15 Years Ago: Kansas Release ‘Somewhere to Elsewhere’
The original Kansas lineup started to splinter after 1980's Audio-Visions LP, and although different versions of the band remained active on the road and in the studio over the ensuing decades, many fans continued to hope for a full-fledged reunion. That wish was finally granted, more or less, with 2000's Somewhere to Elsewhere.
The 10-track collection that returned founding guitarist Kerry Livgren to full-fledged active duty while luring original bassist Dave Hope back into the fold for a pair of guest appearances. Consisting of new Livgren compositions — and recorded largely at his home studio — Elsewhere offered the album longtime Kansas fans had been wishing they could hear for 20 years.
"It was sort of a reunion. I hadn’t worked with Kansas for a number of years at that point," Livgren later said of the Somewhere to Elsewhere sessions. "I guess I’ve been a very prolific writer and had written a lot of material that began to sound like Kansas to me, so I got in touch with the guys and told them 'I think I have an album sitting here. Let’s do it.'"
With Kansas singer Steve Walsh already working with the Magna Carta label for a solo LP, the band had a natural spot to sign a new deal, and they set about recording during 1999. In a sense, they picked up where they'd left off at the tail end of the '70s hitmaking run that produced fan favorites like "Point of Know Return" and "Dust in the Wind."
"Kerry hasn't written like this for years," violinist Robby Steinhardt told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "Ever since leaving Kansas, he's been trying to write non-Kansas music to have a signature that was all of his own, but it turns out this new stuff was tailor-made for us."
Given the personnel, the new material might have sounded a lot like classic Kansas no matter what Livgren had written, but it was obvious why he and the band felt this particular set of songs was right for a reunion — right from opening track "Icarus II," whose title hearkened back to 1975's "Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel." During their brief attempt at a comeback in the late '80s, Kansas were forced to chase pop hits; with Somewhere to Elsewhere, they were allowed to fully embrace the prog sound that had always set them apart.
The new record arrived on July 11, 2000 — roughly five years after Kansas' previous collection of new material, 1995's Freaks of Nature — and was greeted with largely positive reviews. Unfortunately, that didn't really help move the needle in terms of sales. Like everything they'd done since The Spirit of Things in 1988, Somewhere to Elsewhere failed to crack Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart.
This proved a bitter lesson for the band members, who felt they'd put together one of their best sets of songs. "Musically, this album is closer to where we were in our hearts at that time than any other album that we have done in our 27 years," guitarist Richard Williams enthused after Elsewhere's release. "The saddest moment was when Phil and I walked into the studio and went, 'Now what, we are done?'"
Sadly for Kansas fans, the answer to Williams' question was "yes" — at least for this version of Kansas. Stung by Magna Carta's inability to put them back on the charts, the group focused solely on touring during the ensuing decade and change, and the odds of Livgren returning to write and play on another new LP took a heavy hit when he suffered a stroke in 2009. Walsh, meanwhile, announced his exit in the summer of 2014, leaving Somewhere to Elsewhere as the classic lineup's closing statement.
Kansas continues, however — and after adding new vocalist Ronnie Platt, they turned their attention back to their first new LP in more than 15 years. As Williams told Ultimate Classic Rock, following up Somewhere to Elsewhere took a very long time, but it was a decision the band members didn't take lightly.
"You take all of this time off, do an album, release it, radio of course isn’t going to play it. The hardcore fans will pick it up and compare it, ‘Well, this isn’t the next Leftoverture.’ When you’ve had millions of sales and you get thousands of sales, all of that can be very disheartening," Williams explained. "Everybody really has to be all in. Let’s do this. Okay, this is the plan…are we there? Yep, we’re all in — let’s go. It is an incredible commitment."
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