A slight step back, but still good
Darth Pariah | North America | 01/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Masque" is a slight step back after the orchestral brilliance of "Song For America" but is still a worthy addition to a Kansas collection.
Again, record company pressures to have a "hit single" (something they would achieve beyond their wildest dreams on their next album!) resulted in some toning-down of their progressive/hard rock sound. The clearest examples of this are "It Takes A Woman's Love (To Make A Man)" and the only really useless track on offer here, "It's You." It's not that this is a horrible song; it just doesn't go anywhere.
However, there is also some really, really good stuff contained on "Masque". "Icarus - Borne On Wings Of Steel" begins with a haunting electric piano melody and builds into a trademark Kansas symphony/rock extravaganza. This is one of their best songs. Also, "Mysteries And Mayhem" would develop into a Kansas favourite, especially live.
The instrumentation, as always, is above reproach. Kerry Livgren and Richard Williams made a very good guitar team, although it isn't always clear when Livgren is playing guitar or keyboards. All six of these men are among the best musicians this country has produced.
Get this album. Even with its minor flaws, it's still good."
Kansas becomes the American prog rock band of the 1970s
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 10/31/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, I plead guilty to "Masque" still being my favorite Kansas album. This was their third album, released in October of 1975, which came right before the group broke into the big time with "Leftoverture" and "Point of No Return." While "Masque" certainly foreshadows the musical direction that would make Kansas the best American progressive-rock bad (almost by default given the predominance of British groups in the genre), it is lyrically a much darker effort because the songs by Kerry Livgren stand out more than the lighter attempts by Steve Wash. Besides, Livgren's darker mood was better served by Robby Steinhardt's violin work. The showpiece of the album is "Icarus--Borne on the Wings of Steel," which is clearly the group's attempt to make their mark. It also contains ironic overtones because their future with their label was in doubt and the metaphorical appropriateness of the classic myth of Icraus must have seemed palatable to them at the time. I suppose in the final analysis it is not the best song Kansas ever did, but it was certainly the most ambitious, with the heavily layered guitars and keyboard work.
"Masque" was a concept album, complete a definition of the title: "A disguise of reality created through a theatrical or musical performance." Ironically, the opening track, Walsh's "It Take's a Woman's Love (To Make a Man)" is the one song that does not fit the rest of the efforts. Walsh and Steinhardt's "All the World" is another ambitious effort, speaking of themes of loneliness and death, while "Child of Innocence" is more in the basic hard rock vein. The mythological references in "Icarus" are counterbalanced by the Biblical allusions in "Mysteries and Mayhem," and the album concludes with another mini-epic in "The Pinnacle."
The album also features some truly memorable cover art. The painting, entitled "Water," is by a sixteenth-century Italian artist, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and consists of a face created out of a grand menagerie of sea creatures pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle. From a distance it always looked to me like a Native American medicine man. The effect of the painting is decidedly disturbing, which ends up matching the mood of the lyrics. The updated released of "Masque" contains previously unreleased demo versions of "Child of Innocence" and "It's You," both of which are slightly longer than the original and neither of which warrants upgrading the rating of the album."