Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Kansas - Drastic Measures (1983)

And you can tell this is a Kansas

Obviously I can't get enough of Kansas, since I've already given 1986's Power the track by track treatment and now here I am with Drastic Measures. Drastic Measures was one of the first vinyl records I had bought when I got my first record player (I also bought Heart Passionworks and Styx Cornerstone) mainly because I loved the song "Fight Fire With Fire". And Kansas was a band name I had heard of. So as Brian Wilson would say, I'm going back in my room, to relive the glory days of '83's Drastic Measures.

1. Fight Fire With Fire

Let's get an automatic criticism out of the way that I've heard since my friend brought it up in '85: It doesn't rock as hard as Metallica's song of the same name. Yeah? No kidding?? Really??? "Fight Fire With Fire" is probably Kansas hardest rocking song...which isn't saying a whole lot because Kansas wasn't a hard rock band. Still, that hammering guitar riff and epic synths set a nice stage for lead singer John Elefante to wail like a guy getting sucked on by a giant mosquito. The music video looked expensive and got lots of play on all the vid clip programs of the day. I wonder if the Hellish backdrop of the video upset the groups strong Christian following (half the band became born again Christians a few years before this)? A lot of this album has to do with struggles thematically, "Fight Fire With Fire" kicks off things nicely.

2. Everybody's My Friend

I didn't care for the song back then and even now I'm kinda indifferent to it. The music itself is pleasant by the numbers midtempo 80s AOR, the Beatles style hook of "Hello Hello" is OK, I just don't like the lyrics to this. "Everybody's My Friend" with its complaints of fake people glomming onto them because they're famous seemed whiny. Boo hoo, I'm a big 'ol rock star but people don't love me for the real me. Maybe Elefante was tired of people getting him confused with original (and future) Kansas lead singer Steve Walsh - he of the almighty mullet. Have you seen classic era Steve Walsh mullet? It is a thing to behold, like Mount Rushmore. Guess it could have been worse, if they made this record now Kansas would probably tweet or Facebook their indulgent sadness or something. Speaking of which, did you know Kansas has three Facebook pages? Hello Hello!

One of the three tracks written by former main songwriter Kerry Livgren, in an ironic twist finds him concerned about "selling out". Which is interesting since most of the album is written by lead singer John Elefante in a slick up-to-the-minute AOR style that people would consider begging for record sales. Lyrically Livgren vividly outlines his position of internal debate over the benefits and negatives of trying to sound like everyone else. Couldn't help but notice the generic "rawk!" guitar riff this tune is built on. Between "Mainstream" and "Everybody's My Friend" it looked like Kansas was stuck looking for new fans that they didn't really want anyway. Also, it could just represent the feelings of Livgren prepping to go whole hog into Christian rock which isn't "Mainstream". Which he did after this record.

4. Andi

This was a weird ballad, for the first few months of owning this I kept wondering why they were singing this soft song to some dude named Andy. It took a little bit before I realized it is about a girl named Andi. A girl who others take to look like a boy but Kansas looks forward to the day that she'll blossom into womanhood and stuff. Given their Christian leanings, I'm sure Kansas didn't mean anything creepy by this. And yet it still comes off that way. It's like, why is this dude so into this little girl growing up? Random non sequitor, remember that bad horror movie where Bruce Springsteen's sister played a boy raised as a girl that becomes a mass murderer at a summer camp? If you guessed Sleepaway Camp, you'd be exactly right!

5. Going Through The Motions

OK Kansas, we get it: you don't want to be here. You don't want to sell out, don't want fake fans but at the same time you're doing exactly that. Why are you doing this? The answer is on the next song...

6. Get Rich

There's no point to selling out if you're not gonna make a bunch of cash for your trash. Or at least hope to. Or maybe when they say "Get Rich fast" they were referring to eye patched guitarist Rich Williams. It wasn't called "Get Robby" because violinist Robbie Steinhardt quit the band before the recording of DM. Rich Williams and drummer Phil Ehart, the only two guys to make it through every incarnation of Kansas. They're like the Louisiana Purchase of the band. See that? I got all Suftjan Stevens on ya, looked up some history and worked it into my thing.

7. Don't Take Your Love Away

When I read up on the Drastic Measures album, this is the song that gets slammed the most by fans. Probably because it's the biggest piece of cheese on the whole record. It's got those ABBA ike scampering keyboards, breakneck pace changes and Elefante wailing like a child who lost his parents at the Dodge City Amtrak Station. "Don't Take Your Love Away" is also my favorite song on this album both then and now. I love AOR cheese and you can't top this-not for all The Better Cheddar in the state of Kansas. See? I did it again!

After taking most of the record off, guitarist/formerly main songwriter Kerry Livgren returns with two songs to close out the inning. And it's no accident that these songs sound the most like 70s Kansas - pompous, heroic and Biblical. "End Of The Age" seems to be about the end of the world as we know it. Fire and destruction abounds. Like that Arnold Schwartzenegger movie Governator of Culifornia.

Livgren ends the album with the most Christian Rock sounding track about heading towards salvation. the light, etc. Upbeat and dazzlingly proggy, it feels a little out of place next to the dour tone of the other tunes. For another tired movie metaphor, it's like the end of The Abyss where you go through this dangerous underwater journey and all looks lost then suddenly - Viola! It's not and happy days are here again. Still, seems like a good place to comment that I'm glad to read Kerry Livgren's health is improving following a sudden stroke last year.

Drastic Measures wasn't drastic enough, Kansas commercial slide continued leading to them calling it a day. Except for mainstays Williams and Ehart, the others went off to the Christian Rock scene. Well, not before Elefante recorded one more awesome song with them, the Best Of Kansas bound "Perfect Lover". That song is da bomb!

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