Point of Know Return by Kansas

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Point of Know Return by Kansas In 1977 while most classic rock artists were migrating towards simple, accessible music, Kansas was one of the last stubborn holdouts to compose pure prog rock. Although the band didn’t exclusively compose tunes in this genre, they still leaned mainly in this direction on their most popular album Point of Know Return. Even while going against the stream, the band managed to compose some of their most popular, enduring, and radio-friendly songs on this album. Point of Know Return would be the zenith of the band’s popularity, reaching #4 on the album charts and launching Kansas’ one and only major headlining tour in its wake. Soon the album’s cover image of a ship on the precipice of a waterfall would become the band’s signature image, replacing the image of abolitionist John Brown from the cover of their 1974 debut album.

Kansas’ previous album, Leftoverture, had brought them to the attention of mainstream rock fans, bringing a new pressure and new tensions to the recording sessions for this follow-up album. The band’s lead singer and songwriter Steve Walsh even left the group briefly but was talked into returning by the other group members.

The rich arrangements and frantic movement of 9/10 of the album is counterbalanced by the subtle and beautiful folk of “Dust In the Wind”, which would become one of the band’s most recognizable songs. The song also, and which gives the album an air of diversity and uniqueness, Which assisted the band in their overall struggle to maintain a healthy balance of prog rock and pop.
  


Point Of Know Return by Kansas
Released: October 11, 1977 (Kirshner)
Produced by: Jeff Glixman
Recorded: Woodland Sound, Nashville, TN & Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, LA, June–July 1977
Side One Side Two
Point Of Know Return
Paradox
The Spider
Portrait (He Knew)
Closet Chronicles
Lightning’s Hand
Dust In the Wind
Sparks of the Tempest
Nobody’s Home
Hopelessly Human
Group Musicians
Steve Wash – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Kerry Livgren – Guitars, Keyboards
Rich Williams – Guitars
Robby Steinhardt – Violin, Lead Vocals
Dave Hope – Bass
Phil Ehart – Drums, Percussion

 

The album’s first two songs work in tandem, looking at the same theme from different points in time. The leadoff theme song has a title that has multiple meanings – discovery, knowledge, and overall risk-taking to achieve these goals. Musically, the song continues pretty much where Leftoverture left off, with a strong, highly melodic, and very accessible tone that has just enough “edge” to make it interesting to the critical listener. It contains great sonic performances by violinist Robby Steinhardt and bassist Dave Hope. “Paradox” is just as deeply philosophical but from a perspective of understanding  “knowledge” once it has been discovered. I find the fascinating contrast between a ship at sea and the name Kansas – one of the most landlocked states in the USA – to perhaps symbolize this paradox graphically. Musically the song leans more towards prog rock than its predeccessor, filled with many rudiments and musical flourishes stuffed into a less-than-four-minute song.

“The Spider” is an instrumental that doesn’t quite mesh because it is very similar to “Paradox” but then just a bit off. The result of the two back-to-back songs is a clash like contrasting shades of the same color. Its droning conclusion dissolves into “Portrait (He Knew)”, a pop-oriented song inspired by either Albert Einstein or Jesus Christ, depending on which band member you ask. It has a long intro before breaking into a decent and melodic song. “Closet Chronicles” is an extended piece that ends the first side. It has Baroque inspired lyrics with a tone in the vein of Genesis and a tragic conclusion of times forgotten;

“I heard the king was dying, I heard the king was dead, and with him died the chronicles that no one ever read…”

The second side of the album contains three songs which feature violinist Robby Steinhardt on lead vocals. “Lightning’s Hand” is the most hard rock oriented song on the album and actually lead to Steinhardt being injured on tour when a special “lightening effect” which was supposed to pass through a sword in his hand, gave him a major shock and caused his significant mane of hair to stand straight up. “Sparks of the Tempest” Is another song featuring Steinhardt on lead vocals and starts with a very funk-oriented feel before later morphing into a pure, guitar-oriented rock song.
 

 
“Dust in the Wind” was actually a last-minute addition to Point of Know Return, but would be its greatest success. The song was written by Kerry Livgren as a finger exercise for learning finger picking. His wife liked the melody and encouraged him to write lyrics for it. Livgren was unsure whether his fellow band members would like the song, which was a major departure from their style, but they accepted it. The great folk feel of the song is complemented by deeply philosophical lyrics which deal with mortality, the vastness of the universe, and an individual’s role in the bigger picture. While the inspiration for the song’s title was a Native American poem, it also fits well with the image of geographical Kansas, the heart of the “Dust Bowl” tragedy of the 1930s. Livgren is complimented by a second acoustic played by Rich Williams, harmonized violin and viola by Steinhardt and fantastic vocals by Walsh.

“Nobody’s Home” is another great song. A melancholy ballad which is very piano and keyboard oriented, it may be the most traditionally constructed song on the album. The closing song, “Hopelessly Human”, takes the opposite approach, as the band runs the gamut of styles and instrumentation with many disjointed sections featuring different lead sections by different lead instruments. The seven minute song is a bit too indulgent to be really all that entertaining and perhaps the one who shines brightest is drummer Phil Ehart, who manages to tie it all together. The song and album ends on the upbeat sound of harmonically chiming bells.

Eventually Kansas would morph towards being a purely pop/rock band, which sustained them with some hits in the 1980s but never quite captured the aura they possessed during their heyday in the late 1970s.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Leftoverture by Kansas

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Leftoverture by Kansas For a long time I considered Kansas to be more like a sidekick act in relation to those truly talented British progressive rock bands. This was probably due, in no small part, to the weak critical reception and tepid coverage that they seem to get from the mainstream rock press, many of whom dismiss them as “corporate rock” or whatever intellectually lazy label they use to dismiss certain acts. But as I listened extensively to Leftoverture while preparing for this review, I came to realize that this band may well equal some of these acts held in higher esteem. While it is i true that they draw heavily from contemporaries like Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Rush, they really have an art for mixing it up in a totally entertaining fashion. Kansas also has a knack for hitting the “sweet spot” when it comes to melody and harmony and they really make their own mark when it comes to true sonic value.

The second epiphany I had concerning the Leftoverture album was actually a question – can this be considered a religious album? There is no doubt that it is definitely philosophical, inspired and spiritual in the new-age lefty kind of way. But is it religious? If so, it may be the best type of religious album; implicit and artful with many subjects left in the form of a very good question, rather than a conclusion or directive.

Which brings us back to the critics of this album, many of which blast it for being a “concept album” without having a true concept. My statement to that is perhaps it is not a concept album at all, just a fine collection of songs with more universal themes than traditional rock and roll. These universal themes may reach beyond the typical conventions of the garden variety rock critic. Others have said the band tries to be too “arty” when they don’t have the talent to do so. To those who say this album doesn’t contain rhythm or composition, I say they simply do not like music.

 


Leftoverture by Kansas
Released: October 1976 (Kirshner)
Produced by: Jeff Glixman & Kansas
Recorded: Studio In the Country, Bogalusa, LA, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Carry On Wayward Son
The Wall
What’s On My Mind
Miracles Out of Nowhere
Opus Insert
Questions of My Childhood
Cheyenne Anthem
Magnus Opus
Group Musicians
Steve Wash – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Kerry Livgren – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Clarinet
Rich Williams – Guitars
Robby Steinhardt – Violin, Viola, Vocals
Dave Hope – Bass
Phil Ehart – Drums, Percussion

 

The first side on the album contains a nice mix of styles, highlighted by “The Wall”. The guitar-led intro is just fantastic and nicely switches to the baroque-inspired verse with harpsichord-like keys that are later accented by strings and thumping rhythms. This song really feels influenced by a mixture of Yes and classic Genesis, but with a more terrestrial feel especially when it comes to Walsh’s lead vocals and Livgren’s poetic lyrics which pre-empted Roger Waters by about three years;

It rises now before me, a dark and silent barrier between,
All I am, and all that I would ever want be, it’s just a travesty…

The next song, “What’s On My Mind”, is almost a straight-forward pop song and therefore probably the weakest song on the album artistically, but not a terrible listen. “Miracles Out of Nowhere” is much stronger, moving through many great instrumental passages with rich instrumentation including acoustic guitars, strings, synths, and piano, while almost folk during verses.

The album’s opener, “Carry On My Wayward Son”, has become the most lasting piece from Leftoverture, receiving heavy airplay through the decades. While this song is definitely pop-oriented, it still feels “epic” in many ways, from the perfect harmonies at the start, to the various passages of musical interlude, and the fine piano backing the verse and very poetic lyric. The song has been called “a sonic monolith” with its meaning still debated, from that of an ongoing theme brought forward from the previous album Masque, to the religious sentiment I touched on earlier in this article.
 

 
The album’s second half is where I feel the true genius lies. Although, I can’t quite articulate that genus in words (something that no doubt frustrated those harsh critics). Starting with “Opus Insert” which is an absolutely brilliant song to the ears but quite baffling (due to its title) to the mind. It may be an inside joke or puzzle left to be solved, but I’ll just stick to what I can report. It is extremely entertaining, starting with an odd, interesting organ that breaks into a heavier section, very good with thumping bass by Dave Hope. It is a “carpe diem” song with nicely strummed acoustic during the chorus followed by a majestic riff of violin/viola which morphs even further into a marching sound with drum rolls behind vibraphone and piano before returning again to odd and beautiful beginning and then synth-led ending.

Before you can catch your breath “Questions of My Childhood” kicks in with a wild and upbeat intro led by synth then organ. More philosophical themes are explored around maturing and realizing you never get all the answers. A great violin lead in the outtro by string man Robby Steinhardt sits on top of the intro synths, which nicely migrate into the background. “Cheyenne Anthem” is nearly a straight-forward folk song with a message, but it seems to have a deeper, poetic meaning as the verses go on (again, religious?) –

All our words and deeds are carried on the wind…”

Musically the song is once again brilliant, never getting bogged down by any predisposed “message”, with nice acoustic guitars and synth overtones and Jethro Tull-like folksy passages which lead to an upbeat section that sounds almost polka (although probably based on Native American tribal dance). This gives way to more Kansas-style riff before the big mid-section breaks back down to simple strummed acoustic guitars and haunting vocals in background.

Kansas in 1976

The album concludes with “Magnum Opus”, an 8½ minute piece which is nearly an instrumental save for a single verse with almost throw-away lyrics about how “rock and roll is only howling at the moon”. The song explores even more exotic sounds, starting with native-type drumming and subtle synths on the top, then moving to heavier guitars and strong rock drumming by Phil Ehart. After the single verse, the song goes into an extended jam, sometimes frenzied, that may have been influenced by Rush’s Caress of Steel, before reaching an abrupt ending to close out Leftoverture.

Kansas would build on the success of this album by cutting Point of Know Return the following year, an even more successful album commercially, which combined with Leftoverture marks the apex of the band’s career.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.