When Styx hit it big in the mid-to-late 1970’s, they effec­tive­ly crys­tal­lized a style known as pomp-rock.  This sub­gen­re of AOR was cre­at­ed by musi­cians who trans­lat­ed their love of ear­ly 1970’s pro­gres­sive rock into a style that mixed the frilly, ornate ele­ment of that gen­re with pop­pier, more con­cise melodies and are­na-rock styled gui­tar riff­ing.  When Styx began rack­ing up plat­inum albums cir­ca The Grand Illusion, record com­pa­nies began seek­ing out oth­er groups in this vein so they could claim their piece of the pomp-rock gold­mine.

Trillion’s 1978 debut album is a text­book exam­ple of the pomp-rock groups that got signed in the wake of Styx’s suc­cess.  Album open­er “Hold Out” lays out the group’s approach in all its mul­ti-hued glo­ry: The intro con­trasts a tough gui­tar riff and mar­tial drum­ming with ornate syn­the­siz­er pat­terns before it gives way a catchy melody car­ried along by Fergie Frederickson’s vocals as the group applies flashy, explo­sive bursts of instru­men­ta­tion at cho­rus time.  A solo break includes some tricky dou­ble-tracked gui­tar work while an array of key­boards tap into every tier of the song’s mul­ti-dimen­sion­al arrange­ment.  The end result is instant­ly acces­si­ble thanks to its melody but the array of instru­men­tal frills trans­form it into a fun­house of son­ic tex­tures.

The remain­der of Trillion fol­lows suit, offer­ing a group of songs that apply as much instru­men­tal com­plex­i­ty as can be mus­tered to melodies that are as hooky and easy to assim­i­late as pos­si­ble.  That’s a tall order for any group of musi­cians but thank­ful­ly the mem­bers of Trillion have both the chops and the focus to pull it off.  Frank Barbalace cranks out flu­id, con­cise gui­tar solos that pack plen­ty of fire and string-bend­ing wiz­ardry into a small space and Patrick Leonard’s key­boards give the songs an array of tex­tures with­out weigh­ing down the over­all sound.  The rhythm sec­tion (bassist Ron Anaman, drum­mer Bob Wilkins) can glide from heav­i­ness to nim­ble, melod­ic accents depend­ing on a particular’s song needs and vocal­ist Frederickson has the right regal yet pow­er­ful style need­ed to cut through each dense­ly-lay­ered arrange­ment.

It also helps that the songs are strong enough to sup­port the array of chops on dis­play in Trillion.  Songs like “Fancy Action” and “Give Me Your Money Honey” are good exam­ples of the group’s care­ful songcraft, each deliv­er­ing melodies that boast tech­ni­col­or-bright hooks and cho­rus­es with sin­ga­long hooks that embed them­selves into your brain.  Whether they are shoot­ing for a bal­lad or a rock­er, the craft of the songs gives the album a cohe­sive through­line.  The lyrics also offer smart vari­a­tions on rock themes: the best exam­ple is “You Never Had It So Good,” a rocked-up bal­lad whose clev­er nar­ra­tive explores a rela­tion­ship from three dif­fer­ent van­tage points (his, hers and both togeth­er).

Trillion was ulti­mate­ly not a break­out hit along Styx lev­els, per­haps because it lacked an obvi­ous hit-sin­gle con­tender.  However, the group’s blend of for­mi­da­ble musi­cian­ship and focused song­writ­ing ensures that this album holds up to repeat lis­tens for AOR fanat­ics.  Anyone eager to check it out is direct­ed to the recent Rock Candy Records reis­sue, which offers a nice remas­ter­ing job and typ­i­cal­ly thor­ough lin­er notes that fea­ture the band’s involve­ment via inter­views.  It’ll fit in nice­ly alongside an AOR fan’s stack of Styx albums, to be sure.