It might just be a youth spent growing up in southern New Hampshire, but Styx is the kind of band I find it embarrassing to suggest publicly you might enjoy.
While the group’s early work could be considered a weak Midwestern imitation of Queen, Styx was able to save themselves from being forever a footnote in music history with the release of their 1983 single “Mr. Roboto”. Though listeners previously may have merely rolled their eyes at the histrionics of singles like “Lady” and “Come Sail Away”, “Mr. Roboto” with its self-important lyrics, absurd “message”, and hokey dated production pushed the very envelope of just how much cringing with embarrassment a radio listener can do. One of my favorite moments of any VH1 Behind the Music special was in Styx’s, where guitarist Tommy Shaw explained it was the shame he felt playing Roboto live that drove him to a serious heroin habit. Yes, it’s not just bad pop music, it’s the kind of bad pop music that destroys someone’s life.
With all that said, I will now go forward and embarrass myself by telling you there is one song of Styx’s that I will stand behind, their 1979 single “Renegade”. Why? Though most of Styx’s singles to that point relied heavily on an array of hokey theatrics (built on the back of grandstanding singer-keyboardist Dennis DeYoung), and/or nauseating hyper-sentimentality (read Dennis DeYoung), on “Renegade”, Styx turn away from their usual stock and trade to produce a foot stompin’ near perfect moment of country-fried rock, laced with hints of prog-ish synth, vocal production that predicts the 80’s, and a sing along chorus about a time honored rock and roll / country western premise: being a wanted man. Though Styx can’t resist falling back on their love of self-importance by inserting a pair of a capella sections meant to convey the graveness of the singer’s plight to listeners, even these sections still end up being rather fun. Styx’s next single will be their first #1, “Babe”, and the party will soon be over, but Renegade is the last gasp of a 70’s Styx that it’s a shame we didn’t see more of.
It seemed obvious then when I received my copy of “STYX: Regeneration I and II” – a double CD on which the current members of Styx (read, no Dennis De Young) cover the band’s previous releases – I knew there was only one thing to bother with before tossing the disc out: How is the new version of “Renegade”? Not surprisingly “Renegade”’s re-recording has thicker production than the original, with the intro a capella section being more ‘perfect’ (though perfect isn’t necessarily better), bass lines are heavy but smoothed out and a bit more fancy drumming has been added here and there. I’ll doff my cap to Tommy Shaw as he effortlessly hits the high notes throughout, and beefs up his guitar solo in the bridge, removing the prog rock synth and updating it to something less… Dennis DeYoung. Though records like “STYX: Regeneration Vol’s I & ll” are often made so performers don’t have to pay royalties to their old record company when they license songs to places like eMusic, this new version conveys the same sense of urgency the original had 30 years ago, in a not quite as raw, but still a sufficiently rollicking package.
Although the rest of the CD features updated versions of “Too Much Time On My Hands” (slower, with synth lines updated to a more mid-90’s metal), and “Blue Collar Man”, one should note there are no new versions of “Babe”, “Lady”, or “Mr. Roboto”. Aka no Dennis DeYoung.