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Monolith
Kansas

Kirshner 36008
Released: May 1979
Chart Peak: #10
Weeks Charted: 24
Certified Gold: 6/18/79

The great Kansas controversy rages on. Are these guys the best synthesizers of Americana since Velveeta cheese or the biggest phonies west of Philadelphia? Starting with the first album's liner-note manifesto, Kansas has described its music as daring and original in quasi-mystical jargon such as "a fusion of energy and serenity, a melting pot of ideas." Nice sentiment, but no cigar -- because this band is just an American version of the Moody Blues and Emerson, Lake and Palmer: "serious" music that turns up its nose at rock & roll's expressiveness and substitutes bombast for emotion. Kansas acts like a populist group, which means it serves up pretension without glitter or a fake British accent, but that's hardly a cause for celebration.

Kansas - Monolith
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Monolith might as well be a Moody Blues record, right down to its non sequitur science-fiction-concept cover. Except that one Moody Blues was enough. Kerry Livgren's songs continue to explore the outer limits of rock solipsism in a self-consciously arty atmosphere. The LP's opener, "On the Other Side," finds Livgren staring at an empty page waiting for his music to zap him. He finally decides to write about belief. Still, he dodges: "And if I seem to inconclusive/It's just because it's so elusive." Ugh.

Actually, Livgren's compositions have fairly memorable melodic hooks. It doesn't matter where he got them, since rock songwriting is a borrower's medium anyway, but it's silly of him to expect us to vouch for the originality of "People of the South Wind" and "A Glimpse of Home." With different lyrics and a ruthless editing of those wedding-cake arrangements, both might have been good numbers. Livgren can't be saddled with all the blame, however. When he turns the writing over to Steve Walsh, the band starts sounding like Black Sabbath ("How My Soul Cries OUt for You," Monolith's production extravaganza).

It wouldn't take a miracle or a Great Plains twister to bring Kansas back to earth, though. Just a little old-fashioned humility.

- John Swenson, Rolling Stone, 9-6-79.

Bonus Reviews!

My experience is that you don't get much music out of groups named after cities and states. The naming of a group is sort of an original abdication of originality, and Kansas, like Chicago, continues to take it from there. This new opus is packaged so as to suggest that something interesting could issue. Bruce Wolf's jacket paintings show American Indians, in space helmets, reassuming control of the land after the white man has blown it, teepees pitched in the shadow of crumbled freeways, etc., under a quotation from an 1889 Ghost Dance chant: "Soon the earth would be covered with dust, and a new earth would be born. All nations of Indians long dead would come back to life. The white man would disappear and the buffalo would return." If Kansas had written songs tight on that theme, the album might have been able to compete with a rerun of The Planet of the Apes, at least, but what they did was write an assortment of mundane, cliché-ridden toasts to various rock conventions ("Well, it's hard to face the music/ But it's something everybody has got to do...." "You're in my rock-and-roll/ You're in my very soul...." and so on) and then strike an assortment of pompous attitudes in playing them. Musically, several other groups, notably the Eagles, have mined just about every inch of ground this album covers. Technically, Kansas does everything but write with authority, but a rookie hooker would be more convincing at faking passion... and possibly might even have more to say.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/79.

Kansas' formularized guitar-oriented sound is in fact on its first studio LP since Point Of Know Return. While the band doesn't break any new ground, it continues doing what it does best and that is play bold and melodic hard edged rock made tasty by the use of violin. Breaking up the intense mood of the rockers are some lush ballads, although none measure up to the classiness of "Dust In The Wind." The vocals are clean and the production is again immaculate but the body of most songs are over-extended with most cuts running well over five minutes and one as long as seven minutes plus. Best cuts: "A Glimpse Of Home," "On The Other Side," "How My Soul Cries Out For You," "People Of The South Wind."

- Billboard, 1979.

 Reader's Comments

Steve Murrell

John Swenson....what a f---king 'rock toff' wanker.

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