By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
STYX – KILROY WAS HERE (1983)
The 11th album to be released by Styx made a really big impression on me back in 1983. More accurately, it was the lead single from the album that left its mark on me.
If you were a music fan at that time, you’ll probably remember just how ingrained the song “Mr. Roboto” was on the radio. Given that it made it all the way to #3 on the singles chart, you probably couldn’t get away from the song.
But that was okay with me. I was 12, and in the relative infancy of my music appreciation. I didn’t own a lot of music of my own yet so I was always listening to the radio, including American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, to hear songs…and hoping to hear the ones I really liked again and again. This would included “Mr. Roboto”. I really loved everything about the song.
But I never owned the actual album. Heck, it wasn’t until many years later that I even knew that the album was a concept album. The notion of an album telling a single story across each song wasn’t something I was aware of at that particular age and level of musical experience.
So despite this album being a big seller, it wasn’t until I bought the cassettes that make up “The Big Box of Cassettes” from which I pull the material for this series that I had the chance to listen to Kilroy Was Here in full.
Now that I have, I’m left feeling kind of underwhelmed by the experience. The storyline revolves around a future time where rock music is outlawed. Okay, it might not be the most original story but when the album was created, music was under it’s latest siege by those who hated rock music. So it was at least a timely response upon the album’s original release.
But the nine tracks varied wildly in quality for me. I still love “Mr. Roboto”, but as I listened to the song before writing this piece, I think a little of the shine has come off the track for me. It conjured up more of a warm feeling of nostalgia for when I first heard the song, rather than making me think more along the lines of “Oh wow! This is still such a great song!” I’m not hating on the song but I don’t think I feel the same kind of love for it as I did when I heard it on 92 Pro-FM out of Providence, R.I., back in the day.
As for the rest of the music, I know that I’ve heard “Don’t Let It End”, one of the band’s more signature power ballad type tracks, over the years. But I didn’t realize that it was on Kilroy Was Here. And while I’m normally loathe to appreciate this type of song these days, I have to say that it seems to have stood the test of time (for me, at least). I really enjoyed the song and thought of just how finely crafted it seemed.
I wish I could say the same for the other two tracks on the first side of the album. I listened to “Cold War” and “High Times” and just had no emotional attachment to either song at all. The former was pretty uptempo in its pacing but it didn’t get my blood pumping in the least. And for whatever reason, the latter song damn near caused me to fall back to sleep.
Side Two opened up with the strongly rocking “Heavy Metal Poisoning”. I liked the song as a whole, but I really liked the guitar solo on the track in particular. The song “Double Life” was pretty interesting as well.
However, once again I was left cold and unimpressed by songs like “Haven’t We Been Here Before” and “Just Get Through This Night”, a track that made me think about how I just wanted to get through the album.
While there are some individually great songs on the album, I can’t hide the fact that as an overall experience, I found Kilroy Was Here a bit of a disappointment. I don’t see me rushing to throw the album back in the tape deck any time soon. I kind of wonder if I’d have had a different opinion had I actually heard the album when it was originally released.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Back in August of 2019, I wrote about the band’s 1990 album Edge of the Century for this series. I’d probably listen to that one (particularly the album’s fantastic second side) more often than Kilroy Was Here.
This was the last album that was recorded by the classic Styx lineup of Dennis DeYoung, James “J.Y.” Young, Tommy Shaw and John and Chuck Panozzo.
Much like “Mr. Roboto”, the song “Don’t Let It End” enjoyed chart success as a single. It went to #6, giving the band two Top-10 hits from the album. The album itself went platinum, the last of the band’s releases to mark that achievement.