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Kansas - Point of Know Return CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.18 | 895 ratings

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4 stars Five albums into Kansas' discography and the band line-up has managed to stay the same through it all. With the release of "Leftoverture", the band had received superstar status, interestingly enough, with their most progressive album. The thing that made the music stand out amongst the superstar rock bands of the 70's, however, was Steinhardt's violin. On the band's first four albums, there was also a presence of a more complex musical structure and that sound was drawing attention. Now, with a taste of the popularity, the danger of making the sound more accessible to attract more listeners was beginning to find its way into the music. "The Point of Know Return", the band's fifth album was the one to find an almost perfect balance between the complexity of "Leftoverture" and the popular sound of commercial, radio-friendly music. For the most part, this album sees them reach that "pinnacle" (get it?).

Unfortunately, another thing started to plague the band, and that was the infestation of popularity among the individual members, most specifically with Steve Walsh, who admittedly was becoming a "prima donna" and entertaining the thoughts of a solo career. Walsh actually left the band for a short time while the album was being recorded, but somehow, the band stayed intact, and that also helped them overall with the sales of this record. Of course, this album went on to outsell the previous album and also produced to major singles, the title track and "Dust in the Wind", the latter being their biggest hit of all. But amongst these gold singles, were some pretty decent tracks that still retained a progressive edge to them, albeit in shorter form and with less complexity.

The title track opens the album with a song that is somewhat similar in style to previous albums with a surprisingly complex combination of interchanging meters that resulted in 7/4 meter. By now, most everyone knows this one. "Paradox" follows with an organ based, dramatic sounding song, again with a quick tempo and interesting riffs in the instrumental sections, but changing to a more straightforward rock sound on the verses. It's also over quickly, a sign of things to come for the band. The instrumental "The Spider" follows, and the violin and keyboards take the spindly theme representing the insect. The instrumental is complex, but leads into "Portrait (He Knew)" which smooths things out a bit and presents a more straightforward style again, but with a somewhat hard edge and catchy melody. Kenny Livgren was inspired by Einstein for the lyrics of the song, but later changed it to a Christian theme for his break-off band "A.D." . The song is distinguished by it's sudden change to a fast and greater intensity for the ending. The first side ends with the longer "Closet Chronicles" (+ 6 minutes). This one has a more melodic and pensive feel to it, but the lyrics and melody are solid, yet mostly straightforward, but with a fast and more complex, progressive instrumental section and excellent violin solo. This track also features both Walsh and Steinhardt on lead vocals, the first of the album to include any vocals other than Walsh's. I tend to like Steinhardt's vocals as, even though Walsh has a great range, he can become overbearing after a while.

The 2nd side opens up with "Lightning's Hand", which features Steinhardt only on vocals. This is the only track on the album where Walsh does not participate in any lead vocal, even though he co-wrote the song with Livgren. This one is the heaviest on the album, and is more blues based and hard rock edge with the guitar taking over the spotlight on the instrumental break. This is followed by the mega-hit, "Dust in the Wind", the ever-popular acoustic ballad, the riff of which is based off of a finger-picking exercise that Livgren's wife liked so much that she insisted he write lyrics to it. Of course, it ends up becoming the band's signature song, for better or worse. Once Livgren played it for the band for the first time, they all recognized it as a hit single. Now, it's become a worn-out song. Steinhardt and Walsh return for "Sparks of the Tempest" which brings back the hard-rock sound of the band again. The music moves away from the progressive edge to replace with a straightforward rock sound, yet the song is still interesting nonetheless with a killer guitar break. The violin, however, is missed in this track until the ending theme that it brings in just before the song fades.

"Nobody's Home" is a powerful, slower track that brings in more pomp before it calms to a nice violin-led intro to the verse. Walsh solos again on this one, but his vocals are much better controlled and restrained here, and the violin/keyboard riff is quite lovely and emotional, bringing back memories of the powerful "The Wall" from "Leftoverture" with a song that is just as great. The final track "Hopelessly Human" is the longest on the album at just over 7 minutes. It is probably the most progressive of the tracks on the album with great dynamics, mood swings, meter changes, non-standard song structure and all of that. Both Walsh and Steinhardt share lead vocals, and they do very well here, with Steinhardt tempering Walsh's over- the-top tendencies. Livgren and Williams pass the solos back and forth quite well as they used to do to more of an extent on past albums.

So, even though the band doesn't give up progressive elements all together, this is the album where the movement away from that was noticed the most. However, the album is still salvageable, and as such, is a good gateway to the band's music. If you like the straightforward sound more, then you'll want to move to the later albums. If you like the progressive and complex sound better, then you'll want to move to their earlier albums. But this album has its strengths and as such, should be considered on of their better ones. For me, it's the last worthwhile album for the band, and I quickly lost interest when I heard the albums that followed. It was a sad loss as the band could have gained a lot more respect now if they had not been captured by the tangled net of commercialism. Overall, it's a weak yet sometimes interesting four-star album.

TCat | 4/5 |


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