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Kansas - Point Of Know Return CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.16 | 764 ratings

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4 stars In 1976, via their outstanding "Leftoverture" album, Kansas officially arrived. Now their objective changed to staying there. And, as most successful groups will testify, that feat is usually harder than it would appear to be on the surface. Massive record sales, chart-topping singles and widespread adulation are all welcome but the baggage that comes along with those things, not unlike the fine print at the bottom of a lucrative contract, can disrupt and contaminate the family dynamic in much the same way that a despicable virus can cause havoc in even the most well-designed of software. In the case of Kansas, it was the individual egos of a few of the band members that grew to be oversized and corruptible. The two most visible stars of the show were keyboardist/vocalist Steve Walsh (he later admitted to being an incorrigible prima donna in those days) and guitarist/principal songwriter Kerry Livgren. Their volatile, competitive relationship became so antagonistic during the sessions for the much-anticipated follow-up record that at one point Steve left the fold in a huff. In retrospect these spats look petty and childish but at the time they were EVERYTHING. Fortunately, cooler heads managed to prevail, convincing him that it was in his own best interest to kiss and make up with the crew so the album could get done. With that in mind it's a wonder that the record is as good as it is. Many fans feel that "Point of Know Return" is their finest hour but I sense a tension in the tracks that I don't detect on "Leftoverture" and for that reason alone I don't enjoy it as much.

I surmise that Livgren's prominence as the group's central tunesmith had a lot to do with the strife that arose between him and Walsh (even though they often shared writing credits). But the fact that the album's namesake song and opener was composed by Steve, violinist Robby Steinhardt and drummer Phil Ehart tells me that perhaps the number was one of the items in the box of carrots used to lure Mr. Walsh back into the conclave. While not as arresting and challenging as "Carry On Wayward Son" was a year earlier, it still functioned quite well as a fitting sequel to that breakthrough hit, climbing to the #28 spot on the Hot 100 chart in short order and giving the LP vital radio exposure. The tune benefits greatly from Steve's stinging vocal chops and Steinhardt's crisp violin lines. An adventurous instrumental intro graces the beginning of "Paradox," leading to its intense, engaging verse/chorus sections. The complex middle movement is appropriately tight and keeps the momentum running strong, as well. Steve's "The Spider" is an aggressive song emitting a heavy Emerson, Lake & Palmer aroma due in no small part to Walsh's exemplary performance on the Hammond B3 organ throughout. The track then segues into what may be the apex of the album, "Portrait (He Knew)," a proggy piece about Albert Einstein. The number soars over a rocking shuffle undertow as powerful as an ocean current and once again it's Walsh's superb singing acumen that separated the band from the pretenders that surrounded them. The arrangement possesses a stately mien and it also highlights how blessed Kansas was to have a drummer as impressive and talented as Ehart. He constantly pushes the group forward with relentless precision.

If they'd been able to maintain the level of proficiency established by those first four cuts then they may well have had another masterpiece on their hands but that's not how things unfolded. "Closet Chronicles" is a very ambitious, multi-faceted semi epic that's too uneven in places to be as cohesive as it needed to be in order to develop into what they were undoubtedly hoping for. Yet my hat's off to them for shooting for the stars. Close but no cigar. "Lightning's Hand" is an intense, busy rocker that demonstrates their collective speed and dexterity on their individual instruments but the song itself is less than memorable. Kerry's "Dust in the Wind" is next and I have mixed feelings about this simple ballad. It is, without question, a fine tune that resonated with the public in a big way, rising to #6 on the singles chart, yet I fear it tended to falsely identify the band as some kind of folk outfit to those who weren't paying attention to who Kansas really was. Robby's violin solo is still the best feature of the track yet I've never thought of it as being much more than a basic campfire ditty that I grew weary of hearing quickly. "Sparks of the Tempest" follows and it's another tough-minded rock onslaught with a slightly funky feel on the verses. At this juncture I was wondering if they were consciously trying to downplay their progness and be more crowd-pleasing in their approach because this is pretty much straightforward "arena rawk" fare with no frills or surprises.

To their credit and to my relief, they ended with a couple of back to back gems. "Nobody's Home" is a piano-driven song containing taut, emotion-tugging dynamics while, at the same time, showing a lot of tactful restraint on their part. I especially like the grandiose colorings they drench the ending with on their way out. On "Hopelessly Human" they reassured me that they were continuing to fly their prog flag proudly. When this collection of musicians put their heads together to create a true epic and put their souls into it no one could do it better on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. They even brought in some clanging carillon to top it off properly. These last two songs restored my tentative but hopeful faith in American-made progressive rock.

Released in October of '77, "Point of Know Return" zoomed up to the #4 position on the LP charts, made an even larger chunk of the populace aware of how gifted this faceless band was and further established Kansas as worldwide headliners. Alas, the friction between Steve and Kerry wasn't cured by the album's success. The record's popularity only delayed the inevitable resurgence of that cancer into the group's bloodstream and within a short time they entered into a period of slow decline not only for the rest of the decade but far into the 80s. Having duly noted what transpired after "Point of Know Return" I still must give it props for being one of the finest examples of USA-produced prog (a rare species, indeed) in existence. It's a keeper. 3.8 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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