Styx

Brave New World

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Apparently, there are more die-hard Styx fans in the late '90s than anyone would have imagined, since Styx quietly went gold with Return to Paradise, their first release for CMC International. Some might say that the success was due to re-recordings that peppered Return, but that's not true -- it never would have sold that much if it didn't have new recordings, since that's what the hardcore fans wanted. Return to Paradise gave them some, but Brave New World presents the first full-fledged collection of new Styx material in nearly a decade. Skeptics would expect the album to be nothing but reconstituted arena rock, but that's not entirely true. True, Brave New World is in that tradition -- after all, Styx was one of the architects of the style -- but they try new things too, such as Tommy Shaw's weird, neutered funk metal on "I Will Be Your Witness" and "Number One," or how James Young's songs push the heaviness quotient, or how the entire album is given a clean, contemporary sound. Ironic, then, that the record is a deeply cynical tirade at the '90s, this Brave New World. A true streak of bitterness runs through the record, culminating in the cringe-inducing assault on hipsters and pundits "High Crimes & Misdemeanors (Hip Hop-cracy)" (there could be an attack on rap and hip-hop in the song, as well -- the title certainly suggests it and maybe the canned drum machine is supposed to recall hip-hop, but it's impossible to tell). As it turns out, Styx are luddites, scared or disgusted at everything the modern world has to offer (except for their biggest fan, Adam Sandler, who is thanked in the notes); there's a genuine distrust for anything new, and deep longing for times passed (whether it's adolescence or the band's glory days, it's impossible to tell) pulsates throughout the album. For the devoted and doubters alike, that bitterness keeps things interesting, but Brave New World ultimately fails because the songs just don't catch hold. Whether they're good or bad, the themes are interesting, and Styx has a different feel for each song, but they have no hooks or melodies to make them memorable. Concept and construction may be enough to justify a spin of Brave New World, but only the hardcore fan will delve into its beliefs, contradictions, and mysteries.

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