Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kilroy Was Here by Styx

Another one in the "stuff it took me nearly 30 years to get around to" category.  Everyone knows "Mr. Roboto," and it's fairly common knowledge that song was part of a larger story, Styx's concept album Kilroy Was Here.  "Mr. Roboto" came out at a time where I was a real stick-in-the-mud.  I couldn't relate to popular music, although I heard plenty of it because everyone around me (ie, my sister and my girlfriend) was constantly playing it.  During that time "Mr. Roboto" was something of a haven for me, a song I could get into because it was obviously about a guy impersonating a robot so he could escape from something.  Now that was cool.  I would have bought the entire album to try and get the rest of the story at the time, but I was spending all my money on Star Wars figures.  But every now and then I'd look at the album and think, I should really check into that.

Fast forward about ten years.  My musical tastes have broadened by about 270 degrees, and I've come to appreciate all those songs from the 80s that I found such an annoyance at the time.  But I still haven't checked out Kilroy Was Here.  My money is now going to every album and remix I can find from bands such as Genesis, Information Society, Pet Shop Boys, and Adamski.  Oh, and Playmates' Star Trek action figure line.  My then-girlfriend has a copy of the album, so she makes me a copy, but it's already several generations down and the copy I get is on a pretty poor quality tape, so although I give the album a try I just can't get into it.  Sometimes reproduction quality does mater.

Jump ahead about another twenty years, to today.  eMusic has the album, I've got the credits, and all the local radio stations are playing "Mr. Roboto" like it just came out last month, so the album's on my mind again.  Kilroy's time has come.

The "story" isn't very linear; I gather that Kilroy is something of a political prisoner, in a world where morality has run wild.  For the real story I had to do some research online.  (Maybe if I had bought the CD or the record album, it would have had liner notes that would have helped?)  Besides "Mr. Roboto," the tracks "Cold War," "High Time," and "Heavy Metal Poisoning" are probably the strongest parts of the story.  Others seem to fit in almost tangentially, such as "Just Get Through This Night," where it seems our hero is pondering the other paths his life might have taken.  And then there's "Don't Let It End," which doesn't really feel like it has anything to do with the rest of the album, but is tied in very nicely in the closing number "Don't Let It End (Reprise)," where it sounds like Kilroy has joined forces with Jonathan Chance to make a stand and bring rock & roll back to the people.  It's more of a concept album than a story album, talking about the oppressive future regime for the length of the album and then finally doing something about it in the last track.  While it may not work as well as Electric Light Orchestra's Time album, as a concept album it works just fine for me.

I get the impression that you either love or hate this album, even among Styx fans.  Now I'm a big fan of synth music (see above mentioned synth bands) and I especially love it when a rock band can get a good balance of guitars and keyboards. That's something this album excels at, so musically it just hit all the right notes for me.  The synths really grabbed me, especially in "Cold War."  I always felt that when a band was all guitars it cheapened the guitar sound; when you have a good keyboard getting a good jam going and then a guitar blares in, it really makes the guitar stand out, and this album is a great example of that.  And tracks like "High Time" really have a theatrical quality to them, which helps sell the concept as well.

And my friend Frank once told me all he had to do was put spaceships in an album and I'd eat it up.  I guess the same pretty much goes for robots.  I expect to be listening to this album a lot this year.

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