Wooden Nickel, 1972

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It is sometimes difficult to believe that even the most successful bands out there, at some point in their careers, would struggle with determining what their overall sound should be or where they fit into the music industry.

It is sometimes difficult, until you listen to an album like Styx, the 1972 debut effort from Dennis DeYoung and crew. If you pick this up expecting to hear AOR magic like “Babe,” “Renegade” or “The Best Of Times,” you’re going to be sorely, sorely disappointed... but, even if you walk into this one with no expectations, you might feel a bit let down by the overall effort.

The band—featuring guitarist John Curulewski at the time—certainly sets the bar high with their Aaron Copland-inspired opus “Movement For The Common Man” (including a snippet of Copland’s work). At times, DeYoung’s keyboards suggest the birth cries of Mannheim Steamroller in their sounds and styles. (Not saying Chip Davis borrowed from DeYoung, but my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Fresh Aire came out a mere three years later.) As ambisious as this effort is, it falls a bit flat, though not from lack of effort. And they certainly were not alone in the concept of writing longer songs; many bands of this timeframe were doing the exact same thing. It’s just that “Movement For The Common Man” doesn’t keep the listener as engrossed as they should be.

The bulk of the remaining five songs on Styx (which was re-issued as Styx I in 1979) features the band treading water through obscure cover songs that were forced upon them by their record label. The band handles them well enough, but—well, dammit, they’re just not Styx. You still have DeYoung, guitarist/vocalist James "J.Y." Young, bassist Chuck Panozzo and drummer John Panozzo, so four-fifths of the classic lineup is accounted for. (No disrespect is meant towards Curulewski—after all, he will forever be part of history with the song “Lady.”)

But Styx is never really given enough room to grow into their own skin and take musical risks similar to “Movement For The Common Man.” And, if Wooden Nickel thought allowing them to stretch one idea out over 13 minutes, plus one other original, was enough to do so... well, brother, were they mistaken. While tracks such as “Quick Is The Beat Of My Heart,” “After You Leave Me” and “Right Away” are listenable enough, they don’t truly convey the power the band undoubtedly had.

The only other original also happened to be the sole single pulled from this album, “Best Thing.” Okay, the title is a misnomer, but it’s hardly the worst thing Styx ever did—and you do begin to hear the harmonized vocals that would become their trademark throughout the ’70s. This would be that tentative first step they needed to undertake; pity they weren’t given more opportunities to do so.

It would be difficult to call Styx a must-own album, even for die-hard fans of the band. But, for its flaws, it can be at times an interesting look into the earliest days of what would eventually be one of the biggest bands of their time.

Rating: C+

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