[Review] Kansas: Point of Know Return (1977)

Another classic prog-rock album that picks up where Leftoverture left off.

Kronomyth 5.0: The peak of Kansas.

This and Leftoverture are the highest points in the catalog of Kansas — perhaps in American prog, period. Unlike their English prog counterparts, Kansas had found a workable hybrid between rococo excess and rock and roll. You’ll find this at work on songs like Portrait (He Knew) and Lightning’s Hand, which are equal parts boxing and musical ballet. And then there are those moments of sublime progfection, such as Point of Know Return and Closet Chronicles.

Although it’s not a concept as I understand it, the theme of man’s mortality runs through Point of Know Return. This is brilliantly captured on Dust in the Wind, a song whose lyrics have since been immortalized on countless high school yearbooks. (It’s hard to believe the song started as a finger-picking exercise for Kerry Livgren.) “The Closet Chronicles,” Helplessly Human, Sparks of the Tempest and Nobody’s Home all deal with life, death and the end of humanity. Maybe it’s the fact that Steve Walsh and Livgren were writing together, but Point of Know Return is remarkably consistent for a Kansas album. It’s hard to tell which songs were written by Livgren or Walsh and, for the first time, it doesn’t really matter.

At this point, Livgren and Walsh were the heart and soul of Kansas. Robby Steinhardt’s violin gets its fair share of the spotlight, while Rich Williams’ guitar doesn’t, and the rhythm section of Dave Hope and Phil Ehart bleed into the background. Despite the fact that Kansas technically had three lead singers, only one of them (Walsh) was strong enough to carry the band. In fact, on the songs where Steinhardt is given the lead (mostly the second side), I find myself wishing that Walsh had sung them instead.

The band decided to capitalize on their success with a tour and (in the post-Peter Frampton world) requisite live double album, Two for the Show. When they returned, however, something was different. Monolith was a good album, arguably underrated, but gone were the majestic heights of “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Point of Know Return.” In that sense, Point of Know Return is an accidental signpost that, indeed, the greenest days of Kansas were behind them. For a few years, though, the band shined brightly and that light still travels through time, visible in the deep black of polyvinyl night.

Original elpee version

A1. Point of Know Return (Steve Walsh/Kerry Livgren/Robby Steinhardt) (3:11)
A2. Paradox (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (3:49)
A3. The Spider (Steve Walsh) (2:08)
A4. Portrait (He Knew) (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (4:32)
A5. Closet Chronicles (Steve Walsh/Kerry Livgren) (6:30)
B1. Lightning’s Hand (Steve Walsh/Kerry Livgren) (4:21)
B2. Dust in the Wind (Kerry Livgren) (3:26)
B3. Sparks of the Tempest (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (4:15)
B4. Nobody’s Home (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (4:37)
B5. Helplessly Human (Kerry Livgren) (7:10)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Sparks of the Tempest (live)
12. Portait (He Knew) (remix)

The Players

Dave Hope (bass), Phil Ehart (drums, timpani, chimes, percussion), Kerry Livgren (synthesizers, piano, clavinet, electric and acoustic guitar, percussion), Robby Steinhardt (violins, viola, backing vocals, lead vocals), Steve Walsh (organ, synthesizers, vibraphone, piano, lead vocals, backing vocals, percussion), Rich Williams (electric and acoustic guitars). Produced by Jeff Glixman; engineered by Jeff Glixman, Terry Becker.

The Pictures

Artwork by Peter Lloyd.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on October 11, 1977 in the US (Kirshner, JZ/JZT 34929), the UK, Germany and the Netherlands (CBS, 82234) and Canada (Kirshner, PZ 34929) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #4 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 4x platinum record).

  1. Re-packaged with Leftoverture on 2-for-1 cassette in 1982 in the US (Kirshner, GT 38564).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Kirshner, ZK 34939).
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2002 worldwide (Sony, 5060322) with 2 bonus tracks.

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