How do you follow up the biggest album of your career? With an even bigger and more successful album!
Kansas had hit it big time with 1976’s Leftoverture and its monster single “Carry On My Wayward Son.” They must have been feeling a lot of pressure to come up with a follow-up, something that these Southern-bred progsters could be proud of, yet would appeal to the masses as their masterpiece Leftoverture did. Continue with the complex song structures, check. Must have the violin featured, as that is a trademark, check. Powerful electric guitar riffing tempered with quieter and more relaxed songs, check. Vocals that soar and fly over the music with panache, working harmonies into a sumptuous stew, check.
It all begins with the opening title track, “Point of Know Return.” It says everything you need to know about Kansas in a little over three minutes. It has memorable, mainstream appeal and is balls out progressive rock in many ways. If I wanted to play someone a perfect representation of who Kansas is, it would be this song. It’s the whole story in one complete package.
Thankfully, they don’t stop there! They follow with the powerful “Paradox,” utilizing vocalists Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt in a Southern Rock & Roll manner, bringing in that requisite blues rasp. “Paradox,” a short ELP-inspired instrumental leads into “Portrait (He Knew).” This song is inspirational and reveals some lyrical Christian influences that would be much more prevalent on later recordings by the band and occasional leader Kerry Livgren.
“Closet Chronicles” is another winning performance that mixes symphonic prog with the best of mainstream AOR of the time. It takes a highly percussive prog turn with an amazing keyboard solo and some Gentle Giant-style juxtaposition at about three minutes, not settling back into the vocal melody until the finale. Sung with conviction and fervor by Walsh, one of the best tunes on a superb record.
“Dust In the Wind” is an incredible acoustic guitar ballad that uses the two vocalists in a soft and delicate manner, dovetailing harmonies throughout. A short and to the point violin solo is featured in the middle that you will walk away humming. It is that unforgettable. They rock the joint with the Southern Blues-rock “Sparks of the Tempest,” perform a tender note with “Nobody’s Home,” and once again feature their symphonic nature with the majestic closer “Hopelessly Human.”
One of Kansas’ greatest albums. If you are even a casual fan, this is one to get. The violin is featured prominently, which adds to the symphonic progressive qualities while not sacrificing any of the powerful nature that exposes their American roots.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on March 26th, 2012