This is the 2006 re-mastering of Styx’s transitional period when founding member John Curulewski left and current long-standing member Tommy Shaw came on board. 1975’s Equinox has Curulewski’s final efforts as songwriter and guitarist. The following year’s Crystal Ball begins Shaw’s long tenure with the band. It makes sense to have them together on one CD like this one.
“Light Up” has to be one of the best stadium openers in history. This surely was a major crowd pleaser. I can picture the entire audience pulling out their lighters when the band sings “Light up everybody. Join us in this celebration!” Four notes played with precision over and over start “Lorelei.” Dennis DeYoung’s masterful keyboard playing compliments his dramatic style of singing. Here he hasn’t yet gone over the top vocally like he would in later years. In the mid-70s his vibrato flair for the dramatic works very well. What’s funny is this song probably would have been sung as a ballad if written in later years. On Equinox, it’s one of the best tracks.
“Mother Dear” is one of only three Curulewski tunes on the record, this one co-written/sung by DeYoung. It feels like Curulewski is already detached by this time and lets the others in the band take the reins for the most part. They certainly step up and deliver some of their best compositions yet on this, their fifth album. James Young’s “Midnight Ride” is one of my all-time favorites by the guitarist/singer who usually has at least one song per album.
Some of DeYoung’s best singing is on Equinox, like “Lonely Child” and “Suite Madame Blue.” The latter song builds dynamically and has a gorgeous acoustic guitar break in the middle. DeYoung’s penchant for theatrics and showmanship brings weight to the songs throughout this CD.
As if to make the transition between albums seamless as possible, Crystal Ball’s opener “Put Me On” sounds as if it could be a mash-up of the first two songs from the previous album, “Light Up” and “Lorelei.” This song could not be confused with any other band than Styx, so there is no doubt the substitution of Tommy Shaw works. His voice blends in effortlessly and adds incredible depth to the already amazing harmonies in the group. The boys in the band must have had plenty of confidence in Shaw, as they allowed him to contribute quite a bit compositionally and named this record after his outstanding piece “Crystal Ball.”
Had prog gone pop by this time? A bit. Much of this is definitely prog, which I might not say of the band in their later days. These two years also saw Kansas and Queen with major releases, two talents that might be seen as Styx contemporaries, albeit slightly more adventurous. On these two releases the band begins its creative peak that would take them all the way to 1981’s Paradise Theater. Equinox and Crystal Ball are as good as their best selling albums Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight, just not as well known. Of these two albums, Equinox is more consistent, but the addition of Shaw’s voice and songwriting talents puts Crystal Ball just a smidge past it to my ears. Here, you can have ‘em both!
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on October 27th, 2011