Brave New World (1999)


1.I Will Be Your Witness 2.Brave New World 3.While There's Still Time 4.Number One 5.Best New Face 6.What Have They Done To You 7.Fallen Angel 8.Everything Is Cool 9.Great Expectations 10.Heavy Water 11.High Crimes and Misdemeanors 12.Just Fell In 13.Goodbye Roseland 14.Brave New World (Reprise)

 

In 1982, superstars Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder released a duet entitled "Ebony and Ivory" that climbed to the top of the charts. When they released the video, they performed a revolutionary technique: both artists were in separate studios across the globe, yet when watching the video, it appeared as though the performers were performing side by side. In 1999, the much awaited full length Styx reunion CD attempted to do the same thing with it's key members - probably because the guys were starting to quarrel again. The major disappointment here is that this is obviously not a group effort. We have a Tommy Shaw solo album and a Dennis DeYoung solo album thrown together to try to masquerade the real thing. The glory of the reunion in 1995-97 was apparently short lived as personal commitments and strained relations caused this project to achieve a less then desirable end result.


A big reason for the disappointment was that even though the members were now in their late forties-early fifties, many could argue they were at their peak creatively. Shaw had released his critically acclaimed Seven Deadly Zens and DeYoung and produced his masterpiece musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Much of the material on this release seems as though it would have been better at home on the above mentioned solo releases. True Styx fans know a true Styx album when they hear it, and this was far from it. In addition to the songs sounding murky, the overall production doesn't flow as it should. Take, for instance, the album opener I Will Be Your Witness. It's a very touching smooth piece that is perfect for the 21st century Styx, but why is this song opening the album? An opening song needs to forcefully grab the audience, especially after being gone for sixteen years. This song should be much further down the song listing, after the listener has calmed down and now wants to sit down for the rest of the listen. There's a lot of moments like that here. The songs sound very forced and patchy at best.

Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) there are a few pieces scattered about that proves that these guys did still have what it takes. The first single, for example, Tommy Shaw's biting Everything is Cool is nothing short of brilliant. Anyone who said Styx couldn't rock anymore obviously hadn't heard this cruncher. This is the song that should have opened the album (it did, thankfully, open the show during the tour). Dennis DeYoung also comes through in a big way on occasions. It's clear to most that DeYoung's hard rock and roll days were gone, and when he wasn't writing syrupy ballads (none are here thankfully) he could still pull it off admirably. While There's Still Time is in fact a ballad, but accompanied by an acoustic guitar instead of an electric piano allows enough diversity to stand apart from many other DeYoung pieces of latter years. Quite honestly, it's a beautiful piece. In the James Young camp, we have Heavy Water, that even though he shares the writing and singing with Tommy, it's pure JY - and it's intense JY.

In the "pretty good" department, we have DeYoung's Goodbye Roseland that seems at first to be a beautiful farewell to childhood days of yore, yet on retrospect he may have been alluding to his career (unbeknownst at the time, it would soon be over in Styx). The song has a nice gospel feel that tends (as many of DeYoungs tunes do) to get a little personal, but it just may bring a tear to the eye. Tommy Shaw's title cut has just enough diversity to be different from anything else the band has ever done, yet be true enough not to alienate fans as has been the case before. The ancient Egyptian (or whatever) riff doesn't take anything away from the pop/rock effort they're trying to achieve.

Both the Dennis camp and the Tommy/JY camp come up short in most other places on the disc. Anyone who blames either one of the teams is being unfair. Although none of the other's are by any means awful, we must remember that this is a band that had always striven for perfection on their best albums. DeYoung probably didn't help matters when he publicly denounced the quality of the album after it was released. To be fair though, he was on the money.



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