~ ARTICLES ~
Regeneration Volume I & II is, as the title implies, a two-CD collection of both of Styx' Regeneration projects, which saw the band re-record some of its classic songs in new versions with its current lineup of Tommy Shaw, James "JY" Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips. The album also includes one new studio track, "Difference in the World," and two Damn Yankees covers, "Coming of Age" and "High Enough." Originally sold exclusively at Styx concerts, Eagle Rock Entertainment released the project commercially today for the first time.
There's been a trend among classic rock acts for years now to re-record their own history, mostly related to owning new master tracks that the band can then attempt to license for lucrative TV and movie placements or to tack on added value to the purchase of a new album by that band. From KISS to Journey to Foreigner and beyond, many groups have done it for a variety of reasons.
They all have one thing in common: in the end, the very nature of a project like this is almost certain to produce also-ran versions of familiar songs that most fans will listen to once or twice, then promptly file away forever. So it is with Regeneration - though there's certainly no shortage of talent on display, one walks away with the question, "Does this album need to exist?"
The strengths of the album are mostly in the song choices and instrumentation. The current lineup of Styx is very, very strong instrumentally, and the newer members mostly honor the spirit of the original parts on these new recordings. Drummer Todd Sucherman reigns himself in to cover John Panozzo's parts more closely than he does live, while keyboardist Lawrence Gowan wisely chooses to cover Dennis DeYoung's keyboard parts mostly note-for-note. Ricky Phillips diverges from a few of the original bass parts but mostly plays it straight, and anyway, the bass is not a primary instrument you think of when you think of Styx. Chuck Panozzo is also credited as a bassist, though it is unclear what tracks he played on.
The track listing is a diverse mix of Styx' past that places radio staples like "Come Sail Away," "Renegade," "Blue Collar Man" and "Too Much Time on My Hands" alongside lesser-known album tracks like "Sing for the Day," "Queen of Spades," "Snowblind" and "Boat on the River." It's an interesting list, though a bit puzzling in that Styx also chose to record two Damn Yankees songs - "Coming of Age" and "High Enough" - instead of two more Styx songs.
If they wanted another rocker, fans could have had "Rockin' the Paradise" or "Borrowed Time," and as far as power ballads go, it's not as if there's a shortage of actual Styx tracks to choose from. "Lady," for instance, springs to mind (since it started the band's career), or "The Best of Times." Does Styx really believe that fans would rather have a cover of "High Enough" than "Lady"? That's like picking up a Journey hits collection and finding that the band has re-recorded Bad English tracks like "Forget Me Not" and "When I See You Smile," but left off "Faithfully." It just makes awfully little sense.
The weaknesses of the project are mostly in the production choices. These new recordings are all-digital, and that generally doesn't serve rock material as well as the warm saturation of tape. These recordings just don't have the warmth and presence of the originals, and some of them - most notably "The Grand Illusion" - suffer from a marked lack of bass presence, as if whomever mixed this had it in for the bass player.
There are also a number of perplexing choices in terms of what performances to keep, and how to mix it all together. When it comes to vocal performances, it may be that they didn't have the right performances to choose from. James "JY" Young comes off the worst vocally, turning in lead vocals on "Miss America" and "Snowblind" that demonstrate him trying to compensate for his damaged voice by employing exaggerated phrasing and odd-sounding falsetto in some high parts. "Lorelei" yields JY's best vocal, but it's still nowhere near as strong as the original performance by Dennis DeYoung.
Lawrence Gowan also suffers by comparison to some of the original vocal performances, particularly on the more melodic sections of "Come Sail Away" and "Queen of Spades." That type of balladry, employing long, clean sustained notes, is one of Dennis DeYoung's unusual strengths, and there are very few singers in the rock idiom who would benefit by comparison to him in that style. Lawrence Gowan is not one of them, which is not an insult - for instance, neither would Bruce Springsteen, nor John Fogerty, nor Robert Plant, but that doesn't mean none of them are talented singers.
Tommy Shaw comes off by far the best vocally, and tracks that he sings like "Fooling Yourself," "Blue Collar Man," "Crystal Ball" and "Coming of Age" are the obvious standouts of this project. "Crystal Ball" is the sole track here that surpasses the original in some ways; taken at a slower, more deliberate tempo, and with Shaw's older-and-wiser vocal, it actually conveys the introspective subject matter better than the original. "Blue Collar Man" comes very close to the original recording, if that's what you're looking for - but then why not just listen to the familiar version?
There are also problems in the fact that the different musicians all recorded separately in different studios, then mixed the results together. There are just too many little disparities in the source recordings to make it all come together as a seamless whole. On "Snowblind," for instance, the difference in the source recording of JY's voice and the source recording of Tommy Shaw's voice is so enormous that it sounds like they tracked not only in different studios, but on different planets. Most of those technical disparities are small enough individually, but when you add them all up, they make these recordings sound like people playing parts, instead of a band playing songs.
That's not to say that there's not good music on these two discs. There is. It's just disappointing to have to dig for it through so many little mistakes that prevent many of the tracks from reaching their full potential. Apart from "Crystal Ball" and maybe "Coming of Age," few of these recordings come anywhere near the originals, much less improve upon them.
Ultimately Regeneration Volume I & II is a curiosity piece. It's probably not essential listening for anyone but a small handful of Styx die-hards, but there are still a number of things to like about the project if you're willing to sit through some of its drawbacks.
That said, with this much talent concentrated in one band this album could - and should - have been much better than it is.
www.examiner.com - October 4, 2011
Lawrence Gowan, Tommy Shaw, James "JY" Young, Ricky PhillipsChuck Panozzo, Todd Sucherman
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