Leftoverture [Bonus Tracks] [Expanded Edition]

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For any art rock band, the fourth album means it's time for a self-styled masterpiece -- if you need proof, look at Selling England by the Pound or Fragile. So, with Kansas, the most determinedly arty of all American art rock bands, they composed and recorded Leftoverture, an impenetrable conundrum of significance that's capped off by nothing less than a five-part suite, appropriately titled "Magnum Opus," and featuring such promising movement titles as "Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat" and "Release the Beavers." Of course, there's no telling whether this closing opus relates to the opener, "Carry On Wayward Son," the greatest single Kansas ever cut -- a song that manages to be pompous, powerful, ridiculous, and catchy all at once. That they never manage to rival it anywhere on this record is as much a testament to their crippling ambition as to their lack of skills. And it's unfair to say Kansas are unskilled, since they are certainly instrumentally proficient and they can craft songs or, rather, compositions that appear rather ambitious. Except these compositions aren't particularly complex, rhythmically or harmonically, and are in their own way as ambling as boogie rock, which still feels to be their foundation. It's not really fair to attack Kansas for a concept album with an impenetrable concept -- it's possible to listen to Lamb Lies Down on Broadway hundreds of times and not know what the hell Rael is up to -- but there are neither hooks nor true grandiosity here to make it interesting. That said, this still may be Kansas' most consistent set, outside of Point of Know Return. In 2001, Sony Music released a remastered, expanded CD edition of Leftoverture -- the sound on the latter puts it in just about the same sonic league as Rhino's expanded Yes reissues and Atlantic's Genesis remasterings. Every part of the music benefits, with a presence akin to a live performance, but the real delight is Dave Hope's bass, which is now so out there in the mix that it's like listening to John Entwistle's work on a Who album -- and around and above his instrument everything just roars out (though in terms of the actual playing he could be compared more with Greg Lake from In the Court of the Crimson King or the first ELP album, or Boz Burrell's work on the harder songs from King Crimson's Islands album). In essence, a great album became an even greater CD with this release, and David Wild's essay gives some good insights into the band and the making of the record, while producer Jeff Glixman explains that the original LP was mastered to accommodate the limitations of vinyl, and the redone CD just bounds over those sonic barriers. The added treat comes in the form of a pair of bonus tracks, previously unissued live versions of "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Cheyenne Anthem," roughly contemporary with the release of the album -- neither is essential listening in terms of any revelations (these guys did well in the studio, in terms of generating an exciting sound), but together they constitute a great sonic snapshot of the band at this early peak; and it's nice to know that they could capture the electric/acoustic textures of "Cheyenne Anthem," and Robbie Steinhardt's delicate singing live, even then. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine Bruce Eder, Rovi