The band members produced and recorded the album (like their previous three efforts) at Paragon Studios in Chicago with recording engineer Barry Mraz and mixing engineer Rob Kingsland. "I'm O.K" was recorded at Paragon and St. James Cathedral. This would be the last album to be produced at Paragon Studios.
Some consider the album to be Styx' second concept album, The Serpent Is Rising arguably being the first, as well as the last Styx album with significant progressive rock leanings that characterized their previous albums. The theme of the album, as Dennis DeYoung explained on In the Studio with Redbeard which devoted an entire episode to Pieces of Eight, was about "not giving up your dreams just for the pursuit of money and material possessions".
Eight of the album's ten tracks have vocals, and it features two instrumentals, the DeYoung synthesizer showcase "The Message" and Tommy Shaw's closing "Aku-Aku" (although for the latter, there was one lyric spoken, the title of the song). "The Message" serves as a prelude for "Lords of the Ring", and "Aku-Aku" is a postlude for "Pieces of Eight".
The album's cover was done by Hipgnosis. DeYoung stated in the same 1991 interview with Redbeard on the "In the Studio" episode that he initially hated the cover but grew to like it as he got older.
Mike DeGagne of AllMusic has retrospectively praised the album, saying that the songs on the album "rekindle some of Styx's early progressive rock sound, only cleaner." Contemporary Rolling Stone reviewer Lester Bangs was more critical of the album, however, saying that "What's really interesting is not that such narcissistic slop should get recorded, but what must be going on in the minds of the people who support it in such amazing numbers. Gall, nerve and ego have never been far from great rock & roll. Yet there's a thin but crucial line between those qualities and what it takes to fill arenas today: sheer self-aggrandizement on the most puerile level. If these are the champions, gimme the cripples."
The album peaked at #6 on the Billboard album chart, and like its predecessor would go triple platinum.