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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Monolith

Review by Gary Hill

There was a period of Kansas’ output I stayed away from like the plague. This disc was set firmly in that time. My thought was that the group had sold out and become too “pop” oriented. Well, it seems a good time to go back and listen to this stuff with the keener eye of hindsight. Truth is, to a degree I was right. There are definite concessions to the trends of the time here. But Kansas’ identity still manages to poke through. The main issue here is a rather flat production. It was definitely mixed for radio. Overall this is a pretty good album that could have been exceptional with a little different production.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
On The Other Side
A keyboard build with a processed voice saying “monolith” begins the album. They create  a killer jam for the introduction but drop it down to a pretty standard Kansas verse. This feels very much like a copy of something from Leftoverture. The hard edged chorus isn’t very proggy, but it’s definitely catchy. They bring the progressive rock back to the table with a smoking instrumental section that has both some fiery violin and some killer guitar work. This is trademark Kansas and while we’ve heard similar things from them for years it still works. There are parts here that remind me of a Triumph song, but I can’t put my finger on which one.
People of the South Wind
The weird thing here is that there is almost a disco element to the opening fanfare here. They bring this Native American anthem out into more rock territory, but it still has an almost R & B like groove to it. The chorus is pretty strong. The guitar solo section is also nice, but that disco thing really wears heavily.  This track manages to represent both the best and worst of Kansas from this time.

Angels Have Fallen
The first minute or so of this is in the form of a piano based ballad. They rock out from there into a motif that is very much classic Kansas. This track is a highlight of the CD and continues by alternating between these formats. There are some cool symphonic elements later and it also has metallic crunch guitar. It becomes quite neo-classical later. Then it drops down to very gentle piano.

How My Soul Cries Out for You
This is a study in contrasts. One portion of this track is fiery, frantic progressive rock. The other portion is fairly generic hard edged rock music that at times feels like Foreigner. It also includes a weird section with drum solo as an interlude.

A Glimpse of Home
The production feels a little flat on this one. That sucks because this is a killer tune. It’s got the hard rocking side of Kansas, but also plenty of progressive rock changes. It’s one of the strongest tracks here. Because it relies more on the prog rock side of things it suffers more from the weak production. This covers a lot of musical territory.

Away from You
Here we’ve got another contrasting piece. Proggy elements are combined with a song proper that is over the top in its generic qualities. This is not bad, but only really rescued from mediocrity by those more progressive rock oriented jams.

Stay Out of Trouble
Now, this is more like it. It’s a screaming jam that combines the southern rock sensibilities Kansas often displayed with a prog rock sensibility. This is hard edged and cool. I’m not sure anyone would easily label this prog rock (other than the killer instrumental section) but it’s sure to have you rocking.

Reason to Be
A ballad, this is pretty, but a little over the top at times. I’m also not sure it was such a great idea to end the disc on such a low note. That’s in terms of volume, not quality.

 
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