(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Before you read this review, be sure to see the review to Kansas' album prior to this one, Vinyl Confessions to get up to speed on the changes that occured in the band at the dawn of the 80's. Changes also occured musically. Drastic Measures continues the pop explorations of Vinyl Confessions but expounds on them greatly. One look at the cover and you can tell this is going to be a different kind of Kansas album. The lack of artwork or the classic logo both point to this. Inside the music seems very much a product of the time it was created and reflects what was popular then, in '83 (i.e. not prog rock but short pop tunes), more than the sound of 70's Kansas.
By the time the band reached 1983 it was running low on inspiration. Violinist and front man Robby Steinhardt was out of the band at this point. Because of that this album lacks a very important part of the traditional Kansas sound. Principal writer Kerry Livgren was suffering a bad dry spell by this point and only offered three songs for this album. They are arguably the best songs on the album- "End of the Age", "Mainstream" and "Incident on a Bridge". "Incident" is probably the closest to 'progressive' Kansas music, of the three tunes he penned. But it all seems kinda tenative here, like he was about out of creative gas.
The remainder of the albums writing fell to singer John Elefante and his brother (who was not in the band), Dino. The brothers penned a number of catchy AOR friendly numbers that seemed even more pop inspired than the tunes they penned for Vinyl Confessions. Some of these tunes seem more along the lines of something Sammy Hagar would record than anything on a Kansas cd.
The remaining tune was a Top 40 hit and the Elefante brothers best offering here- "Fight Fire With Fire". No doubt the albums most solid and memorable tune, "Fire" offered up a choppy rock riff and melodic verses. Elefante turns in some of the best singing of his Kansas tenure here on this cut, and on all of Drastic Measures for that matter. It is clear his voice matured greatly between VC and DM.
After this album Kansas disbanded for three years. When they returned in 1986 they would be without Livgren, Elefante and original bassist Dave Hope. The bands original vocalist Steve Walsh would be back and now in the role of frontman. Steve Morse of Dixie Dregs fame would be in the drivers seat for a great deal of the bands next album Power, which featured yet another violin free lineup for fans to digest.
Drastic Measures is really for Kansas completists and folks that like good early 80's arena pop/rock. That is mostly what it is, with a few slightly prog inspired numbers tossed in for shits and giggles. Approach this one with caution.
Kerry Livgren - Guitar, Keyboards, Terry Brock - Vocals, Vocals (bckgr), Phil Ehart - Drums, John Elefante - Keyboards, Vocals, Kyle Henderson - Vocals, Vocals (bckgr), Dave Hope - Bass, Neil Kernon - Producer, Engineer, David Pack - Vocals, Vocals (bckgr), Rich Williams - Guitar
I would be lying if I said that I didn't appreciate this unique effort especially the production quality. It might have been suicide in '83 for KANSAS to try to sound like the '70s with long songs and complex subject matter. I don't think that the masses at that time had as much of an artistic attention span.
Yes at the time wasn't too much different than Kansas in that they also embraced shorter songs with catchy melodies and guitar/keyboard lines that are more mainstream in nature. But if you consider the industry at the time and the explosion of recording technology including samplers, it is little surprise that these bands indulged themselves with these new found toys along with the desire to remain "current".
Both Drastic Measures and 90125 stand way out there in terms of breakthroughs in production quality and bridging the gap between the prog and pop audiences. I also enjoy Gentle Giant's Civilian album. Certainly this album did not fall neatly into the progressive category, but when it all comes down, good songs do not have to be progressive to be good! I don't think that I am the only one on this forum that enjoys the Beatles Abbey Road side A and the Eagles other songs that are not as "Big" as "Hotel California"!
Just like there is bad classical there is prog that might benefit from staying closer to a main theme to keep the listeners interest and not being complex just for the sake of being complex. Sometimes less is more, but not always. The bottom line with me is; a good song is a good song whether it is complex or not!!
I am glad to see that Kansas has returned to a more artistic form of expression since then but I still enjoy DM from time to time. I will step off of my soapbox for now.