Faking It Files: Mr. Roboto Proves Waterloo For Styx – Millions Cheer

A+M Records | US | LP | 1983 | SP-3734

Styx had sold millions of copies of their late 70s albums. They could have kept grinding them out like sausages. What possessed them in 1983 to mount an elaborate tour/album based on an incomprehensible concept album storyline a good six seven years past the sell-by date for concept albums is a mystery that provokes only head-scratching 29 years later. What takes it into pounding migraine territory is the music itself!

Not only did the corn-fed prog rockers seek to reanimate the corpse of the concept album in an era where it had no place, they sought to do it by appropriating New Wave tropes like DEVO-esque herky-jerky rhythms and heavy use of vocoders! I’ll never forget the fanfare with which MTV world premiered their video for “Mr. Roboto,” the lead-off single from the “Kilroy Was Here” album. I was stunned, actually, to see the band trying to shoehorn its penchant for bombast into a more moderne wrapper. Like the worst of rock in a nutshell, it fails at managing to honestly be the ersatz schmaltz/prog-lite bombast the group was counted on to provide by their legions of Clearsil® Commandos. Nor does it come even laughably close to the “edgy” sound that DEVO proffered – though the rhythms attempting a “Whip It” sound are a dead giveaway. What it sounds like is a really bad attempt at a Broadway show!*

The backing vocals during the song’s verses are a dead giveaway. And you can’t keep a good man down as Dennis DeYoung just can’t resist breaking out his Rock Tenor Shriek®. Happily, I hadn’t heard this since it was released to the sound of crickets in 1983, but for the sake of re-acquainting myself with it before unleashing this torrent of bile, I felt that a renewed exposure was in my best interests. My mistake! The mists of time had rendered my disdain for this, above all other STYX® bilge, into a somewhat gauzy focus that has been brought screaming  back into sharp relief after a quick jaunt to iTunes, which mercifully has only 90 seconds of the song to preview.

The whole Mr. Roboto image also pointed back to the DEVO influence on this whole mishap. The stinging irony here is that by 1983, even New Wave was on its last legs! It was morphing into easier to digest “New Music” instead as the cuddly spectacle of Boy George was preparing to storm the charts. Meanwhile STYX® were serving up incomprehensible twaddle in DEVO’s old jumpsuit! I’ll admit, that when I did a little research to write this post, I only knew about the album what MTV broadcast 29 years ago. If you thought the whole Kilroy Koncept® was hard to follow then, try the liner notes on for size!

Profound!

Apparently the internal stress that band endured whilst producing this magnum opus caused the platinum machine to suffer a breakdown. Tommy Shaw left to a stillborn solo career before joining The Nuge® to form Damn Yankees. Dennis DeYoung had a reasonably successful solo album with lots of his trademark mushy ballads. STYX® existed long enough following this career killer to issue a live album, “Caught In The Act,” which contained a new studio song which is what crossed my mind the other day. The imbecilic refrain “Hey everybody it’s music time” popped into my skull and I misattributed it to this album, since it sounded nothing like STYX® but instead was more of the Nerf New Wave style as evidenced on “Mr Roboto!”

– 30 –

* FUN STYX® FACTS: In 1994, Dennis DeYoung did in fact record a cover album of Broadway Standards! In 2008 his musical based on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame had its off-Broadway debut in Chicago!

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10 Responses to Faking It Files: Mr. Roboto Proves Waterloo For Styx – Millions Cheer

  1. jt says:

    Nice post.
    Domo arrigto.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      jt – As a fellow DEVO fan, I’m guessing you thought this particular STYX® album stunk to high heaven, too! It’s baldly obvious where they were coming from. And they did it soooooooo badly. I grew up merely hating STYX® but this little caper put it all in perspective.

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  2. Echorich says:

    “…released to the sound of crickets…” brilliantly stated!
    I remember the MTV World Premiere of the track, but I don’t think I ever saw it again!
    There is nothing more needs to be said…you said it all Monk.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Yes, it was an MTV “exclusive world premiere video,” which means it was the subject of payola, basically. Researching the topic reveals Wikipedia claiming a #3 chart placing for the single. That’s not at all how I remember it. If that had been the case, MTV would have been playing it even more than they were contracted to.

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  3. Echorich says:

    I can’t believe it was ever a hit! But by then I was only interested in the NME charts. I believe I compiled my own chart at the time…as a former trainspotter, I’m sure I still have them somewhere.
    It’s funny how Mr. Roboto is the the classic joke track when it comes to describing how 70’s bands just couldn’t keep up with the times, no matter how they tried. It’s like someone laid a trap in the forest and Dennis DeYoung and Co. just walked right over it and fell into the pit. I think by the early 80’s DeYoung’s meglomania had overtaken the band and the flood of bad ideas and even worse releases was to begin.

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  4. chas_m says:

    Not that I’m in any way defending that steaming turd, but you do have to admit that the iconography and “domo arrigato, Mr. Roboto” entered the cultural mind-meld and remains a code phrase for “the musical equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space” to this very day!

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  5. Tim says:

    Styx was huge where I grew up – small-town Wisconsin. They called Bob Seger “dance music” around that time. Rush, Cheap Trick, Styx & Journey…..that was the sound track of my high school. A friend of mine wrote music reviews for the school newspaper and I remember he once penned a piece defending reviewing an Echo and the Bunnyman album he bought in the import bin at the Mad Hatter instead of Thriller. Don’t know what it’s like in your stomping grounds where you grew up but most people shopped at chain stores here that had music selections narrower than the few Wal-Marts I’ve found myself in. I loved the new wave because it was an absolute 180 degree turn from anything that my peers were listening to.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I grew up in Orlando, Florida – home of the Rock Superbowl®! Molly Hatchet and Ted Nugent for the guys [and the scariest girls] and Styx and Journey for the girls. When Styx came to Orlando on their Paradise Theatre tour in 1981 during my senior year in high school, half of my friends wanted to go, and the other half wouldn’t be caught dead there; we were into New Wave something fierce. All of my clique of friends were nerds. The Calculator Kids®. Every kid in my high school who was a National Merit Scholarship nominee were all my friends; except for that one really socially lacking person at the celebratory brunch with the Principal that even we didn’t know! Naturally, we didn’t run with the Southern Rock/Metal crowd. But Rush always had a geek side that played well with my friends. Some of us loved Rush. I liked them better from ’80-’90 in their “New Wave” phase, naturally. I’ve not heard them since “Roll The Bones.” I actually saw the “Presto” tour! I would have preferred the “Hold Your Fire” tour since that’s my favorite Rush album, but yes, there is Rush in the Monk’s Record Cell! I basically have everything from “Permanent Waves” to “Roll The Bones!!”

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