Song For America


Kirshner, 1975

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Sometimes, in the world of progressive rock, one can be too talented for their own good.

Take Song For America, the sophomore effort from Kansas. Technically, it’s a very proficient album; one can’t find any fault in the musicianship. But the overall effort just comes off as a bit overbearing, to the brink of boredom

How did Kerry Livgren and crew go from what feels like a largely unheralded debut to this? The key factor is songwriting. More succinctly, they went from writing fairly compact songs, with the occasional opus, to this six-song collective featuring only one song less than four minutes in length, and two clocking in at over ten minutes (though, to be fair, “Song For America” is only 10:03).

I know, people are already screaming, “It’s not the length, stupid; it’s the quality of the songs.” And therein, honestly, lies the problem: you can’t easily separate the two this time around. Whereas my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Kansas was able to show technical proficiency in exciting, shorter blocks of music, Song For America tries to stretch these moments out, resulting in the overall track becoming weaker. The title track alone is a prime example; there are moments in the song where Kansas shows the same flashes of brilliance that they did on their debut effort. However, these become so bogged down in drawn out sections that they are nigh but lost.

And that’s the problem here. There are plenty of great moments on this disc. “Lonely Street” tries to settle into a gritty groove, and nearly succeeds (though I’d bet this one was a barn-burner when performed live); “Down The Road” is an energetic little number that reminds the listener of “Can I Tell You,” and—as stated before—the title track does indeed have its moments.

Perhaps, if tracks like “Incomudro - Hymn To The Atman” been scaled back (by, for example, removing the pseudo drum solo in it) and trimming some of the musical fat, they would have been far more powerful pieces of music. Don’t want to lose those trimmed moments? Fine; work them into separate songs. I’ll bet the overall result would have been that they would have worked better that way.

It’s not that Song For America is a bad album; it surely isn’t. If anything, it captures one of the biggest pitfalls that prog rock had to face—and that was the concept of “more is better.” (Certainly Kansas was not the only such offender in the ’70s - and, certainly, there were bands who could make the longer pieces of music exciting from opening note to final crescendo.) Instead of tackling three epic tracks on this one, perhaps had Kansas dropped that down to one, and split the remaining two into additional pieces of music, they would have allowed those sections to develop on their own, and the parts would have become greater than the sum.

The sad thing is, we’ll never know if that could have been the case. Instead, we’re left with a Kansas album that is a definite step down from the group’s debut effort, but promised greater things to come.

Rating: C+

User Rating: A



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