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Kansas - In The Spirit Of Things CD (album) cover

IN THE SPIRIT OF THINGS

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

2.82 | 210 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars I have to admit that at the time Kansas released this album in 1988, I was not even aware they were still together. It was the latter 80s, and at the time I was listening to poseurs like Let’s Active and, I don’t know – a-Ha or something. The 80s were a really hard decade for progressive music fans – God bless Marillion, and maybe even Asia.

Anyway, out of nowhere comes Kansas with their third consecutive album without violinist Robby Steinhardt (who had left during 1982’s Vinyl Confessions recording), and the second without Kerry Livgren and bassist Dave Hope, who both left after the 1983 release of Drastic Measures. Back again was vocalist and keyboardist Steve Walsh, who had rejoined the band for the 1986 Power release, as well as former Streets bassist Billy Greer. Dixie Dregs (and soon to be Deep Purple) guitarist Steve Morse had rejoined Kansas after a brief hiatus as an airline pilot (seriously!). The tour supporting this release was mostly canceled due to a severe throat ailment for Walsh, and Morse would leave again following the album’s release and a brief stint doubling with both Kansas and his own band on a European tour the following spring. Greg Robert appears on the album playing keyboards and singing backup, but would not be credited as an ‘official’ member until 1992’s Live at the Whiskey release.

The album is supposed to be something of a theme record, telling the rather disjointed tale of the 1951 flood that destroyed tiny Neosho Falls, Kansas (I’ve been there – it’s still tiny, and really boring). But only a few of the lyrics really support the theme, and about half the album’s songs came from hired writers and stand out like a turd in a teacup. The songs that were not written by Walsh, Morse, or Ehart are pretty obvious to the ears of long-time Kansas fans, and overall the theme pretty much falls apart by the end of the first side of the record. The band (particularly Walsh) have tried to explain this away by saying the individual songs are supposed to represent vignettes of people’s lives who were affected by the flood, but I think what really happened was that the combination of four producers and interference by the label caused the original concept to be wrecked by several songs inserted as potential radio hits. Except for “Ghosts” and “Rainmaker”, most of the songs are either power-rock love songs, or songs about love lost. “Bells of Saint James” is particularly interesting as it tells of an American soldier during the Korean War writing home to his lover, and the tenor of her letters back starts to fade as their distance grows apart.

The music itself isn’t bad. Walsh’s voice is pretty solid for the most part, which makes his ragged vocals on Live at the Whiskey just four years later all the more alarming. The keyboards are strong, but it’s hard to tell which belong to Walsh and which belong to Greg Robert. Steve Morse’s guitar has jelled with the band compared to his one-man- band sound on Power two year’s prior, and Rich Williams plays a complementary role with a few flashes of his trademark meat-wall sound that really started to emerge as the band first fractured around 1980’s Audio-Visions. Greer lays down a solid though conservative bass line throughout, not as animated as Hope was but certainly serviceable. Greer would become a much stronger personality with the band in the 90s.

In addition to his production work, Bob Ezrin co-wrote four of the songs and provided some percussion and backing vocals. There were also several other keyboardists and vocalists on the album, presumably a result of the overproduction by Ezrin, 80s dinosaur-rock producer Greg Ladanyi, and hack producer-wannabe Paul Maxon. Phil Ehart also claimed production credits, although I’m not sure why.

The strongest tracks on the album are well-done with tight rhythms and solid lyrics – “Ghosts”, “House on Fire”, and the tear-jerker “Bells of Saint James” in particular. The acoustic guitar instrumental “T.O. Witcher”, written by Walsh as a tribute to an old friend, is nostalgic and appealing, but kind of out-of-place for a Kansas album. Still, it has become a concert staple for the band in recent years.

“House on Fire” is an energetic song about a scorned woman with a gun, and kind of like the early “Lonely Street” with an edge and role-reversal. There is a much longer version of this live on the King Biscuit Presents album that really rocks and is much better than the version here, but this is probably the closest to the rock-meets-art sound the band churned out on Monolith, Audio-Visions, and to a certain extent Vinyl Confessions.

“Inside of Me” is my favorite song on the album, which despite being a pure 80s power ballad showcases Walsh’s strongest vocals in years, as well as showing the band’s ability for razor-sharp execution. The chorus is catchy, without being too pop- sounding.

“Stand Beside Me” is another power ballad, was one of the songs Ezrin bought from a writer’s-mill, and was the featured single for the album. It failed to chart at all, and garnered almost no radio play except on some die-hard adult-listening stations. I’m actually kind of glad, because this song was WAY too overproduced, and comes off sounding like something John Elephante would have put out if he had Don Henley and Steve Perry of Journey to work with instead of the Kansas brethren. Bleah!

The other hired-gun songs are “One Big Sky”, which also sounds better on the live King Biscuit album; “One Man, One Heart”, which is about as sappy as the title implies (but solid guitars and drums); and “Once in a Lifetime”, which I won’t say any more about because my mother taught me that if you can’t say something good about somebody, …..

So overall this is not a great album from Kansas. It probably wouldn’t even be considered good compared to their best output from the 70s (or even 2000’s Somewhere to Elsewhere). And it probably would have been better if the band had managed to write all their own material, since the songs written by Walsh and Morse all fall into the pretty decent-to-good category. And “Inside of Me”, “Ghosts”, and “House on Fire” are all at least solid, perhaps even really good.

In all I would probably rate this at somewhere between 2.6 and 2.9 on a scale of one to five, so for now I’ll round it off to three (but just barely) and consider my opinion shared. Enjoy.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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