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Kansas - Monolith CD (album) cover

MONOLITH

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

3.21 | 342 ratings

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Mr. Gone
2 stars My first exposure to a full-length Kansas album was Point of Know Return (obviously intrigued by the radio staple "Dust in the Wind") in my late teens. I then went backwards to get Leftoverture. I loved both albums - symphonic bombast, energy, high technical playing skill, terrific melodies...it was all there.

My next Kansas purchase was Monolith - and as it did for the band itself, it killed all Kansas-related momentum for me. I have only recently started in on their back catalog - some 25 years after my initial Kansas purchase. Through ears which have had their musical horizons expanded significantly, I hear the band moving musically toward those two magnum opuses, and while there was the odd low point or ill-conceived idea, there's some truly solid music on their first three albums.

I'm realizing how one has to almost view the band with a bit of schizophrenia. Kerry Livgren was obviously the prime mover for the group, and he wrote the most progressive, classically-influenced pieces. Steve Walsh, on the other hand, took a more arena-rock approach to things - more stripped down, a bit more raw fury and less bombast. Sometimes you would feel like it was a totally different group. While Livgren's compositions were nearly always hits for me in those early days (and the misfires were hardly ever forgettable even if they just didn't work), Walsh's were far more hit-and-miss for me, and often worked best when he co-wrote with Livgren ("Down the Road" from Song For America, for instance, or much of Point). Walsh had gone into something of a composing drought around Leftoverture, and Livgren's nearly-solo composing for much of the album probably did it a world of good in my mind. Walsh himself has admitted that the competition he had with Livgren for songwriting may have not always produced the best results on his part for the band in the end (which I must say is a mature outlook from an artist).

Having to shoulder so much of the weight for so long, however, likely dried up Livgren's creative wellspring. Walsh does a lot more writing on this album (especially by himself or at least without Livgren), and the resulting rockers don't hold up terribly well. "Stay Out Of Trouble" is particularly forgettable. This could have been perhaps at least partially overcome if Livgren's songwriting was up to its usual snuff - but even he is going through a down period here. "On The Other Side" captures a lot of the magic of the earlier days, "People Of the South Wind" is a glossed-up pop number that actually works quite well, "Reason to Be" is pleasant if a bit slight, but "A Glimpse Of Home" sounds a bit too much like Walsh - and none of these numbers ever quite achieve the grandeur of what came before. Everything sounds a bit forced, pressured and uninspired. The whole package alternates between a lack of energy and wild, largely purposeless thrashing.

My enduring memory of this is listening to it in my room on a late December day in the northeastern United States. There was snow on the ground, the trees were leafless, and it was approaching sundown on a day where the sun was visible but there was enough overcast to make the sunlight diffuse. My room had a southern exposure so I'm seeing this gauzed light passing almost horizontally through my windows, taking the shadows of tree branches with it...and I'm feeling that the album I'm listening to is perfectly emulating the light entering my room. Grayish, low on power, feeling almost harsh because of the cold, barren conditions outside - and it's only going to get dimmer as the time goes forward. Kansas did some truly remarkable work leading up to this. It's too bad that they finished the '70's on such a low note (and without much to look forward to, unfortunately). Even ten years ago I might have given this album a single star, if only because of how disappointing it was compared to its predecessors and how it put me off the band for so long much like reading Bleak House (how appropriate is that?) put me off reading Dickens. Listening to it now - I see some redeeming value. But it's not enough to make it anything more than a weathered milestone testifying to what used to be. Two stars.

Mr. Gone | 2/5 |

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