A&M’s Millennium Collections continue to confuse. Documented on the apparent hundreds of silver-sleeved CDs lulling about in record stores are such folks as B.B. King, ABBA, Muddy Waters and Tears For Fears. And, then there’s Tom Jones and Buddy Holly alongside Hank Williams and John Lee Hooker. Seems well and good upon first glance. These people, after all, have remained for much of the 20th century, of enough note to deserve such recognition as “Artists of the Millennium”. Yet, upon closer inspection, maybe they don’t. A&M, you see, have decided that Shai also deserve such an honor. Shai? Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t these guys have one hit in 1992 or so and then disappear? Or did I miss something? What’s next, The Very Best of Yazz?
Styx, of course, are most deserving of a place among last century’s most influential and successful performers. And, while A&M may have done the right thing adding them to the collection (you know, allowing them to be up there with Shai and all), they go and stuff that up by including only 11 songs on the album, all together running about 45 minutes.
Does it feel wrong to anyone else that an album claiming to feature the very best of the Styx, a band whose hits span three decades, is barely 45 minutes long? An album, mind you, that does not include “Lady”? Or “Renegade”? Or “Heavy Metal Poisoning”? Or “Crystal Ball”? Or just about anything less than instantly recognisable with the very first note?
But that’s what A&M have given Styx fans: 11 easily recognisable (and marketable) tracks, the majority of which feature on every other Styx collection out there (and there are a lot of them). Sure, the tracks that are included are magnificent, in all their “digitally remastered” glory, but the whole enterprise is all too depressing, as moving through the CD ends up in a little self-conversation sounding a lot like this: “Yes, I’ve heard this a million times before . . . and this . . . and this . . . and this.”
Initially, I wondered if A&M had mistaken the words “best of” for “most popular”, but this isn’t right either. Consider the Carpenters’ Millennium Collection. It forgets “Close to You”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Superstar”, and “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” instead cramming the album with “I Need to Be in Love”, “Please Mr. Postman”, “This Masquerade”, and “I Believe You”. Styx fans get all the hits and nothing else, Carpenters fans, however, get almost no hits at all. What is going on?
Maybe I’m being too hard on A&M and their Universal Chronicles label. They may very well have only been able to secure these 11 tracks (and those specific 12 Carpenters tunes); maybe they conducted a survey to find out which songs consumers were after and these 11 were chosen, or maybe, just maybe, these 11 songs and these only, actually are the best of Styx, and I’m the one who’s deluded.
So, Styx. They joined A&M (which blows out of the water my “securing the rights” theory, I guess) in the ‘70s after their second album took off thanks to a ton of airplay for the single “Lady”. It was upon the release of Pieces of Eight a few years (and three albums) later, however, that Styx really hit the big time. The band took their success another way in the self-important ‘80s with two consecutive concept albums allowing the band to take its love of the theatre to the rock and roll stage with Paradise Theatre and Kilroy Was Here. Tours for both albums were alarmingly successful, following which (in 1984) the guys took a break, before reentering the music scene in the early ‘90s with Gulf War anthem, “Show Me the Way”. Stops and starts, reunion tours, live albums, and greatest hits sets became the extent of Styx’s career from then on.
The band then entered the new millennium as signatures of pop culture thanks to a rendition of “Come Sail Away” by Eric Cartman on TV’s South Park which surely boosted record and ticket sales. Boosting sales again was that groovy car commercial featuring the spectacular “Mr Roboto”.
The song is featured on the new collection, along with other popular hits as “Come Sail Away” and “Lorelei”. A&M have also unadventurously picked “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” with its frenetic piano opening, the slamming guitars of “Blue Collar Man”, the Queen-tasting “Mademoiselle”, the cool curves of “Boat on the River” and “Babe”, the damning protests of “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “The Best of Times”, as well as “Show Me the Way”.
While this selection is surely filled with much of the band’s best work, it’s just a spattering of masterpieces perfected throughout Styx’s 30-odd year career.
Shai’s Millennium Collection, by the way, consists of 12 songs. Seven of them come from the group’s debut, If I Ever Fall in Love (1992), with the remaining five taken from their second disc, Blackface (1995). What are you doing, A&M?