‘Freaks Of Nature’ is one of my favourite Kansas releases and I think one of their strongest, a move away from the more direct radio-friendly sound of the ’80s and the return of violin is more than welcome.
Written by: Eric
ALBUM: Freaks Of Nature
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Phil Ehart – drums * David Ragsdale – violin, guitar, vocals * Billy Greer – bass, acoustic guitar, vocals * Richard Williams – guitars * Steve Walsh – keyboards, vocals * Greg Robert – keyboards, vocals
Additional Musician: Renee Castle – vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 I Can Fly * 02 Desperate Times * 03 Hope Once Again * 04 Black Fathom 4 * 05 Under The Knife * 06 Need * 07 Freaks Of Nature * 08 Cold Grey Morning * 09 Peaceful And Warm
WEBLINKS: Site Link
I was fortunate to see Kansas on the final leg of the ‘Freaks Of Nature’ tour in 1996. Second row floor, I was standing through most of their set as they opened for Styx. And with ears still buzzing I remember thinking on the drive home the billing should have been the other way around as Kansas performed a more dynamic and entertaining set than Dennis DeYoung and crew.
Overall it was an excellent show from both veteran American progressive rockers. Still, it was a difficult period for the band as ‘Freaks Of Nature’ was their first studio album since 1988 and the first Kansas album not to chart.
Hardcore fans bought the disc but times had changed. Grunge and Alternative was in full swing and radio had no time for anything remotely prog or melodic, and still don’t. These days Kansas knows the score and will never be the stadium powerhouse they were 35 years ago but have found their niche on a smaller scale while experimenting with orchestral music to an ever appreciative fan base.
To the album at hand, ‘Freaks Of Nature’ is one of my favourite Kansas releases and I think one of their strongest. A move away from the more direct radio-friendly sound of the ’80s and the return of violin is more than welcome as Dave Ragsdale fills Robbie Steinhardt’s shoes admirably.
In fact, Ragsdale covers the disc like a blanket while the incredible drumming of Phil Ehart stands out as some of the best work he’s done. On the vocal side Steve Walsh sounds good, unlike his uncomfortable straining heard on future releases. Especially on the opener ‘I Can Fly’, a fast-paced, complex and heavy rocker with a classical interlude that’s in a word – stunning.
The equally heavied-up ‘Desperate Times’ was the first of two singles picked from the disc and like the album neither charted. ‘Hope Once Again’ was the second, an uplifting jewel highlighted by Ragsdale’s gorgeous string work and angelic female voice. ‘Black Fathom 4’ and ‘Under The Knife’ are both solid rockers while ‘Need’ aside from Ehart’s tribal percussion, is rather average.
Kerry Livgren makes an appearance with his song contribution ‘Cold Grey Morning’ and is everything you’d expect, very Kansas and a dramatic work of progressive art with chunky leads from guitarist Rich Williams and a jazz influenced bridge that doesn’t sound out of place. ‘Peaceful And Warm’ could very well be the set’s best track with touching vocals from Walsh a grandiose finale that makes the hair on my neck stand on end every time.
Part of the album’s problem commercially might be attributed to the packaging. Not the best cover art in comparison to artistic masterpieces like ‘Point Of Know Return’ or even ‘Audio-Visions’. The back tray card photo is less than photogenic. Whatever the label’s fuzzy thought process was it’s the music that matters and Kansas nailed it.
I Can Fly