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New Styx album is a winner

I've been a Styx fan since 1973. That's when I first heard the song.

"Lady" on a little portable AM radio late one night.

I've followed the band through thick and thin, all through my elementary, junior high and high school days. In fact, Styx is still my favorite band of all time.

I know, I know. Coming from a music editor that statement might be a surprise, seeing that there were a lot of music critics in the '70s and '80s who HATED the five-piece progressive rock band from Chicago. But I don't care what other critics think. I like what I like, and Styx is my favorite band.

Now, that said, I wavered on whether Styx was still Styx when one of the founding members, Dennis DeYoung, was unceremoniously kicked out of the band in 1999. Citing the ever cryptic "artistic differences," the band recruited Canadian solo artist Lawrence Gowan to fill DeYoung's spot.

I bought a couple of live albums that featured the new Styx and listen to them on occasion, but they're really not very good. And they certainly didn't prepare me for the new Styx studio album, "Cyclorama," which was released Feb. 18.

Recorded last year, this album is one of the band's strongest since 1980's multi-platinum-selling "Paradise Theatre." In fact, it ranks up there, musically, with the band's other triple-platinum classics, "The Grand Illusion," "Pieces of Eight" and "Cornerstone."

"Cyclorama" is a solid, experimental, progressive-rock album, and it brings Styx into the present.

The band's current line-up is Gowan, guitarist James Young, guitarist Tommy Shaw, bassists Glen Burtnik and Chuck Panozzo and drummer Todd Sucherman. Young and Panozzo, who only plays on one song on the album, are the only original members. Panozzo's brother John, the original drummer, died in 1996, and the late original guitarist John Curulewski was replaced by Shaw in 1975.

Regardless of the line-up, however, "Cyclorama" is a great Styx album.

The powerful sing-a-long chorus of James Young's "These Are the Times" finds foil in the acoustic harmonies of "Yes I Can" and the Beatlesque imagery of "More Love for the Money," sung by Gowan (who can sound like a younger DeYoung at times).

Guest Billy Bob Thornton makes a narrative appearance on "Bourgeois Pig," and Jack Black's Tenacious D sings harmony on Burtnik's punky anthem "Kiss Your A-- Goodbye."

While none of the songs will find their way to radio, thanks to sorry programming trends that have filled the airwaves since the mid-1990s, the songs on "Cyclorama" make for some of the most cohesive and exciting cuts the band has ever produced.

The only song that grates on my nerves is "Waiting for Our Time." The friction chords make me cringe, and Shaw's voice sounds strained at times.

Styx fans will notice a few DeYoung disses in the lyrics, especially "Killing the Thing That You Love," but if you listen with an open mind, you may find the music is worth noting.

"Cyclorama" is an album that belongs in the Styx collection. I'm glad I bought it.