Album review: KANSAS – The Absence of Presence

KANSAS- The Absence of Presence

Inside Out Records [Release Date 17.07.20]

Kansas are an object lesson in regeneration and renewal for veteran bands. Having been around since 1974, many feared for their future when lead singer Steve Walsh retired in 2014, but continuing with a new singer in Ronnie Platt, 2016’s The Prelude Implicit was warmly received and still had a trademark Kansas sound.

However this follow up makes an altogether  bolder statement. Especially in the first half of the album it is a reminder that over their first few albums, Kansas were one of the leading bands carving out a distinctively American take on the UK-dominated world of progressive rock, before gradually honing a more AOR-friendly sound.

While two original members remain in drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Richard Williams, they have nevertheless been revitalised by two younger musicians who are the main writers and whose appreciation of the signature Kansas sound shines through: guitarist Zak Rizvi who came onboard for the last album, and new keyboard player Tom Brislin.

The ambitious title track seems to break the rulebook for a traditional album opener- it weighs in at nearly eight and a half minutes, starting with over a minute of trademark violin and keyboard passages before the vocals kick in. It is sedate in pace and the vocals have a dreamy ethereality until a mid-song leads into an instrumental jam between organ and guitar, accompanied by a switching changing of time signatures.

‘Throwing Mountains’ is built on a bigger, tougher riff of the type generally absent from the previous album and is another multi faceted epic with vocal harmonies and great instrumental interplay, particularly as the song works to a clever climax particularly well. My only gripe would be that the chorus lacks a strong hook.

‘Jets Overhead’  has more lively interplay but after the instrumental ‘Propulsion 1’ the focus shifts to some shorter songs with the piano-led ballad ‘Memories Down The Line’ having echoes of ‘Dust In The Wind’, notably in David Ragsdale’s violin solo.

Though more exemplary musicianship in ‘Circus Of Illusion’ is slightly let down by a weak chorus hook, ‘Animals On The Roof’ has more accessible melodies, combined by a duel between prominent violin and some very Keith Emerson-like organ work.

Ronnie Platt is far from a Steve Walsh clone, but his crystal clear, pleasant voice fits in with the sound perfectly. He particularly shines on  ‘Never’, a beautifully laid back tune where the progressive tendencies are reined in while an old Kansas tradition of multiple singers is continued as Tom makes his vocal debut on the choppy rhythms of album closer ‘Song The River Sang’, spoiled only by a peculiar, directionless outro.

Not everything comes off, and some of the chorus melodies could be stronger, but all in all this is a bold and remarkably fresh statement of intent from a band refusing to coast on their laurels.   **** 1/4

Review by Andy Nathan


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