Friday, November 3, 2017
STYX: "The Mission"
LABEL: UNIVERSAL: MUSIC
REVIEW BY: ALAN HOLLOWAY
Well this could have gone so, so wrong. Styx decide to do their first studio album for a dozen years or so, and not only that it's a concept album that makes zero attempt to modernise the band's sound. I have to say I was a little appprehensive when I first played it, as I'm not the greatest fan of the band and also not the greatest fan of meandering prog. So what went right?
The simple answer is 'everything', because 'The Mission' does everything it set out to do and more. It's an unapologetic concept album, concerning a manned mission to Mars, and no one could deny that it sounds like classic Styx. the thing is that at the same time it's a catchy, modern record with great songs that would still be great even without the theme running through them. The band have very wisely resisted the urge (and you can bet it was there) to intersperse the record with spoken word drama, sound effects and short mood pieces everywhere. Whilst there are a few short pieces within the 14 tracks here, they don't feel forced, don't get in the way and don't make your hand dart for the skip button. For example, short opener 'Overture' segues nicely into 'Gone Gone Gone' whiuch itself is a fantastic way to kick off the enjoyment as it gallops about with lively harmonies, a great refrain and a cool guitar solo, all in just over two minutes. Serously, between them it's one of the sweetest three and a half minutes to open any album.
Styles are mixed up throughout the album, and naturally with such things comes some foot tapping as you wait for a track you like more, but in truth there isn't a bad song on the album, even if some shine more than others. listening to it you get a the strong feeling that this is a piece that was crafted rather than merely written. It's unmistakably 100% Styx, yet accessable to a pretty wide audience. There's a beautiful mix, bringing all instruments and vocals equally to the fore, and everyone gets their chance to shine, notably the great Larry Gowan on keyboards/vocals and there's plenty of first class guitar from Tommy Shaw throughout.
As I said, I've never been a massive Styx fan but have always appreciated what I've heard. Heck, I like to do 'Come Sail Away' on karaoke at times, so make of that what you will. My appetite for prog tends to go towards prog with a bit of life and bounce in it, and 'The Mission' satisfies that taste perfectly, both complicated in structure, mixed in styles yet catchy and full of life at the same time. Certainly a contender for album of the year, 'The Mission' is also one of the best albums Styx have ever produced.