The 1980’s were very difficult years for progressive rock. It’s safe to say that every major progressive rock band was affected by the transition from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. Many bands streamlined their sound while others simply disbanded. American progressive rock band Kansas did both. Thankfully their breakup was short lived.
Kansas opened the 1980’s with a succession of increasingly commercial albums: Audio-Visions (1980), Vinyl Confessions (1982), Drastic Measures (1983) and Power (1986). In that span of time the band had three top forty singles. One could argue that they successfully transitioned and survived the changing climate of the music scene.
Their 1986 album Power is a very interesting one to me. The band disbanded and went their separate ways in 1984. Power is the first album by the reformed band. The album features the return of lead singer Steve Walsh after his departure in 1981. Also returning were the ever reliable Phil Ehart on drums and Rich Williams on guitar. Filling out the lineup were new band members Steve Morse on guitar and Billy Greer on bass. Absent from the reunion were long time members guitarist Kerry Livgren and violinist Robby Steinhardt.
Power is a very mainstream rock album, but it still carries the essence of the band’s sounds from the 1970’s Overall it is a very guitar driven album. Rich Williams and Steve Morse handle the guitar duties admirably. Steve Walsh’s keyboards are very present, but nothing like the keyboard heavy albums of the 1970s. It should be noted that Power is one of the few Kansas albums not to feature any violin.
I must say that I am a big fan of this album. Steve Walsh is in fine form vocally. The songwriting, band performances and production are exceptional. I do not have a negative thing to say about this album. This is purely a rock album, but traces of progressive rock do crop up a few times over the course of the album. Power is the sound of a 1970’s progressive rock band successfully navigating the choppy waters of the 1980’s music scene. The spirit of 1970’s Kansas is ever present, but the music sounds fresh and new.
I could highlight any of the ten songs on the album. But I will focus on the seventh track, Taking In The View, the album’s quietest song. Of all the songs on the album this one captures the essence of 1970’s Kansas the most. Musically the song features just acoustic guitar and keyboards, leaving plenty of space for Steve Walsh’s vocals. He delivers a typically passionate and powerful vocal performance. A children’s choir, something different for Kansas, appears briefly in the latter half of the song. This track would have fit right in on the classic Kansas album Point Of Know Return (1977).
Taking In The View is just one of ten songs that showcase Steve Walsh’s stellar vocals. The whole band delivers solid performances on the album, but Walsh is clearly the standout. Power is a testament to Kansas and their ability to remain commercially relevant and yet stay true to their musical roots. The album may not be as complex as prior efforts, but to this fan’s ears it still sounds like Kansas.