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 – EDGE OF THE CENTURY (1990)
While I would go on to discover the earlier music (and hits) from Styx over the ensuing years, I’m one of those people who first became aware of the band because of the song “Mr. Roboto”. This is not something I’d bring up first upon meeting the current lineup of the band, but I was 12 or so when I first hear that song and much like the rest of the listening audience that made the song a major hit, I was all about that song. Not the album it came from mind you, just the song.
But as I said, the passage of years made me a much bigger fan of their most successful period of chart hit music. Until now, I’ve never really dug into the band’s music from 1990 onward. Call it willful ignorance or just the fact of only having so much time, but there it is.
After the success of the Kilroy Was Here album in 1983, guitarist Tommy Shaw departed the band in 1984 and for about a five year period various members of Styx set about releasing solo music to varying degrees of success. But they got back together as a unit and ended up with Edge of the Century coming out in 1990. The lineup was missing Tommy Shaw who was at the time part of Damn Yankees, the band he formed with Jack Blades from Night Ranger and Ted Nugent. In his stead, guitarist/vocalist Glen Burtnik was brought in as his replacement.
The band’s 12th album featured three singles with the ballad “Show Me The Way” being the most successful as it hit #3 on the charts. The album itself would be certified gold. But given the nature of the struggle the band faced between balancing the more hard rock style versus the pop ballads, I was curious to see what I thought of the album nearly thirty years down the road.
Well, I can say that the album’s first side was somewhat of a shock to the system for me. Despite it’s hit single status, I found “Show Me The Way” more than a bit offputting. I suppose given the pop radio aspirations Dennis DeYoung (who produced the album) had for the band’s music the song was fine but if I’d heard it upon its release in 1990, I would’ve been turned off to it. Much like the other Side One songs “Love At First Sight” (which hit #25 on the singles chart) and “All In Day’s Work”, the song came off as souless and calculated to me. I’m not opposed to hitting the singles chart with songs but the sappier the material, the less interest I have in it. And “sappy” was the name of the game on these three songs.
That said, the album’s third single was “Love Is The Ritual” and it served as the opening track for Edge of The Century. It started off a bit too “poppy” for me but once the music kicked in with some more rocking sounds, the track became far more interesting and I ended up quite enjoying the song.
As for the title track, that song is just flat out fantastic! A full-on rocker from start to finish with some really great guitar work enhancing everything about the song.
My disappointment with the first side left me a little wary of what Side Two would contain. I didn’t hold much hope for a whole lot of material to write good things about. But as the saying goes, “that’s why you play the games”. Or in music terms, why you actually listen to the entire album. The second side of the album is just GREAT!
The side opens with two pure rockers in “Not Dead Yet” and “World Tonite”. Besides the more obvious uptempo pacing to the music, the vocal takes/delivery on both songs is top notch. I’d venture to say that I’d hold these two songs up as the best tracks for me on the release. Throw in another rocking track in “Homewrecker” and you’ve got a killer triumvirate of fiery sounding rock and roll.
But things don’t stop there. The second side of the album has two ballad type songs on it. I know you are thinking that I’m going to dump all over them but surprisingly that is not the case. Instead I really enjoyed the songs “Carrie Ann” and “Back To Chicago”. While the softer nature of both songs are obvious, what made them winners in my opinion was the band did a far stronger job of balancing both sides of their sound. There’s the right mix of the ballad and some rock and roll on each song to make it a complete whole. That’s what I always hope for whenever any artist decides to do a ballad, that they don’t forget their rocking side in the quest for a song that people will now hold up their lit cellphones to.
The odd thing about writing about this album is that I’m pretty sure this is the first Styx album I’ve ever actually owned. Thinking off all their best loved releases and I have none of them made me realize I need to rectify this situation. I’m definitely not sold on the stridently commercial ballads on the album’s first side but given how much I loved everything on Side Two, Edge of the Century definitely piqued my interest for the band’s latter-days material!
NOTES OF INTEREST: This was the only album recorded by the lineup of Dennis DeYoung, James “J.Y.” Young, Glen Burtnik, John Panozzo and Chuck Panozzo.
While guitarist Young is still with Styx full-time to this day, bassist Chuck Panozzo has toured with the band on a part time basis due to various health issues (Ricky Phillips has been the full-time bassist for Styx since 2003). Dennis DeYoung has been out of the band since 1999 and recently has been on a 40th Anniversary tour for the Styx album The Grand Illusion.
Sadly, drummer John Panozzo died in 1996. The band paid tribute to him on their 1999 live album Return To Paradise with one of the three studio tracks included on the release. It was called “Dear John” and it was written by the returned Tommy Shaw.
Glen Burtnik was out of the band in 1991 and when the band reunited in 1995, Tommy Shaw had come back. But he was brought back to be the band’s bassist from 1999-2003 and recorded the album Cyclorama with them. He also appeared on three live releases during his second run with the band.
As for the current incarnation of Styx, they are still active and out on tour. In 2017 they released a critically acclaimed album called The Mission.