Album Review: Styx – The Mission

Styx dives into its past with The Mission (out June 16) the band’s 16th studio album, it’s first in 14 years and a return to form as they invite the listener on a journey to Mars through this concept effort the classic rockers spent two years writing and recording.

Styx is no stranger to concept albums finding smash hits in the 1980s with Paradise Theater and Kilroy Was Here. So, The Mission hardly qualifies as ground-breaking since it’s not the first time Styx or any band for that matter embarked on a journey to a faraway place and put it to music. Ambitious, though, it is.

It’s hard enough to write an album filled with tracks mostly separate from one another. Try writing an album of songs with one leading into the other creating a storybook with the music as narrator. The Mission which chronicles the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033 probably won’t produce any singles or get much radio play. OK, who are we kidding, don’t expect any of the songs to air on traditional radio. And the new album probably won’t generate new fans but certainly those who moved on from The Grand Illusion and Paradise Theatre or perhaps simply forgot about the band might return to the fold.

The Mission begins with “Overture” and moves froward from blast off on the rocking “Gone Gone Gone” as each song develops the story of leaving earth on a trip to Mars like the adventure getting there with the vintage “Radio Silence,” trials  faced on the rhythmic “Red Storm” and finally ending with the quirky “Mission to Mars.” It’s a fun album and quite creative when you think about it. “The Outpost” surely stands out, keeps that familiar Styx sound but feels new with a bit of modern rock flare, “Time May Bend” offers solid guitar work while the dreamy “Locomotive” meanders a bit and “Hundred Million Miles From Home” features classic Styx melodies.

The album comes in around 42 minutes with 14 songs though “All Systems Stable” is a mere 18 seconds, “Overture” and “10 Thousands Ways” come in less than 90 seconds and the cool piano heavy “Khedive” is around two minutes as these shorter songs serve either as setups for the longer tracks or perhaps “intermission” between acts. The Mission certainly feels theatrical and as the closing song “Mission to Mars” comes to life you can almost see cast and crew singing together on stage towards a final climatic ending.

Overall, The Mission definitely sounds like Styx and in many ways picks up where the band left off before the break-up that ended their headlining arena days. It’s got lots of 70’s guitar, 80’s synths and the classic Styx harmonies with lead singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowen and lead guitarist and singer Tommy Shaw trading on main vocals along with driving classic rock guitar chords, fully heard bass and strong supporting keyboards.

Styx consists of Shaw, Gowen, original guitarist James “J.Y” Young, original bassist Chuck Panozzo, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips representing the longest running line-up in the band’s 45 year history. But it’s the first album of original material featuring the current members as Phillips came aboard after 2003’s Cyclorama  but played on the covers album Big Bang Theory in 2005.

“Hundred Million Miles From Home,” “Radio Silence” and “The Outpost” probably comprise the handful of songs that manage to standout as individual efforts. But with the resurgence of vinyl that’s not a bad thing. You want nostalgia? Then open the record jacket. Indeed, The Mission fully involves the listener, requiring set-aside time to follow the band’s adventure from beginning to end. Even better? Surely, it’s an album destined for the live show something Shaw mentioned he’d like to play in its entirety.

At the very least, for those who’ve seen the band anytime in the past 10 years, hopefully The Mission means a new stage show but certainly guarantees a variety in the setlist instead of the same old fare along with the exact same in-between-song conversations.

Grade: B

Styx – The Mission Track Listing

  1. Overture
  2. Gone Gone Gone
  3. Hundred Million Miles From Home
  4. Trouble At The Big Show
  5. Locomotive
  6. Radio Silence
  7. The Greater Good
  8. Time May Bend
  9. Ten Thousand Ways
  10. Red Storm
  11. All Systems Stable
  12. Khedive
  13. The Outpost
  14. Mission To Mars

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Def Leppard and Poison Have A Good Time in Portland

Bono take note:

This is how you entertain and put on a rock concert.

Def Leppard played to a jam packed, sold out crowd at the Moda Center on Saturday in Portland, OR along with a strong supporting act by fellow 1980s stalwarts Poison and thoroughly showed why 40 years later people still flock to these arena rock anthems played flawlessly by guys in their 50s.

Let’s go a different route on the review as I usually write these with my “reporter’s hat” on, meaning if it’s good for this blog it’s good for a newspaper (that’s my personal expectation anyway and always hoped for accomplishment). All training aside, I’m going full-on blogger (credit to my wife who suggested I try something different). Forgive the use of “I” and the more casual tone. Perhaps I’ll find that’s what people prefer and today serves as a changing of the guard, so to speak.

Besides, I just wrote a review for Def Leppard last fall and they served the same setlist while replacing REO Speedwagon with Poison and keeping Tesla as the starters. I didn’t even take my notebook to write things down and had no plans to give Def Leppard due credit. But alas, a good show is a good show and deserves positive commentary. My apologies, I failed to arrive on time for Tesla and sat down about five minutes before the lights dimmed for Poison.

Singer and guitarist Bret Michaels was on fire from the start, simply a ball full of energy and seriously happy to be on stage. Poison opened with “Look What the Cat Dragged In” then “Ride the Wind,” the popular “Talk Dirty To Me” and dedicated “Something to Believe In” to the United States military. This was the only mention of anything political for the evening as Michaels repeated he did not want to get political but simply wanted to dedicate the song to the men and woman of our armed forces who allow us to party. And that he did.

That was it. Nothing else mattered. Just rock, a good time and playing hard. I was afraid he might be veering off to say something, not sure which way he leans, or who he’s pissed off at, and yes had it interrupted the show a bit or was just plain dumb, no matter what he said, I would have mentioned it here.

Instead, we got three glorious hours of music by talented musicians who wanted to play their wares for an enthusiastic crowd from the floor to the rafters. Seriously, I haven’t seen the Moda Center this packed since seeing Rush on their 40th Anniversary Tour (which by the way you can see me in the opening sequence of Time Stand Still, filmed at the Portland show, holding signs – finally made Rush immortality!) Love how Def Leppard can still pack an arena. They’ve even got a new album, not new so much anymore, but it rocks!

Back to Poison. Clearly, they draw a strong presence because the usual smattering of empty seats for the opening acts were filled for these guys. Michaels commanded the stage like a headlining act and drummer Rikki Rocket put on a drum solo that even Neil Peart could be proud of. Did you know he’s a stage 4 cancer survivor?

Poison wrapped their set with “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” (of course) and ended with a rousing “Nothin’ But Good Time” which got everyone off the seats and ready for more. Opening acts typically serve as a “warm up” to the headliner which in all my years of attending concerts I’ve never quite experienced until now. Indeed, Poison got the crowd wild and ready for Def Leppard, who took the stage just a mere 20 minutes after Poison’s 11 song, hour long set.

Thank you Def Leppard for choosing the Moda Center over that (insert mattress company here) amphitheater across the Columbia River located no where near Portland and a pain in the butt to get to. In fact, when the show was announced so many months ago I emailed the band, or whoever actually receives the “contact” email from their website and thanked them for choosing a venue actually in Portland and, most importantly, the more intimate arena setting. I have no idea when the last time these guys actually played in the city but it’s been a while. A long while.

They opened with a new song “Let’s Go” from their 2015 self titled album and of course played all their popular radio staples and two more from their latest. Oh heck, check out my review of their show in Eugene, OR to see the setlist. It’s the same. Like I said, Def Leppard never gets old and I’d pay the cost of admission just to see “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”

Singer Joe Elliott sounded really good. In fact, one of the best vocals I’ve heard from him though he did get drowned out at times with Rick Savage’s bass guitar and a sometimes over exuberant Rick Allen bass drum. Actually, that’s the only hiccup on the night for both Poison and Def Leppard as the vocals were often over-matched by the rest of the band, most notably the bass guitar and drums.

Def Leppard played a 17 song set lasting about an hour and 40 minutes and encored with “Rock of Ages” (Allen providing that hallmark opening), and what now feels just as popular as “Sugar,” the audience kicked it into high gear for the final song, “Photograph” featuring the usual slide show of photos from year’s past of the band. Yes, I’ve seen them now several times in the past few tours and a fresher stage show is due but if that’s the only complaint then please keep coming back.

It’s the band’s 40th anniversary this year so, so much for a 40th anniversary tour. Elliott said it snuck up on them and it’s also the 30th anniversary of their smash Hysteria. which is finally now available on vinyl, well at least easily accessible on vinyl (available Aug. 4).

Def Leppard leads a host of bands still charging forward like it was 1977 as discussed in an Associated Press article, though it left out our friends from Sheffield, England. In a somewhat rare moment of discussion between songs, Elliott talked about meeting Savage for the first time as a teenager and by the end of the night, the two decided on starting a band together.

Forty years later and they still haven’t burned out or faded away.

By the way, we’ve probably entered a new reality when attending concerts. The police were readily present and closed off a main street, complete with police car serving as a barricade, that passes by the Moda Center.

Def Leppard Setlist – Portland, OR (Moda Center)

  1. Let’s Go
  2. Animal
  3. Let It Go
  4. Dangerous
  5. Foolin’
  6. Love Bites
  7. Armageddon It
  8. Rock On
  9. Man Enough
  10. Rocket
  11. Bringing on the Heartbreak
  12. Switch 625
  13. Hysteria
  14. Let’s Get Rocked
  15. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  16. Rock of Ages
  17. Photograph

Written By: AndrewT