Kandi (with a “K,” thank you very much) clutched the brown box from Amazon and rushed to her apartment door. Almost too excited to use her key, she raced into the tiny one bedroom unit she rented and tore open the package. There it was, and it only took a week get to her. A double CD set from her two favorite bands, Styx and REO Speedwagon. She punched her bookshelf Awai stereo on and loaded the discs in, holding her breath until the music started. “Blue Collar Man” blared from the tiny speakers, and she was instantly transported back to the night she had seen these bands together, playing at an amusement park. Tommy T. had picked her up in his new PT Cruiser, and even though she woke up the next morning to discover she was wearing her new concert T-shirt inside out and it smelled funny, what she could remember of the show was good.
But as she listened further, she became confused. This didn’t sound anything like she remembered from the concert, and nothing at all like the albums she had purchased back in high school. She found the booklet that came with the CD and looked at the pictures. Who were all these old men? That short guy in Styx with the afro wasn’t there anymore, and REO was missing the chubby guitar player she remembered from the videos. She jumped the player to the REO disc, and tried to sing along with “Don’t Let Him Go,” but something was missing. As she puttered around her apartment, doing dishes and watering her plants, the music played on, but she barely noticed. Later that night, she played High Infidelity and Grand Illusion over and over, drinking a Zima. Then she filed her new CD away and slept the sleep of innocence.
Okay, now that the Lester Bangs moment is over, here’s the real deal, Camille. It doesn’t matter to me what you might think of these two Midwest wheat bands — love ’em, hate ’em, all the same to me. I thought it was boring, derivative crap in the ’80s, and my feeling hasn’t changed in 20 years. But when some jackass sent me this to review, I wasn’t expecting just how wretched it could be. Neither of these bands is even a pale shadow of what they once were, which wasn’t much to begin with. Styx leader Dennis DeYoung sits at home pouting that he isn’t at the front of the band he founded, and REO’s Gary Richrath is reduced to playing solo sets in sports bars. Be all that as it may, with the current trend of aged performers casting off the cozy confines of the Old Rockers Retirement Ranch and hitting the road, it was a slam-dunk that these two wheezing warhorses of schlock would hit the concert trail. I don’t begrudge anyone a living. Tommy Shaw, go ahead and screech yet another version of “Too Much Time on My Hands,” you peroxided elf. Kevin Cronin, take another hit of the stage-side oxygen tank and crank off another banal version of “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” which should be used in AARP commercials to ease people through the twilight years. But don’t expect anyone with even an ounce of self-respect to take you seriously. Both discs of this set feature “jam” versions of “Blue Collar Man” and “Roll With the Changes” — in addition to the single band versions! This is cruel punishment for even the most die-hard devotee of these bands. It’s not that this is bad rock and roll — we expected that from this pair for almost 30 years. No, this is not just a bad live album. This may be the single most embarrassing, hackneyed piece of marketing crap to ever to be foisted on music purchasers. For that, you bland, so far over the hill you can’t see anything but flatland hacks, you should be proud. You have reached the top, the pinnacle of your respective careers. This is truly no lower that you can go. But as long as there are drunken frat boys and giggly girls who never really graduated high school, I’m sure you’ll keep on trying.