Twelve Million Streams Later, Jase Harley Invites Listeners ‘Between the Lines’

In the new frontier of the music industry, streaming is not only a way for artists to get discovered but also a conduit connecting them to fans. R&B songsmith Jase Harley has racked up a staggering 12 million streams on is his 2016 album Free Pxrn: the Memoir of an American Heathen after breaking on Pandora. His style, while influenced by hip-hop, soul, jazz, even film composers like Hans Zimmer, is similar to the Weeknd’s genre-blending sound and Drake’s pop transcendence.

The inspiration for his songs, Harley says, comes from real life. “I don’t rap about anything that doesn’t happen to me,” he says. In fact, his latest single, “Between the Lines,” is “about the relationship between me and one of my exes.”

In his new video for “Between the Lines,” Harley and dancer Olivia L. Burgess display the delicate back and forth of a couple on the brink of destruction. Calling back to Flashdance, it shows off Burgess’ fleet feet amid Harley’s delicate beats and emotional melodies.

Check out Jase Harley’s video for “Between the Lines” below!

5 Songs That Inspired the World-Music ‘Journey’ of Shahed Mohseni Zonoozi

With the goal of taking listeners on a world tour of sorts, Intercontinental Concerts and founder Shahed Mohseni Zonoozi combine musical styles from around the globe to craft something with international flair that’s still accessible regardless of taste. Iranian-born Zonoozi’s latest release, The Journey, features songs in both Russian and Tajik Farsi, displaying inspiration nothing short of divine.

“In general, whenever I listen to a new song, I try to check the details and learn something from it,” he says. “There are always some points in the subject, the words, and their order in lyrics, type of instruments, melodies, arrangement, mix, and sound…. Even I sometimes learn [how] music never should sound like some tracks!” 

Because of the varied influences behind The Journey, we asked Zonoozi to create a mini-playlist of five songs that inspire him.

1. “Memories of You,” Sirvan Khosravi

Iranian pop artist

Well, based on my iTunes plays counter, I listened to this song over 716 times so far since it released in 2014! This is absolutely my most favorite song. Fantastic arrangement and performance together with a story that’s being narrated with very simple words but in an interesting order offered me a new point of view of presenting emotions through music.

Analyzing the vocal production, background sounds and the mix led me to some new ideas in production as well.

2. “Quantumising Myself,” Okan Ersan and Istanbul Superband

(Ersan is a Turkish Cypriot jazz fusion musician)

When I heard this music for the first time, I was in shock for a while, and by listening more and more and paying more attention to details — from melodies and arrangement to mixing and mastering — this track caused me to see music at completely another creative level. Various rhythms and melodies and the ethnic phrases and flavor are the most impressive to me.

3. “Luna,” Alessandro Safina

I heard this song in 2008 when I was so young and studying music. I took music composition and classic vocal courses, and Safina’s singing style [influences]…. I rehearsed for several years to be able to cover this song. The experience of singing in this genre as well as trying some other genres caused me to finally find my own right sound and style!

4. “Give It All You Got,” Chuck Mangione

The recording and mixing of this track are the most outstanding points to me. However, it’s an old record, [but] the clarity of sounds is awesome and even became a reference for me when I mix.

5. “All I See is You,” Dave Koz

I have a cool story of how this music affected my album’s journey!

I was in Istanbul and looking to buy good headphones for mixing. I went to a shop and asked for headphones. I was provided some models and a player to hear how they sounded. “All I See is You” by Dave Koz was playing and sounded really good. I was [entranced] by the music and completely forgot to compare the headphones. While the salesman was changing the tracks to explain his headphones’ sounds for various genres, I grabbed the player to turn back to that track and take a picture of the artwork to [find out] the artist and song name.

I bought the headphones and immediately left to find and buy the track through my computer at my hotel and listen more times. Two years later, I recorded and mixed the whole The Journey album with the same headphones!

Dizzy Heights #20: There’s No Rehearsal

This show normally runs on a Thursday, but vacation beckons, so I’m posting it early. I apologize for the inconvenience.

With the exceptions of the bookends, this show is a love letter to Milwaukee’s Summerfest, because you will be hard pressed to find a better music festival bang for your buck than this, and my lovely wife and I are going for the first time in well over a decade. Which day will we be attending? All will be revealed when you press Play, but I will tell you that it’s basically my music collection in the flesh.

I also make shameless references to the following Popdose articles:

Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock

The Popdose Interview with Terri Nunn

Nike – Human Chain ad

And tangentially, this Super 700 song

Thank you, as always, for listening.

ALBUM REVIEW: MIDNIGHT NORTH, “Under The Lights”

San Raphael’s Midnight North have just unwrapped their new album (their third), Under The Lights, and it may be wishful thinking that this will be the one to really put them on the map.  The band’s warm, rich, sometimes soulful, sometimes funky-jammy sound is soothing to the ear and it does make you stop and think when listening to the words (which to me is important).  The combination of melody, drive and harmonies makes this an album that makes you feel good.

Opening with the country-tinged, rockin’ steady title track, the balance of acoustic guitar, Nashville-styled riffs and fills and thrashing on the chorus, it’s the perfect way to get this collection started.  Segueing into the more groove-infused “Playing A Poor Hand Well” is a spot-on showcase for Elliott Peck’s vocals plus the sweet Hammond B3 sound and horn punches gives this a Memphis feel, which is near and dear to my heart.  And the strident “Everyday”, again, punctuated by beefy horns and a great single-note piano foundation rounds out a trifecta that tells me the band know how to open an album – start with three different styles and you will have the listener paying close attention.  “Romin’” has that get-down, jam feel, but is another solid groover with an equally solid chorus and the use of different vocalists makes it an even stronger piece; the twangy, slower pace of “Back To California” is another standout; “One Night Stand” is thumper – a country stomper and a good time vibe and “Echoes” may be my favorite – the most radio-friendly, pop number that has a certain R.E.M. touch to it (I immediately thought of “Driver 8” and “Texarkana”, frankly).  That minor comparison aside, it’s a damned good song, with riffs, drama and great vocals.

Eleven songs to listen to, think about, and then listen to again – and it’s easy to bounce around to really enjoy this very fine collection of songs.  A tip of the hat to Midnight North – an album well done, filled with a steady diet of devourable sounds and a little something for everyone.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Under The Lights is currently available

http://midnightnorth.com/

What’s THAT Supposed to Mean?: Silversun Pickups, “Panic Switch”

Are you pistol-whipped? Do you release the glitch? Can you fall asleep with a panic switch? What’s THAT supposed to mean?

Quite by accident, this series has had much more to say about the expressiveness of music than the brilliance of lyrics. I’m OK with that. I majored in music, not poetry.

And this one comes from a strange place. Singer/guitarist Brian Aubert says (see the Songfacts link he and bassist Nikki Monninger were typing dirty words into a thesaurus with a computer voice, yadda yadda yadda, here’s a song about nervous breakdown.

At Genius, the contributors think the first verse depict a man trying to sleep but thinking of a failed relationship. The alarm clock and white noise machine aren’t helping.

SongMeanings has one interesting suggestion — it’s about an anxiety attack about the music industry, not a failed relationship.

Songfacts has one funny addition — Mitt Romney started using this song in his campaign, much to the band’s amusement. Rolling Stone confirms.

All interesting, and I still have no idea why someone having a nervous breakdown over a relationship of any kind would need a panic switch. Whom would the panic switch summon? Who would present a clear and present danger? Are they worried that a record company executive might come through the window, and the panic switch triggers an alarm in their agent’s office?

My best guess is that whatever situation is plaguing the protagonist here has created a fit of paranoia. Which makes it especially hilarious that Romney used it in his campaign.

The lyrics are fine. Deconstructing them too much surely misses the point. But what pushes this song into brilliance are the instrumental flourishes that convey a sense of uneasiness and anxiety more efficiently than any words could.

Monninger’s bass line is the key. Through the verses, she repeats a one-measure riff with a rhythm that is both steady and unsettled. Three notes are off the beat — if you use “1-e-and-a” to count 16th notes, they’re on the “a” of 1, the “and” of 2, the “e” of 3. Then she climbs back up to the top of the octave on “4-and-1.” The effect is like someone thrashing around between coherent and incoherent thought. The “4-and-1” is unrelenting, like a throbbing headache. (But it sounds so good!)

In the chorus, the bass line settles down to steady eighth notes, as if the protagonist has managed to catch his breath and assess the situation. But it’s not resolved. Aubert restates the opening guitar riff as Monninger goes back to the churning pattern of the verses.

The bridge adds a twist. The bass line, again, is steady eighth notes. But this is where Aubert repeats the phrase “I’m waiting and fading and floating away.” It’s as if the protagonist has managed to take stock and simplify the situation, and … it’s not good.

After restating the chorus, with a bit of backup vocals in the mix, Monninger and Aubert play the main riff together while drummer Christopher Guanlao — who plays a complex but subdued part through most of the song — thrashes wildly.

The song is a perfect showcase for a band that sometimes sounds like Smashing Pumpkins — high-pitched male voice, similar guitar sound — but has a unique style that lends itself to subtlety. Keyboardist Joe Lester plays synths that seem to have more buttons and knobs than keys, usually taking a complementary role while Aubert, Monninger and Guanlao serve as a quirky power trio, sometimes inverting the bass and guitar roles like Entwistle and Townshend in The Who. Guanlao has one of the strangest drum kits in music — nearly everything is to his left except a floor tom and a crash cymbal raised so high that he can barely reach it.

The video is a fairly typical sequence of quick cuts, but it also gives us a few glimpses of the band in action. Check out Guanlao’s left-hand alternation between the hi-hat and the ride.

So we still have a few questions. Who’s having the breakdown — the protagonist or the other party? Why is it “you” through most of the chorus but “she” in the last line? Have the sales of panic switches gone up as a result of this song, or have they dropped because references to the song now occupy most of the first page of search results for “panic switch”?

But Panic Switch is a compelling, relatable listen. And its clever instrumentation puts it several rungs ahead of most alt-rock angstfests.

Why Patent Pending Decided to Merge Two Monster EDM Tracks Into One Catchy Pop Song

A few years ago, the first mashups took the internet by storm. Soon, merging two songs to create one bangin’ track (or video, as was commonly the case) was a straight-up craze. Where bands had always gained notoriety for their covers, mashups made them their own breed of bonafide superstar.

For Patent Pending, one particular mashup was a way to shed light on the original versions of the songs. Their creation blends two recent megahits: Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and Tiesto’s “Wasted,” both EDM staples at this point. PP frontman Joe Ragosta says, “It’s very common and very easy for people to overlook EDM music. We wanted to make these two songs rock so people who would much prefer rock to EDM could hear these tremendous melodies and catchy singalong parts it in a more familiar way.”

The band, whose signature sound also fits nicely in the whiny, Blink-182-ish pop-punk renaissance of the moment, doesn’t shy away from a challenge when it comes to either mashups or covers. In fact, on their new album, Other People’s Greatest Hits, they bravely tackle everything from Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”

Get a taste of Patent Pending’s catchy, flashy flair in their colorful video for “Wasted”/”Wake Me Up” in its Popdose premiere below!

ALBUM REVIEW: BIG STAR, “The Best Of Big Star”

So here’s the short version – Stax Records, in conjunction with Ardent, has finally released a sensible compilation of Big Star’s best moments – even though there have been several import editions of variations to this theme, this brand-new CD, The Best Of Big Star, is – for all intents and purposes – just that.  Now, I DO have my few questions about some of the choices (which I’ll get to, momentarily), but for anyone who has been curious yet never took the plunge into the Big Star canon,  this is the perfect primer.  It’s also an ideal way to pass the legacy/legend down to the younger generations who just don’t know.  This is a fine way to help anyone who hasn’t heard these remarkable songs begin to appreciate how vital; how important and how timeless Big Star and their music was/is/will forever be.

Big Star never had “hits” but for those of us who have been along on their magnificent ride, the hits are, indeed, here.  It’s also worthwhile to note that this CD has the special “single” edit mixes and the previously-unavailable on any album/compilation original 45 version of “September Gurls”, with the difference in pitch – 6 tracks in all that haven’t been heard in decades is enough to intrigue anyone.  But on one CD, you have “When My Baby’s Beside Me”, “September Gurls”, “The Ballad Of El Goodo”, “Thirteen”, “Back Of A Car”, “Thank You, Friends”, “Jesus Christ”, “O My Soul” and so on.  Sixteen songs in total; no filler.

Where my personal tastes dispute a few – and I do mean just a few scant choices – of the tracks are simple:  I would have rather had “Big Black Car” in place of “Take Care” (from 3rd); I would have chosen “Daisy Glaze” instead of “Life Is White” (from Radio City) and instead of “I’m In Love With A Girl” (also from Radio City), I would have picked “Try Again” (from #1 Record).  Am I nit-picking and splitting hairs?  Sure.  But it’s my preferences, that’s all.  THAT would have made it a truly “best of” in my mind – and with the flow of the songs.  On the other hand, “Back Of A Car” is on here and to me, that’s THE most perfect Big Star recording – those sparkling, glistening guitar notes;  the buoyant vocals – listen to how Jody’s drums “circle” the speakers during the second verse – I’ve listened to it endless times and still marvel at it.  Or the on-the-one perfection that is “When My Baby’s Beside Me” – still my favorite Big Star track (and probably 4th favorite song of all-time in the history of peoplekind).

With precise, heartfelt and accurate liner notes from noted Memphis author/music historian Robert Gordon, a tasteful digipak and sixteen magnificent songs for the ages, you cannot go wrong with this “best of”.  Because Big Star were the best of everything music had to offer – impeccable songwriting, other-worldly vocal harmonies, stellar musicianship and a sympathetic/experimental producer in the late, great John Fry to help pull it all together.  I’ve often thought, as I’ve aged and time has passed, that Big Star were as important as The Beatles.  They certainly are to me.  And that will never change.  Neither will the unadulterated beauty of their music.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – ESSENTIAL LISTENING

The Best Of Big Star is currently available

https://bigstarband.com/

 

Theater Review: “The New Bad Boys of Magic”

The estranged members of a magic act reunite on stage during The New Bad Boys of Magic, a one-act play now holding performances as a part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Daniel Donohue and Eric Siegel star as Dan and Eric, two down on their luck magicians who work through their issues in the middle of one of Dan’s performances. They haven’t seen each other in years, and Eric’s appearance is a shock.

Despite the misleading promotional art for the play, Dan is hardly a “bad boy” of magic. On the contrary, he’s a swell kind of guy who has to make a living doing kids birthday parties. It wasn’t always so bad. When he and Eric were together, they were an act in Vegas. Unfortunately, Eric took to the bottle and now he’s a homeless drunk.

He barges in on Eric’s family friendly show, drunk and belligerent, and things quickly turn R rated. Over the course of an hour, they work through their issues, and actually perform some nifty tricks, making “The New Bad Boys” time well spent, if you like sleight of hand and edgy humor.

Donohue and Siegel are engaging actors, and they play their roles quite well. Donohue has a boyish charm about him that makes him quickly likable, while Siegel easily slips into the part of a complete asshole that can’t let go of his grudges. Their believable relationship is what holds the play together, despite its shortcomings.

Does Siegel play a good drunk? Not really. Maybe it was the nerves of opening night, but his version of an alcoholic comes across as play acting. Likewise, the exchanges between the actors felt stiff at times, as if they were still getting comfortable with the material. I suppose with more shows under their belts, the lines will sound more authentic and the illusion of whether you’re seeing a play or actual events will get pulled off more successfully.

Speaking of illusions, the magic tricks are great fun for the audience. The best involved a bottle of 151- proof rum and had some audience members gasping. On the flip side, a lengthy card trick that involved storytelling wasn’t quite as successful. The cards were difficult to see from my seat, and since the bit was so long, it was difficult to maintain enthusiasm.

I suppose the limitations of a tiny theater (I think it sat 50, maybe) may be a reason behind the difficulty pulling off this trick. But every magician knows they have to play the whole room, and the room I was in had a hard time following the trick. They might consider adding more and different tricks to replace this one.

On the same issue of their room, despite the tiny stage size, Donohue and Siegel need to use more of their surroundings. Too often, the stage direction was the two of them standing center stage, facing each other, shutting out their audience.  The confines may have been tight, but there was plenty of space considering they had limited props. Considering that the show’s director, Jonathan Hymen, is a veteran of Chicago theater, I hope they can work this out.

Nevertheless, the actors, both disciples of Chicago’s Second City, and whose work has appeared on TBS and Funny and Die, know how to entertain and make you laugh. The New Bad Boys of Magic is very funny, and if they can continue to pull off that trick, the other elements will fall into place.

The New Bad Boys of Magic play at the Hollywood Fringe Festival June 17 at 3:30pm, and June 24 at 10pm. All performances are at the Flight Theatre at the Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90038.

Tickets are $10 and can only be purchased online, at www.hff17.com/4501, or by phone by calling (323) 455-4585.

Album Review: Styx, “The Mission”

You have to use a specific formula when you review a Styx album. Admittedly, critics haven’t always done so, nor have they needed to for a while. The last album of all new material, Cyclorama, came out in 2003. Between then and now, the band has released one album of cover songs, a series of EPs where the band covered themselves, and several tours. That Styx was able to finally make an album of new material is to be applauded. Many artists of their vintage don’t see the value proposition of making anything new, particularly when the next tour comes around and all anyone asks for is “Come Sail Away.”

Because of this extraordinary step, it is justified to give the band’s latest, The Mission, as fair a hearing as possible. Not that such should ever be doubted, but the band will forever have to deal with Kilroy Was Here as part of their legacy; an album that, even on the level of kitsch and novelty, withers under scrutiny. Thus, that specific formula has to be applied.

You can only measure Styx albums against other Styx albums.

Styx never has and never will produce something on the level of “All Along The Watchtower.” You might measure “Come Sail Away” against “Stairway To Heaven” on the basis of audacity, but even so, the former comes off as extremely broad when benchmarked against the latter. You can’t even really measure Styx songs against “Don’t Stop Believin’,” or “High Enough,” even though Tommy Shaw was/is a member of both Styx and Damn Yankees.

But if you match Pieces Of Eight against Edge Of The Century, or Paradise Theatre against Brave New World, you can make it work. Why is this necessary? Because, in order to sound like a proper Styx song, you need to balance three opposing personalities. First you need bombast and theatricality, as embodied by former bandmate Dennis DeYoung, whose stamp on the group is so indelible that, even after his departure, he still is regarded as the “voice of Styx.” Then you have a sort of “meat ‘n potatoes” version of rock, as personified by Tommy Shaw. Finally, you have James Young. Even though he’s never verbalized it, to our knowledge, Young always comes across as a guy who would have loved to have been a classic “rock weirdo” in the mold of an Alice Cooper, KISS, or even Marc Bolan. He straddles the fence between the other two band personalities in this way, and because he has acted as this unifying force, has needed to tamp down that freak flag that always feels just slightly out of frame.

So there you have it. It is hard for Styx albums to compete with other bands because there’s so much competition within its own ranks. You get either cohesion or breakdown when one of these forces shouts down another. But, you might interrupt: DeYoung is not in the band anymore. Isn’t this pattern broken? Not necessarily. Even though he’s been with the group for fourteen years, Lawrence Gowan is stuck with the unenviable position of not only being “the new guy” but of replacing an outsized musical presence such as is DeYoung’s. He has to bring drama without bring “the drama” or it just won’t sound like the band (a malady that took down Cyclorama at the knees).

That’s quite a preamble. Is The Mission worth the effort? Popdose’s Ted Asregadoo and Dw. Dunphy dare to compare.

Dw: As the opening suggests, you can’t measure Styx albums against, say, Journey albums, or Kansas albums, or U2 albums, or whatever. You have to see how they fit into the very specific thing they do and, by and large, The Mission is successful under those conditions. It sounds good, it sounds like the band you remember from the late 1970s, much more than what the band would become in the ‘80s.

Lyrics are still a sore spot with Styx, no matter who is writing. There’s no room for subtlety with them. If they’re singing about a mission to Mars, that’s not a metaphor. They’re going on a mission to Mars. This is particularly true with the song “Gone, Gone, Gone” which opens up the record proper (after “Overture”) which uses a lot of gung-ho, psyche-up language.

The song “Khedive” is mostly an instrumental, and the playing on it is pretty extraordinary. I was hoping that it would build into a massive crescendo of some sort, but it doesn’t quite pay off. The band sings “khedive!” at the end, which is the name of the ship on this mission to Mars. (Apparently, it means: “The title of the monarch of Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, nominally a viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey.”).

So up to this point, I’ve sounded fairly negative. What I want to put across is that while there are a lot of imperfections throughout The Mission, it is still very enjoyable. It feels, in terms of narrative, like Styx were taking a cue from Queen’s soundtrack to the Flash Gordon movie. Plus, there are two really good songs on here…good enough that they can fit seamlessly into the live repertoire, I think. “Locomotive” and “Radio Silence” really stand well on their own but are not — and this is important — singles. If people buy this record looking for a new “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “The Best Of Times,” “Don’t Let It End,” or even “Show Me The Way,” they’re going to be disappointed.

You need to get to this album with low expectations, and afterward, you’ll be positively surprised. If you actually are expecting The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theatre, you could be let down. But it’s definitely not Kilroy or Brave New World, that’s for sure.

Ted:  I think you’re absolutely correct in your view that this is not a singles-driven Styx album.  The Mission certainly hearkens back to their pre-Cornerstone or Paradise Theatre era when the band was writing songs that weren’t laced with backward looking romanticism. This is certainly a forward looking concept album, but you can’t have a mission to Mars without humans taking their cultural conditioning with them.  That certainly comes out in the lyrics. There’s kind Star Trek quality to the lyrics that make me think Gene Roddenberry would be happy with the whole “wagon train to the stars” vibe.  The sense of adventure, swagger, wonderment, and moments of longing are the stuff of Captain Kirk and the crew — but Styx handles it without the campiness.   

Personally, I love how “Overture” sets the tone with a classic Styx sound that’s both ethereal and melodic —  and then kicked it into high gear with “Gone, Gone, Gone.”  The latter song really rocks, has great Styx harmonies, and J.Y. Young’s playing is just flat out great. “Hundred Million Miles” is one of those mid-tempo numbers that’s a nice transition song to push deeper into the journey. It’s not proggy in feel (as the songs later in the album are), but it seems the band keeps with a standard song structure so the transitions from song to song aren’t as jarring.  

As a musician Dw, I’m curious to know your thoughts on the music on the record. I’m just a music fan, but you actually compose music. From my view, I think the band is both playing at a level I haven’t heard in a long time, and the music itself is just solid.  How ‘bout you?   

Dw: One of the best parts about the album is that they’re doing it as a rock band. The thing that sinks a concept album or a rock opera the quickest is when songwriters think they’re librettists. That’s when you wind up with singers, belting at the top of their lungs, “I’m so sad!” Then you’re really in trouble.

That said, I think the band left some money on the table.

I’m sure they’re gun-shy and don’t want to cross into Kilroy territory, but I felt like this story needed a couple more songs. Usually I’m asking for fewer, so it comes as a surprise to me. But I would have loved to hear a song that voices regret about leaving earth, something more personal and individual-driven. Like a voice of resentment that previous generations screwed things up so badly that such a mission was a necessity in the first place. That would have been a prime spot for J.Y. to rant and rave.

Or, perhaps, the child or other family member that harbors resentment that a parent is taking off and leaving them behind. Surely some people are going to be left behind while this “wagon train to the stars” does its duty.

Speaking of which, I’m reminded that Styx once did a song called “Why Me?” It would have been a fun turn to have a song called “Why You?” which voiced the frustration of those who were rejected from taking the mission. But maybe these could have flirted with Kilroy’s cheesiness, so perhaps it’s for the best that no such things are here.

Ted: If there’s glaring flaw in the record, it’s the last song “Mission to Mars.” For all the build up in the story, the conclusion fell flat. The song itself sounds a bit like a tack-on and lyrically it doesn’t do much to conclude anything.  So, while I really enjoyed the journey Styx took me on, the end of the ride seemed like a bit of a letdown.  From “Time May Bend” (which has many proggy elements),“Ten Thousand Ways,” “The Red Storm,” the rolling keyboards of “Khedive” and even the soaring quality of “The Outpost” it all seems to work as part of the narrative.  But once “Mission to Mars” comes on, I was kind of scratching my head and wondering, “That’s it?”

Dw.: Yes, “Mission To Mars” is a toothless coda. It feels hollow; a big, “Yay, we made it!” but for what value? As the opening section to, perhaps, a reprise of “The Greater Good,” now with more of a positive sentiment behind it, perhaps that would have made a more satisfying end. I think that would have upped the progressive feel to the whole thing a notch.

But I don’t want to linger too much on where the record falls down. It could have been much stronger, in my opinion, but it also could have been magnitudes weaker. When the album works, it works very well, and I think Styx is to be commended for all of those moments. For as fractious a group as they’ve been over time, and for the long period where they did not have new material, no one could predict they’d come up with something that hits more than it misses than this album.

Ted: During their heyday, Styx seemed more like a corporation than a band. From their VH1 “Behind the Music” episode, Tommy Shaw wasn’t masking how disillusioned he was when the band moved away from their progressive and hard rock roots to a hits driven band. And yeah, it’s easy to rag on Dennis DeYoung, but he did write most of their most memorable songs. But Shaw, J.Y., and even the Panozzo brothers were much more committed to Album Oriented Rock than Contemporary Hit Radio, so for this current incarnation of the band to go back to the 1975-1978 sound as a conscious decision was a smart move. At this stage of their career, Styx doesn’t need another ballad with the word “paradise” in it. They started as a rock band whose sound intersected with progressive rock — but was much more melodic — and that’s where their roots are.

On The Mission they really do get back to their roots in a way that’s not campy, ironic, or ham-handed. Given that the group’s last record of original songs was in 2003, it was a gamble to attempt something like this. They took their time (something like two years) and the songs are, for the most part, squarely in the best of the hard rock tradition. Credit goes to both Tommy Shaw and Will Evankovich who had the vision (and the songs) to make The Mission a satisfying return for Styx as songwriters, players, and a band. And on the production side, I’m very grateful they also created a sonic treat for music fans. In other words, the record sounds great!