Kansas Album Review - "Kansas" (1974)

30 Jan 2017

I got the strange idea to review some of my favorite albums on here, starting with the first Kansas album. Don't expect any fancy lingo as I am not by any means a music expert.

I've been a fan of Kansas ever since I heard the cover version of Carry on my Wayward Son on the (tedious) game Guitar Hero for PlayStation, and I have probably played their early albums for hundreds of hours in total since then.

The first album was self-titled and released in 1974 and features lead vocals and synth by Steve Walsh, Robby Steinhardt on violin, guitarists Kerry Livgren and Rich Williams, bassist Dave Hope and Phil Ehart on drums. The albums' eight tracks were mainly written and composed by Livgren and Walsh. The whole album revolves a lot around Steinhards violin, which has the lead on many of the tracks.

The first two tracks, Can I Tell You and Bringing It Back, are pretty standard rock by contemporary standards. Although the band incorporates some progressive elements here, these two tracks are just semi-messy rock-and-roll pieces where the violin lead gets pretty annoying to listen to after a while.

Continuing down the track list we find Lonely Wind, which is a very calm ballad. There is something quite saddening about this track which seems to revolve around a man talking to the wind which is easy to over analyze. Walsh's vocals are showcased for the first time here, and I'm certain that the song would not have been as good with someone else singing it. Walsh does, however, have a very different vocal technique compared to the later 70's albums which would launch Kansas into mainstream stardom a few years later. I imagine this song would have been great to calm everything down in the middle of live sets. All in all it is a pretty standard piano accompanied ballad which should appeal to anyone. Can I Tell You and Lonely Wind were released as the albums only two singles, which is pretty absurd considering that the real classics from this album are yet to come.

The fourth track, Belexes, is where the album really starts to shine. This track is so.... funky! The lyrics, written by Livgren, are much more abstract than the preceding tracks and are apparently based on some 17th century italian opera. It kicks off with a really cool rolling guitar melody which despite being pretty cheesy is very catchy. The song is being performed by the band to this day, often as an opener, with a very cool build-up. I'm pretty sure it's impossible to find a cooler grandpa rocking a guitar solo than Rich Williams in the live performances of Belexes.

Journey from Mariabronn is a pretty similar track to Belexes but much longer. This is definitely a progressive track which offers long build-ups, pace changes, multiple solos and an epic finale. Although very good, Kansas refined the style they used on this track on later releases and admittedly this is not a track that I play very often.

The Pilgrimage is another rock-and-roll style track which there isn't very much to say about. Easy to like, but pretty boring. Skip ahead to Apercu which is much more interesting. It switches between a calm soundscape, a power ballad and a roaring progressive roller coaster. Don't put this on in the background at your party, this is active listening material.

Although the album as a whole can be considered pretty mediocre when compared with the other 70's gems in the Kansas discography, the last track is reason alone to love it. Death of Mother Nature Suite is one of the most epic prog compositions Kansas have released, rivaled only perhaps by The Pinnacle from Masque. It's the best Kansas song featuring featuring lead vocals by Steinhardt, and calling the recurring guitar riffs anything less than legendary would be a severe understatement. The transition at around 3:20 (omitted in the live video embedded below for some reason) is simply so vicious that I find myself rewinding the track several times just to experience it again. The lyrics are very self-explanatory and tell a tale about how human society has distanced itself from nature. "Once she ruled the world with love and wisdom, but we were much too smart to live away. With greed and lust we tried to rise above her. The ignorance of man will reach an end, and now she's gonna die." It's senselessly simple, yet extremely powerful.

All in all this is by no means the best Kansas album, but it's still a classic worth a listen for anyone interested in 70's prog.
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