You can hear a lot of the '60s and '70s in the Selfish Gene's new opus. On the prog side, there are plenty of references to Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd. Indeed, as successive tracks build a choppy narrative about a world defined by paranoia, frustration and fear of impending chaos, Floyd's rock opera The Wall looms large. On the pop side, ELO and the Kinks (especially Ray Davies' mock-jaunty dance-all tunes) are obvious touchstones, with the hyper-arranged "Autopilot" sounding like Jeff Lynne had a hand in both its composition and execution in the studio.
To be honest, it's hard to know how seriously the Selfish Gene take the glossiest material on The Grand Masquerade. The ELO stuff could all be a put-on. But it's plain they had fun getting all the studio sheen just right, and fellow studio rats are sure to get a kick out of the production. In any case, the album's high prog moments are more enjoyable. These guys just have a knack for putting over the most bombastic of musical statements. The chunky prog-guitar feature "Overboard" is a case in point. I couldn't tell you exactly why it doesn't get snagged on desperately cerebral lines like "Ignore the subtle subtext/It's just a machination/Of all the deeds they dared you/To settle it under the table." It just doesn't.
Which isn't to say the band never falters. "Evolver," a very '70s depiction of an ordinary life teetering on the brink, shifts mechanically between doomy verses tarted up with acoustic piano and a brash, full-on ELO-quality chorus. The decision to cap off the bleak, grinding circus music of "Foxhole" with a crazy-fast passage of tape manipulation was also a major mistake. It's jarring, and it's unnecessary.
But despite its obvious flaws, The Grand Masquerade is an impressive piece of work. Sure it's grandiose - even pompous - at points. Yes, it's unapologetically retro. On the other hand, it's never run-of-the-mill, and it's never short on ideas. To my mind those are achievements worth saluting.