After 1980’s ‘Paradise Theatre’, we would wait three years before hearing from AOR gods Styx again with ‘Kilroy Was Here’.
Written by: Lee South Africa
ALBUM: Kilroy Was Here
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Dennis DeYoung – vocals, keyboards * Tommy Shaw – vocals, guitars * James Young – vocals, guitars * Chuck Panazzo – bass, vocals * John Panozzo – drums, vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 Mr Roboto * 02 Cold War * 03 Don’t Let It End * 04 High Time * 05 Heavy Metal Poisioning * 06 Just Get Through This Night * 07 Double Life * 08 Haven’t We Been Here Before * 09 Don’t Let It End (Reprise)
WEBLINKS: Site Link
After the overwhelming success of 1980’s ‘Paradise Theatre’, we would wait three years before hearing from AOR gods Styx again. Why? Possibly buoyed by the positive response to ‘Paradise Theatre’s thematic approach, Dennis DeYoung became enamoured of the full blown concept album idea, one that could play out as a story on stage.
In attempting this, an age seemed to go by and relations with other band members, Tommy Shaw especially, became very strained. The concept of Kilroy was based around rock being oppressed and eventually fighting back to claim victory over the villains at hand. Ridiculous? Maybe, but the question I have going into this record is whether the concept serves the songs or if the songs end up serving the concept.
‘Mr Roboto’ sees Styx delve into hi-tech AOR right off the bat. This fairly pulses along, mostly dominated by synth and impossibly catchy melodies. There is some pomp and guitar flourish at times, a welcome reminder that their signature style is not altogether abandoned.
Of course this was a smash single as we all know, ending up a target for major derision to this day, even among many of the AOR faithful. I recall seeing an episode of ‘Chuck’ where members of the cast do a major cheesy send up of the song. I may be in a tiny minority here, but I can still enjoy it at high volume twice a year or so!
‘Cold War’ brings Tommy Shaw to the mike and we’re off and rocking, more traditional pomp AOR going on here and a pretty simple chorus it has to be said. Really enjoyed this, strong melody and air guitar inducing bits making for a winner on the old coffee meter.
DeYoung returns for ‘Don’t Let It End’, and I had my misgivings at the start, having visions of another ‘Babe’. Fortunately this cut develops into a sturdy midtempo AOR workout, the expected soaring Styx chorus neatly in place. Did it have hit single written all over it? Clearly so, and so it proved, also crashing into the US top 5 like it’s robotic predecessor.
‘High Time’ is something of a hybrid track, certainly pomp AOR but fused with lurching verse tempo and some theatrical, almost cabaret like delivery. Takes a little getting used to, and I could imagine this not being everyone’s cup of coffee. The chorus does the salvaging though, classic Styx through and through, leaving me with a positive feeling about the song overall. ‘High Time’ was the third and final single I know of, only a minor hit though.
‘Heavy Metal Poisoning’ is fairly heavy for Styx, but nowhere near metal, try a rabble rousing boogie riff and tempo instead, melodic and entertaining with a chorus that works, and is again typical Styx. ‘Just Get Through This Night’ is something of a showstopper from Shaw. Starting off with a lot of atmospherics, oriental sounding aquatic guitar plucking set against a delicious piano melody, we rise through the gears to achieve effortless midtempo AOR.
At times this reminds me of Todd Rundgren or Utopia in their best AOR form, right down to the vocal delivery. Dripping with melody, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you call the song sections bridges, chorus or anything else, just compulsory listening.
‘Double Life’ brings the dreaded James Young to the vocal mike, he of the baritone vocals. Here he seems to fit the tone and theme of the song in it’s conceptual context though, and it helps that he’s singing an AOR blinder. Surging along with power and a hook that Jacques Kallis would be proud of, the chorus sees the whole band chime in and elevate it to classic AOR status, for me at least. Tiered and terraced with all the Styx trademarks I expect, a chorus I keep returning to time and again.
‘Haven’t We Been Here Before’ sees DeYoung and Shaw presenting a power ballad of the soaring variety, and it’s not often that they share lead vocals. This is very skilfully done, their vocals providing counter melody to each other, and combining for an especially powerful AOR chorus. Could this have been a more successful third single?
The album wraps with ‘Don’t Let It End (Reprise)’, a compendium of the key melodies and moments from the album, racing off into the distance at quite a pace.
Despite all the tension in the band and widespread public derision, ‘Kilroy Was Here’ provided yet another multi platinum success for Styx, with two massive hits into the Bargain. I would hesitate to call it an AOR classic, but it has plenty of strong points to discover beyond the obvious hits. The Kilroy tour predictably revolved around the story of the album, each band member cast in a ‘role’ to act out on stage. Bizarre?
Yes indeed, but fans seemed to love it as audiences turned up in their droves. Recordings from this tour were released as ‘Caught In The Act Live’ in 1984, but by then the band members needed a good break from each other. One compilation surfaced in 1987 but the next studio album ‘Edge Of The Century’ would appear in 1990 with Shaw missing. In the meantime, could I suggest that Kilroy may just deserve a dusting off and re-appraisal?