|Musical Style: Progressive Hard Rock||Produced By: Kansas & Neil Kernon|
|Record Label: Sony/Rock Candy||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1983/2011||Artist Website: Kansas|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 42:03|
The legacy of Kansas is Fort Know secure, the group having recorded eight gold albums, three sextuple-platinum albums (Leftoverture, Point Of Know Return & Best Of), one platinum live album (Two For The Show) and a million-selling gold single ("Dust In The Wind”). While Kansas might have been at its peak during the seventies, its success continued into the early eighties, although not without facing change in terms of personnel and musical and lyrical direction.
A period of transition started when keyboardist/guitarist Kerry Livgren and bassist Dave Hope made decisions of faith. As Kansas subsequently started work on its eighth studio album, Vinyl Confessions from 1982, Livgren presented his new songs with lyrics reflective of his new beliefs. Vocalist Steve Walsh, however, refused to sing them and departed the group shortly thereafter. Recruitment for a replacement began and Kansas settled on John Elefante, bringing the number of believing members in the group’s line-up to three.
Vinyl Confessions found Kansas almost going in two different directions musically. Livgren’s material continued to reflect the group’s 70s progressive based sound while Elefante’s brought a polished 80s influenced AOR feel. Despite the contrasts in styles it worked in that Kansas proved flexible enough to adopt its sound to the “new” while still staying true to the tradition of the “old”.
Drastic Measures, the groups follow up effort from 1983, maintained the contrasts in style: Livgren’s penchant for the progressive and Eleftante’s AOR tendencies. But this time there was more of an emphasis on the latter in that Livgren, having developed a severe case of “writer’s slump”, only contributed three of the albums nine songs- so it was up to Elefante to pick up the slack.
Of his six tracks we have the driving hard rock of the radio single “Fight Fire With Fire” in addition to four quality commercial rockers in “Everybody’s My Friend”, “Going Through The Motions”, “Get Rich” and “Don’t Take Your Love Away”. The final of the six is the substandard ballad “Andi”.
Livgren’s material - despite his “writer’s slump” - is vastly underrated. “Mainstream” best mirrors Kansas’ trademark progressiveness but with a hard rocking mentality while “End Of The Age” brings a darker and more ominous feel and “Incident On a Bridge” the lighter touch.
My impression is that Drastic Measures gives prominence to the least “Kansas-like” sound of any of the groups albums to this point. Now, in no way am I implying this to be a bad thing in that what we have here is a band “switching gears” musically to align with the more commercial based times at hand. Not that they had any choice in the matter in that, once again, Livgren did not play the same songwriting role as he had on past Kansas releases.
Another deciding factor is the ongoing turnover in the Kansas line-up in that violinist Robby Steinhardt had departed the band. On Vinyl Confessions Steinhardt’s violin made its way onto several Elefante coined pieces- and added a classic Kansas touch that helped minimize the gulf between the old and the new in the process. But with Steinhardt out of the picture that gulf in question could only help but widen.
Drastic Measures was originally released on CD by Sony Music in 1996. A second re-issue on Rock Candy Records in 2011 was re-mastered from the original source tapes in addition to featuring a 3000 word essay about making the albums and additional photos spread over a 12 page color booklet. The lone complaint is the lack of bonus material. It would have been nice, for instance, to hear some live tracks from the group’s Drastic Measures tour.
Kansas puts in another strong showing performance wise. Elefante remains in top form with his classic melodic based voice continuing to align with the musical happenings at hand. Livgren and Rich Williams remain a force guitar-wise while Livgren’s ever present keyboards maintain their deft touch. Perhaps it is the albums abundant production (courtesy of Neil Kernon) but Phil Ehart’s drumming never sounded better (technical but aggressive at the same time). Very underrated timekeeper.
Similar to Vinyl Confessions I would hesitate to label Drastic Measures a Christian album, even though its material was written by its believing members. An album written from a Christian standpoint – or reflecting a Christian worldview – might be the better way to describe things.
Track By Track
Hard rocker “Fight Fire With Fire” ranks with the heaviest ever from Kansas. The song immediately kicks in at once, as brazen guitar riffs, technical drum fills and accenting keyboards lead the way through the tempestuous scene. But it is not all angst in that a copious melody can be found as well.
“Everybody’s My Friend” highlights an AOR touch. This one back off from some of the guitar driven proclivity of its predecessor while placing emphasis on polished vocal melodies and abounding commercial sensibilities. The resulting arena rock flair reminds me somewhat of Shout. Lyric snippet:
Someone calls out my name
They ask me how I’ve been
So what’s it like in the big time?
Will you be my friend
Have you met Mick Jagger?
Ringo, George or Paul
They all want to know
Do you make a lot of money?
They all want to know
Will you change your name?
They all want to know
What’s it like to be a rock star?
Everybody wants to know if they can hang around
Every Kansas album find Livgren contributing at least one classic and such is the case with “Mainstream”. What we have is a full on progressive rocker but with an aggressive edge, hitting hard as staunch rhythm guitars and a tumultuous low end carry the full six and a half minutes. Impetus slows for a surprisingly melodic based chorus. The best part is the instrumental break carried by guitar feedback and eerie keyboards. Lyric snippet:
It’s so predictable and everybody judges by the
Numbers that you’re selling
Just crank ‘em out on the assembly line and
Chart ‘em higher (higher, higher)
Just keep it simple boys it’s gonna be alright as
Long as you’re inside the
Mainstream, are moving too far away?
Is it worth it if it doesn’t pay?
The centerline is the status quo
If you stay with the tried and true
You’ll remain among the chosen few
Survive another year
“Andi” ranks with the worst ballads this reviewer has heard. Uninspired drivel, the song meanders without direction to overdone vocal melodies and way too much candy coated gloss and polish. I find this one to exude all the charm and pleasantness of a flu shot. Couldn’t Kansas have come up with something better?
“Going Through The Motions” represents a return to an AOR friendly sound. Big (but not too big) keyboards join with gritty guitars as the song traverses its length to the perfect merging of refinement and heaviness. In other words, there is melody but muscle here as well. Lyric snippet:
And is your day just a reflection of the day before?
Don’t’ you ever stop and wonder if there’s something more?
Do you really mean to tell me that you’re satisfied?
Are you for real or are you going through the motions?
Everything is fine
Are you running out of time?
Going through the motions
Some things never change
Easy chair, nine to five
Get ahead, stay alive
Are you going through the motions?
Likewise with “Get Rich”. Another prime example of Elefante songwriting skills, the song brings a penchant for the acoustic (particularly for its grand and stately verses) while giving rise to some epic tinctures (as can be found in its sublime chorus). Surprised “Get Rich” did not find its way onto FM radio.
“Don’t Take Your Love Away” is my favorite of the Elefante tracks. What stands out about the song is the manner in which it highlights a Kansas-like touch, reflected in Livgren’s distinct keyboard work and some tastefully done progressive time signatures. This would not sound out of place on Point Of Know Return.
Livgren closes things with his two final pieces, “End Of The Age” and “Incident On A Bridge”
“End Of The Age” gives rise to a dark and ominous feel. Traces of piano and keyboards align with weighty guitars to establish a decidedly mid-paced - do I dare say doom-ish? - setting. An acoustic guitar, in contrast, interweaves with the songs poignantly done chorus. Albums best stretch of riveting lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
Through the narrows there are few who pass
Only the chosen enter in
Seek your calling while it may be found
For the sand in the hourglass is falling
We hang in the balance one by one
Turn from you ways the voice is calling
And fear the end of the age
Now the evil deed never goes unseen
And the wisdom of your wise men is unclean
For the pride of life and the lust for gain
Is a sickness of the heart, the Mark of Cain
Sword and shield, the right hand of power's
Protecting us, directing us
He'll reveal the glory that's only His own
With a fire in the sky
“Incident On A Bridge” lightens the mood with its more tempered and piano based approach. Bountiful vocal melodies can be found along with an almost mirthful melody - the catchiness is understated - and rhythm guitar to taste. Another overlooked deep cut in the artist’s extensive repertoire.
Each piece is arranged, the puzzle's complete
Victory's taste is so bittersweet
No regrets for the time that was lost
For it all comes out in the end
And the prize is worth all the tears that it cost
For the stairway you ascend
Drawing us near
It's where we belong
The world has a lot to give, but it's worthless if you don't live
And life only comes from the one who made it
When I look back and see the plan, when I retrace the race we ran
The course was so clear and true, each bridge that we crossed led me straight to you
Drastic Measures marked the end of the John Elefante era of Kansas. Livgren and Hope departed Kansas in 1983 and went on to record 4 albums over the next 5 years with their new group AD. Elefante moved on as well to pursue a solo career under the Mastedon moniker and released two critically acclaimed albums in It’s A Jungle Out There (1989) and Lofcaudio (1990).
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Fight Fire With Fire” (3:43), “Everybody’s My Friend” (4:01), “Mainstream” (6:36), “Andi” (4:17), “Going Through The Motions” (5:48), “Get Rich” (3:44), “Don’t Take Your Love Away” (3:39), “End Of The Age” (4:33), “Incident On A Bridge” (5:40)
John Elefante – Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Kerry Livgren – Guitars & Keyboards
Rich Williams – Guitars
Dave Hope – Bass
Phil Ehart – Drums