Jason’s Jukebox: Styx Worst to Best

logostyxThere are many bands that I feel are unjustly hated. One of these is Styx, which has been making great music since the 70’s. This time on Jason’s Jukebox, I’ll be ranking all of their albums from worst to best.

styx1 Styx  (1972)** Single: “Best Thing”

This album begins the “Wooden Nickel” era, so named because they were signed to that label at the time. It’s an all right debut, starting with “Movement for the Common Man”, a 4-part suite. This was more of a prog rock sound, but they didn’t stay that way. Best tracks: “Movement for the Common Man”, “Best Thing”.

styx2Styx II (1973) *** Singles: “You Need Love”, “Lady”

This is the first album not to feature songs written by James Young. (The album was later renamed Lady after Styx left Wooden Nickel) It’s a little better than their debut, and gave them their first big hit, “Lady”.  Best tracks: “Lady”, “Little Fugue in G”, “You Need Love”

styx3The Serpent is Rising (1973)* This is Styx’s first concept album, and the band considers it their worst recording. I won’t disagree. It contains a hidden track called “Flexible Plexiglass Toilet” that I think is their worst song. It’s good for a laugh, but I just can’t stand it.

Best track: “Krakatoa”

styx4 Man of Miracles (1974) ***1/2 This album has a different tracklist, depending on which version you listen to. My version had “Lies” on it instead of the re-releases that were on other versions. This was their final album on the Wooden Nickel album, and the best one from that era for me.

Best tracks: “Rock n Roll Feeling”, “Lies”, “Evil Eyes”

equinox Equinox (1975) ***1/2 Singles: “Light Up”, “Lorelei”

This was their debut on A&M, which had probably the best production value so far. It’s a blast and just feels more bombastic than their Wooden Nickel material. I think this is a great place to start for them, and it shows a lot of promise.

Best tracks: “Lorelei”, “Midnight Blue”, “Born For Adventure”, “Prelude 12”

crystal Crystal Ball (1976) ***1/2 Singles: “Mademoiselle”, “Crystal Ball”, “Jennifer”

This album has a recital of Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” leading into the final track “Ballerina”. Dennis DeYoung wrote “This Old Man” for his father.

Best tracks: “Jennifer”, “Claire de Lune/Ballerina”, “This Old Man”

illusion The Grand Illusion (1977)***** Singles: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)”

This is my favorite Styx album, with many fantasy themes. This is considered the album that launched the band into stardom. And I love that album cover.

Best tracks: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Castle Walls”, “The Grand Illusion”

pieces Pieces of Eight (1978)****1/2 Singles: “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”

This is the band’s second concept album, with a theme about perseverance. It achieved triple platinum success, and definitely deserves it. Lots of great songs on here.

Best Tracks: “Lords of the Ring”, “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”, “The Message”

cornerstone Cornerstone (1979) ***1/2 Singles: “Babe”, “Boat on the River”

This album began the transition from prog rock to a more “arena” rock sound, as a response to the bad press they were getting on their first tour of England. The album is packed with ballads. While it’s a different sound from their previous work, I still like it.

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Best Albums of 2018

This year has been an excellent year for music. We got new albums from titans like Judas Priest. The White Album was remastered in celebration of its 50th anniversary! The Police released a B-sides compilation. Thanks to Spotify’s Release Radar feature, I tried out new albums throughout the year. I heard over 30 albums this year, and of them only 2 were duds.

Let’s get the duds out of the way first:

gravity Bullet For My Valentine: Gravity–I really don’t know why I gave this band a try. I’d heard their name thrown around a lot, so I got curious. This album was just noise. I don’t know if they have better stuff, but I don’t think I want to find out.

origins Imagine Dragons: Origins–What happened, guys? I thought your first two albums were great! Evolve was okay, but this? This is like someone sucked all the inspiration out and left vapid music only good for backgrounds in commercials. If I want commercial music, I’ll watch TV.

And now for the countdown! These will be arranged by how much they impressed me.

badwitch Nine Inch Nails: Bad Witch I’ve been following Trent Reznor since way back, like Pretty Hate Machine. I wouldn’t say they hit a slump, but this was only a half-hour, not nearly enough to whet my appetite.

reign Avenged Sevenfold: Black Reign This is the soundtrack for the latest Call of Duty game. It was a blast, but the spark didn’t last long enough for me. I’ll be checking out more stuff, so it impressed me that much anyway.

429 Building 429: Live the Journey–This is one of my favorite Christian Music bands. I liked this album, but it had way too many singles released before the album finally dropped. The rest of the album was good too, but a few of the singles weren’t all that great.

monkeys Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino–This is Arctic Monkey’s first concept album, about a hotel and casino on the moon. A few of the songs sounded like lounge music, and I didn’t like that. My main problem is that the concept didn’t seem fully represented, and only a few songs seemed to follow the theme. But points for doing something new, guys!

death cab Death Cab For Cutie: Thank You For Today–Don’t get me wrong, Death Cab fans. I’m well aware how good this band is, but I only slightly enjoyed this album.

shiny Smashing Pumpkins: Shiny and Oh So Bright, V. 1: No Past, No Future, No Sun–Man, that’s a long title. Its great to see the original line-up, and for an EP this was a nice small package of talent. (you can call it an LP all you want, Corgan, but this was only a half-hour. That’s an EP)

wyeoak Wye Oak: The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs: I really like how experimental this duo gets. I mean, can you think of any other band where the drummer will play the keyboards while he’s playing the drums? The music always makes it hard to believe there are only two musicians. It has a great surreal sound to it.

prine John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness–When I saw John Prine’s name on the list of nominees for induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, I was curious because I’d never heard of him. His blend of humor and country roots impressed me a lot, and then I found out this new album came out. I’ll definitely be listening to his older material.

kamikaze Eminem: Kamikaze–The world’s fastest rapper can still knock one out of the park. There’s some great diss tracks on this one, and the guest stars don’t overshadow Mathers at all.

nownow The Gorillaz: The Now-Now–Humanz was a great rescue from the slump that was The Fall, and this album continues the trippy direction that the previous album started. It wasn’t better than Demon Days (my favorite album by the band), but it was pretty good.

theory Muse: Simulation Theory–Man, this album has seriously divided the fanbase. Some people really like this album, but others outright hate it. I’m somewhere in the middle. This is far from the worst. It has a good concept, and I like the 80’s feel. It’s not one I’d play for someone who’s never heard of Muse, but I like it, even if it took a couple listens to really appreciate.

myles1 Myles Kennedy: Year of the Tiger–Normally Kennedy likes to collaborate with other artists like Alter Bridge, but this is a solo album. It’s an album inspired by the death of his father, and he pours out all his pain, bleeding the wounds into some deep, dark music. It’s a bit of a departure from his normal stuff, with an almost country vibe thanks to the lap steel guitar on some tracks. Good stuff here.

noise Spock’s Beard: Noise Floor–This is a great progressive metal band, and speaking as a first-time listener, it sounded great. Some great long songs on here, which is why I like progressive rock and metal, so good job guys.

daughterMatthew Sweet: Tomorrow’s Daughter–Matthew Sweet is a great indie artist who’s been around since the 90’s, and he’s not about to disappear. This was  a great album and it’s as beautiful as its cover.

living Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators f/Slash: Living the Dream: This felt like a jam. It was some great pure rock and Slash did his usual routine of pulling out impressive riffs on his Les Paul. It’s a great one.

unheavenly Coheed and Cambria: Vaxis pt. 1: Unheavenly Creatures–What, you thought the Amory Wars saga ended with Afterman? No! There’s five more parts now, starting with this album. If you have an hour and a half to fill, this is a good one to listen to, but I hope you’ve listened to the rest of the saga first.

vale Black Veil Brides: Vale– I’m not that familiar with these guys, and from what I have heard before this, Vale doesn’t blaze any trails. But it sounds great, so I guess if the formula still works, why not stick to it?

onlyjesus Casting Crowns: Only Jesus–Yes, we have another worship band. Casting Crowns, in my opinion, is the best of the worship music genre, and this is great inspirational music. I especially like the song “One Awkward Moment”.

cipher Follow The Cipher: Here’s a new band from Sweden, formed by Ken Kängström, who collaborated with Sabaton, another great Swedish metal band. Their lead vocalist Linda Toni Grahn has an impressive set of pipes, and this is an impressive debut. Check it out if you’re storming a castle.

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Top 10 Best Star Trek Episodes #8: Tapestry

tapestryQ was introduced in the series pilot as a villain, sort of like Roddenberry’s idea of what he imagined God to be like, a chaotic despot with no regard for humanity. However, by the third season, Q evolved. In the episode “Q Who”, he became human and learned to see how much humans value each other, even those who annoy them. In fact, my theory is that it’s Data’s actions in that episode that inspired Q’s motives in this episode.

Here we see a different side to Q, one I like more than how he started off. To me Q is at his best when he is chaotic neutral rather than chaotic evil. He does what he wants, but not for evil intent. He does it instead to teach Picard something he should have learned from his youth.

The episode builds on something that was revealed in season 2: Picard’s artificial heart. He had to have a transplant at an early age in order to lengthen his life after a moment of egotistical weakness made him value his pride over his life. Since then, he had often wished he hadn’t made that near-fatal mistake. Especially at the start of this episode when he learns that the very thing that saved his life so long ago is now killing him.

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Top 10 Worst Star Trek TNG Episodes #9: Who Watches the Watchers

When I posted my Top 10 Worst episodes from the original Star Trek, I included “The Apple”, in which Roddenberry raved about how religion impedes scientific progress and we’d be bored in the Garden of Eden. In the 80’s, Star Trek TNG’s second season was in full swing, and Roddenberry proved he still hadn’t moved on past his rants he had during the heyday of peace, love, and hippies.

In Who Watches the Watchers, once again Roddenberry brings up an old argument. He says that the Vulcans are so much better than 20th century Earth because they outgrew the “superstitions of old”. When they mistake Picard for a god, we get the worst of his speeches, where Picard tells us just how awesome atheism is.

So why do these kind of Star Trek episodes bother me? Is it just because I’m Christian? Actually no. They bother me because they go against what the ideals of the Federation are. Starfleet’s future is supposed to be one where aliens of all races and cultures band together for common goals, defending themselves against common enemies and engaging in altruistic reform. One would think that all cultures would also include a future where religion would still exist. And it does. In Deep Space 9, we see that at least the Bajorans managed to progress far enough to develop warp core technology despite having religion. And so did the Klingons. It’s a total contradiction.

Fortunately, this is the last episode in the Star Trek franchise that would address this bugbear. Perhaps the writers that continued on realized that it was an argument that people grew tired of hearing.

 

Top 10 Best Star Trek TNG #9: Ship in a Bottle

shipinabottleThis is an episode that I think isn’t talked about much, and I have to ask why. It’s well-crafted, and it has a great premise.

Before I start talking about this episode, I have to talk about a couple episodes that precede it. First is “Elementary, Dear Data”. In that episode, Data and Geordi are playing Sherlock Holmes on the Holodeck with Dr. Pulaski, who replaced Dr. Crusher for the second season. Geordi got sick of Dr. Pulaski constantly ribbing Data about his only following the script of what normally happens in a Sherlock Holmes mystery and not doing actual detective work. (Dr. Pulaski, just because Data doesn’t have emotions doesn’t mean he has to put up with your attitude. I can totally understand why Geordi was annoyed with you. Man I hated Dr. Pulaski) So to prove a point, he asked the computer to create an opponent based on Professor Moriarty for Data to defeat. The result is a completely self-aware version of the brilliant criminal. He’s like the Holodeck on God Mode. The only reason he stops is that Picard convinces him that it would be in his best interest, that someday they may learn a way for him to leave the Holodeck. This would lead some elements that would be explored with Star Trek Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram.

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Worst Star Trek TNG Episodes: Skin of Evil

skinThe first 2 seasons of TNG are universally regarded as the worst part of the show’s history. If you want the whole sordid story of why these seasons are such a mess, I suggest watching  Chaos on the Bridge, the 1-hour documentary about the beginnings of the show.

One of the biggest problems with the first season is definitely Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, who was chief of security in that season. We know very little about her, and she was one of the few characters who didn’t get a spotlight episode in the entire history of the show. This is her only spotlight, and–spoiler alert–she dies! Is it any wonder why Denise Crosby wanted to leave?

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Top 10 Favorite Star Trek TNG Episodes: Lower Decks

lowerA few years back, I reviewed what I considered were the best and worst episodes of the original Star Trek. While I was writing those posts, I had started rewatching the 80’s version, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now that I’m on the final season, I’ve decided to do a retrospective for this series as well (And DS9 fans, your day is coming. I’m in season 5 of that now.

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