Although it was seventh overall studio album for the band, The Grand Illusion was the second album from Styx to head towards a more radio-friendly direction. The Chicago based band with a traditional prog-rock approach, began to write more mainstream material with the arrival of guitarist Tommy Shaw in late 1975. Shaw joined fellow guitarist James “JY” Young and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung as the band’s trio of songwriters and lead singers. Each brought a distinct style which contrasted with the others. Yet they also complimented each other in various ways and, for the most part, Styx forged a decently harmonic sound.
The Grand illusion itself is a pleasant listen, albeit a bit uneven and less-than cohesive. The fantastic first side contains all the radio and chart hits with a much less inspired second side featuring some under-developed pieces which render the album short of greatness. The album showed the great potential of Styx band as a sort of “prog lite” outfit with much more pop crossover appeal than their earlier work. This would be a template set for bands like Genesis, who followed suit in subsequent years and through the 1980s.
Seven turned out to be the lucky number for the band as this album (their 7th overall, released on 7/07/77) went triple platinum in sales and spawned a couple of hit singles. Thematically, the concept of The Grand Illusion examines the futility of solely aspiring to fame. According to DeYoung, it is about the struggle to overcome self-deluding superficiality in order to affirm one’s genuine value.
The Grand Illusion by Styx
|Released: July 7, 1977 (A&M)
Produced by: Styx
Recorded: Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977
|The Grand Illusion
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Come Sail Away
Man In the Wilderness
The Grand Finale
|Dennis DeYoung – Keyboards, Synths, Vocals
James Young – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals
Chuck Panozzo – Bass
John Panozzo – Drums
The intro march of “The Grand Illusion” draws you in immediately, complimented in short time by the stop/start nature of the first verse. This theme song by Dennis DeYoung eventually breaks into the more driving, melodic choruses and features early guitar fills by Shaw and a soaring lead by JY later in the song. More than any other song on the album, this opener finds the nice balance between between progressive and AOR, which appears to be the band’s vision for this album.
Tommy Shaw’s “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” begins with a nice opening synth sequence by DeYoung which compliments Shaw’s acoustic strumming. The song eventually settles into a strong rhythmic beat by bassist Chuck Panozzo and his brother, drummer John Panozzo, before another nice synth lead. Both this song and Shaw’s ballad, “Man In the Wilderness” are written in the same vein as material by the band Kansas, revealing that band’s influence on Styx.
“Superstars” is a collaborative effort by DeYoung, Shaw, and Young, which built like a show tune with a rock backbone. Although the song does contain some rewarding and entertaining sections like the nice lead guitar, it does sound a bit dated like something which could have been on a teen-oriented TV show of the era, not to mention the title itself.
Closing the first side, “Come Sail Away” is the album’s true masterpiece. It is a beautiful song with a refreshing, simple piano arrangement by DeYoung up front. The song is adventurous and romantic with just a tinge of strangeness like a journey into the unknown. There are a couple of great moments when the melodic, keyboard driven sections are cut sharply by a strong, rock-oriented, guitar-driven arrangement. The mid section contains dualing synths by DeYoung and JY, which adds to the mystique of the song with its “modern” sequencing and new agish overtones. Long considered a pioneering power ballad, “Come Sail Away” is a much richer number and is perhaps the finest Styx would ever forge.
JY takes lead vocals on his track “Miss America”. It starts with a synth rendition of the traditional song before giving way to a sharper, driving verse and a thickly harmonized chorus. “Castle Walls” starts with a heartbeat-like bass line by Chuck Panozzo with overlain Baroque keys by DeYoung before Shaw and Young again trade guitar leads later in the song. “The Grand Finale” closes the album as a sort of reverse-overture which incorporates elements of the better songs from the first side.
The success of The Grand Illusion launched Styx into the most successful era of their career with three more successful albums up to and including their blockbuster Paradise Theatre in 1981. The band built of the theatrical, pop-oriented, and soft rock elements of this 1977 album to bring them the widespread success that they had worked towards for years.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.