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.