John Waite

Mask of Smiles

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John Waite's second solo album, No Brakes, reached the Top Ten, almost entirely on the strength of "Missing You," a truly perfect single. The song deservedly became not just a number one hit, but one of those records that everybody knows, capturing a time yet transcending it to become part of the very fabric of pop culture. Put it this way -- Tina Turner covered it, and nobody noticed. It goes without saying that there isn't a song here as good as "Missing You," but that's not a fair comparison since it was more than enough that the moment of brilliance occurred at all. So, no, Mask of Smiles doesn't have a great should-have-been-a-contender single, yet it's a surprisingly strong, tight little record. After No Brakes, it is the strongest album Waite ever recorded (which may be the reason this concludes with a song called "No Brakes"), and it even had a single -- the insistent "Every Step of the Way" -- that stood out among the rest. No, it wasn't as brilliant as "Missing You," but few singles are. Instead, it was a great piece of mainstream pop craft, and that's really what the whole album is -- professionally crafted mainstream rock that's engaging because of its sense of craft. This is an album that plays with the past -- with the midsection devoted to a "Lust for Life" that isn't a cover but an "Ain't That Peculiar" that is -- yet thoroughly is in the present, with a lot of processed guitars, synchronized rhythms, and synthesizers. This, of course, means that it's thoroughly a product of its time, but there's a real energy to Waite's performances; plus, it's well-made and well-sequenced, so it plays like a hit album that never was.

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