During the late 70s and early 80s, Styx ruled the progressive rock roost in America releasing a succession of hit LPs. On June 16 the band unveil The Mission, their eagerly awaited 16th studio album and their first record of all-new material in fourteen years. It has been a lengthy hiatus, but as Styx fans are about to find out, good things come to those who wait.
On this occasion, the black vastness of space acts as the band’s musical canvas. The storyline details a manned mission to Mars in 2033 and chronicles the experiences of the crew aboard the vessel, the Kvievel. Styx frontman Tommy Shaw and his long-time song writing collaborator authored the thirteen tracks.
I recently interviewed Shaw and the band’s manager Charlie Brusco to find out more about the LP.
As Shaw reveals, the record was in gestation for a number of years with its embryonic notes penned backstage before one of the band’s concerts: “The very last song on the record, Mission to Mars – the little opening effect, the guitar phrase, I came up with that in the dressing room one night and then I recorded it and played it back and played some chords with it.
“When I got home I laid out a session in my studio, laid down all the guitar parts, put a bass guitar part in, some programmed drums behind it and then I wrote a middle section to it so it had a bit of relief in the middle. And then the time to start lyrics, I picked up a pencil and it’s kind of a limerick sort of feel to the verses. The first thing that I wrote was ‘now I can say that this is the day that we will be on our way on our Mission to Mars’, and it was as a big surprise to me as to anyone else.”
The LP was recorded in Nashville over a two-year period and Shaw concedes that constant touring delayed its release: “It would not have taken so long but over the past 17/18/19 years our business has been going out on the road and playing concerts, the last time we made a record was fourteen years ago. Things have changed though, and we realised that if we did put out a record their were places we could go to get it out to our fans.”
The first single from the LP, Gone Gone Gone, packs a hefty punch. It’s a rallying cry to the crew, getting them fired up for the long journey. Lawrence Gowan is brilliant on this one. Check out the video that accompanies this single, it shows him strutting around the stage like a peacock, bossing the song with a fantastic vocal performance. There is also scintillating guitar wizardry from James “JY” Young, incendiary drumming from Todd Sucherman and deep-toned bass from Ricky Phillips.
Light it up, Let’s get this show on the road!
Young’s guitar sparks Hundred Million Miles into life, one of the killer tracks on this album. Earth, a distant spot now, the crew wrestle with the anguish of missing their loved ones back home. Shaw on lead vocals for this one. It boasts a tremendous chorus infused with heavenly harmonies.
This pain in my heart keeps growing, sometimes I feel like fool,your gravitational pull is gonna tear me apart.
The soothing tinkle of the ivories introduces Locomotive. A father, a lump in his throat as he gazes sky word. His heart aching for his son, they have grown apart. As he scans the night sky, the shining stars illuminate his regret, the pangs of guilt. Shaw’s acoustic guitar is to the fore, a counter balance to Sucherman’s thunderous drums and Philip’s jazz-laden bass.
Locomotive tell me where you are, now that you’ve become the distant star.
As the ship accelerates from earth, Radio Silence highlights the crew’s sense of isolation. Their mental strength tested and taken to the limit. It’s a rollicking ride, Gowan’s keyboards setting the scene and Shaw’s soaring vocals beautifully capturing the mood. The latter part of the song is an all-out attack on the senses with drums, bass and a flurry of guitars jockeying for pole position.
Anybody, can you hear me? SOS, it’s anyone’s guess, can we make it.
On Red Storm anxiety is gripping the crew, their deep-seated fears laid bare. Excellent vocals from Shaw and a dazzling guitar solo from Young. Sucherman batters his drum kit into submission too. The LP closes with Mission to Mars, a rousing, optimistic sign off. It gallops along, the crew’s excitement palpable:
Say goodbye to all your friends, now a whole new life begins, as universe’s mysteries unfold, and the audience back home is holding on with bated breath to hear the stories that are waiting to be told.
It is evident that rocket fuel has been added to the Styx tank. The Mission is a hugely impressive body of work. Every track oozes energy and vitality. Beautifully crafted pop ballads and big hard rock riffs burst from the speakers like stars colliding in the cosmos. The layered harmonies, the band’s signature sound through the years, remain intact. It makes for essential listening, a worthy addition to any music collection.
The band’s management company are pulling out all the stops to market the LP. Brusco said: “Styx still sells a lot of physical product. We are seeing big pre-orders of CDs and vinyl. The management company now have to deal with a lot more than they had to deal with before. When you have a record that’s as good as this record is the record itself enthuses everyone to work harder and come up with more ideas.”
Next month, Styx hit the road with rock heavyweights REO Speedwagon and Don Felder. Songs from the new LP will feature in the band’s set, according to Shaw: “We are going to start with two songs and just see how that goes and it depends on how quickly our fans and the fans of all three bands absorb this new album.
“If there is a noticeable demand for more, we will play more. When we finish playing with REO and Don Felder, we will be back to playing our own shows and probably add more new songs. I hope it wakes up fans who haven’t seen us lately and realise that the band is as vital as ever.”
The video single Gone Gone Gone is available here
Listen to Radio Silence on Spotify here
Visit the Styx website here