Aku Aku: The Easter Island Concept
Steve Wyzard | Lomita, CA | 01/12/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Generally acknowledged as Styx's most enduring album, very few of the reviews so far have mentioned anything about the album's overall concept. Released in September 1978, there's much more to this collection than cheery vocal harmonies and a few classic rock radio hits. While the individual songs of DeYoung, Shaw, and Young are all very different, there is a recurring theme behind the lyrics.
The band's eighth studio album, Pieces of Eight's concept is the illusions of modern day living. The previous album, 1977's The Grand Illusion, also touched on this topic, but did not carry it through on every single song. ("Come Sail Away" and "Castle Walls" are seemingly just fantasy pieces, without any underlying theme.) Take a look at the songs of Pieces of Eight:
"Great White Hope": the illusion of America as the fastest gun in the west, or the undefeated champ.
"I'm Okay": the illusions behind the late 1970s self-esteem movement.
"Sing for the Day": the illusion of eternal youth.
"The Message/Lords of the Ring": nothing to do with Tolkein, but rather with the illusion of celebrity and "making it". The "ring" is the "brass ring" of success. The last verse intones: "And though the legend was pure fantasy - we still need the hope it brings."
"Blue Collar Man": the illusion of "job security".
"Queen of Spades": not about gambling (as many people suppose), but the illusion of luck and good fortune. "Luck is a lady whose smile is as cold as a stone."
"Renegade": the illusion of escape and the so-called glamour of life on the lam.
"Pieces of Eight": the illusion of wealth, and the alleged power and happiness it brings. This song also brings home the overall theme of not trading reality for unreachable fantasy. (Enron/Broadcom moguls, are you listening?)
The album then closes with perhaps the most beautiful piece the band has ever recorded, the ethereal, dreamy "Aku Aku", music to float away on. Named after the ancestral spirits of the people of Easter Island, it also ties in with Hypgnosis' outer-cover and gatefold photography. That Easter Island was chosen is also appropriate to the concept because rather than being an idyllic South Seas isle, the local history is one of people who divided into groups and almost completely destroyed each other fighting over dwindling natural resources. In other words, there are no island paradises.
Most will agree this is the last album Styx recorded before moving into their lighter, Broadway-style period. Later albums were also conceptual, but were either too elusive (Paradise Theater) or hammered home too hard (Kilroy was Here). On Pieces of Eight, the production, musicianship, and songwriting were never better, and the concept has proved even more appropriate with the passage of time. Because of the dynamic contrasts between the celestial synths/acoustic guitars and the heavy guitar rock/cathedral organ, this album was very popular with the "half-speed mastered virgin-vinyl" audiophile movement among late 1970s LP buyers (I still have mine). Pieces of Eight still sounds great today in any format, and while Styx will always be dismissed by the roots-rock crowd, it has proved to be their most outstanding achievement musically, lyrically, and conceptually. Easter Island, indeed."