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Kansas - Freaks Of Nature CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.22 | 216 ratings

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3 stars In 1982, Kansas released 'Vinyl Confessions' a rather lackluster record which would also be the last time a violin (which is probably one of the trademark things about the band's sound) would be used for quite some time. The band's line-up would go through so many changes over the next several years, that no one could keep up with who was in the band and who wasn't, but one thing for certain, that violin sound kept the band from effectively playing their best tracks in concert, and they basically just became another rock band trying to hang on and living off of their band name.

Then, one of the best moves the band would make in many years, would begin movement back in the right direction. In 1991, David Ragsdale was brought into the band, bringing back the violin as one of the main instruments again, and suddenly, things starting sounding great again. After some successful touring where the band was once again able to do justice to their best songs, the band finally released the first album to have new material since 1988 and would call it 'Freaks of Nature'. The question was, would it be able to live up to the quality of music the band had released in its heyday.

In order to do that, it would be thought that most of the original band would have to be along for the ride. Steve Walsh still remained mostly loyal to the band, so is there, of course. However, Kenny Livgren is absent, and that is noticeable to some extent. Steve Morse no longer threatened the band (thank goodness), so that was a big plus. Rich Williams (guitar) was also loyal to the band and also participates in the album along with the other loyalist Phil Ehart (on drums). At the time, Greg Robert was the main keyboardist and had been since 1986, and Billy Greer was also along for the album and still continues to be with the band to this day. So, for this album, the line-up was pretty solid and Ragsdale, being the newcomer and the one bringing back the central instrument of the band, was going to have to live up to a high bar. Fortunately, he had sent the band a demo tape several years previously, and this is what got him hired on as a regular band member.

One other attempt to return to their most popular sound was bringing back Jeff Glixman as a producer, who also produced the band's best albums, namely 'Song for America', 'Masque', 'Leftoverture', and 'Point of No Return'. With these things coming together, the outlook for 'Freaks of Nature' is a good one, but did it come along too late? Many people had given up on the band being able to release a good record as many loyal fans had been disappointed too many times in the past. This would show in this album's sales as the public was hesitant to buy an album with all new material on it. It would be the only official Kansas album to not appear on the Billboard charts. Also, critics were quite harsh with it.

However, the album isn't as bad as some would make it out to be. There are some bumpy sections throughout the album that keeps it from reaching the pinnacle of their best work. But, it definitely isn't one that should be ignored either. 'I Can Fly' starts off with some extremely bad vocals right away which are very grating and not a good way to introduce the album. But when Ragsdale's violin comes in, there is a feeling of hope. Not much can save this first track, unfortunately, after that embarrassing introduction, but at least the rest of the band tries to do so.

As the music continues though, things do improve, including Walsh's voice. This is a good thing because Walsh is the only lead singer on this album. My first impression of this album was filled with dread after that first track and I thought Walsh was washed up. But things do improve as 'Desperate Times', 'Hope Once Again' and the heavy 'Black Fathom 4' are much better, and it would have been a great album if the band continued in this mode. Things tend to level off on 'Under the Knife' and 'Need' as the band seems to fall back into its more lackadaisical style that plagued them during the 80's. Those songs aren't bad, but they are a far cry from anything pre-'Point of No Return'. It gets even worse with 'Freaks of Nature' and the sappy 'Peaceful and Warm'. However, Livgren's only contribution to the album, the song 'Cold Gray Morning' sits in between these tracks and it is one of the better tracks of the 2nd half of the album.

So, the album is a step better than the previous albums of the 80's, and Ragsdale's violin is a welcome addition to the band. Fortunately, he would continue on with the band with a break between 1997 and 2006. Even though it didn't show in the sales of the album, over time, this gradual return-to-form by the band would prove to be a good thing for them. It would take time for the band to match the output of their previous years, but at least now, they were working towards that end, not just resting on their laurels. Even though it was not perfect, it was, for me, an album that gave back hope that Kansas could return to the amazing band it had been before. This album gets 3.5 stars from me, but is rounded down to 3 because of the weaker 2nd half. But it is a good sign of better things to come.

TCat | 3/5 |


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