This is a crucial time for Styx and Journey, and they know it. Although their combination of smooth pop melodicism and hard-rock muscle has earned these bands a large following over the past five years, the ever-widening audience for such polished post-New Wavers as Men at Work, the Police and A Flock of Seagulls seems to indicate that Styx and Journey are up against stiff competition. As a result, the two groups are in the unenviable position of having to choose between soldiering on as before and risk ending up as dinosaurs, or attempting a... Read More
change of direction that could cost them a sizable chunk of their audience. And no matter what, the surest failure of all would be the appearance of complacency.
Both Kilroy Was Here and Frontiers do at least lend the impression that these two groups are taking giant steps of some sort. The problem is that neither group seems sure of where those steps are heading.
Styx, for example, has decided to further the dramatic aspect of its work, a direction that first cropped up on their last album, Paradise Theatre. That record boasted a central concept but relatively little plot; Kilroy, on the other hand, has so much plot that Styx put together an eleven-minute video dramatization as a preface for its concert appearances. But despite the project's obvious ambition, it comes off as both simple-minded and trite.
Set in an imaginary future, the story centers on the struggle between repressive authority and rock rebellion. Representing the forces of evil is Dr. Everett Righteous, the head of the Majority for Musical Morality and the architect of a ban on rock & roll. The good guys are Jonathan Chance, "the rebel leader of an underground movement to bring back rock & roll," and Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (ROCK get it?), a jailed rocker who escapes from prison by disguising himself as one of the robot guards. The synopsis inside the album package doesn't tell how this melodrama resolves, but it's not too hard to guess. Having rock & roll triumph over outrageous persecution is one of the oldest hack plots, and as always, there's no drama in this situation, just self-flattery.
Beyond the obvious ego inflation, though, Kilroy Was Here is a useful tactic for Styx. Its us-against-them dramatic mechanism carries the underlying message that Styx is rock & roll, a bit of psychological reinforcement that couldn't hurt in shoring up the band's following at a difficult time.
Although this dramatic overview may do wonders for the group's image, it poses some problems musically. Styx has always gone in for a somewhat showy sound, and Kilroy Was Here finds their writing at its Broadway best; unfortunately, while the melodies carry the all-purpose sparkle of a stage musical, the songs lack the sort of unity expected of a genuine theatrical production. Dennis De Young's "Mr. Roboto" is easily the catchiest tune on the album, but given the natu