Styx: Paradise Theater - Album Of The Week Club Review

Paradise Theater: a concept piece based on a fictional rundown venue, and a metaphor for the American dream

Styx - Paradise Theater
Styx - Paradise Theater

1. Rockin' the Paradise
2. Too Much Time on My Hands
3. Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
4. The Best of Times
5. Lonely People
6. She Cares
7. Snowblind
8. A.D. 1958

The last of Styx’s four consecutive triple-platinum releases, Paradise Theater was a concept piece based on a fictional, once glorious but now rundown entertainment venue in their home town – and also a metaphor for the American dream. 

The idea was enhanced by an impressive gatefold sleeve, with the band’s name also laser-etched onto side two. The decaying opulence of the design matched the musical mood.

For all its unlikely plot, and in stark contrast to the arguments that by now had enveloped the band, Paradise Theater is a cohesive collection of songs, from the strident Rockin’ The Paradise to the pop of Shaw’s Too Much Time On My Hands, and the DeYoung crooner The Best Of Times. Styx were living on borrowed time, but it didn’t show.

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Background

Things changed for Styx following Pieces Of Eight, released in 1978. Their next album, Cornerstone, veered away from the pomp rock majesty of their earlier work and opened up a new pop sensibility that, for many long-time devotees, sounded alarm bells and heralded a new era for the band.

Amazingly, however, their popularity continued unabated. The Dennis DeYoung ballad Babe, a track that was originally never intended to be a Styx track, became a huge worldwide hit, while Tommy Shaw’s Boat On The River, an equally left-field writing contribution, was a surprise hit in Europe, massively enlarging their international appeal.

On Paradise Theater, their 10th album, Dennis took the creative reins, allowing them to design an impressive stage show around his concept. Musically, however, it was clear that they were never going to return to the same style of progressive pomp rock that had propelled them to success in the first place.

Other albums released in January 1981

  • The Nature of the Beast April - Wine
  • Kiss Me Deadly - Generation X
  • Trust - Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Healing - Todd Rundgren
  • Welcome to the Wrecking Ball! - Grace Slick
  • Frost and Fire - Cirith Ungol
  • There Must Be a Better World Somewhere - B. B. King
  • Turn Back - Toto
  • The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent - UFO
  • Worlds Apart - Saga

What they said...

"For Styx, its success would spell both their temporary saving grace and ultimate doom, as the creative forces which had already been tearing at the band's core finally reached unbearable levels three years later. It is no wonder that when the band reunited after over a decade of bad blood, all the music released post-1980 was left on the cutting room floor -- further proof that Paradise Theater was truly the best of times." (AllMusic Guide)

"I remember some complained that Styx were "going Disco" on this album -- and sure enough there is some R&B syncopation here on tracks like Too Much Time on my Hands, although the cerebral lyrics are on a higher level than most 70s/80s dance music. There are plenty of themes Styx hit on here, such as cocaine abuse (Snowblind), estranged relationships (Half-Penny, Two-Penny), and urban despair (Lonely People). The centerpiece here though has to be The Best of Times and its look at the distant barren-ness of today's world, but despite the bleakness of the song there does seem to be quite a bit of forward-thinking hope about it. This has to be the best song Dennis DeYoung ever wrote." (Head Heritage)

"Listening to Paradise Theatre, I know I really liked pretty much every single thing about it, but I don’t feel like it gave me any more of an idea of what Styx was as a band. This feels like it’s such a coherent, singular, thematic piece, that I assume it represents a very specific time for the band, and probably isn’t a good representation of them as a whole." (Bored And Dangerous)

What you said...

Pete Mineau: When I was a freshman in high school back in 1973, I was sitting in art class one day when an older girl named Janelle, who was a Junior, walked in with an album under her arm. (The art teacher was very cool and laid back and used to let the Art II and Art III students play music while they worked. Being in ninth grade, I was still only in Art I.) Anyway, Janelle put on the the album and we all started to listen. I was immediately drawn to the band on the turntable! Great rocking guitars, prominent keyboards, and the vocals varied from song to song with very unique sounding vocals and excellent harmonies. I had to find out more about them. 

I slowly made my way over to where Janelle was sitting and said something like,"cool music...who are these guys?"

She looked up at me, handed me the album cover and said, "They're called Styx; this is their latest album." (It was Serpent Rising.)

I studied the cover and said, "Cool! (again!) I've never heard of them before...where are they from?"

Janelle replied, "They're from the Chicago area. I think their last album was better than this one. I'll bring it in tomorrow you can see what you think."

Well, she did and I fell in love with "Styx II"! I went out and bought it on 8-track tape and began hyping this new band that I "discovered" to my buddies!

Man Of Miracles came and went the following year without me even being aware of it. Then one day I stopped over to my buddy Randy's house and went downstairs to the basement where we hung out to find him listening to Equinox. We both suddenly had a new favourite album! (To this day, Equinox is still my favourite and gets my vote for "Best Styx Album"!)

Later that year, Styx was playing at the field house of the local university. We were quick to get our tickets! This was the days of general seating, so I made my way to the front of the stage where the keyboards were located and leaned against the barricade. I was blown away by the show! They played a lot of stuff from Equinox which made my day! 

Styx's next album, Crystal Ball, came out in late 1976 as we were just starting our Senior year in high school. My buddy Randy bought it but I wasn't all that impressed with it. I was still playing Equinox in heavy rotation! 

In early 1977, it was announced that Styx were going to play the college again. Just as before, we got our tickets and on the day of the show, I headed to the front and positioned myself in front of the keyboard stacks!

As they started to play I couldn't help staring to the right at this young looking guitar player wearing a white jumpsuit with shoulder-length platinum blonde hair and bangs. I became obsessed for the whole show trying to figure out, "is that a guy or a chick?"! I remember thinking, "If that's a chick...she's kind of cute in a weird way". I later found out this was Tommy Shaw! (Does this say something about me or him back then!?!)

The other thing I remember about that show was this drunk/high chick standing next to me at the barricade screaming, "Play 'Lady'!" after every song! Finally, Dennis DeYoung looks down and says in a mocking voice, "Play 'Lady'!...play 'Lady!, is that the only song you know by us!?!"

Eventually, they do preform the song and the chick goes wild! As soon as they finish it, she starts yelling, "Play it again!, play it again!". After a couple more songs ending and her yelling "Play 'Lady' again!", I moved to the other side of the stage to figure out what/who Tommy Shaw was!

By late 1977, I had graduated high school and moved from Michigan to California. Styx had released The Grand Illusion that past summer and they were all over the radio out there. Again, I bought the 8-track of it and preceded to play the hell out of it... so much so that, it's hard for me to listen to it today except for Miss America.

As 1978 rolled around, my musical tastes were growing. It was the beginnings of punk and new wave and I started to discover artists in those genres that began to take the place of the "older" music that I was listening to a few years earlier when I was in school. Styx was one of the casualties of me growing up. I still heard their new stuff on the radio, but nothing impressed me enough to run out and buy it.

These days, as they play the local casinos, I have seen Styx a few more times. Maybe I was hoping for a little nostalgic moment or something but this was not the band I remembered from my high school days! James Young was now clean shaven, Dennis DeYoung was gone and his stacks of keyboards replaced by some sort of spinning podium with a lighted Styx logo on it, drummer John Panozzo had passed away and his bass playing brother, Chuck, would only come out towards the end for a couple of tunes due to his illness. Oh yeah... and their was no mistaking Tommy Shaw for a chick anymore... unless you were into bearded women!

In regards to Paradise Theatre, like I mentioned before, I had long given up on Styx by the time it was released. Again, I heard the hits on the radio, but they fell on deaf ears, so to speak. I was more into The Clash, The Jam, Elvis Costello, and Talking Heads.

As the years passed, I found myself going back to the older stuff I used to listen to. The next thing I know, some sort of O.C.D. thing came over me and I decided that I need to own the entire catalogue of all the artists that I listen to. This included Styx!

So it was a bit of a time of rediscovery for me. The latter Styx albums were not as bad as I thought they were!

I'd give Paradise Theatre a rating of 3.5 out of 5. There are some pretty good rockers on it, but it's no Equinox!

Andrew Bramah: A great album from a band full of talented creative musicians. Very much "of it's time". Multi layered production but sounds a little too "constructed" now.

David Jones: I bought this on ltd edition laser cut vinyl. It was my first Styx album and for a long time my only one. At the time I quickly got fed up with its over production but years later I began to appreciate the symbolism. It resonates still today.

Ian Robertson: Love this album. Have the laser-cut edition displayed in my hallway and have been lucky enough to see them over here a couple of times. Snowblind is the best track for me, but to be honest, I love the whole album and it led to my lifelong love of the band.

Graham Tarry: The band had peaked well before this average album; check out the four releases from '75 thru to '78 for the best of Styx. The start of the slump was the success of Babe, and the belief that Styx fans wanted more of the same.

John Davidson: I liked Styx in my early teens - Equinox through Pieces of Eight - but got off the bus when they released Babe and never listened to this when it was released.

Overall, this is bland, over-produced pomp rock, so 80s it should come with a shoulder-pad warning and a big red sticker that says 'Contains Explicit Sax'.

On the up ide there is a some decent guitar work, but overall it sounds to me like Andrew Lloyd Weber decided to write a rock musical that's about as heavy as Elton John.

File under offensively inoffensive, it ticks along at its very pedestrian pace with hand claps, synths, electro bass and the obligatory saxophone solo. Which would be bearable (or more so) if the riffs weren't so forgettable. There are a few guitar solos or short flurries but nothing that makes me regret avoiding this in 1981. Give me Moving Pictures any day of the week before listening to this again.

John Edgar: I would definitely consider myself a long time Styx fan, but not a fan that thinks they can do no wrong. When I was a sophomore in high school, a couple of senior friends turned me on to the first four albums. Just a few months after that exposure, Equinox (still my favourite Styx album)was released, and within just a few weeks of that release the band played our area as the opening act for Foghat. 

The deal was sealed that night. For me, Equinox and the next four albums are highlights of 70s rock. Paradise Theater comes in right after that awesome run of five albums, and in a lot of ways, was the beginning of the end of the band I was so fond of. 

I bought Paradise Theater the day it was released. I hauled it over to a friend's house where several likeminded music fans gathered on a regular basis. Everyone enjoyed it. As the next few weeks rolled by, I became aware that I was spinning Paradise Theater a lot less than the previous releases. 

Over the years it has definitely taken a lower rung than 'The Great Five', but certainly not as low a spot as The 'Kilroy' release. Looking back, I think my main issue is that it overall rocks less than the previous five releases. It's just not as exciting. It would seem that it may be one of those albums that garnered big sales numbers because of the Styx releases that preceded it. It wasn't until many of us had bought it, and listened to it thoroughly, that we realized it was not the product we'd assumed it would be when we ran out and bought it. 

Is it a good Styx album? Yes, it's a good album. The problem is, it's not a great Styx album, and coming in after it's five predecessors, for me, it just doesn't quite measure up.

Michael Piwowarski: After the disappointingly pop-like Cornerstone, Styx rolled out what was arguably the band's last truly great album from the Dennis DeYoung era. Paradise Theater is a concept album about the rise and fall of the namesake theater, but despite the somewhat operatic tone and the newly added horn section, it is still 100% a definitive Styx album, inside and out. 

It successfully blends in storytelling elements with prog/arena rock music, without being too overbearing of a "rock opera." Aside from DeYoung's hits Rockin' the Paradise and The Best of Times, Paradise Theater also housed one of Tommy Shaw's most well known songs: Too Much Time on My Hands, which remains a concert staple to this day. You also get such gems as Snowblind and Half Penny Two Penny.

Again, my opinion is that Paradise Theater was the last Styx album from the Dennis DeYoung era that was truly great, and that's because Dennis was still acting as a positive driving force for the band. After this, he decided to mess around with flashy rock opera stuff and rolled out Kilroy Was Here, a disappointing departure from the musical identity that Dennis himself built along with his band mates. Kilroy would tear the band apart, not to reconvene for the long term until the mid to late 90s, when Dennis was eventually ousted for good and replaced with Lawrence Gowan.

Anyways, Paradise Theater was the last album of Styx's golden age. Although some of its overproduction hints at the atrocities to come in the next album, it's still a fantastic album nonetheless, and a high point in Styx's career.

Chris La Bar: I was a li'l guy, maybe about eight years old. On the way to summer camp everyday, or my aunts house for the day, we would always put music on in the car on the way. My mom has this dark blue CD with this gold logo on it. Styx: Greatest Hits

My li'l brain asked my mom to put the CD in. I thought the cover looked pretty cool. I was so mad when we had to get out, I thought the music was awesome. I think we got up to the third track or so, and I wanted to keep listening. That was the only music I really wanted to listen to for the longest time. So a couple months goes by and Christmas comes up. I open a small present and I see it’s Styx Gold

I always thought that there was a skip in the CD that made it skip to the next track when Dennis started into the last words “here at the para....” and then the next song started on the same letter, and CD players weren’t good enough to make it a seamless transition. But I finally got it on YouTube, a live version and I was blown away as to the progression of that transition! The CD started with that song and I was immediately hooked on the rest of the Styx catalog. 

Anyway, Styx Gold to me was my first Styx CD I owned, and I thought it was just so cool that I was listening to music that was made before I was born. Still have that CD, still listen to it every once in a while when I want the array of different Styx songs. 

I gotta say, Paradise Theater isn’t my favourite Styx album... but it's still a good one. They come right out of the gate with Rockin’ the Paradise, a very edgy tune with a lot of heavy guitar riffs, and vocal melodies that put you right in the middle of all of the sound that’s happening. Rockin’ the Paradise happens to be my favourite song on the album. Followed by Half Penny, Two Penny and She Cares. Half Lenny, Two Penny to me is one of those unmistakeable JY songs from the onset. Even though it sounds very similar to Miss America, from Grand Illusion (1977), it’s still a great song all in itself. The razor sharp guitar riff that starts the song and continues through the song cemented this into second place for me on the album. 

The song in a very close 3rd place for me is She Cares. The reason I like this track was because of Tommy. Some of my more favourite songs, and parts of songs, are when Tommy slowed it down a bit and broke out the acoustic. (All time favourite song by him is Crystal Ball... more on that on its anniversary). 

Some of my favourite songs are when the vocal melody is the main focus of the song. Makes me think that these guys actually have some shred of talent other than shredding. Anyhow, Tommy has always been, for me, among the top songwriters I’d love to try and replicate. Haven’t found that ability yet, but it will come. I never had the luxury of seeing these guys live when all these albums came out, and I’m really really jealous of all of you that did. 

I firmly believe that I was in fact born in the wrong decade. My favourite music, cars, technology all came from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I have always been very jealous of everyone who got to see the Beatles before they broke up, and Styx before John Panozzo passed, and Led Zeppelin before they just stopped. And I could go on forever. I’m really glad though to see that there is a huge following for these guys still, as they are my favourite band, and always will be. I’ve seen them once, it was at ArtPark (a really bad place to see a concert if you want lawn seats) and I won’t stop trying to see them again.

Richard Cardenas: Styx was a band I hated that put out albums I loved. 

Initially, I found them to be too poppy for my taste and did not care for their first two records. Then came Equinox and I was floored. Perfect balance of rock, prog and pop. The next two records delivered the same with Grand Illusion elevating their status to major headliner and delivering the goods. 

After that, for me it was too sterile so I stopped listening. 

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate more of their later work but for the most part it takes effort to listen to. 

I respect their talent but Paradise is a chore for me. I give it a 6/10.

Bill Griffin: Mostly good though the pop was becoming too prevalent, particularly and oddly with the songs Tommy Shaw offered up. Past and post history suggests Dennis DeYoung would have written them. What is good is really good but there is a fair amount of mediocrity as well.

Phil Yates: Memories of the ghastly Babe put me off investigating Styx for years, I suspect this would have done so for good! I'm really glad it didn't and Pieces Of Eight is one of my most treasured discoveries. This isn't all bad, it's just a little 'too much' and not particularly my thing. Never thought I'd say 'good job I heard Babe first'.

Shane Reho: A great comeback for them after the uneven (but still commercially successful) Cornerstone, and one of their better albums (Grand Illusion's their best for me, Equinox after that, then either this or Pieces of Eight). 

While the whole concept isn't easy to follow, that kinda works in the record's favour, as most of their stuff had been that way (Illusion and Pieces come to mind here) and later on when they (at least DeYoung) tried the easy to follow concept, it didn't work out as well (which isn't to say Kilroy Was Here is a bad album, it just has a few songs that don't work, better than Cornerstone though). 

Overall, there's not much bad that can be said about Theater, most of the songs work very well, and it winds up being a pretty fun album to listen to. 9/10. Track picks: Rockin' the Paradise, Nothing Ever Goes as Planned, Lonely People, Snowblind.

Carl Black: Lets go back and have a sneaky peek at the recording sessions for this album.....

Main Songwriter (MS): "Right lads, I've got a concept for this album, but I'm not really going to follow through with it and everyone will lose interest by the end anyway, everyone alright with that?"

Keyboard player (KP): "OK boss, I've got an idea for the opener."

MS: "That's great but you're forgetting, we are AOR. You know the rules, nothing too elaborate and don't push any boundaries. Let's use it, but I'll dumb it down with some run-of-the-mill riffs left over from the 70s."

KP: "Sorry boss, I forgot"

MS: "Rhythm section, what have you got for me?"

Rhythm Section (RS): "We just thought we'd do the same thing on each song"

MS: "Perfect. Blow me, who's that knocking on the studio door? Can't they see I'm trying to create a middle-of-the-road, pleasant rock album? Well, pull my trousers down and call me Lisa, it's 80 superstar and creator of sexy background music, Kenny G."

Kenny G (KG): "Alright guys, do you fancy some horns on your not-altogether-unpleasant album?"

MS: "Yes mate, fill your boots."

KP: "Can we do a reggae tune, boss?"

MS: "God dam it, Scorpions did that last week, but OK, only one song mind." 

We shall leave Styx there, and let them produce this average but instantly forgettable album. There they go... Say goodbye... Goodbye.

Brian Carr: I never dug deep into the Styx catalog, but for me, Pieces of Eight, Grand Illusion and this week’s Classic Album, Paradise Theater, were always favourites of mine. In the ensuing years, I’ve learned a lot more about their story. A band of two factions: the rocker singing guitar players with a fine knack for writing melodic hooks and the stage musical influenced singing keyboardist with a fine knack for writing melodic hooks. 

They made it work for a while, writing excellent and beloved songs (though certainly bland to many ears), culminating in this, their first and only number one album in the US.

Often called a concept album, either Tommy Shaw didn’t get the memo or he just didn’t care, since his contributions didn’t follow the narrative. Dennis DeYoung’s songs sort of gelled together, but for me, the concept is unnecessary. The songs are catchy, with nice guitar playing and great melodic vocals throughout (“I strut around the stage like a little king toniiiiiiiiiiight!” - I always loved the way that line was delivered). 

I’m not opposed to ballads, but DeYoung’s had a tendency to turn up the schmaltz meter to 11, which is definitely the case on The Best of Times. I always liked his voice, though. Tommy Shaw also has a fantastic voice and the vocal melody of She Cares is better than DeYoung’s top ten hit. I also am of the opinion that Tommy’s voice and songwriting overshadow his guitar playing skills.

JY’s contributions are killer: Snowblind and Half Penny, Two Penny. His voice sounds so sinister after listening to the more melodic duo (though the former has Tommy on lead vocals throughout most of it). What a great guitar riff on the latter track!

Styx raises the ire of many music fans for their overproduction and schmaltz factor, but their songs hit me when I was far less discerning in my taste and I never outgrew them. I always found their songs, sound and playing far more interesting than, for example, Foreigner or REO Speedwagon. And in an example of nice timing, I found this on vinyl this week, used, so it only cost me four or five bucks!

Shane Hall: I'll admit I rolled my eyes a bit when I saw that Paradise Theater was the week's selection. As progressive-tinged arena rock goes, Styx was never one of my favourites. Some songs I love; others, meh. I was 14 or 15 when Paradise Theater was released, and other than the songs that got the most airplay - Best of Times and Too Much Time on My Hands - I had never listened to the album in its entirety.

All that being said, I enjoyed Paradise Theater more than I thought I would. The Grand Illusion still ranks as their high point for me, but this wouldn't be far behind. While the members may have disagreed over direction - Dennis DeYoung vs. Tommy Shaw and James Young - overall the album strikes a decent balance between the former's theatrical, ballad-driven approach and the latter's wish to keep on rocking. 

I'm still not the biggest Styx fan, but this was a pleasant surprise.

Roland Bearne: I have never owned a Styx album so when I first saw them live (only in the last 15 years or so) I was blown away by what a powerful live band they are and by the fact that I knew every song!! Talk about osmosis. 

On a few listens I'm a bit torn with this album. On the one hand the production is cleaner than a scrubbed-in surgeon, really lush and it has a raft of lovely tunes... but on the other, for some reason I keep drifting away and thinking about other "stuff". Rockin the Paradise, Too Much Time On My Hands (love it since I was in a production of Rock of Ages) and Snowblind are highlights for me but I lose it somewhere along the line. Gorgeous vocals and playing though and I'll delve further into the back catalogue.

Mark Cutler: In the seventies and eighties I avoided Styx as much as possible. I liked gritty vocals, I listened to bands like The Clash, Elvis Costello, Slade and Blondie. Styx had a couple of songs I liked but I never bought and album by them. Like Roland Bearne above I saw them live a few years ago and thought they were great live, still never listened to an entire album by them. I'm 61 now and have mellowed a bit and after listening to this all week gave it a solid 7.

Final Score: 7.17 ⁄10 (202 votes cast, with a total score of 1450)

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