Styx: Tommy Shaw (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, mandolin, keyboards, synthesizer); John Curulewski (vocals, guitar, synthesizer); Glen Burtnick (vocals, guitar, bass); James Young (vocals, guitar); Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, synthesizer); Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards); Chuck Panozzo (vocals, bass); Todd Sucherman, John Panozzo (vocals, drums, percussion).Includes liner notes by Martin Huxley.There have been several Styx anthologies over the years, and the surplus of hits in the band's catalogue certainly warrants such treatment. COME SAIL AWAY, however, provides the most in-depth sonic Styx scrapbook one could want. Though the arrival of Tommy Shaw in 1976 helped push the band toward superstardom, this two-disc collection doesn't shy away from the oft-neglected pre-Shaw days, including not merely the archetypal power ballad "Lady," but also such obscurities as the thumping riff-rocker "Best Thing" and the joyous, harmony-laden "You Need Love."From there, we chart Styx's ascension to AOR glory on the wings of prog-rock-tinged epics such as "Come Sail Away" and "Pieces of Eight." Along the way, little-known gems are unearthed, like the moody, acoustic ballad "Boat on the River," before we launch into the synth-bedecked swan song of the original lineup, "Mr. Roboto" from the '83 concept album KILROY WAS HERE. Latter-day versions of the band are represented towards the end, but this collection makes it clear that the Styx equation depended upon Dennis DeYoung's dewy-eyed balladry, James Young's rock & roll ferocity, and Tommy Shaw's pop-rock craftsmanship in equal measure.
Styx may have had their musical roots in the UK's burgeoning late-'60s/early-'70s prog-rock bombast, but they were true pioneers in at least one sense: The Chicago-bred quintet virtually defined the hugely successful "corp rock" boom that followed a decade after prog's original fortunes tarnished. And if that label suggests a certain sense of the formulaic, in Styx it actually denoted a band with sharp ears and a shrewder sense of rock history, attested to immediately here by the Yes-inspired harmonies of "You Need Love" and the staccato rhythms of the Beatles' "Getting Better" on "Winner Take All." This 35-track double-disc anthology charts a course from sudden fame to its sometimes stormy aftermath, spanning the band's 1972 debut and its resilient 2003 comeback contender, Cyclorama. But after working their way up from the Grand Funk-worthy, meat 'n' instant potatoes of "Rock and Roll Feeling" and bald-faced melodramatics of "Lady" and "Come Sail Away" to the gutsier edge of "Blue Collar Man" and "Too Much Time on My Hands," rising tides of punk and new wave began to erode their younger demographic. And by the time "Babe" gave way to the faux techno of '83's "Mr. Roboto," even those sympathetic to the band's hook-rich, prog-lite sensibility seemed restless. Still, their Tommy Shaw-dominate output in the '90s and beyond showcased a band that had subtly matured from their arena-rock cliché salad days. --Jerry McCulley