In Defense of … Styx’s ‘Kilroy Was Here’
OK, I’m going to come out of the closet right now: I like Styx’s music. Not all of it, but ‘Paradise Theater’ was certainly a big soundtrack to my childhood. And ‘Mr. Roboto,’ which was from their 1983 concept album ‘Kilroy Was Here,’ also has a special place in my life.
After the massive success of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall,’ a lot of bands tried out similar concept records. But ‘Kilroy’ was Styx’s undoing — sorta like how ‘The Wall’ brought Pink Floyd to a crashing halt, but without ‘The Wall”s multi-platinum sales.
The concept of ‘Kilroy,’ which is sci-fi in nature, has to do with music censorship, and like a lot of sci-fi stories, it proved a bit prophetic: A few years later, the PMRC came along and tried to label albums that had offensive lyrics. When touring for ‘Kilroy,’ Styx even treated their live shows like a play, with the band acting out scenes in-between songs.
Besides ‘Mr. Roboto,’ the album’s hit single, ‘Kilroy’ has several other songs that aren’t all that bad, despite their reputation. ‘Don’t Let It End’ is a solid power ballad (something the band excelled at), and ‘Heavy Metal Poisoning’ is a fun tune that gives the story’s villain, Doctor Righteous, a chance to ham it up.
While a lot of bands sounded painfully bad trying to adopt New Wave elements in the early ’80s, Styx actually does a pretty good job on ‘Mr. Roboto,’ with great mechanized synth parts, a hard throbbing beat and a Japanese intro that sounds great, even if you don’t recite the words correctly. (The last line of the intro is “Himitsu wo shiri ti,” which means “I want to know your secret”; it’s not “He needs you, won’t you reply,” but it sounds fine either way.)
Another remaining vestige of the song is it gave the world a little foreign language lesson, and “domo arigato” is probably the only Japanese most Americans can speak and understand.
So like Kilroy, I’m throwing away my mask and admitting to the world that ‘Kilroy Was Here’ deserves another listen, and unlike the scenario of the album’s storyline, there ain’t no crime in liking it … yet.