Styx - The Grand Illusion
And this time "The Grand Illusion" by "Styx", which was released on July 7, 1977.
On 7/7/77 Styx released their 7th album - "The Grand Illusion".
This is the band's breakthrough album, which brought them the success they had longed for, for years (note that the hit "Boat On The River" will only come two years later).
Number 7 seems to have been "Styx's" lucky number, as the seventh album, released on the 7th day of the 7th month of 77, became the first of four consecutive albums by the band to receive multi-platinum status in sales (platinum equals one million copies in the US), making Styx to one of the biggest rock bands in America.
The story of this album begins in 1975 when the band manages to do the unbelievable and have a minor hit - a ballad called "Lady", which is a song from the second album released two years earlier. A&M record company recognizes the potential and signs the band on a recording contract. The same year, Styx releases their fifth album, "Equinox". But just when the band gets a chance to breakthrough with the help of a big record company, their original guitarist John Curulewski decides to leave right after the album's release and the band finds itself in search of a new guitarist to replace him, so they can go on a tour to promote the album.
The band manages to locate Tommy Shaw, a charismatic guitarist who will immediately join the band's triple writing team and will also become one of its top three lead singers. With this fresh change, Styx is recording their sixth album, "Crystal Ball", which was released in 1976. But even this album does not bring the band the success they looked for. The band fails to put a significant hit at the top of the charts and the album didn't do well in sales.
In 1977, "Styx" finds themselves at a crossroads, although they were signed by a large record company, but after two albums they do not deliver the goods, which puts them in danger of renewing their contract. The band enters the studio during the short break they had on the North American tour, with a general idea conceived by keyboardist and singer Dennis DeYoung - all songs on the album will revolve around existential issues - success, failure, fame, money, and more. Shaw and guitarist and singer James "JY" Young lined up with DeYoung and went on to work on songs that address the central theme of the album.
Musically the band has pulled in a more accessible and mainstream direction this time around, but it has not yet completely abandoned the progressive genre that still exists on this album. The main idea of the album was given a neat frame that gives the feeling that this is a concept album, with the opening song called "The Grand Illusion", while the last song was titled "The Grand Finale", which corresponds with the opening song and album title.
Even though the band's new formula that combined the prog with the mainstream resulted in a not-quite-uniform and less cohesive album, it still turned out to be a winning formula.
The first side of the album is simply fantastic, it opens with the march drumming of the excellent theme song "The Grand Illusion", a track that is a statement of intent that presents the band's vision for the album's overall style - a precise combination of complex progressive rock and more accessible AOR.
Immediately after that comes the single "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" which Shaw wrote about the keyboardist DeYoung - "The Angry Man" who hated the band's tours. The idea of combining progressive with AOR continues here as well as the song opens with Da Young's keyboard solo accompanied by Shaw's acoustic guitar in a progressive style which then develops into a classic AOR song, and the effects of "Kansas" on the band are well felt here.
Later on the first side we meet "Come Sail Away" a track that is simply a masterpiece and one of the band's greatest songs. This is a true masterpiece. A beautiful song with a refreshing and simple piano arrangement by DeYoung, sharply cut by Shaw and JY's powerful guitars, with a synthesized passage section on the verge of psychedelic. The song uses the idea of “sailing” on a ship that later becomes a spaceship as a metaphor for the pursuit of our dreams, and specifically expresses DeYoung’s aspirations to break out and succeed as a band. The words touch on the nostalgia of true friendships, the encounter with beings from other worlds which are described as angels, and even some quotes from the book of Ezekiel.
Although the other side of the album does not include "hits" like its first, it still includes inspiring tracks like JY's rhythmic and rock song "Miss America", Shaw's ballad "Man in the Wilderness" and of course the song that seals the album "The Work", which is a kind of reprise of the most prominent excerpts from the album.
This album presented the tremendous potential of Styx that developed over the next few albums. A style of "Prog Lite" that will also serve as a successful model for bands like Yes and Genesis that will do the same later during the eighties. This album is without a doubt one of the band's great albums and a good place to get to know it.