© David Michael Kennedy for the cover photo.
© Tommy Shaw/Terry Thomas/Atlantic for the music (excerpt).
© Per A.J. Andersson for the text. Written August 2003, updated November 2011.
When Tommy Shaw entered Styx he brought with him sweet compositions, a fair-looking face and a more than capable rock guitar. A very successful American rock band soon was to become even more so.
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Surprisingly his own solo career, begun in 1984, has often presented quite something else. Breaking away from the polished Styx sound that filled the airwaves of America, Shaw soon ventured into more heavy rock. He lost most of his "old" audience but - hopefully - gained a greater artistic freedom.
Tommy Shaw's first two albums still used a lot of the vocal "Styx-wise" overlays, and the average pop-rock anthems dominated throughout. His albums with the hard rock "super-group" Damn Yankees - and his record with the subsequent duo "Shaw Blades" - was a more uncompromising guitar-based hard rock. While his 1998 solo album was an interesting and inspired piece of work with some gorgeous exciting rock tunes knit together by a general theme of "finding a balance".
But to me his best album yet was the one hardest - for a very long time - to find on the market. "Ambition" was released in 1987, but it has since long been deleted from Atlantic Records' catalogue (2007 reissue on independent label American Beat, though!). And it seems hard to persuade the record company to give it another chance, following the current (as of the early '00s) low popularity of Tommy Shaw. Which is not to be confounded with the popularity of Shaw as a member of the reformed Styx, touring the country and packing the arenas. Go figure...
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"Ambition" was a deviation in several ways. A new record company, the recording was done in Britain, it had a new producer...
The compositions were back on track, and there's not a single bad song on the album. Tommy Shaw excelled both with powerful vocals and a plethora of beautiful electric guitar work. The tight and energetic production done together with co-composer Terry Thomas enhanced Shaw's hard rock melodics. All resulting in a dynamic and inspired record full of hard-driving yet very listenable rock.
But it was probably released at the worst of times, with the public attention turning away from this kind of rock after a decade of pompous guitar-based rock streaming out of America's radio sets. And maybe the record company wasn't up to the task either, not believing that there still could be beauty in pomp.
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More often than not break-away solo careers seem to run aground due to public taste. I'd be thrilled if Roger Hodgson's (ex-Supertramp) albums would be available outside of France. I'd love to see Lindsey Buckingham on his own, far away from Fleetwood Mac. And a Tommy Shaw on his own wings again would not be missed around here. //