Sixteen years since their last studio album is an awfully long time but for Kansas, who can chart their history back to 1970 and released their debut album in 1974, it just feels like a small part of the overall plan. With a quite staggering 30,000,000+ album sales worldwide Kansas are one of the biggest acts of the classic rock era but for all such acts, Journey instantly spring to mind, longevity is a double edged sword as the sands of time can catch up with a band, members leave for a variety of reasons and the musical landscape is forever changing. Kansas have kept themselves busy as they still play around a hundred shows a year and recent releases have included a feature length documentary ‘Miracles Out Of Nowhere’ that charts their long career. Founder members Richard Williams (guitar) and drummer Phil Ehart don’t look to be retiring anytime soon and on the strength of ‘The Prelude Implicit’ it looks like the band are about to embark on an impressive new chapter in their illustrious career.
Putting together ‘The Prelude Implicit’ can have been no easy task as I’m sure the average Kansas fan has been listening to the band for a lifetime while such radio staples as ‘Dust In The Wind’ and ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ set the bar very high indeed for the more casual listener. Kansas are obviously very aware of the situation and ‘The Prelude Implicit’ is a wide-ranging affair that should leave no Kansas fan disappointed.
For many fans who’ve not been lucky enough to catch the band live in the last couple of years the new album will be their introduction to singer/ keyboardist Ronnie Platt who joined the band in 2014. Platt doesn’t have the easiest task replacing the retiring Steve Walsh (and to a lesser extent another fine singer John Elefante who fronted the band in the early 80’s) but he really sounds like a perfect fit. Interestingly in a six degrees of separation moment Ronnie Platt spent four years (2007-2011) fronting the excellent Kansas City, Missouri act Shooting Star who, when they first signed to Virgin in the UK back in 1979, were often compared to Kansas due to their use of a violinist which is an integral part of the Kansas sound to this day.
Produced by Williams, Ehart and new guitarist Zak Rizvi (who has been around the Kansas scene for nearly 20 years) the album sounds terrific with opener ‘With This Heart’ a perfect summation of Kansas in 2016. Driven by the pounding, rhythmic drum work of Phil Ehart and with the twin guitars of Rizvi and Williams adding some grit and edge to proceedings the keyboards of David Manion are allowed room to shine while violinist David Ragsdale steps up to take a fine solo. The vocal from Platt is quite superb, blessed with range and power I’m pleased to report the vocalist position with Kansas is in very safe hands. If David Manion is a new name to you he also joined the band in 2014 and has a Kansas connection for his work alongside bassist Billy Greer on his Seventh Key side project.
‘The Unsung Heroes’ opens with a flourish from Ragsdale and then settles down to a more gentle tempo that works very well as a showcase for Platt while a nice mix of clean and harder edged guitar parts add colour. The central musical section features some fine interplay between the guitarists and Ragsdale’s violin. ‘Rhythm In The Spirit’ takes things on a more progressive hard rock turn with the emphasis on the rock. The harmonised guitars that usher in a huge thick riff are complimented by some fine B3 organ from Manion while Greer and Ehart lay down a heavy bottom end and then everything suddenly drops out, allowing Greer to add a little gentle, almost funky, bass part over tinkling ivories to support a very smooth and melodic vocal line, before Ragsdale and the band kick back in for the chorus and the guitarists trade aggressive solos. This really is a stunning track and rocks far harder than I was expecting. ‘Refugee’ follows and replaces the electric guitar crunch of the previous track with gentle finger-picked acoustic guitars, piano and violin. Lyrically this is very relevant in the world that surrounds us today and a beautifully played slow musical fade nicely compliments the thoughtful lyrical content.
The centrepiece of the album is ‘The Voyage Of Eight Eighteen’ which will have all hardcore Kansas and progressive rock fans salivating. During the eight minute runtime ‘Voyage’ does pretty much everything you want a Kansas song to do and usually more than once. Time changes, pounding drums, violin solos, keys a plenty and rocking guitars, complete with a brilliantly forceful solo, are all checked off your wish list and when all the bombast (in a good way) calms down Platt delivers another terrific vocal.
The acoustic intro to ‘Crowded Isolation’ proves a false dawn as the superb rhythm section of Phil Ehart and bassist Billy Greer lock in and power the song forward allowing lots of room for the keyboards to shine with some really old-school sounds. ‘Summer’ has a bouncy up-tempo feel with Ragsdale again prominent trading impressive passages with both guitars and keys over a tightly claustrophobic riff. The atmospheric intro to ‘Section 60’ leads us into an instrumental piece that concludes the album in fine style with plenty of interaction between the guitars and violin before things slowly drop away and we are left with Ragsdale’s violin over a military drum beat from Ehart which slowly fades to black.
Needless to say Kansas can be very proud of ‘The Prelude Implicit’ and they should be as the album is a very worthy addition to their discography. With the old guard of the band in fine form and with the new blood living up to expectations this is a fine record that the Kansas fan of old will take to their heart and if you're new to the band this is a great place to start. Now how about some UK tour dates guys?