Cornerstone (1979)


1.Lights 2.Why Me 3.Babe 4.Never Say Never 5.Boat on the River 6.Borrowed Time 7.First Time 8.Eddie 9.Love in the Midnight

 

The biggest style departure ever for Styx was on this album. Flashback to the late 1970's: Classic "art" rock, which Styx seemed to be categorized, was becoming radically out of fashion. Bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer were all but dead, and bands such as The Who and Led Zepplin were (or would very soon be) decimated by personal tragedy. A new wave (pun not necessarily intended) of music was on the horizon and suddenly personalities such as Billy Joel and Donna Summer were fast becoming the new kings (or queens) of the new movement. Front man Dennis DeYoung sensed the change in the air and decided to expand the horizons of the band. Never had more controversy popped up in their career. The move was not met with enthusiasm by many, including some of the band members themselves. It could be a safe assumption, however, to argue that if the band hadn't gone in this direction, they may have never become one of the most popular bands of the early 1980s. It's quite likely they would have been forgotten, known only by a couple of oldies (they had only two top ten songs by this point, remember). This release didn't quite sell as much as its two predecessors, but by crossing over to mainstream pop and by continuing to tour at a semi maddening pace, they became more popular than ever.

This album, although containing fine material, does suffer a bit with growing pains. Perhaps afraid to expand quite as much as they would have liked, they play it safe with mostly soft stringy melodies, complete with plenty of electric piano and acoustic guitars. The noise gets a little tiring after forty minutes. When the band does try to rock, such as on James Young's Eddie, it sounds too forced and uninspired. The only other semi-rocker, the DeYoung-Shaw composition Borrowed Time is pulled off a bit better, but probably still would have sounded better if the production was harder as on some of the previous albums.

As stated earlier, however, this was not the main road they were heading on, and the softer stuff was mostly pleasant. The most obvious contender was the band's only number one single Babe. Critics may sneer, but let's be fair, every arena rock band had a killer power ballad, and this one was a great representation. The album opener Lights isn't as mushy as Babe but it does show that the band could pull out great material even without the volume turned way up or without the wailing electric guitars. This was another piece by DeYoung-Shaw, it's DeYoung's music and Shaw's lyrics (they switched these roles on the above mentioned Borrowed Time). As great as DeYoung and Shaw could write and perform together, it has been well documented that the conflict of personalities between the two arose during this time. Shaw was the most resistant to the new direction. He even threatened to quit if DeYoung's other weepy, First Time was released as a single.

Now here's the irony. Even when Tommy Shaw was pushed into writing softer songs, he came with some great tunes!. Consider the album's closer Love in the Midnight; musically it's as non threatening as anything this band has ever done. Lyrically, it's a painful stripping of the soul exposing the excesses of a rock star. Or how about Boat on the River? Long before the "unplugged" thing became a thing of fashion, the members strapped on accordions, mandolins and tambourines and created probably the best song the band ever wrote that never went mainstream(although it was a big seller in some countries other than the U.S.). In all fairness, Shaw's other composition Never Say Never is probably the weakest song on the album, but it's by no means an embarrassment. Someone needs to tell Shaw that even if he doesn't like to, he can handle the slow stuff with the best of them. It was later revealed that after the tour, DeYoung was sacked by the band for wanting to continue to push the band in the direction he felt was best and not tour quite as much. He returned when all realized there could not be a Styx without Dennis DeYoung. It was a good thing. There was more magic to come.



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