Kirshner, 1974


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Chances are, the most people know of the rock group Kansas are three songs: “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Point Of Know Return,” and “Dust In The Wind.” Which isn’t that surprising, seeing that these are the ones that corporate radio has completely beaten to death over the course of the past thirty years.

But Kansas’s history was more than these three songs; their self-titled debut, released in 1974, showcased the merging of the classic rock stylings of the original Kansas with the prog-rock, spiritual leanings of Kerry Livgren. For the most part, this disc takes a long time to warm up to and is almost completely torpedoed by one song, but it ends up being well worth your time so long as you’re willing to put the effort into it.

The first side contains some of the strongest material from the band at this time. Opening the disc is “Can I Tell You,” a three-and-a-half minute shot in the arm that lets the listener know they’re in for a completely different listening experience. From the use of violin (!) as a solo instrument in a rock group to the effortless harmony of the vocals, the grasp that Kansas has on the listener is immediate and pretty powerful.

That grasp doesn’t let up for a while. Not on the cover of J.J. Cale’s “Bringing It Back,” not on the first Livgren-penned track “Belexes,” not on the ballad “Lonely Wind,” and most surprisingly, not on the almost eight-minute long epic “Journey From Mariabronn.” On that last track, maybe it’s because after listening to the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Kansas discography some months back just for fun, I’m used to hearing it. But the band does something that not every group can: they make eight minutes fly by and seem like only a moment has passed. That takes some skill -- in fact, that skill could have been used on a different track on Kansas. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

The one thing I would have done differently would have been to crank the vocals up a bit more. Now, maybe it would help if I listened to this disc with headphones, but for the most part, the vocals tended to get a little muddled in the mix (I’m working off the original mix; the album has since been re-mastered, and that version includes a nine-minute live version of “Bringing It Back.”)

The second half of Kansas is the one that really requires patience on the listener’s part. “The Pilgrimage” starts off fading into the song’s main riff, and it just seems to drag that anticipation on far too long for my liking. Once the song kicks off, it proves the wait was worth it, but it almost becomes unbearable. In a similar vein, “Apercu” really begs the listener to give it repeated listens in order to truly appreciate it. The problem is, this track is the longest on the disc, clocking in at a shade under ten minutes. Oh, it’s well worth the effort, but I don’t know of many people who would be willing to sit through three listens of one song and give up a half-hour of their time. (In all honesty, it took me about six listens to this entire disc before I could say I was comfortable with it.)

This leads us to the weakest link on the album: the closing track, “Death Of Mother Nature Suite.” A pompous title, pompous lyrics, and melodramatic delivery of the music really make this the worst track on the album (and seemingly sets the stage for similar tracks on later albums). It didn’t matter how many times I listened to this disc; by the time I got to “Death Of Mother Nature Suite,” I wanted to hit the “skip” button on the CD player.

What’s sad is that this nearly eight-minute track nearly undoes a lot of the solid work that builds up Kansas -- and, in the end, the album does end up taking a bit of a hit in terms of overall opinion, but not as big of one as it might have.

If you can devote the time and energy to really looking deep into the words and music of this album, and you can live with the overblown style of the closing track, then Kansas will prove to be a jewel in the rough that is waiting to be re-discovered.

Rating: B

User Rating: A-



© 2008 Christopher Thelen 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 Kirshner, and is used for informational purposes only.