Features

Album Reclamation Project: Kansas, “Drastic Measures”

Album Reclamation Project

This is the first in a new series from Proglodytes!  Wherein we will revisit a maligned Album of the Past and discuss whether it’s really as bad as all that.  For this feature, we will be introducing a new system of measuring albums.  Instead of gold stars, we will be rating on the Official Proglodyte Dumpster Fire Scale.

For example, if an album is truly terrible, it may be a Dumpster Conflagration or even a Dumpster Inferno.  On the other hand, if the album really isn’t that bad, perhaps it will merely be Dumpster Embers.  And if our team of experts here in the Proglodytes Cave determine that when placed in proper context, the album is actually good, well then, my friends, we will be re-introduced to a flame over which we can roast a rock and roll marshmallow.  The rating scale from worst quality to least-worst quality is as follows:

  1. Dumpster Inferno
  2. Dumpster Conflagration
  3. Dumpster 3 Alarm
  4. Dumpster Controlled Burn
  5. Dumpster Embers

Kansas:  Drastic Measures

Overview:

Released in 1983, Drastic Measures is noteworthy both for what it has and for what it hasn’t.  Songwriting credits are dominated by John Elefante (six of nine songs are attributed solely to him), who appears as a member of the band for only the second album.  Elefante’s first album with Kansas was 1982’s Vinyl Confessions, an album which previously divided fans in part because of its overtly Christian message.

Which brings us to what Drastic Measures doesn’t have:  a violinist.  Reportedly upset by the passing out of religious tracts at Kansas concerts, violinist Robbie Steinhart left the band.  Kansas founder, Kerry Livgren, remained with the band, but wrote only three songs, one of which seemed to take a dig at the rest of the album.  Kerry Livgren left Kansas shortly afterwards.   In short, this is the album that broke the band:  Jon Elefante is Kansas’ Yoko Ono.

Why People Hate It

Too poppy for prog fans.  Too secular for their new Christian audience.  Too devoid of the characteristics that had placed Kansas on the short list of best American prog rock bands (which list had previously contained one name).  This was Kansas’ lowest charting album since their debut.

Let’s go track by track:

  1. “Fight Fire with Fire”: The most successful single on the album, this track is decidedly more hard rock than was Kansas’ wont.  The song is built around a typical verse-verse -chorus structure, with an almost Eye of the Tiger-esque guitar at its foundation, going nhrt-nhrt-nhrt-nhrt-nhrt- nhrt-nhrt-nininhrt ad infinitum.   This song would have been very comfortable on a Night Ranger, Loverboy, or Foreigner album; and as a representation of classic AOR, it’s rather good.
  2. “Everybody’s My Friend”: My goodness, it’s poppy.  More pop rock than hard rock, but still in the same AOR mold, Everybody’s My Friend sings about the travails of being a pop star, something that Kansas had previously never had to deal with.  Kansas, perhaps, deserves credit for not coming across quite as insufferably morose as Roger Waters on The Wall, but the song also lacks anything approaching gravitas.
  3. “Mainstream”: The first of three tracks penned by Kerry Livgren, an examination of the lyrics leads inevitably to the conclusion that Mr. Livgren was dissatisfied with the more direct, more packaged-to-sell version of his baby:

It’s so predictable and everybody judges by the numbers that you’re selling

Just crank ‘em out the assembly line and chart ‘em higher higher higher

Yeah, just keep it simple boys, it’s gonna be alright as long as you’re inside the mainstream

Of note:  “Mainstream” is over six minutes long, and contains an instrumental breakdown out of left field best described as a Viking ship’s war drum keeping drunken time while a mad druid solos on the ribcage of a wyvern.  This is the best part of the song.

  1. “Andi”: A coming of age tune wrapped in a power ballad minus the power, Andi wants to be I Want to Know What Love Is, but ends up somewhere south of Starship’s Sarah.  This reviewer thinks that Andi is…
  2. “Going Through the Motions”: By this point in the album, it is clear that the only realistic way to approach it is as an AOR offering.  An album produced by Neil Kernon, who at the same time, was producing Hall and Oates and Dokken.  As an AOR song, Going Through the Motions is, again, quite strong.  It could be listed among the stronger songs of that crowd.
  3. “Get Rich”: This song is repetitive.  I don’t like it.  Get Rich opens, promisingly enough, with a Face Value-era drum line, but without the oomph.  Unfortunately, the song backs off from its initial introduction, and eventually becomes a repetitive and not very interesting number.  Nobody was going to get rich off this song.
  4. “Don’t Take Your Love Away”: This song is not objectionable, it’s not poorly executed, it’s just…  just…  It’s an up-tempo rock number.  It’s an adequate, but unremarkable song. Had it been performed by another band, it would have likely been a hit.
  5. “End of the Age”: Immediately, one notices something different about this song.  Is it the dramatic keyboard intro?  Is it the complex, interesting melody?  Could it be this is the second of the Kerry Livgren songs?    Yes, it could.  This sounds like Kansas.  It has a message.  It has the trademark harmonies that we remember from the 70s.  It has contrasting musical sections that flow from one phrase to another.  This is a song that would have felt at home on Audio-Visions or Monolith.
  6. “Incident on a Bridge”: This song is a fairly effective melding of the AOR genre and the Kansas style.  The refrain is not catchy as a refrain should be, but as a whole, the song works.  It has good lyrics (Livgren is a dramatically underrated lyricist), a strong instrumental break, and a solid hook.

Is It as Bad as All That?

If Kansas had appeared on the scene in 1982, if they hadn’t already recorded Leftoverture and Point of Know Return, then I am comfortable in asserting that Drastic Measures would be regarded with albums such as Foreigner’s Head Games and Night Ranger’s Midnight Madness as being among the best of the AOR repertoire.   Unfortunately for this album, Kerry Livgren had previously written not only “Carry On Wayward Son”, but also “Closet Chronicles”, “Lamplight Symphony”, and “Song for America”.  For that reason, it is easy to see why those with more than a passing familiarity with Kansas’ oeuvre would be, let us say, disappointed.  Still and all, it’s a decent to good album when taken on its own terms, that of an AOR offering of the early 80s.

Proglodyte Dumpster Rating:  Controlled Burn.

ADDENDUM

Over on our Reddit forum, we received this comment that might be of interest to readers.  It is from Bill Evans, record producer (credited with being the impetus behind the formation of Flying Colors) and personal friend of several of the principals behind the DM album:

“One of the interesting things about this album is that is was assembled by piecing together tiny bits of different performances. That’s how albums are often done now (digitally), but back then, it meant thousands of tiny strips of tape that were meticulously pieced together for the final album. I remember Kerry telling me how terrified the band was looking at those little pieces hanging in place.

There was another reason for doing this other than creative—impact and clarity. In order to make the drums and guitars sound huge (back then) you needed to produce your album like this. This technique was used to great effect on Def Leopard’s albums, as well. But Drastic Measures was far more complex, and should have received a technical Grammy.

I’m not sure if Kerry is underrated as a lyricist…I think he’s pretty highly regarded. “Incident on a Bridge” was written by him to his bandmates. It’s a very touching, heartfelt anthem.

John Elefante, however, is anything but Kansas’ Yoko Ono. John is an exceptional singer, songwriter, arranger and producer. All you need to see is the long line of Gold and Platinum albums we produced and sang on, as well as his incredible chart success as a solo artist. “Drastic Measures” was the world’s first introduction to John Elefante—an artist who would go on to have considerable influence in music. He’s highly respected, and just finished an amazing song with Kerry.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s