Once I rose above the noise and confusion, set a course beyond this illusion…In 1976, the band Kansas produced its swan song album, “Leftoverture” and signature single “Carry On Wayward Son”. Though it was not their very first album (that had come two years prior), no one had heard anything quite like this art rock from the heartland. Some 40 years later and despite the exit of most of its original members, Kansas has found itself re-energized with a new LP: “Prelude Implicit” and a piece of work on par with their best ever. It’s a study in counterintuitives.
In a recent article on Rollingstone.com, writer Steve Smith provides more background on various aspects of this dynamic, including the fact that only band mates Phil Ehart (drums) and Rich William (guitar) remain from the early days. Of particular note is that the heart of soul of Kansas, singer Steve Walsh and guitarist Kerry Livgren are gone after both forever served as primary songwriters. How does any group survive such turnover? Such an undertaking is particularly tough without your lead singer. ELO II, as it was once named, tried unsuccessfully to make it without Jeff Lynne; the Guess Who without two main vocalists: Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
Many groups in recent years have toured successfully with “doppelganger” lead singers culled from tribute bands, Journey and Yes among them. Yet, it’s one thing to emulate on stage while surrounded by several original members, another to release and successfully market brand new music. With their first album of new material in nearly 16 years, “Prelude Implicit”, Kansas once again hits the right note despite what might otherwise be creative handicaps – just as it did in the mid 1980s when singer John Elefante temporarily replaced Steve Walsh for huge hits “Play The Game Tonight” and “Fight Fire With Fire”.
And, it appears, lightening can strike twice (three times?). This time, it’s singer Ronnie Platt who supplies the electricity as Kansas returns to two guitars and heavy organ – harkening back of course to its original sound. And, the signature violin never sounded better. The timing is also just right for this reincarnation as classic rock enjoys a resurgence and new appreciation by millennials who grew up with their parents playing these artists. Just look around you at your next Steve Miller or Styx concert to the audience’s demographic makeup.
What matters most, though, is the music – and these new tunes sound really, really good. As a huge Kansas and Steve Walsh fan I was very, very, pleasantly surprised. Reading reviews, I’m not alone. This is not a tribute band. As writer Craig Ellis Bacon recounts in the prog report this Kansas brings a fresh, new energy that is also “comfortably confident and mature”, “totally even and incredibly enjoyable”. Give it a listen. I think you’ll agree that 2017 sounds a bit like 1976 again.