RATINGS: A = must own B = buy it C= average D = yawn F = puke

Styx — The Mission
Alpha Dog2T/Ume


Rating: B+

Dennis DeWho?

Eighteen years after Dennis DeYoung left Styx, the boys have unveiled an album that not only affirms their strength as a rock ’n’ roll powerhouse, but also as a conceptual force. That’s right: The Mission is a concept album done right (sorry, Kilroy).

Hopes soared when the band announced plans to record with analog technology. They craved an old-school approach to recapture their ‘70s glory with vinyl’s warmth. While not always successful, The Mission more than meets that goal.

“Overture” and “Gone Gone Gone” pack a one-two punch, launching the album like the nuclear-powered Khedive interstellar spacecraft underlying the storyline. The 43-minute adventure chronicles the ship’s voyage to Mars in the year 2033 (underwritten by the Global Space Exploration Program, or GSEP, naturally).

Rather than feature sound effects and similarly cheesy plot distractions, The Mission relies on the songs to tell the story. It’s a tale packed with classic Styx vocal harmonies, synth sounds that helped make The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight timeless classics and songcraft that can only come when Tommy Shaw straps on a guitar and the band joins in.

Whether executing intricate guitar-keyboard line in “Gone Gone Gone” or stretching out with majestic vocal harmonies on “The Red Storm,” the songs come first. Sure, the album follows a concept, but several compositions stand on their own. Listeners need not approach the album like a novel, though taking it in at once helps.

Aside from “Trouble at the Big Show” and no James “JY” Young rocker, the album is an overall success. We have rockers and softer, acoustic-driven material, all powered by rich vocal harmonies and Lawrence Gowan’s piano and synthesizer textures.

In an era when downloads and individual song streaming have overtaken the marketplace, The Mission is a refreshing return to simpler times, when record buyers rushed home to slap new albums on turntables, read the liner notes and flipped from side one to side two.

Most listeners won’t go that retro, but following the lyrics or imagining the Martian surface isn’t necessary, either. The Mission melds Styx’s classic sound (even flirting with Queen-like harmonies and piano in “Khedive”) while doing something else: offering a concept album on the band’s own terms 34 years after Dennis DeYoung talked the band into Kilroy Was Here.

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


— By A. Lee Graham