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Released in 1985, one year after the success of "Missing You" on the 'No Brakes' LP, this collection of songs is one of his most cohesive, or more accurately, a wonderful selection of emotions. 'No Brakes' was too harsh as a whole, and 1987's 'Rover's Return' had some great songs on it, but as a whole feels overproduced at times and gives a sense of trying too hard. I enjoy both of those, but I have a special place for 'Mask of Smiles', because it's such a great ensemble as a whole, much like Mr. Waite's debut, 'Ignition'.
I like to compare Mask of Smiles to your favorite clothes in your closet, which you might wear in order to have a perfect week. You've got a little of everything in there, and there are contrasts, but it's a great ride of emotions that make you feel like you've covered all your bases, flown your colors, and feel better for the journey.
1. Every Step of the Way 7/10 One of his bigger singles, this song is strong melodically and production-wise. A great choice for the single.
2. Laydown- 5/10 Unfortunately this song doesn't move me either way. It's a straight-forward rocker that's too simplistic, except for an interesting middle-8. No real hook, basic and forgettable.
3. Welcome to Paradise 10/10 You should buy the CD for this song alone. Such a masterpiece ballad of bitterness and hurt, with perfect, perfect lyrics. Songwriters should use this as a perfect example of form, atmosphere, content and production/delivery. The line, "And I'm lost and I'm crazy, too much time on my own. And I'd give anything to find a heart that can't be sold", well that just floors me every time. Followed by "My heart's grown cold from the things that I've seen, won't someone come and get me, wake me from this dream", it's simply lyrical perfection from start to finish. Simply a PERFECT song, and if you're in a melancholic, hurt place, this song is custom made to soothe, console maybe heal you.
4. Lust for Life 5/10 NOT the Iggy song! ~maybe should have been!.. Kind of a filler. Less aggressive than 'Laydown', but a sillier chorus. Skip and find the gems.
5. Ain't That Peculiar 7/10 A Marvin Gaye cover, John showing love & respect, this gets an extra point for great energy, a band in gear, and great addition from the backup singers. Actually a fun song, so upbeat, play it in your summer JW playlist!
6. Just Like Lovers 8/10 Whoa, here we find ourselves back in melancholy-land, a companion-piece to #3. John is lamenting how a relationship can feel like it should be firing on all cylinders, but is struggling along and wants to find a way back on track. "Some other people never get to know what we're going through... I just wanna know why it feels like it's so much more"; just another set of perfectly formed lyrics. Nice sax solo, wonderful outro section, overlapping melodies and ideas. "Some other time, some other place"; is this a hopeful plea or a resolve? A bit more forceful examination of love, not quite right.
7. The Choice 10/10 Custom made for John's voice. A perfect, perfect tender ballad. You've got your 80's Yamaha DX7 keyboard entering in, adding a tad too much sentimentality, but the rest of the song achieves such heart-break and heart-soothing, you welcome the song in it's entirety. I won't quote lyrics this time; there are too many perfect lines. A song of pleading for a relationship to work, no-one could do it any better than John. Play 'Missing You', 'Welcome to Paradise', and 'The Choice', and you'll feel like you've cried over every emotion that love can take you through.
8. You're the One 6/10 Charming little ditty in the verses, odd syncopation in the choruses, big guitar and keyboards you'd expect from 1985. Oddly, I don't skip over this one because it has its charms.
9. No Brakes 6/10 Odd that this makes it to this LP, since it's the title of the previous release. Another guitar/piano rocker which I wouldn't give a second care about, but then John throws in such a clever lyric, "Baby you've got what it takes tonight... you've got no taste" ... with such direct humility and humor, you just have to give it a thumbs-up, don't you? A great way to end a LP, with curious classically-leaning piano to show that you've got a cool band behind you, showing that you can take things to every territory, if you want to.
As a whole, I think of this as John's "melancholic" CD, but I'm most impressed by the cohesion of the whole and feeling it leaves me with, like I've been on a rollercoaster, and stepped off fulfilled, entertained, enriched, and soothed.
John Waite is one of those performers who I will buy whatever he produces, and I know that he deserves much more success than 2010+ culture appreciates. He has produced such a wealth of quality output over the decades, and I suggest that you simply check out everything he's done; you'll walk away with your own personal gems/soundtrack. 2011 finds him releasing "Rough and Tumble", so do yourself a favor and check that out. "Mask of Smiles" should be a great snapshot of emotion that you favor in your collection.