I had a hard time deciding which Kansas album to look at and it came down to two: “Monolith” and “In the Spirit of Things.” I will explore the ill-fated latter album at a later date. For now, let’s look at the much loved and yet decidedly underselling “Monolith.”
“Monolith” both benefited from the 2 albums before it and paid the price for following those 2 albums. At the time, Kansas were at the peak of their popularity. “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return” were both HUGE sellers and put Kansas on the prog map. They released a very successful live album “Two for the Show” and seemed poised to dominate for many years to come.
While “Monolith” did peak at number 10 on the Billboard album chart, the previous 2 studio albums were both top 5. “Monolith” rode the coat tails of those albums to get to number 10. The reason I said that is that the album was missing the key ingredient that its predecessors had: a big hit single.
“Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind” are two of the best known songs in all of music. Even the title track from “Point of Know Return” was a hit. “Monolith” had “People of the South Wind.” I love the song personally. I loved it from the moment I heard it. But it was more akin to “Point of Know Return” and did actually peak higher on the charts than that song.
“People of the South Wind” was a very upbeat song and a thank you to the people who supported Kansas over the years. That positive tone was very different from their previous hits. So, if that song was the minor hit, where was the major hit they needed. “Reason to Be” was the key track with that regard. As a single, it stiffed. The song deserved better and maybe had it been released as a single FIRST, the fate of “Monolith” might have been different.
The critics jumped all over the album saying it was more pretentious musically and more scattered lyrically. Part of that was due to Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh not writing anything together. Each of them wrote 4 separate tracks for the album, with Walsh penning “Stay Out of Trouble” with Richard Williams and Robbie Steinhardt. Add to the mix that Livgren was reading The Urantia Book and would eventually become a born again Christian following this album, it made for a division of sorts between he and Walsh.
The album has great songs however. “Angels Have Fallen” is an awesome epic that features great vocals from both Steinhardt and Walsh. Walsh KILLS it on the chorus. The opening track “On the Other Side” is one of Kansas’ best opening tracks, in my opinion. “Away from You” is another very upbeat song and still very proggy. I love both of the aforementioned singles as well.
So why does “Monolith” get so much shit sometimes? When you follow 2 classic albums, it’s very easy to ignore the greatness of this album. Musically, it is every bit as good as those albums. Perhaps it does suffer SLIGHTLY from Livgren and Walsh always writing separately BUT it is not nearly as polarizing as the songs on “Audio Visions” which really sounds disjointed.
I know a lot of people do love this album and rightly so. I do wish the album was given a larger reissue/remaster like the other albums around it have been given. It’s like the record company is still pissed off at the album for not being as big as the 2 before it. “Monolith” deserved better than it got, and still does.
1. On the Other Side
2. People of the South Wind
3. Angels Have Fallen
4. How My Soul Cries Out For You
5. A Glimpse of Home
6. Away From You
7. Stay Out of Trouble
8. Reason to Be