Storied rock band Styx released their album The Mission in 2017 and, to the surprise of many, the concept record delivered a strong batch of songs, performed with a lot of spirit and minimal affectation. By this time, the group had already become fixtures of the classic rock touring circuit, sharing stages with Def Leppard, Foreigner, and others. That they made any new music at all was impressive, given the cold shoulder legacy bands typically receive for doing such. But again, they put out The Mission with the kind of genuine pride one would have seen from them in the late 1970s. This was not a record meant in a live context to signal the urine release/beer refill breaks.
I don’t think they intended that fate for their latest, Crash Of The Crown, either but it kind of is.
I’ll stipulate that I don’t dislike the album, but I do feel it suffers from Styx reminding you tonally that they are Styx. That’s much different from The Mission where the songs did the heavy lifting and it sounded like Styx simply through the convenience that it was who they were. And this is not a preoccupation of this one band alone. I think the majority of bands from the ’70s and ’80s who dare release an album in these cutthroat times up that degree of “remember us?” forcefulness in their presentation.
There’s nothing on the record as jaw-clenching as, say, Dennis DeYoung, the former Styx lead rapping on the band’s 1999 record, Brave New World. The following album, 2003’s Cyclorama, seemed to attempt damage control and several aspects codified that whole “reminder, not performer” dynamic, a bid to let you know this was the band of “Queen of Spades” and “Renegade,” not “High Crimes & Misdemeanors (Hip Hop-Cracy).” Cyclorama, while being a decent enough listen, felt a lot like over-compensation. That’s the feeling I keep getting from Crash Of The Crown, particularly the title cut which comes off like a Queen pastiche. “Reveries” has a heavy “Sing For The Day” undercurrent that isn’t unpleasant, but feels unremittingly strategic.
The official word is that while the record was recorded throughout the global pandemic, the songs were written prior to it, meaning that tracks like “The Fight of Our Lives,” “Hold Back the Darkness,” “Save Us From Ourselves,” and “Coming Out the Other Side” are timely by accident. Of course, much of this reflects what came before the pandemic, the political and social friction and so forth. I give the band credit for not shying away from such thorny overtones, but much of it is heavy-handed in a way that is very Styx-like (see Kilroy Was Here for more details).
I come back to Cyclorama from time to time because it is a decent record with a case of the try-hards. I like Crash Of The Crown similarly and recognize it is equally afflicted. Neither record is going to get the kind of regular interest that The Mission continues to receive from me, so use that as your barometer. If you are a longtime fan, you might be more passionate about this one than I am.