In The Spirit Of Things


MCA Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Kansas was a band a bit adrift in the late ‘80s. The sound of their legacy years was out of favor. Rap and hair metal were riding high, and Metallica were about to take over the world. Drummer Phil Ehart tells of going to the MCA offices to discuss promotion of the album, only to be greeted by giant posters of Tiffany covering every surface. Not a good omen for a band past their peak trying to gain a foothold in a fickle market of flavor-of-the month pop stars. This, their 11th studio album, would not provide them much commercial success, but it's an achievement in its own right as a very well done album of dynamic rock that has become a fan favorite.

In The Spirit Of Things is concept album.  The concept isn't a linear story and it isn't particularly fluid, but it adds some nice color. At first listen, I got the impression of musical theater. It's got a bit of a Rogers & Hammerstein feel to it, and you can easily see this collection of songs -- most of them anyway -- as a stage production. The opening number “Ghosts” paints a vivid picture of a forgotten place in small town my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 America:

“There's a schoolhouse full of broken glass, and wounded walls
The rusty swings like derelicts sleeping in the weeds
There's a picture -- graduation class, staring down deserted halls
"The Hope Of ‘44" is what it reads.”

The songs that follow are a series of vignettes of post WWII America. “One Big Sky” is a plea for peace from a world healing from the scars of war. “House On Fire” is a blazing rocker with a “High School Confidential” feel to it. Steve Walsh rips up the organ old-school Kansas style, and Morse adds a tasty solo.

The album bogs down a bit in the middle under the weight of three back-to-back power ballads. Too many ballads that sound alike, too many choruses -- too much, too much. One would have been fine, three might have worked if not piggybacked on each other. Fortunately, the album picks up after the 37th chorus of “I Counted On Love.”

The closing twenty minutes of Spirit are as good as anything the band has done since their peak in 1977. “The Preacher” is a gorgeous gospel inspired number with a full choir. Walsh plays the fire and brimstone preacher who changes hats for the next number. “Rainmaker.” “Rainmaker” is the showpiece number of the disc with Walsh and guitarist Steve Morse creating a little sonic opera complete with thundering horses and raging wind. “The Bells Of Saint James” closes out the album beautifully, as Walsh belts out a powerful lament for soldiers far from home.

The sound of this album is pretty dynamic from beginning to end. There are plenty of dense walls of sound, big, lush keys, and tight vocal harmonies. They definitely come across sounding more like the Kansas of old, in style if not in composition. Morse's guitar work is as amazing as ever.  My only beef really is that guitarist Rich Williams, the band’s sonic foundation from day one, seems lost in the mix. I miss those sturdy riffs he does so well. All in all, it still sounds it damn good. Members of the band have stated many times they felt it was some of their best work ever. It's certainly the best of their '80s era catalog, by any lineup.

Rating: B

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 MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.