Kirshner, 1979

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


“The empty page before me now, the pen is in my hand /
The words don't come so easy but I'm trying /
I'm searching for a melody or some forgotten line /
They can slip away from us so quickly.”

The opening track of Kansas' sixth studio album Monolith is telling of the nature of the album. “On The Other Side” is an introspective song by Kerry Livgren about, of all things, writer’s block.  One of the better tracks on an overall disappointing album, it follows the template that made Leftoverture and Point of Know Return work. Sadly, few of the other songs do. It’s really the only great song on the entire album.

At the time of the release of Monolith, the band was riding high on two blockbuster studio albums, a well-received live album, and two tours filling the largest venues available all over the world. Unfortunately, this release doesn't seem to have built on that momentum. The songwriting had become cleanly divided between Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, and it feels like they both were a bit dried up creatively. Livgren turns in one of his most bizarre compositions ever with “People Of The South Wind,” a likable homage to their home state, but it's poppy and danceable, two things a my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Kansas song should not be. Sonically, the album has a screechy quality throughout. Livgren and Walsh seemed to have gone totally synth-happy, and Walsh's amazing Hammond organ work is nowhere in earshot. An otherwise excellent song “A Glimpse Of Home” is nearly ruined by cheesy synth horns. The light and airy closer “Reason To Be” suffers from some equally annoying synth abuse.

Walsh's songs on the album tend towards hard rock, but they don't follow traditional rock trends.  That’s fine if it works, but his songs largely don't. He seems to be trying way too hard to take the complex arrangements Kansas is known for and make them rock. He did this nicely on earlier albums, but these cuts feel forced. “Away From You” and “How My Soul Cries Out For You” are far too lyrically dense, to the point where their meaning or story are incomprehensible. And the mix of heavy guitar and pounding piano are overly dense and chaotic as well.

Even the great bands have their clunkers. Monolith tries hard, but largely comes off overblown and lacking in inspiration. The few good tracks barely rise above the poorer ones.

On a personal note, it's hard for me to slag these guys at all. I'm a proud Wheathead, and many of my fellow Wheatheads proclaim this as their favorite Kansas album ever. Interestingly, they will often also say it was their first exposure to the band. If this had been my first taste of them, I know I would have a much higher opinion of it. But at the time it came out it was their weakest effort, and I was all too familiar with their best to ever warm up to this album. The best of Monolith fortunately can be found on their excellent box set, and the 30th Anniversary collection Sail On.

Rating: C-

User Rating: B



© 2008 Bruce Rusk 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.