Somewhere To Elsewhere

Kansas

Magna Carta Records, 2000

http://www.kansasband.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/11/2000

When Kansas fans heard earlier this year that the "classic" lineup -- including guitarist Kerry Livgren -- was reuniting for their first album together in 17 years, they must have pinched themselves to see if they were dreaming. This was, after all, the Kansas that most people know, pumping out songs like "Dust In The Wind" and "Point Of Know Return."

But if you expect their "reunion" album, Somewhere To Elsewhere, to be the return to top-40 form that some people might be looking for, you're going to be disappointed. That's kind of what I expected the first time I listened to the disc -- and walked away shaking my head. ("Reunion" -- I know, the wrong word to use, as Kansas has never gone away all these years.)

The truth is that you need to approach this disc in two ways: first, you need to look at it as a progressive rock album, one that doesn't give a rip whether radio touches it or not. Second, you may choose to approach it as if it were a solo album by Livgren featuring some very special guest performers, as Livgren is responsible for all 10 songs (though I don't know who to blame for the 90-second throwaway "bonus" track).

The showpiece of the album, "Icarus II," is a narrative based on the true story of a pilot who ordered his crew to abandon their war-damaged plane while he guided the wreckage away from American troops. This isn't the type of song that will hook you on the first listen -- and I kind of expected it to have those hooks. But when you hear vocalist Steve Walsh ring out with "I'm going home" near the end of the song, that's when the magic is clearly visible in this track. With each successive listen, I've found new things to like in this track.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Other tracks like "Grand Fun Alley" and "Myriad" hint that Kansas still knows how to write a melody that would set a radio programmer's mouth drooling. But make no mistake, Kansas doesn't seem to be interested in writing hit singles on Somewhere To Elsewhere; the focus is on the music and how the band translates the movements of the songs. "Myriad," therefore, becomes less of a hit single and one of prog-rock's finer moments of the last few years.

Livgren's religious views occasionally show their head on Somewhere To Elsewhere, but they never dive into preachiness or anything that may turn a listener off. But there most definitely is a spiritual aspect in songs like "The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis)" and "Byzantium" that makes the songs quite pretty, and allows them to be heard on several different levels.

Yet Somewhere To Elsewhere suggests that Kansas is not quite as comfortable in their familiar skin as they would like to be. Tracks like "Disappearing Skin Tight Blues" and "Not Man Big" just don't have the spark that one might expect in an album so eagerly awaited. "Disappearing Skin Tight Blues" actually sounds out of place when compared to the musical richness of tracks like "Icarus II," and suggests that the band may have been trying a little too hard on this one to make it sound like a top 40 possibility.

And while many people are falling over themselves to praise "When The World Was Young" as the potential hit single, I honestly didn't find myself captivated with this track. It's not bad, but it doesn't have those magical qualities that I heard in other songs like "Myriad."

Somewhere To Elsewhere is an interesting portrait of a band nearly 25 years removed from their hit single glory days, and it makes me wonder what they would have been capable of had they kept this lineup together all these years. Maybe some of the directions you can hear the music move in would have seemed more natural in hindsight. Still, it's hardly a poor effort, and while there is still some tentativeness, the disc suggests that the band still has the magic that made them superstars. Here's hoping this disc is a first step for the "classic" lineup.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B


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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.