Each of these musicians has the ability to use his collective expression to create something greater than their sum.
I love this band and their music and I hope you will join me in celebrating them, and hear how cool it is to me that Kansas has a new album out. There is no better way commemorate the 40 years since the creation of Leftoverture, which marked a pinnacle in our collective classic-rock community, than with the band’s new album, The Prelude Implicit.
When I was a kid, the music that moved me the most were songs that offered positive messages, meaning, energy, and drive, with high-resolution recordings and great musicianship. I liked things that pushed humanity forward, stretched the boundaries of what people can do, and didn’t care much for made-for-radio-bubblegum tunes singing mostly about girls and good times. The best progress in rock music at that time was being made by bands I latched onto, starting with Zeppelin and Floyd, but also on to Boston, Styx, Triumph, Yes, Rush, and Kansas. This cross-section of music has a significant cultural importance because of these bands’ abilities to combine high levels of musicianship with inspirational lyrics.
Also, there were concepts centered on believing in yourself and pushing to do the best that you can, all the while achieving a high level of commercial success and widespread audiences. This feat is rare and notable, because it is not often when true art and pop culture coincide in such a natural manner. This can only be recognized in hindsight, after a period of time—say, 40 years—by taking a look at the musicians that have been influenced by Kansas, how their fan base has kept them radio relevant, and which modern multimedia references have ensured longevity with more than a couple generations. With new album The Prelude Implicit, Kansas continues to reach the pinnacles of human creativity, collaboration, and expression.
The album is idea for anyone needing a new, positive message. The songs are at the same time heavy, flowing, inspiring, thoughtful, tough, rich, tonally diverse, and large. When you listen to things enough times, the music becomes a soundtrack to your life, and this score is spot on for the times at hand. The album starts out with an epic tune, “With this Heart,” which summarizes everything that is great about this band and where they are at—but you’re not ready for that just yet. So set that song aside for a second, and start with “Visibility Zero”; it’ll have you saying, “Yeah, man. That’s freakin’ KANSAS!”
My favorite song on the disc is the sixth track, “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen.” It is powerful and soaring with some unexpected twists and turns—and just wait ’til you dig on the solos. The proverbial “They” should use the song “Refugee” for all future fundraising events, for every cause, everywhere. This is the quiet, acoustic moment of the disc, with amazingly rich five-part vocal harmonies. I end up hitting “repeat” dozens of times on tunes that hit me, and with this record, each song just keeps hitting me. As I spin “Rhythm in the Spirit” again, I’m struck with how tough-sounding and heavy the band sounds, yet with grace as light as a feather—perhaps as if from a lightning-laden phoenix gliding though and illuminating the far corners of creativity in your mind.
“Camouflage” is another one of the other badass tunes that keep coming, firmly in keeping with the tone and pride of the men who fight, and but with a tinge of the anguish of having come home bearing hidden scars. The chorus is just such an amazing hook, as “Learning to hide in obscurity/ Hoping now I can solve your mystery” just sticks in your head. The middle guitar riff is built on this angular sounding tritone, put in context with a Lydian-based modal theme, which alternates with a contrastingly smooth and regal phrase; I can think of only one other person who even attempted something like this.
“The Unsung Heroes” is a moving and soulful blues ballad that pays to tribute to the hard work of some of the everyday people in our lives. “Summer” is the epic anthem you always wanted, as Billy Greer sings about what it was like growing up with good people and good times. In both of these tunes, the intro of the violin parts and some other passages may, as subtle subtext, give respect to earlier Kansas tones and motifs, simultaneously pay homage to the lingering influence Steve Morse left during his stint with this band. “Section 60” is a majestic, respectful, and honorable instrumental tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Rush fans, drummers, and Neil Peart fans who like to count will love this disc, and the placement and phrasing of the fills throughout the expertly crafted and artfully formed slices of time. There are plenty of songs where the tempos and time signatures ebb and flow. For example, check the super tough-sounding riff that carry the song “Crowded Isolation”; it’s an odd time signature, but it just grooves, hard. That is also precisely the finesse of this type of collaborative writing, where the time signatures feel natural to the music and not in place as an academic exercise. Phil Ehart’s drum parts are as integral to the music as the melody…not to mention that his management of the band is also central to the longevity of Kansas and a key to their subsequent success.
Stick your head in the speakers and be shown how it is done. I mean it, pick up your axe, flip on the keys, crank the bass, or pick up your sticks. Play along to these tunes; there is a lot to be learned within the lines, the harmonies, the song formats, the chord changes, the solos, and the engineering. It’s really a blast, putting on the disc and playing along. I know some of you guys out there have prided yourselves on the ability to nail the solo on “Wayward Son,” or perhaps you even had it down on Guitar Hero way back when. Now I think you’re ready to get it, and see how just plain and naturally cool this music is.
This disc passes my third round of tests and proves to sound amazing at different times of day, and during different types of weather, and as a killer background to whatever you’re doing. Think of the collective wealth of knowledge and skill of each of these musicians playing in a band of this caliber for over 40 years, and then having the ability to use that collective expression to create something greater than their sum. Picture the life lived by each individual fan who ever contemplated the melody and words of “Dust in the Wind” or rocked out to “Carry on Wayward Son.” Picture the combined breadth of influence of the words and music of Kansas, around the globe, and bridging generations, the number of lives moved in a positive direction through a tune; also visualize the ever-expanding sphere of this influence into the future. That, truly, is the only way I could figure to explain how big this album’s sounds are. The writing, the performances, the engineering, the arrangements, the words, the messages: all powerful, insightful, and inspiring. | Derek Lauer