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Paradise Theatre

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Album Review

After successfully establishing themselves as one of America's best commercial progressive rock bands of the late '70s with albums like The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight, Chicago's Styx had taken a dubious step towards pop overkill with singer Dennis DeYoung's ballad "Babe." The centerpiece of 1979's uneven Cornerstone album, the number one single sowed the seeds of disaster for the group by pitching DeYoung's increasingly mainstream ambitions against the group's more conservative songwriters, Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young. Hence, what had once been a healthy competitive spirit within the band quickly deteriorated into bitter co-existence during the sessions for 1980's Paradise Theater — and all-out warfare by the time of 1983's infamous Kilroy Was Here. For the time being, however, Paradise Theater seemed to represent the best of both worlds, since its loose concept about the roaring '20s heyday and eventual decline of an imaginary theater (used as a metaphor for the American experience in general, etc., etc.) seemed to satisfy both of the band's camps with its return to complex hard rock (purists Shaw and JY) while sparing no amount of pomp and grandeur (DeYoung). The stage is set by the first track, "A.D. 1928," which features a lonely DeYoung on piano and vocals introducing the album's recurring musical theme before launching into "Rockin' the Paradise" — a total team effort of wonderfully stripped down hard rock. From this point forward, DeYoung's compositions ("Nothing Ever Goes as Planned," "The Best of Times") continue to stick close to the overall storyline, while Shaw's ("Too Much Time on My Hands," "She Cares") try to resist thematic restrictions as best they can. Among these, "The Best of Times" — with its deliberate, marching rhythm — remains one of the more improbable Top Ten hits of the decade (somehow it just works), while "Too Much Time on My Hands" figures among Shaw's finest singles ever. As for JY, the band's third songwriter (and resident peacekeeper) is only slightly more cooperative with the Paradise Theater concept. His edgier compositions include the desolate tale of drug addiction, "Snowblind," and the rollicking opus "Half-Penny, Two-Penny," which infuses a graphic depiction of inner city decadence with a final, small glimmer of hope and redemption. The song also leads straight into the album's beautiful saxophone-led epilogue, "A.D. 1958," which once again reveals MC DeYoung alone at his piano. A resounding success, Paradise Theater would become Styx's greatest commercial triumph; and in retrospect, it remains one of the best examples of the convergence between progressive rock and AOR which typified the sound of the era's top groups (Journey, Kansas, etc.). For Styx, its success would spell both their temporary saving grace and ultimate doom, as the creative forces which had already been tearing at the band's core finally reached unbearable levels three years later. It is no wonder that when the band reunited after over a decade of bad blood, all the music released post-1980 was left on the cutting room floor — further proof that Paradise Theater was truly the best of times.

Customer Reviews


The best album Styx ever made

One of the best albums of the '80's

Glad to finally have it on iTunes but ya think A&M could have remastered it as a 30th Anniversary Edition with some extra tracks? Paradise Theatre had to be one of the best selling albums they ever had, right?

Great, but flawed

This album came out during a time when creative difference between Dennis DeYoung, and Shaw and JY flared up. Dennis wanted to do concept albums and soft ballads. The other two just wanted to rock. This album is supposed to go in Dennis's direction, but Tommy's songs don't fit the theme. I'm not sure if JY's songs were intended to fit the theme either. The result is a very good but very confusing album, in which if you can understand the concept without doing any research, I applaud you. Dennis's idea was to use a former theater in Chicago, that was opened in 1928 and torn down in 1958, as a metaphor for the rise and fall of America. The album starts off with "A.D. 1928" which is an introduction to the album, the theater, and it segues into the next song, "Rockin' the Paradise," which depicts that everything is going well and everybody's having fun (the roraing 20's perhaps?). The theater, the country, paradise, ... everything is going great at this point. Then we have "Too Much Time on my Hands," whichI'm not sure how or if this song fits the theme. It could be argued that maybe it depicts people getting tired of paradise, and now they're just bored and looking for new ways to have fun, but I doubt that's what Tommy had in mind. Doesn't matter though, because it's a GREAT song. Next there's "Nothing Ever Goes as Planned," which is a good song, but I don't see how it fits the theme. Then there's the big hit "The Best of Times," a song that depicts "the end of paradise" (the Great Depression), but as bad as things are, Dernnis escapes his misery by being with his sweetheart and suddenly "the worst of times" become "the best of times." and everything in America is going horribly wrong Personally, I don't like the song, but this is masterful songwriting from dennis. He created a song that fits both the theme and the tastes of musical listeners. Casual radio listeners don't care about the theme, but people love ballads about love like this, which is why the song peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts. When you get the album, you realize this song does fit the theme masterfully. I have much respect to Dennis for this. Then there's "Lonely People," a brilliant song that depicts how miserable a lot of people in America are. Then there's the one song I don't like, "She Cares," that does not seem to fit the theme. Then JY gives us "Snow Blind," which is interesting. The itunes reviewer says it's a song about drug addiction, but given the context of the concept of the album, I interpreted this song as being about a guy looking in the mirror wondering why he is so miserable in what was supposed to be paradise. He's "Snow Blind" because he thought he was seeing paradise but really he was seeing misery. I may have that wrong though. Great song either way. Then we have the album's heaviest song, "Half Penny Two Penny," which depicts that things are now so miserable, people are moving out of America so they can be free. And then "A.D. 1958" depicts the end of the theater, the end of paradise, and the end of happiness in America. As a collection of songs individually, this is a great album. As a thematic album, it is very confusing due to the fact that not everyone was on board with the idea. Personally, I prefer the albums Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, and Pieces of Eight. But if you're a Styx fan, Paradise Theater is an album worth owning.


Formed: 1970 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although they began as an artsy prog rock band, Styx would eventually transform into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late '70s and early '80s, due to a fondness for bombastic rockers and soaring power ballads. The seeds for the band were planted in another Chicago band during the late '60s, the Tradewinds, which featured brothers Chuck and John Panozzo (who played bass and drums, respectively), as well as acquaintance Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards). By the dawn of the '70s, the group...
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