Alpha Dog 2T / UMe
For fans still nursing a decades-long, Kilroy-induced hangover, embracing a new Styx concept record might prove a tall order. But fear not – despite any aversion to the “ambitious” space age storyline, The Mission succeeds in returning these arena rock poster boys to their golden era “A-game” form. For the most part.
Produced by longtime Styx associate, Will Evankovich, The Mission was recorded over a two-year period in various locales, including Martina McBride’s Blackbird Studios in Nashville. And it boasts highlights galore.
Packing all the punch of Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade soundtrack, “Overture” launches the record with near-“Roboto”-like intensity, but surrenders quickly to “Gone Gone Gone” and “Hundred Million Miles” – two solid slabs, both smeared with guitarist James Young’s gritty, metallic-tinged DNA.
The six-minute epic, “The Red Storm” delivers Edgar Winter-flavored riffs and oozes the band’s signature harmonies plastered across Tommy Shaw’s friendly and familiar-feeling lead vocals. Additionally, the delicate-sounding “Khedive” is a perfect vessel in which to transport Lawrence Gowan’s world-class piano prowess, while “The Outpost” navigates boldly from a futuristic synth mode into a roaring circa ’78 “Miss America”-style crescendo. And possessing a mid-’60s-era pop appeal, the record-closing “Mission to Mars” is a delightfully infectious sing-along.
But shining brightest among the set – a pair of perfect gems. “Radio Silence” is cut from the same stylistic fabric as their 1976 FM staple, “Crystal Ball” – an engaging, arena-worthy earworm, indeed. But wait, that track has an even sexier big sister – seemingly sprinkled with aural cocaine, “Locomotive” proves simply irresistible. Driven by Shaw’s honest and pure vocals and accented by a splash of “Have a Cigar”-inspired guitar swagger, “Locomotive” is not only the pick of this particular 14-pup litter, it’s one of the band’s absolute ALL-TIME best.
In sum, whether or not you’re on board for the record’s “ambitious” interplanetary tale, The Mission still stands tall as a powerful collection of rock solid songs. Hence, when band members tout the record in the press as being their best work since Pieces of Eight, you can believe the hype.