Ourselves” is a slick exercise in AOR in the vein of “Blue Collar Man (Late Nights)”, the following title track channels classic Styx with its seamless dynamic shifts. Conversely, “Our Wonderful Lives” captures the broader mid-to-late-‘70s prog/pop boom the band broke through in to the point that if it weren’t for the banjos in the background you might think you were listening to a mashup of Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” and “Wind Of Change” off Frampton Comes Alive!. Perhaps in retrospect you could call it the A&M sound.
“Common Ground” throws it back even further to Styx’s salad days with drummer Todd Sucherman taking a fair chunk of the spotlight with his percussionistic prowess. The warm, welcoming “Sound The Alarm” is hardly the way it sounds, though it’s a great demonstration that Tommy Shaw still has it after 40+ years with the band; “Long Live The King” picks it up a bit more with a slightly different, updated twist on Styx’s usual sonic shtick. From there it sails over to the interlude “Lost At Sea”, then to “Coming Out The Other Side”; a perfect portrait of a group of comfortably old prog rockers if there ever was one. “To Those” resurrects some of those old anthemic “Come Sail Away” vibes with bits and pieces of The Who thrown in for maximum effect (Maybe it’s just Sucherman’s Keith Moon fills). The (for lack of a better word) horny interlude “Another Farewell” precedes the closer “Stream”, a short, chill number executed in a very Pink Floyd manner with the exception of the more Yes-like vocal harmonies. In short, it’s a prog rock record dummy, and don’t you forget it.
It’s a broken record point to make (no pun intended), but a good chunk of the time when a band has been around for as long as Styx has and still has some modicum of prominence, it’s usually due to nostalgia, musical merit or both. Styx gave the world a string of classics many moons ago that they can eat off of for many moons more; there’s no need or obligation for them to make any more hits for today unless they tried to and succeeded in doing so. Why are they still going in 2021? The love of the music is one very probable reason, money could very well be another, but it’s also because they can still play. You might be getting old, but if you’ve still got it and you still have a fanbase, why quit now? Keep playing until you can’t; that’s something Styx takes to heart as evidenced by their continuing longevity, and judging by the quality of this record that can’t is still a fair way off.