Sunday, February 21, 2010

Some Good Progressive Rock: Rush And Kansas

This past month, I've been listening to the entire Rush discography (8 out of 19 complete at the time of this writing), and I just now finished the first Kansas album, and I have to say; I really like this 70's progressive rock sound that these guys put out. A lot of people know of Rush and their prog music (2112 anyone?), but not a lot of people know more from Kansas then "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust In The Wind," or "Point Of Know Return" (including myself).
After listening to their self-titled (and heading into their second, Masque) release I have an added respect for this group. They stick to the semi-mainstream venue of prog, not being of the King Crimson-style of pretentiousness. They mix the straight-forward focus of classic (read: 70's) rock with the interesting instrumentation, song structure and lyrical content of other progressive bands. Half of their songs are short and seemingly radio friendly, and the others are longer (over seven minutes) story-arch songs of varying subjects. Kind of a neat blend.
Rush does this too, but to a less successful extent. For this article I am only using the 70's/early 80's music of Rush (aka classic Rush), but they continuously fall into the same rut of trying to be more 'epic' then what is needed. Now I love Rush, and I really don't want to say anything negative about them, but after listening to almost all of their 'good' albums, their music is just better when they focus more on the rock style and less on the progressive element. Starting with their third album, Caress Of Steel (and soon after the addition of Niel Peart), their music becomes skewed into the inaccessible forms of prog music. The songs are long, to a ridiculous extent, and the lyrics are quite silly at times - but the music still rocks, so I have no complaint there. It's just that each album only has two or three decent songs to its credit, and two or three ten-plus minute epic pieces that fall flat after the first five minutes. 2112 is the exception, and I think they took the awesomeness of that song, and tried to re-create it with each following disc; as noted with "Cygnus X-1" and "Cygnus X-1 Book II" on the following albums, A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres.
As the group enters the 80's the super long songs wain away, but so too does the rock aspect. Instead the group focuses on different styles and sounds, to keep up with the ever-changing soundscape we live in. And I have no fault with that, you have to do what you do to survive. If they were still putting out the same style of records as their debut album, this article would have a very different spin to it, mostly about how boring the band has begun (and that article probably would have never been made). So I guess a congrats are in order for the guys from Rush, for still being together and still putting out decent albums (not the same, but still decent), for all these years.

Again, I am only two Kansas albums in, and I know the group takes a major nose dive somewhere in the 80's as far as quality is concerned, but in the golden days, they have a better grasp on understandable progressive rock then the Canadian kings of prog: Rush. So go out and give Kansas a try, you'll probably be surprised at how much you like their sound.

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