Kansas With John Elefante Review
When Kansas got done with Audio-Visions in 1980 and the tour in 81, creative tensions began to go with Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh. Walsh left the band and Kansas was without their lead singer. The band decided to grab John Elefante, other notable candidates were Sammy Hagar (interesting if that happened) and Doug Pinnick (later of King's X).
With Kansas, I wasn't truly a fan of them. I can never say I hate Kansas, they were hardly on my radar minus "Carry On Wayward Son." That song I'm sick of hearing. Again, I don't hate that song, but with your average classic rock station, it's a staple. Yet, with a classic rock station that has 75 songs on their playlist, you'll hear that song often. I'm not a fan of the FM old-generation classic rock station playing the same 75 songs over and over.
John Elefante, originally from New York, took over as the singer. He, along with his brother Dino would contribute to the songwriting process for the Vinyl Confessions and Drastic Measures albums.
Vinyl Confessions starts with the song "Play the Game Tonight," a short 3-minute 25-second song with two verses, a mysterious piano, short guitar solo and violin solo. The song reached #17 on the Billboard 100 when it was released, their third Top 20 hit. The video is quite interesting, it shows Death (the black hooded being) and the opposite of Death (the white hooded being) playing a game of chess. Also, it shows the band playing their instruments (with the exception of Elefante singing) on a big chess board, creative!
Another video done by the band on Vinyl Confessions was "Windows." That video was goofy and it gave me the creeps. I like the song, but that video was goofy as hell.
While watching those videos, I do notice a difference in appearance with Elefante and the rest of the band. Kerry, Robby, Dave, Rich, and Phil were from Kansas and they look like regular people while John Elefante looks like a pretty boy. I know some people reading this are saying, "what do you mean by that?" I have a hard time explaining it beyond that, it just looks kinda odd. Not saying that's a bad thing.
For the rest of the Vinyl Confessions album, besides "Windows" and "Play the Game Tonight", I also liked "Chasing Shadows." But beyond that, the album was just mediocre to me. My secular mind tried to be open-minded to the lyrics of the songs. I do notice some difference in the John Elefante-led era to my limited exposure to other Christian Rock and Metal. Most Christian Rock I've listened to mentions Jesus quite a lot, Kansas on the other hand, don't do that. I can hear the Chrisitan ideology in "Diamonds and Pearls" and how (to me at least) they communicate the idea of financial wealth to spiritual wealth. Overall, I don't dig this album. Again, not because my secular mind hates Chrisitan Rock, the music just didn't do it for me.
Most of the songs in the album were mainly written by Kerry Livgren, or John Elefante and his brother Dino. Sans "Play The Game Tonight" which was written by Kerry, Rich Williams, Phil Ehret along with Rob Fraizer and Danny Flower. John and Kerry wrote the song "Play On," which is a continuance of "Play The Game Tonight"
Vinyl Confessions came with a tour, along with an additional musician helping out on keyboards. As of January 2019, there is a video of the band's full set in Ohama in 1982. After the tour was over, Robby Steinhardt called it quits with the band. Like Steve Walsh, he disagreed with the Chrisitan direction but did hang around for the tour.
Going on without the violin, the five-piece group went on to make Drastic Measures. This one was far different from Vinyl Confessions as the band went to similar music as Loverboy, Foreigner, and Journey. This album knocked on the door of synth-rock. The album cover is quite confusing to me as I wonder what the band was communicating.
Drastic Measures begins with the albums biggest hit "Fight Fire With Fire." A video was shot for the song, a rather cheesy 80s video that I do like. The video does not follow the band really, it follows a coal mine slave (played by actor Don Shor). Both Kerry and Rich play "guards" who are keeping an eye on the slave. Dave, Phil and John also played slaves in the video as well. The slave is also being massaged by some mysterious woman (kinda want to know who she is) and also gets bit by a giant mosquito. Later, the slave tries to escape captivity, only to be caught and thrown into the fire. Next, the slave wakes up from his nightmare with the members of Kansas by his bedside. A Wizard Of Oz reference?
According to a YouTube user on the "Fight Fire With Fire" video, he or she approached Don Shor at a comic convention with the album for him to autograph. At first, Shor was taken aback on what that was, then it dawned to him. Also, Shor told the user about how Rich Williams was being silly on the shooting of the video. In 1988, Don Shor played Billy The Kid on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, a movie I saw in the theater when I was 6. Rich Williams wasn't big on wearing that hat in the video though.
A video was also done with "Everybody's My Friend" which one would see more of the band in this one. During the middle of the video, it shows the protagonist and four others sitting in a room playing musical instruments or missile launchers, depicting the cover of the album. But again, I'm unsure what they were communicating with that. The lyrics of that song seem to be John's story of his then-new found fame. I like that.
The song "Mainstream" sounds a lot like a Night Ranger song, only they throw a long instrumental part in the middle of the song. The story behind that song was Kerry Livgren's dislike of where the band was going and also where pop music was going at the time. Livgren also wrote the last two songs for the album, "End of an Age" and "Incident on a Bridge," those songs sound more similar to the Vinyl Confessions album.
Overall, I think most Kansas fans and reviewers from ProgArchives would hate me for this, but I like the album for the most part. I like the first five songs while the last four just are okay at best. Although "Andi" is a good track musically, I was kinda wondering about the lyrics. Is Andi a tomboy or a tranny? With today's social chaos in the United States, that song seems way ahead of its time. I'll probably buy the album on Amazon MP3 pretty soon. And yes, this album is unlike Kansas' other works, but I'm a fan of that pop-rock in the 80s, so it works for me.
Kansas broke up after the Drastic Measures tour, but not before they released the Best of Kansas album with the track "Perfect Lover." That song had only John, Rich and Phil on that track. A year later, Steve Walsh brought back the band, this time Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope wouldn't return right away. Taking over Kerry's spot would be Steve Morse who would later go to Spock's Beard. Dave Hope's position would be filled by Billy Greer, who is in the band this day. The band released Power in 1986, with a Top 40 hit (their final one) called "All I Wanted." A video went along with that too, only with less creativity for my opinion. The video contained quite a lot of stock footage, I suppose they didn't have a lot of money for that video.
Robby Steinhardt returned to the band in 1997 and would leave the band in 2006. Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope would form A.D. which lasted a few years, they broke up in the late 80s. The two would join Kansas again briefly in 1990. The both of them would return in 1999 with the original band (plus Greer). Steve Walsh retired in late June 2014. The band asked John Elefante to come back, but with prayer, he ultimately decided not too.
John Elefante later formed Mastedon, a Christian Metal band. He would later become a producer for the band Petra.
Kansas would continue on performing the songs from the Elefante-era. Here's a vid of Steve Walsh taking lead on Fight Fire With Fire in 2010.
© 2019 Robbee Thomas