In The Spirit Of Things


MCA Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


This is a Tale Of Two Albums, And The Bargain Bin That Holds Them.

Kansas' work in the 1980s is notoriously spotty. The reason for this, frankly, is that Kansas' lineup was notoriously flexible at the time, with the Amazing Disappearing Steve Walsh (Kansas' longtime lead singer, who left after Audiovisions and didn't return until Power), the Amazing Disappearing Kerry Livgren (who decided after 1983's forgettable Drastic Measures that it was easier to go be a contemporary Christian recording artist than turn Kansas into a CCM band), and a parade of lead guitarists. The best two CDs from the Decade Of Scary Hair, however, have to be Power and In The Spirit Of Things -- and even at that, there's no Somewhere To Elsewhere or Point Of Know Return here.

So why bother to review them? Because, dammit, there's half a good CD here, and it deserves noticed. While it isn't quite the CD that Kansas wanted or needed -- a mega-hit following up the relatively popular my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Power might have caused a chart resurgence -- it's worth a longer look.

In a curious pairing, Spirit is produced by Bob Ezrin, best known for his work with Kiss and Pink Floyd. While in theory Ezrin seems a perfect pairing for Kansas' late-80s sound -- power rock with most of the progressive excess stripped out of it -- in practicality Spirit sounds flat and two-dimensional, even on CD. The lower end of the CD's sound is oddly muffled and muted, turning a couple of tracks that could have been really good ("One Man, One Heart" and "I Counted On Love") into pseudo-Loverboy mediocrity, and the top end echoes like a Boston CD, five guys singing in a swimming pool. Kansas should have kept Andrew Powell from Power. Add in a couple of tracks that seem written specifically for EmptyVee rotation and Top 40 mindlessness -- "Inside Of Me" and "Once In A Lifetime" (which gets some sort of booby prize for one of the Bottom Ten Power Ballad keyboard intros in history) -- and there's a couple of downright painful moments on Spirit.

So there's the bad -- where's the good? That's easy. Anything members of Kansas actually wrote and Ezrin didn't screw up, and the guitar work of Steve Morse. In The Spirit Of Things was the swan song for Steve Morse's involvement with Kansas, and his rapid-fire ascending-chord guitar work is as always a joy to listen to. . "Ghosts/One Big Sky" is a brilliant, bright, and powerful CD opener; "House On Fire" really rocks; and the last four tracks of the CD, from "The Preacher" to "Bells Of Saint James", are some fine, fine music.

Thusly, the tale of two albums; half of Spirit is really prime Kansas, without being weighed down by some of the overblown progressive cliches and with Morse's magnificent guitar, and half is mass-label power-ballad crap. And frankly, it's hard to say who gets the blame. My vote goes for MCA Records, who never understood how to promote Kansas and from all appearances kept trying to turn them into Night Ranger. This just proves my theory that big-label A&R men are the devil incarnate -- but I digress.

At any rate, last time I checked In The Spirit Of Things was a bargain bin special. If you see it, pick it up; for half price, you get half a really good CD -- and if you can use your CD player's programming ability, you're set.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B



© 2004 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.