3.5 out of 5 Stars!
With its more laid-back delivery and frequent pastoral tendencies, and its inclusion of Folk, Jazz, Classical, and even a hint of Cabaret into its sound, Ireland’s Fruupp often reminded me of a cross between Symphonic-Prog groups such as Camel, Barclay James Harvest, and early Genesis, with more than a few touches of Caravan, Flash, Supertramp, and Grobschnitt included. Never mind-blowing or ground-breaking in any respect, the group did nevertheless release four rather enjoyable albums in the early ’70s before disappearing, with Modern Masquerades being Fruupp’s final studio effort and (to me) probably its best.
Yet when listening to this album (or any of Fruupp’s releases, for that matter) I can’t help thinking that being devoid of a strong singer with an instantly recognizable voice, as well as not possessing some instrumental “quirk” or a unique overall style, held Fruupp back from achieving greater popularity, and thus, the group remains highly obscure in most Prog-Rock circles.
Regardless, fans of the aforementioned bands who are unfamiliar with this oddly named outfit might savor much of its material, including Modern Masquerades. Here, tracks such as the upbeat and dramatic “Masquerading With Dawn,” the blazing and manic “Mystery Night,” the Mellotron-enhanced and luscious “Misty Morning Way,” the tempo-shifting and highly complex “Sheba’s Song,” and the lengthier Canterbury-like composition “Gormenghast,” offer occasionally whimsical and symphonic fare similar to the groups I mentioned above and show the gamut of Fruupp’s full potential. Moreover, King Crimson’s Ian McDonald not only produced this collection of tracks, but guested on the album as well, with his sax contributions adding to the periodic Canterbury-Prog style, while a gaggle of French horn players tooted out some orchestrations as well, adding to the richness of the short, quirky, Pop-like ditty entitled “Janet Planet.”
Now for a brief, non-musical aside…
Is there anyone who remembers the wild, multi-dimensional character of Janet “From Another Planet” Green—the shy accountant who became a psycho villain and held her sister Natalie captive in a well and impersonated her for months, then for a time (when taking her meds) turned borderline heroine, then (when going off her meds once and for all) turned back into the wacky murderess everyone loved to hate—from the classic American soap opera All My Children? Anyway, every time I saw that character on TV—yes, I was addicted to the show for nearly three decades—I thought of “Janet Planet” from Fruupp. Amazing where the mind goes sometimes, huh?
Oops, my apologies for changing the subject. Now, back on my own meds and returning once again to Modern Masquerades…
So, regarding this final Fruupp album—apart from the lead vocals, which I find limited, somewhat lackluster, and a tad off-key in sections, and one filler tune (the piano and vocal-only piece “Why”) that could have easily been eliminated, there’s nothing truly off-putting on display here. Indeed, I’m almost certain that lovers of Prog-Rock created in the mid-’70s will find much on Modern Masquerades to embrace.