Review Summary: They're back... for better or worse.
It's been 16 years since Kansas has released a studio album. Even with that 16 year gap, the legacy of the Progressive Rock team still somewhat remains in the jaded hearts of many fans of Classic Prog Rock. Known for their smashing hits Carry on Wayward Son
and Dust in the Wind
, Kansas helped kickstart the rise of Progressive Rock in the 1970's along with other stalwarts like King Crimson, Styx, and Pink Floyd. Nowadays, the band isn't so lucky. From Steve Walsh's departure, to lineup changes; the band has been on hard times since the release of Somewhere to Elsewhere
back in 2000. Doesn't help that the return of Kansas to the studio barely attracted any attention or hype, as most people weren't interested in the long forgotten band. The Prelude Implicit
is a culmination of all of that frustration, time, and change packed into one release. Does it hold up？ Barely.
If we're going to talk about elephants in the room, let's talk about their new vocalist Ronnie Platt. From his off rhythm vocals in The Unsung Heroes
to his very limited vocal range in Refugee
, Ronnie just doesn't seem like the right type of vocalist for a band known for its bombastic style and grandiose compositions. Doesn't help that The Unsung Heroes
is a slow, monotonous, track with forgettable hooks and the most obnoxious percussion that takes away from the piano playing. Visibility Zero
starts off with a very hard guitar piece which is completely offset by Platt's vocals as he treats the track like a Pop Rock track and not like the Hard Rock piece it actually is. The disconnect gets even worse with the utterly terrible cover of Home on the Range
. Other than the fact this track doesn't seem right being covered by a band like Kansas, Platt soars his vocals as if his lyrics are much more epic than they actually are. One saving grace on the track is the acoustic guitar courtesy of Rich Williams, and the violins by David Ragsdale.
Speaking of which, the highlight of this album has got to be David Ragsdale. He plays his violin with such grace, power, and rhythm that you would forget the man is 58 years old. Having joined Kansas in 1991-1997, and then again in 2006; Ragsdale is known for his violin additions, which have really emphasized the power in Kansas' later product. In The Prelude Implicit
Ragsdale unleashes the virtuoso within him, providing amazing violin pieces to great tracks like Rhythm in the Spirit
, a Hard Rock piece with interesting digital effects applying an excellent throwback to the mid-eighties days of Kansas. Another excellent track with Ragsdale, and my favorite track on the album, is The Voyage of Eight Eighteen
an eight-minute epic packed with blazing guitars, eloquent violins, and Platt's best vocals on the entire record.
It's hard to watch a beloved band trudge through the mud like this. They deserve so much more recognition, but this album doesn't convince new fans to invest in them, and turns old fans away in equal measure. It's depressing, but I am glad they tried. It may not be a very good album, but it at least doesn't take itself too seriously. Their use of old 1970's synthesizer sounds and early 1980's keyboards are a nice little touch to some tracks, and it does sound as if they are having fun being back in the studio again. Perhaps this was just Kansas' way of testing the waters, to see if they can still put together a product. In that case, perhaps this is just a "Prelude" for what is soon to come. Let's hope that, if this is true, what comes after is superior to what came before.