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Kansas - Masque CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.66 | 544 ratings

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3 stars It would probably unfair of me to say that the best thing about Kansas' third album is its cover, depicting Italian Renaissance artist's Arcimboldo painting called Water (one in a set of four representing the four elements). This should put paid to the idea of Kansas as the 'pork burgers' of prog - little more than a bunch of flag-waving rustics from America's heartland. Even though they undoubtedly sound 'big' in a very American way, beneath the bluster lurks a lot more sophistication than they are usually given credit for. However, Masque is definitely not the best starting point for someone who wants to hear Kansas at the top of their game. While their vocal and instrumental proficiency cannot be doubted, the songwriting here is not on the same level, and makes the band hard to distinguish from the plethora of AOR/hard rock acts that in those years were zeroing in on the American music market.

On this album, their epic, grandiloquent sweep, already evident in their self-titled debut and its follow up, Song for America, is given a more hard-edged treatment, with results that are not always successful. Generally speaking, the songs are definitely more immediate, as shown by opener It Takes a Woman's Love (To Make a Man), a hard rocker that provides vocalist extraordinaire Steve Walsh with a chance to display his awesome pipes, and also features a saxophonist (a very rare occurrence in the band's output). As a matter of fact, most of the songs on the album veer more towards the radio-friendly end of the spectrum, and as such they are quite pleasant to listen to, but ultimately not particularly memorable if you happen not to be a fan of FM rock. After a while, to be perfectly honest, it all gets somewhat tiresome.

However, in spite of this rather harsh criticism, Masque does have a couple of highlights that lift it up from mere pleasantness. I am not a big fan of album closer The Pinnacle, but will be the first to state that it definitely belongs to the roster of Kansas' best tracks, a 9-minute-plus epic containing all the trademarks of the band's sound - soaring vocals, awesome melodies, big guitar chords, majestic keyboards, and lashings of Robbie Steinhardt's violin. The album's true masterpiece, though, lies in the monumental Icarus (Borne on Wings of Steel), which might very well qualify as my favourite Kansas track ever, together with Miracles Out of Nowhere. Powerful and uplifting, with all the band members on top form, it sees an awe-inspiring vocal performance from Steve Walsh, and strikes a perfect balance between heaviness and epic grandeur.

In the years following Masque's release, Kansas produced what are commonly held as their masterpieces - Leftoverture and Point of Know Return. So, though this album might be seen as the weakest link in their Seventies discography, it is still worth exploring - as the many enthusiastic reviews before mine prove more than adequately. On the other hand, I would recommend Kansas newcomers to get hold of their first two albums before they approaching this one, in order to avoid getting the wrong impression of an excellent, influential band - one of America's greatest gifts to prog.

Raff | 3/5 |


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