Masque

Kansas

Kirshner, 1975

http://www.kansasband.com

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/06/2008

Kansas' third release (the second in less than a year), found them closer to the musical recipe for success that they eventually reached. But the label once again pressed them for a radio-friendly single. Livgren later said that throughout the life of the band, their attempts to purposely write a hit were never successful. Their biggest hits were accidents. The record execs got their single finally in the opening track, “It Takes A Woman's Love To Make A Man.” It came in at three minutes and was a poppy rocker, but it lacked legs and didn't chart well.  The second track “Two Cents Worth” is another more traditional rock song with a bluesy melody; it’s of the band’s best “traditional” songs, and a superior track to its single-intended predecessor. Masque again shows the dichotomy of styles that the band at the time was struggling with themselves. “We needed an identity,” said Livgren, “And we were kind of groping for who we were.”

The remainder of the album follows much a more progressive pattern. “Icarus - Borne on Wings Of Steel” shows that they were on the way to figuring that out, and it displays a taste of the formula that would soon have the band filling arenas around the world. “Icarus” is a short blast of progressive power. This song was a template for their future style: driving rock numbers in radio-friendly time chunks, infused with complex instrumentation that blew away conceptions about what a “rock” song could be. They beautifully married their core progressive sensibilities into compact radio-friendly format that became staple of the AOR stations that were taking command of the nation’s airwaves. Two other songs on the album, “Child Of Innocence” and “It's You” followed the same format, and help continue to close the gap between their two musical identities.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Walsh proves he can write more than pop with the beautiful “All The World.” It's a deceptively pretty song about the inevitability of death that features some of Robbie Steinhardt's most expressive work on violin. Overall, it’s a surprisingly progressive contribution from Walsh. Walsh generally stuck to more conventional and personal themes, while Livgren's lyrics delved deep into fantasy and spirituality. In this case, Walsh's reflections on life and death are quite eloquent and the song is one of the best on the album.

The final two tracks became fan favorites. Originally one song, it was split up to avoid the inevitable complaints from the label a fifteen-minute song would generate. The first part, “Mysteries And Mayhem,” is a heavy guitar-driven number. Livgren's lyrics of a devilish nightmare are matched with equally malevolent music, and the track features dueling vocals by Walsh and Steinhardt with a stellar delivery from both. It's one of the bands heaviest tracks ever, and segues into the final act of the album “The Pinnacle.” Moody, brooding, and full of dark imagery, “The Pinnacle” alternately creeps and soars, with soft piano opening up into huge symphonic flourishes. It’s considered by a lot of fans as one of Livgren's finest compositions, so much so, it was added to the 15th anniversary reissue of their Best Of compilation.

Masque was another leap forward musically for the band, if not commercially. Listening to the first three albums chronologically, you can hear them growing and refining their focus. The songs here rival the bombastic power and beauty of the more epic numbers on their previous release Song For America, but you can see them practicing a more modest approach with shorter, but no less powerful songs. Their ability to pack a solid musical punch into a shorter format, without sacrificing any of their progressive edge, would be the key to their soon-to-be realized worldwide success.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-


Comments

A hidden gem. More than any Kansas album, Masque demonstrates the band's versatility -- the blues of Two Cents Worth, southern boogie of It's You, the jazz of It Takes a Woman, the metal of Sweet Child of Innocence and the progressive swings of The Pinnacle and All the World, a whirlwind of a story that is no less meaningless today than it was 35 years ago.








© 2008 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Kirshner, and is used for informational purposes only.