“During the '90s, such veteran arena rockers as Journey and Styx mounted comebacks, both of which featured…their classic lineups” (Prato). “Both reunions were fleeting, and instead of packing it up for good, both acts soldiered on with new frontmen” (Prato). Styx’s path involved “a very disjointed effort (1999's Brave New World), the ousting of founding member Dennis DeYoung, constant touring…and an endless stream of live discs while all the legal issues were being sorted out” (Burger). With longtime guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw (not an original member, but with the group since their ‘70s heyday) now captaining the ship, “Cyclorama is expectedly more straight-ahead rock than anything the band has ever done” (Prato).
This doesn’t look or sound a lot like the classic Styx of the ‘70s. Of the founders, only guitarist/sometime singer James “JY” Young remains, although original bassist Chuck Panozzo puts in some appearances. Filling Panozzo’s shoes is Glen Burtnik, who returns to the fold more than a dozen years after replacing Shaw on the 1990 Edge of the Century comeback album (an album which also lacked that Styx feel). Drummer Todd Sucherman, replaced the late John Panozzo in the mid-‘90s, and recorded with the band on the 1999 Brave New World album. Singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan, ”whose voice is in the same general ballpark as DeYoung's but never seems imitative” (CdUniverse.com), stepped in as DeYoung’s replacement as far back as 2000, but makes his first album appearance here.
It is Gowan who will either attract or detract fans. Replacing a legend has its price. “DeYoung brought balladry and…a flair for the dramatic” (Prato) which, even when silly (“Mr. Roboto”) or sickly sweet (“Babe”), gave the band it’s success and identity. DeYoung’s keyboard work also defined the Styx sound that made them the kings of arena rock in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Having said all that, and that the 2003 edition of Styx doesn’t exactly recall its counterpart of 25 years earlier, replacing DeYoung was the right move. On Styx’s two album efforts of the ‘90s, DeYoung’s taste toward balladry killed what little interest was left in the band. In fact, DeYoung hadn’t really churned out a pop gem with its feet firmly in both of Styx’s camps of rock and pop since 1981’s “The Best of Times.” After years of struggling to find their sound again, Styx returns to a much-needed rock base.
“The songs themselves are not far from the material Styx tackled in their '70s glory days, minus the pomp-rock touches and with a bit more of an edge” (CdUniverse.com). This is “especially evident on…Do Things My Way” (Forman), "a good, hard–rocking tune sung by Tommy Shaw to kick off the album” (Burger).
That song should have been the one announcing the new Styx to radio, but instead those honors went to Waiting for Our Time. While it doesn’t have the punch of “Do Things My Way,” this does have “a good mix of acoustic and electric guitars…and Shaw's voice is in classic form” (Burger).
Shaw shows up as frontman again later on the mid-tempo Together and the rocking One with Everthing. The latter features “a ripping keyboard solo by Gowan [like those] DeYoung was famous for…in the band's heyday…Gowan does not miss a step. The musicianship in this entire song is top-notch and Shaw delivers another great vocal performance” (Burger).
Yes I Can is “a really nice acoustic guitar-driven ballad sung by Shaw and Burtnik” (Burger) which, on one hand, is described as “maudlin” (Forman), but on the other hand described as “a great ballad…not overly sappy, like some of DeYoung’s recent offerings” (Burger). Shaw co-wrote the song with former Damn Yankees-mate Jack Blades.
Tenacious D show up as guests on the Glen Burtnik-led Kiss Your Ass Goodbye. A couple reviewers agreed that Styx are “trying to update their sound [in] an obvious attempt at honing in on Sum 41 and Blink-182 territory” (Prato). The final assessment is markedly different, however, as one reviewer says that the song “misses the mark badly” (Prato), while another review calls it "a pretty fast, three–chord romp that falls more in line with what bands like Blink-182 are doing. The only difference: these guys make that kind of music sound good” (Burger). The song is also described as “a power-pop gem with the verve of classic Cheap Trick” (Forman). Also of note, a funny, “hidden outtake from the sessions with Tenacious D” (Burger) appears at the end of the album.
Also written and sung by Burtnik is the “haunting” (Burger) Killing the Thing That You Love. “Gowan's piano work really stands out and the bridge of the song is just stellar, featuring Queen–like guitar harmonies and some great drum fills by Sucherman, almost as if he is channeling the spirit of John Panozzo” (Burger).
Gowan steps up as lead singer on Fields of the Brave and More Love for the Money. "The arrangements [on the former] are breathtaking and the lyrics and chorus are very powerful” (Burger). “Money” is “very Beatles-sounding and Gowan's voice, at times, resembles DeYoung…The songwriting is more along the lines of the old Dennis DeYoung, before he went soft” (Burger).
James Young leads “ambitious tracks [such] as These Are the Times” (Prato), which one reviewer says “threatens to summon the spirit of Stonehenge-era Spinal Tap” (Forman) while another reviewer calls it “the most Styx–sounding song they have done in a long time…[it] could easily fit onto classic albums such as The Grand Illusion" or Pieces of Eight” (Burger). JY also fronts Captain America, “an awesome rocker [that] harkens back to 1977's ‘Miss America’” (Burger).
One of the most noteworthy songs is Fooling Yourself (Palm of Your Hands), "a short…re–working of a Styx classic…done acapella with Beach Boys-like harmonies, and there's a reason for that” (Burger) – “Brian Wilson’s sumptuous vocal arrangement” (Forman).
In the most unusual of guest turns of the album, “Billy Bob Thornton’s guttural yowling” (Forman) is featured on the goofy, “tongue-in-cheek” (Burger) Bourgeois Pig. Thornton has actually sung in a band, but is still best known for his acting and frequent marriages. “Guest singer on an album by a has-been rock group” probably isn’t going to shore up his resume any. It’s anyone’s guess as to why Styx thought it would help theirs, either.
Genki Desu Ka, “a nice, relaxing little piece” (Burger), features more guests, this time John Waite and Jude Cole who, like Styx, had their better days years ago. Like Shaw, Waite had stints in a classic rock group (The Babys), as a solo artist (best known for #1 pop hit “Missing You”), and in a short-lived comeback supergroup (Bad English). Cole had a few hits, but was never big enough to even claim has-been status.
In the end, “this sounds like a true band effort, something…lacking from the last few albums with DeYoung still in the line–up” (Burger). ”Though the DeYoung days are seemingly gone forever, Cyclorama suggests that the remaining members of Styx never wanted time to stand still anyway” (CdUniverse.com). While Cyclorama is not going to “inspire a revisionist respect for the band at its commercial peak” (Forman), “this is the most hard–rocking and most cohesive effort from the band in quite awhile” (Burger). There is still enough of their “finely–tuned guitars, great keyboard work, and big vocal harmonies” (Burger) to “prove that Styx have more than enough musical vitality to transcend their peers on the casino and county fair circuit” (Forman).