Album Review: Kansas – The Absence of Presence

Album artwork for Kansas The Absence of Presence

Mere days away from seeing Kansas for the first time…

…and the country shuts down because of coronavirus.

Dang. The show was postponed until after Thanksgiving then postponed again to 2021. Kansas might just get a boost from all this anyway as they dropped their 16th album The Absence Of Presence last week showing these classic rock veterans remaining relevant in their genre while keeping their appeal to musical purists intact.

I am fully aware that Kansas today hardly resembles Kansas of yesterday. Now approaching 50 years recording and touring, the number of Kansas members who have come and gone could make up their own Kansas group. Only two remain from the original lineup: Rich Williams on guitar and Phil Ehart on drums. Billy Greer continues on bass since joining in 1985 when the band reunited after a year hiatus. Dave Ragsdale took up violin duties in 1991 left in 1997 but has been back since 2006.

Lead singer Ronnie Platt took over for original and on again off again vocalist Steve Walsh who retired in 2014. Guitarist Zak Rizvi joined in 2016 and the new guy Tom Brislin picked up the keyboards in 2018.

All this to say that Kansas sounds like Kansas!

Now, don’t expect a rinse, recycle and repeat of past albums. Clearly when you implement charging keyboards and a ripping violin as part of your brand, the Kansas tone remains but The Absence of Presence offers a sometimes heavy and harder approach to their songwriting, perhaps reflective of the young blood now on board with Rizvi and Brislin writing most of the album.

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Kansas The Absence of Presence Album Review

The nine song 47-minute The Absence of Presence opens with the more than eight minute long title track with an essence of Dream Theater that takes time to build into a prog rock mastery halfway through before rolling back the momentum.

*Best Song Alert*

I looked to see if Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson was a guest for the second track “Throwing Mountains” with the awesome guitars laid down for this one. The chords and rhythms sound like later Rush and as close to the Lifeson tone as I’ve heard from anyone not Alex Lifeson. Regardless, an outstanding Kansas song that opens hard from the start and fully shows the art of prog rock to the end.

“Jets Overhead” keeps the prog going and could have come from anyone of their late 70s albums and if you’re not paying attention that quick paced instrumental “Propulsion 1” ends before you knew it even started. “Memories Down the Line” starts off pretty well, nice piano, but devolves into patchwork of instruments going in seemingly different directions that fails to connect on the emotional build from the beginning.

“Circus of Illusion” picks up where “Memories Down the Line” left off before breaking out into classic hard rock allowing Ehart to pound a bit harder while the band changes up the time signature a few times giving this one quite a bit of substance.  “Animals on the Roof” retains the upbeat tempo with a solid melody that doesn’t let up.

Finally, “Never” works pretty well, sounds a bit dated like an 80s ballad, but keeps its path much better than “Memories Down the Line.” Kansas closes the album trying some different things on the Brislin led “The Song the River Sang” with varying tempos and instrumentation that eventually pulls away from the totally distinct Kansas sound and delves into some brash and eclectic guitar harmonies as Ragsdale keeps pace with his violin.

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Kansas strays just enough on The Absence of Presence from its tried and true formula that embraces a fresh perspective without alienating its core.  The Absence of Presence delivers some hard rocking  adventures, a bit of direction for the future and the standard methodical approaches to songwriting that has defined the band’s career.

At any rate, Kansas most certainly can expect their fanbase to wholeheartedly embrace The Absence of Presence and quite possibly reclaim some of those who moved out of state over the years. But as far as rebuilding the chart topping momentum from the 1970s? Well, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky, all they are is dust in the wind.

But thankfully Kansas carries on.

Grade: B

Kansas The Absence of Presence Track List

  1. The Absence of Presence
  2. Throwing Mountains
  3. Jets Overhead
  4. Propulsion 1
  5. Memories Down the Line
  6. Circus of Illusion
  7. Animals on the Roof
  8. Never
  9. The Song the River Sang