When it comes to reviewing new releases from classic bands, I like to stand out from the pack a bit. I’m young and stupid; and, no, I didn’t see Rush or Floyd in the 70’s like some of these other reviewers out there. I haven’t heard and do not own the vast discographies of all the classic prog bands, and I’m in no hurry to, either (I like my discovery to be organic). So, in some ways, I’m less biased, as I’m not necessarily comparing the new albums to the old, nostalgic classics. I don’t think it’s fair to compare albums with 30 years between them, either. So, I’m going to review the new Kansas album, having only heard a couple albums and, of course, the greatest hits record. The single question in my mind is not, “Does this live up to the old stuff?”, but is instead, “Is this a good album”? “The Prelude Implicit” is an excellent album, in my opinion.
Kansas has obviously seen some changes recently. First off, signing to Inside Out Music was a huge step, and honestly quite unexpected. Additionally, Steve Walsh stepped down as lead singer in 2014, so the line-up only contains a couple original members, Rich Williams on guitar and Phil Ehart on drums. The rest of line-up is Billy Greer on bass, David Manion on keys, Ronnie Platt on vocals and keys, David Ragsdale on violin, and Zak Rizvi on guitars. Normally, with a line-up that devoid of original members, fans wouldn’t be that excited, and I’ve seen plenty of that sentiment around the Internet. However, the initial singles they have released completely convinced me to give this album a go.
We all know the style of Kansas. The band plays progressive rock with plenty of folk influences. In many ways, they are the lesser known influences of bands like Dream Theater. Their music is quite complex at times, but they are probably most well known for their incredible ballads. “The Prelude Implicit” does not deviate from this course, as some songs are more ballad-based (“With This Heart”), but other tracks (“The Voyage of Eight Eighteen”) are definitely more “epic” in feeling and have wonderful, even technical, instrumental sections. Add to this the very current (yet timeless) political themes, and you have an album that is completely relevant.
All of the performers here sound amazing. Normally, the older the band gets, the less technical or daring they become (see the band YES). With Kansas, I found myself amazed at how complex the music is, though I wouldn’t expect anything innovative. Obviously, David’s violin is a very prominent instrument, gently weaving in and around the rock music, creating atmosphere and such a delightful tone. David and Ronnie lay down some gorgeous keys and some synth solos that make me giddy. Rich and Zak continue the strong guitar history of the band with memorable, inspired licks and a tone that demands your attention, especially on “Visibility Zero” and “Crowded Isolation”.
Yet, with all of that, I think the standouts for me are Phil’s drums and Billy’s bass. I was thrilled with the power and groove these two produce throughout the album, and the mix does them justice, too, with great oomph for both of them. As bands age, I especially expect the drums to disappear little by little, but they are my favorite part of the album here, besides maybe the guitar work.
Additionally, Ronnie’s voice seems to be the center of any controversy over the new album. Personally, he sounds quite a bit like Steve Walsh, but I would compare him to the likes of Ted Leonard of Spock’s Beard for a contemporary example. I really enjoy Ronnie’s style and range, and, combined with backing vocals from many of the other members, the vocals on the album are pristine and the vocal lines, while lacking any huge hooks for the most part, are a joy to hear and sing.
So, the new Kansas album swims against the current for classic bands releasing new material. It doesn’t come across as dull or forced, but instead feels current (considering the popularity of the retro sound right now) and the music is genuinely wonderful. My favorite songs are “Visibility Zero”, “The Unsung Heroes”, “Rhythm in the Spirit”, and “Crowded Isolation”. My absolute favorite is “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen”. The album just feels right, so give it a chance and try not to compare it to the nostalgia of the past, as no album would ever win that fight. Let “The Prelude Implicit” stand on its own two feet.