Styx pays tribute to rock legends on 'Big Bang Theory'

Artists usually don’t cover their own songs, but Styx reinterprets “Blue Collar Man” and an assortment of other classic hits on its latest album, Big Bang Theory.

Fortunately, this eclectic compilation isn’t filled with uninspired karaoke fare. The band does tackle a few well-known songs, but it primarily focuses on more obscure numbers.

The first and most ambitious track is a live version of The Beatles’ experimental tune “I Am The Walrus.” Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan, one of Styx’s three lead singers (he shares vocal duties with guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young), perfectly captures the energy and eccentricity of the original with his versatile voice. Aside from The Beatles, it would be difficult for any musicians to sing, “I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob” without sounding like complete idiots, but Styx does an excellent rendition of this innovative rocker.

For the most part, Big Bang Theory features faithful versions of classic rock hits. Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” is one of Styx’s most impressive covers. The aforementioned Tommy Shaw’s smooth tenor accentuates the track’s flowing acoustic guitar melodies. Shaw also shines on the timely “Summer In The City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful. His expressive voice blends perfectly with aggressive guitar solos, especially at the track’s conclusion.

While the 14-song album is strong overall, Styx does include a few ill-conceived covers. The band sounds ridiculous on a theatrical version of Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog.” This overly dramatic sailor song belongs in a bad musical rather than a rock album. Ironically, the group also fumbles on a slower interpretation of its own hit, now titled “Blue Collar Man @ 2120.” Although it has a nice bluesy tone, the track’s more relaxed tempo reduces the power and urgency it once possessed. “Blue Collar Man” is an inherently strong song, and its slower counterpart is a poor choice for a cover.

The group makes up for these missteps on its explosive rendition of “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” This defiant track has been recorded by a number of artists ranging from Ray Charles to New Riders of the Purple Sage. Styx wisely follows Humble Pie’s celebrated interpretation of this dynamic number. The ‘70s British band featuring former Small Faces vocalist Steve Marriott and gifted guitarist Peter Frampton infused an infectious intensity into this forceful rocker, and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” remains one of the band’s signature songs. Gowan imitates Marriott’s raspy, wavering voice and even ends the song by exclaiming “It’s been a gas!” just like Marriott did during the version that appears on the group’s live album “Rockin’ The Fillmore.”

Big Bang Theory is an interesting departure from Styx’s previous studio efforts. Its unusual covers make for an intriguing and entertaining CD.

From the June 15-21, 2005, issue

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