Album in Depth: Leftoverture by Kansas

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. After a filler week, let’s get on with it. The next album was, as Agents of Fortune, an album that got through my radar in other medias (I believe it was some movie) and, after some look around, I got it. Kansas for me was always one of those bands that have only two good music: Carry On Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind. And looking back at my other reviews, it seems like 1976 was the year of those bands: we also had Blue Öyster Cult “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and Eagles’ “Hotel California”. But I’m getting a little over myself, and have to ask: Who is Kansas and why the band is named that way? A little background is required.

The year is 1976. The Song Remains the Same, the Led Zeppelin movie, is released, and sadly, Dame Agatha Christie dies from natural causes. Betamax is released in the US and VHS is introduced to Japan. SNL promises 3 grand to the Beatles for an immediate reconciliation, but they dismiss it because of tiredness and Deep Purple announces I believe the first of a lot of break ups.

Kansas was having a stroke of bad luck. After some tours, it had some fans, but it wasn’t a large group of ’em. And after three failed albums with not one managing to make a hit single, the manager was pressuring them. And really, I can’t blame him: the three first albums aren’t exactly master pieces. And to make matters worse: the major song writer, Steve Walsh the singer, was experiencing Writers block. So, what could the band do? The path to oblivion was almost completely traced before them. So, they give the job of major song writer to Kerry Livgren, the guitarist, to do something about it. And boy, he did. He wrote the eight songs, although the last one was written by everybody in the band. Walsh co-wrote only four songs, and to be completely honest, that shows. I like to think that the problem before was the density of the albums, which were too much prog to go to a major audience: heck, even to prog for me, and I like some pretty prog stuff.

And of course, the original band had only three members and they were all from Kansas. That was pretty obvious, but I thought it had something to do with Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy being from Kansas. Meh, wishful thinking in the end.

The cover art… isn’t exactly great. It’s an old guy with feather-pen writing on a papyrus, while thinking. The only word readable is “Leftoverture”, in an interesting font. However, the font the logo chose for the band’s name completely dissonant and it becomes somewhat of a fault. It’s bad drawn and for the sole reason that this album should be their break away from the dense prog style, the cover fails. The shortest song is What’s On My Mind, clocking 3:28, and the longest song is the outro of the album, Magnum Opus, with 8:35, with the running time of the entire album being 43:51, decent, showcasing the prog rock experience, with long songs as it can’t be missed in a prog rock album.

The album has already received a 5 platinum RIAA certification, even though it at the time didn’t stroke gold. So, with that all being said, let’s get this over with: Leftoverture by Kansas.

1st track: “Carry On Wayward Son” – This is a rock anthem. When you nowadays make a rock anthem compilation, this should always be in it. It’s one of those epitome songs that everyone should listen at least a dozen times. The guitar riff is great, the singing is inspired, the lyrics are awesome, the keyboard that accompanies most of the song mix awesomely with the song… it’s one of those songs that has a lot of aspects and with the subtraction of even one would probably ruin it all. The guitar solos could be on the greatest list (not on my top 10, but still) and the drums should be also given some consideration, as it works it exactly how it should be. Awesome hard rock song with a prog flare, moving on.

2nd track: “The Wall” – All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall. No, just kidding. The song starts with a solo that brings the whole album to a prog status, with a more medieval feel of it. The lyrics are kind of broken, but it adds to the experience. The melody reminds me of a part on Thick as a Brick and the lyrics revolve around the looking back through the chosen path. This song is obviously one of the songs that make you think “Why is Kansas known only by Dust in the Wind and Carry on Wayward Son?”, but let’s face it: although this song is great, it isn’t greater than either Carry On or Dust. My major problem with this song is the keyboard solo, that I feel that a quicker one would’ve been better.

3rd track: “What’s On My Mind” – With a more traditional love song that still uses the theme of the “looking back”, it’s a more hard rock song, that reminds me of Kiss and a tad bit of Deep Purple. The guitar riff, although inventive, isn’t exactly great and the intro of the guitar solo is… strange. I don’t know if I should blame the producer or the guitarist, but something is definitely wrong, even more so when the guitar solo ends and the song gets a little creative, leading to an awesome outro. I find this song to be great, although not as awesome as the previous two, but it has some major flaws.

4th track: “Miracles Out of Nowhere” – As the music starts, you can see that it’s when it enters as a whole in the prog area, with the intro being a mix between keyboards and violins, to enter a pure steel guitar, that gives place to the singing, inspired as hell. The song is really great, till the 1:30 mark, when the song repeats and it gets pretty boring, and although I can see why people wouldn’t like the bridge, I found myself really enjoying it, with the mix of a lot of different electronic keyboard effects and a violin with the drums, always working greatly. At the 3:50, the song takes a leap into Jethro Tull area before coming back to what it was, repetitive stale, to an keyboard outro that I really didn’t like. It was a great attempt to fulfill my likings, but the song didn’t end with the promises of the beginning. Nice try, though.

5th track: “Opus Insert” – This song starts out… well, boringly, with some ambient song played in the keyboard, and when it starts the song properly said… well… it’s boring. The song sounds as if there’s something wrong with it, and it may be the bass: it’s bad that the first mention of the bass in the review is something that I found distracting. The lyrics are like a “we are the world”, but less creative and less fun. The bridge is… painful, with a marching drum and what I believe to be xylophone and keyboards… of the boring kind. This song isn’t good. So far, worst track of the album. The only thing that raises the bar a little beyond average-mediocrity is the outro, which is kind of amusing, with some creative keyboard, but other than that, not a good track.

6th track: “Questions of my Childhood” – Although strange, the song starts showing a prog nature, but not as boring as the previous. Unfortunately, when the song starts, it becomes average pretty soon, with a pretty generic feel to it, even with the addition of the violin, which was a good idea. The chorus is also uninventive; with the only thing that saves it is a violin. Lyrics are almost a “Save the World, Love Each Other”, and that bores the hell out of me. It reminds me of a pop Elton John song done badly, because of the keyboard and all. Second strike out. The song ends as it begun and how it should’ve been the entire time.

7th track: “Cheyenne Anthem” – Slow and psychedelic since moment one, this song once again is boring. It’s not horrible (heck, it isn’t even bad), it’s just mind fuckingly boring. After three great songs and an okay, one boring song after another. The lyrics is focused on Cheyenne principles (I think, I’m not certain) with a piano melody and some steel guitar. After a part where the singing gets… well… “native americany”, the strings come back and it does a duet with the piano, adding some interesting to it, with a bridge mixing well elements, as well as keeping them distant enough to become recognizable and not a total mess, and there is a quite good piano “solo”. Apart from that, the song is boring, going to the extent to at one time, sounding like a mega drive. When that ends, the song goes back to what it has been, and that’s not fucking good. The song ends… boringly as it was. The female singing could be a nice touch, if it didn’t sound as “a girl started singing opera while we were recording and we were recording it in a one-track, so… what the heck”.

8th track: “Magnum Opus” – To all you fans of music that aren’t familiarized with Prog Rock: when the last song of a prog rock band’s album is the longest one of the bunch, be scared to hell. I honestly can’t say anyone who pulled that shtick off, and the only thing that comes to my mind is Freak Out! by Frank Zappa, and that shouldn’t serve as an example of quality to anyone that breathes. The song starts as a Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma song, and that is not good. It reminds me badly of Careful With that Axe Eugene until it changes to become what could be an inspiration to Ayreon decades later, but again, done badly. I really enjoy most prog works of the seventies, but what I can’t really get is why is it so slow… I mean, seriously… Deep Purple’s Lazy is huge, and it isn’t as slow as this. Even fucking Shine On You Crazy Diamond is faster than this song. But that’s just the intro, because when the guitar in the intro starts, the song changes a lot to something pretty enjoyable, reminding a lot of the few I know of An Endless Sporadic. Three minutes into it, it becomes Jethro Tull chaos with violins and an instrument that breaks my ears, and it annoys me so that the part that I really enjoyed in the beginning is quickly forgotten, but the song retracts itself to become a pretty interesting piece of prog music. It even has a creepy bossa nova feel to it for a minute or two, closing with a guitar solo that is awesome. Near the ending the song gets pretty chaotic and strange, but at the eight minute mark, the song is quite amusing. It’s a pretty bipolar song, but in the end, it had more great moments than bad moments.

So, how does it all hold up? Well, the album has its flaws alright: in fact, you can pretty much split the entire album in two parts: one more hard rock oriented and one more progressive. But the progressive… well… it isn’t exactly the good type of progressive. If you are a different prog fan than I am, you may enjoy the second part; but if you enjoy Water’s Pink Floyd or Jethro Tull, stick with the first three songs and the last. It’s a tough album to hear in one sitting, but if you are in the mood to listen to something different, it shouldn’t be that hard. To the fans of Carry On wishing to hear something of that style, stick to the first three. Prog fans, stick to the last one, and of course, Carry On Wayward Son.

This is JotaKa, signing of.

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10 Responses to Album in Depth: Leftoverture by Kansas

  1. John says:

    Hey I read your comment about the album artwork and I think I may have just unlocked a secret in the art. I could be wrong but I think it is more in depth than you give it credit for. I am taking a humanities class over the renaissance period, art and literature and as I was reading The Folly of Man written by Erasmus in 1516. The art eloquently resembles the section in which the Dame Folly is talking about Scholars and how they write and erase there work and never release it because it never reached their own personal standards. But her author (God, or maybe the old man on the cover art for Leftoverture) writes without ceasing and lives much longer and gains much more fame. Like I said I could be way off but this is what I pictured the second I read that section. Definitely look into it and let me know what ya think!

    John

    • JotaKa says:

      Humn… that’s a sound theory, I’d say. I don’t see exactly that when I look at the album, though, but if that was the intention, I could get behind that. So, Leftoverture, in that case, would be a Overture, a start of a new work, with left overs that were erased because they couldn’t meet the author’s standards. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Karen says:

    Wow, you really missed the boat on Cheyenne Anthem. Do you understand that in the United States, there is a major conflict between the ideologies of the Native American peoples and the way the U.S. government brashly conquered their lands? The song is a dialogue between Native American tradition and the governmental ideologies that tried to move these ancient peoples from their sacred lands and sacred traditions. Sadly, this movement decimated an entire culture, creating over the course of several hundred years MASS GENOCIDE. There are several different voices in this song, each voice with its own instrumental treatment. You should be able to hear the different laments clearly because the instrumentation changes so drastically. At the end of the song, the Natives acquiesce to the “wheels” of progress, realizing that “we cannot endure like the earth and the mountains / life is not ours to keep.” This song is a testament to what was lost. The natives wanted a compromise: “We will share it with you / No man owns this earth we’re on.” But the “wheels are rolling / hear the howling winds of war.” Sadly, the American juggernaut of progress at all costs is captured in this lament. Many of today’s social ills are a direct result of the “American Way” which privileges the powerful and denies those more tied to the earth itself. What environmental woes could have been avoided if the American government would have offered the Cheyenne the solution they requested. Instead, the U.S. is vilified by nearly every major nation seeking to halt the ravages of global warming.

    • JotaKa says:

      All that is really interesting, and I wasn’t aware of it. The lyrics, obviously, have some significance. The song, though, I felt was really boring. I still do: nowadays, I listen to that album constantly and skip Cheyenne Anthem. Lyrics are the less important part of any song.

  3. Erik says:

    Maybe only I see this album as whole, and not seperate songs. I feel like the whole album was a story.

    1. Carry on my wayword son (Dying very close friend),
    2. The wall (The moment at heaven’s gate),
    3. Whats On My Mind (The hole it left),
    4. Miracles Out of Nowhere (Realizing life is short, and also you, eventually, will be forgotten)
    5. Opus Insert (Understanding how lucky you are to be alive.)
    6. Questions of my Childhood (Finally got closure and acceptance, moving on with your life and enjoying it)
    7. Cheyenne Anthem (Realise getting old, and wanting to share your wisdom to the younger generation)
    8. Magnum Opus (The final ride, making people remember you, before it’s too late.) The masterpiece.

    Okay I now see, that I’m a bigger fan of Kansas, then I ever even knew. This album means a lot to me.

    Just wanted to share my point of view.

    • JotaKa says:

      That’s a great way of viewing the album. I dig it. Now, I think it’s a semi strong album in it of itself, not having that concept, and I wouldn’t be able to fit Cheyenne Anthem as you did on an overall concept, but that’s a great way of seeing it. And even if no one else sees it (even the people who wrote it), fuck ’em. The art is in the mind of the one who watches it.

    • Arthur Lewis says:

      Eric is correct it is singular work mostly, a conceptual body of work something that was big in the mid 70’s . I guess growing up in that time I have a different appreciation for the whole of the album especially Magnum Opus …..It all ties in. The follow up Album even so. Magnum Opus is one of the closest thing to a Rock piece that is formulated like a classical piece of music , It exceeds 5min, with at least 3 different movements, key changes as well as time signature change .This was an intellectual rock and roll piece.
      John is also correct about the cover art and it meaning, the band had just switched primary song writers with remnants of co-writing from the privious song writer. The oldman is not a single entity but is the band worn by unproductive attempts and they are compiling fresh with old to create something greater than what had been done priviously, in away erasing what came before….. And I’m sorry I must disagree with you Lyrics are not the least important part of a song , lyrics are what gives a song purpose and direction

  4. I believe this album to be pure genius. One with no songs below “excellent” It’s not important if one song relates to the next, and why would you expect a theme, or a “concept”. Who cares? If you find one, then great. This is a masterpiece of writing, primarily by Kerry Livgren. As a musician I appreciate the sophistication and complexity of the sounds created with the technology of the time as well as the amazing musicianship of the band. If you aspire to be an audiophile, listen to this album, in a proper environment, and listen loud. Each song will take you places.

    • JotaKa says:

      Thanks for the comment. While I’m not looking for a concept, I concern myself with the flow of this album, as you have to have some when making a complete work: it has a beginning, a middle and an end, so you have to have that in mind.

  5. Don says:

    If you learn to speak English properly it still will not fix your ears and stupid arrogant mind. I do not care to find out what you think is good music. Certainly Kansas has moments of bad music as do all bands, even the greatest bands. I think part of what you are missing is the context of the time their music was created, meaning maybe that you had to be there.
    Your review seems a bit like if Newton called Galileo a mindless moron for not getting it right! By no means do I imply that you are a Newton of musical style, you are far from it. But I mean that you seem to think that music is an easy equation, balancing all the instruments and the musicianship of the musicians into a near—perfect display for Your ears and mind. I believe most musicians do not approach music in that way.
    I have yet to hear any of the music you play on an instrument that you release for all the world to be critical of.
    It is true that you have the right to say how you feel the music strikes you. I cannot imagine why Anyone thinks your review has any merit. I am sorry I wasted my own time reading your arrogant review of someone else’s life’s-work.

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