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Kansas - Kansas CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.98 | 602 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars This album is essential. No it isn't. Yes it is. No it isn't. Let's face it. Kansas is a schizophrenic band. (Bipolar at the very least.)

In the 1970's, bands and record labels notoriously agonized over which songs to place in positions #1 and #2 on "Side One" of each new album. For rock bands, the first song of a new album was usually reserved for an up-tempo number capable of quickly catching and keeping the listener's ear. The second song selection enjoyed wider latitude, but was generally expected to be a strong composition as well, the type of song that, in combination with track one, could really "make a statement" about the album's - or the band's - identity.

All of which makes the Side One running order on Kansas' 1974 debut album incredibly puzzling to me. By leading off with "Can I tell you" and then following up with "Bringing it back", I can only conclude that either a) Don Kirshner envisioned Kansas as some oddball violin hybrid of Lynyrd Skynyrd or b) Kansas is a schizophrenic band.

Allow me to posit the latter. After all, this band was born from a "merry go round" of cross-pollination between two Topeka Kansas bands calling themselves an assortment of names like "The Reasons Why", "Saratoga", "Kansas (1)", "Kansas (2), and "White Clover". (Special Note: The 'numbers' (1) and (2) were added by fans years later in an attempt to avoid the recreation of "Abbot and Costello skits" during their otherwise serious discussions about early Kansas timelines.) Sheesh! I knew I should have paid closer attention to permutation and combination calculations in high school!

For simplicity sake, let's call the Kerry Livgren (songwriter extraordinaire and tastefully competent guitarist/keyboardist) led bands "Saratoga". Then let's call the Robby Steinhardt (violin master) and Steve Walsh (vocal schemer screamer) led bands "White Clover". Finally let's simply accept that bassist Dave Hope and drummer Phil Ehart changed their minds about which bands they were in pretty much on a daily basis. I can't verify this, but I have reason to suspect that Dave Hope actually showed up for the wrong band's rehearsal on more than one occasion!

Oh - forget it! Let's just face the facts. This band is schizophrenic! ;-)

Of course, there is that pesky Don Kirshner-White Clover fan club theory. There were, after all, only three singles released from this album. Looking more closely, we see that the first single was Side One Track #1 "Can I tell you": a White Clover song penned by Williams, Ehart, Hope and Walsh. This song did not chart.

Kirshner's second single from Kansas' debut album was Side One's Track #2 "Bringing it back": a song that sounds suspiciously like the type of cover tune White Clover would enjoy playing. This second single, by the way, did not chart.

Even Kirshner must have begun wondering whether Kansas might be better at creating vast and wide-sweeping prog epics than hit singles after all. But hit singles paid the bills in those days so he tried again. The third single he released from this album? You guessed it... Side One's Track #3 "Lonely Wind". I was utterly shocked to discover that "Lonely Wind" was a "White Clover" ballad penned by Walsh. For the record, this 3rd single did manage to dent the Hot 100.

OK - perhaps Kirshner was a closet "White Clover" fan after all!

Fortunately for Prog Fans, singles notwithstanding, the rest of this album's songs have Kerry Livgren's trademark compositional fingerprints all over them. After starting with the requisite hard rocking "Belexes". we graduate to elaborate Symphonic Progressive gems like "Journey from Mariabronn", "Apercu", and "Death of Mother Nature suite". This is the grandeur, this is the majestic power and beauty for which Kansas is revered over 3 decades later!

Bridging the two divergent "personalities", from slow, smooth legato to brazen sizzling allegro, the one constant that binds the various tracks of this album together is the signature violin of Robbie Steinhardt.

I feel further compelled to mention that this is not a mere case of debut-album identity crisis. Because bands "outgrow" debut-album identity crisis! Alas, Kansas would continue in this dichotomous vein for years to come, evidently suffering no cognitive dissonance as they played blues, country/rock or southern-fried rock one moment only to launch into glorious Progressive Rock the next.

So, if you want to enjoy the glorious high points that this American art rock band has to offer, you'll simply have to learn how to southern rock boogie a little. Well, either that or develop a mild case of schizophrenia yourself.

Did I mention that this album is essential? No it isn't. Yes it is. No it isn't. (Ahh! I feel better already!)


Addendum: I was honored to discover that this review had been forwarded to Dave Hope and here was his reply.

"...he really did nail it - our favorite band(s) actually were anywhere from the Allman Brothers, King Crimson, Wild Cherry, and Genesis... any other way would have been boring and pretentious..."

progpositivity | 4/5 |


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