Kansas and Survivor are slightly different samples of generic rock'n'roll enboldened by hit singles. Kansas came first, with 1977's "Dust In the Wind" and "Carry On Wayward Son." And they certainly have carried on, though there's an irony now: The band that once offered a promising American heartland alternative to the ponderous British art-rock of Yes and Genesis has become a beautifully produced but increasingly unimaginative contemporary Christian rock group. It's a fact that's neither hidden nor obvious, but a careful reading of the lyrics and an awareness of guitarist-songwriter Kerry Livgren's born-again proclamations suggest that Kansas has conceded its artistic edge to bland spiritual affirmation.
"Vinyl Confessions" continues the tradition of impeccable playing (particularly from Livgren and violinist Robby Steinhardt) mired in a sterile formula of classical overtones and rock-opera grandiosity. There's a new face -- John Elefante replacing Steve Walsh on keyboards and some vocals -- but mostly it's familiar fare: "Play the Game Tonight," "Diamonds and Pearls" (and a dozen other cliches leading up to the typically pompous preachiness of "Nothing remains of the things that we strive to attain/Only the love that is lasting will not be in vain"). Guess who they're talking about here and on all the other save-the- world lyrics in "Borderline," "Crossfire" and "Face It?" Unfortunately, for all their good intentions, Kansas has failed to wrap their message in the kind of cloth that will attract the uncommited, and they've failed to shield it in convincing melodies. This "Confession" may fall on deaf ears.
Survivor has scored a knockout punch with "Eye of the Tiger," the immensely successful theme song for the immensely successful film, "Rocky III." That should be sweet music to the ear of Jim Peterik, who is in fact, a survivor: Remember the Ides of March and Peterik's 12-year-old hit, "Vehicle?" Peterik must have spent the intervening years analyzing other people's hits, because Survivor is little more than a picture- perfect compendium of AOR hit ingredients -- chunky riffs, thick guitar chords, skittish keyboards, metronome drumming, high- pitched vocals, simplistic lyrics and uncluttered production.
The band is technically efficient (compared to Kansas' proficiency) but Peterik and company show little more than a base instinct for simple phrases with staying power (the catchy intros to "Feels Like Love" or "American Heartbeat", for instance). But there's a curious lack of passion evident, as if they were holding so tightly to the formula that they forget to care. One could easily match up most of the cuts with any other hard-rock band that dominates the charts, from Foreigner to Loverboy to Johnny Cougar to REO to -- well, you get the idea. Just like Survivor did. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUMS: Kansas, "Vinyl Confessions" (Kirshner FZ38002) Survivor, "Eye of the Tiger" (Scotti Brothers FZ38062). THE SHOW: Kansas and Survivor, Sunday at Merriweather Post Pavilion.