I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Styx, Return to Paradise
CMC International Records, 1997
During their 1970s and '80s heyday, the classic-rock legends of Styx were almost as well known for drama between band members as they were for their music. Even during their most successful period, Styx was split into two factions that were constantly at odds.
On one side, guitarists Tommy Shaw and James "J.Y." Young tried to keep the band on a radio-friendly hard rockin' path with songs like "Renegade" and "Blue Collar Man," while lead vocalist and songwriter Dennis DeYoung was on the other side, trying to steer them in a more bombastic, theatrical direction with a reliance on big show-stopping ballads like "Babe" and "Lady." The constant schism between these two opposing visions eventually led to Styx's acrimonious split in 1983.
Styx reunited for the first time in the early 1990s without Tommy Shaw, who was involved with the band Damn Yankees at the time. When he returned in 1995, it reunited four-fifths of the classic Styx lineup, with Todd Sucherman in place of ailing drummer John Panozzo. They embarked on the successful Return to Paradise reunion tour in 1996, which was captured on tape by CMC International Records for a 1997 live album and video by the same title. Return to Paradise was Styx's first live release since 1984's Caught in the Act, and it featured three brand new studio tracks that represented their first new material in more than five years.
Not only was Return to Paradise a solid live performance by a legendary band, the song selection made it a pretty decent "greatest hits" collection for casual fans such as myself.
When I recently purchased a cheap used copy of this CD, I honestly wasn't expecting much from it—I thought it might get a few cursory listens before it wound up in my trade pile. However, it's become a surprisingly frequent spinner since I brought it home a few weeks ago. Hey, maybe I like Styx more than I thought. Who knew?
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"On My Way" (New Studio Track 1997)
Return to Paradise kicks off with two of the three new studio songs, "On My Way" and "Paradise." "On My Way" is a catchy, bluesy rocker with Shaw on vocals that sounds like a leftover from his former project, Damn Yankees. The credits reveal that it was in fact co-written by his Yankees bandmate Jack Blades, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was originally written for DY. "Paradise" is a ballad sung by DeYoung and though I have to say I have always preferred Styx's less theatrical, more rockin' side, I can't deny that the man's got an amazing set of pipes.
The live portion was taped on September 21, 1996, on the final night of Styx's reunion tour at the Rosemont Horizon (now known as Allstate Arena) in Rosemont, Illinois. Opening with "Rockin' the Paradise" from 1981's Paradise Theatre album, the band blows through a crowd pleasing 17-song set packed with old favorites like "Grand Illusion," "Too Much Time on My Hands," "Suite Madame Blue" (a highlight), and of course "Lady" and "Renegade." James "J.Y." Young gets a chance to bring out Styx's raunchier edge when he takes the mic on "Miss America" (which is actually pretty heavy duty stuff for these guys), and by the time the show closes with "The Best of Times" it doesn't sound like anyone in the crowd went home disappointed.
And the best part (for me at least) is that "Mr. Roboto" was nowhere to be found in this live set. (Sorry, but that song irritates the crap out of me...)
Disc 2 closes with the third and final new studio track, a plaintive acoustic song called "Dear John," written and sung by Shaw. The "John" in the title refers to drummer John Panozzo, who was too ill to take part in the '96 reunion and passed away prior to the release of this live album. This heartfelt ode to a lost friend and bandmate is the perfect capper to an excellent collection.
"The Grand Illusion" (live)
Return to Paradise sounded like a refreshed band that was firing on all cylinders, but the goodwill spawned from this reunion didn't last very long. Personal and musical differences returned during work on Styx's next studio album, 1998's Brave New World, eventually leading to Dennis DeYoung's permanent exit. Styx has continued to record and tour ever since with Canadian singer/songwriter Lawrence Gowan in DeYoung's place.
Return to Paradise is long out of print but is well worth taking the time to seek it out, as it captures a particularly special moment in Styx's history. I will probably never be a major Styx fan boy, but Return to Paradise was an impressive enough listen to earn a permanent spot in my CD collection.
© 2020 Keith Abt