In the television world, the phrase “jump the shark” pinpoints when a TV show goes bad. The concept could easily transfer to the music world, and there’s few clearer examples of when a band “jumped the shark” than with Styx’s Kilroy Was Here.
Styx had always had its detractors, but the throngs of arena rock fans clearly outnumbered them, having sent the band’s four previous albums into the top 10 and to multi-platinum status. 1981’s Paradise Theater provided the band their only #1 album backed by a loose concept of the pursuit (and loss) of paradise.
Clearly Dennis DeYoung’s inkling for theatrics got the best of him here; his hokey “concept about man being replaced by robots” (DeGagne) and rock and roll being banished made even Styx’s hardcore fans wince. Longtime guitarist Tommy Shaw wasn’t too pleased either; he left the band after this album. The band didn’t survive either; the next studio album didn’t come for seven years.
“The synthesized novelty of” (DeGagne) lead single Mr. Roboto definitely didn’t help. With its “mechanically spoken chorus and slight disco beat” (DeGagne), it was destined to gain plenty of airplay in the pop world, but it alienated Styx’s more rock-oriented fans.
The song “gained somewhat of a minor resurgence more than 15 years after its chart life” (DeGagne) when it was “brought back to life in the late ‘90s in an automobile commercial” (DeGagne).
The second single, “Don’t Let It End, almost captures the same endearing qualities as their number one hit, ‘Babe,’ did four years earlier” (DeGagne). This could also be considered a bad sign for hardcore Styx fans: while ‘Babe’ was Styx’s only #1 pop hit, it also bore the stigma of being a “power ballad.”
Still, from just a pop standpoint, “Kilroy Was Here…harbored two of the band’s best singles” (DeGagne). The fault of the album lay more in “pretentious, weakly composed, and rhythmically anemic, songs like Cold War, Heavy Metal Poisoning, and Double Life” (DeGagne). They “couldn’t even keep the album’s main idea interesting, solidifying the fact that Styx’s forte was singles, not conceptual pieces” (DeGagne).
“The saxophone playing from Steve Eison gathers some redemption, cropping up here and there, but even some decent guitar work from Shaw and Young can’t save the rest of the album” (DeGagne).