Review Summary: KISS bring back the balls to their rock.
When it comes to KISS, I’m having to swallow my pride. You see, I used to think they were a crappy band, living off their literally fiery show and their reputation as lovemakers. And, to an extent, this is true. However, as dumb as their brand of hard rock may be, it’s undeniable that they can write some hella catchy tunes. When I started this discography, I thought I would keep a pair of their albums, at best; however, since then, I have burned at least half a dozen. And I’m about to do it again, with their 1980 opus, Unmasked
Despite the lying title – the group would keep their makeup on for another two years – and the internal convulsions tearing through the group – Peter Criss appears on the cover, but plays nothing on the record, the drums being handled by long-time session man Anton Fig - Unmasked
is an undeniably strong set of hard rock tunes, that recover the spark so sorely lacking from the group’s previous effort, Dynasty
. Where that album was KISS’s attempt at “going disco”, this one can be construed as their attempt at “going pop”. Most of the songs have undeniably radio-friendly leanings, but who cares when they’re this good!? The opening with Is That You
tells the tale, being the group’s best song in at least three years, if not four. The fact that the following songs fail to follow suit is disappointing at first, but repeat listens bring out the inherent qualities in most of them.
Still, make no mistake: for every good song (Is That You, Talk To Me, One Of A Kind
) there is a stinker like Shandi
, where the only inkling of guitar is an opening solo, the god-awful Naked City
or the nondescript Easy As It Seems
. However, each song will elicit a reaction from the listener: you will either love it or hate it, but you will not be left indifferent. The type of throwaway track so prominent in previous KISS outings is all but absent here, with the sole exception being closer You’re All That I Want
As far as standouts go, they are clear from the first few listens. Is That You
is by far the best song on here, but the irresistibly silly She’s So European
, with its cheesy synths comes in at a close second. Torpedo Girl
, on the other hand, is a disco/funk experiment that by all accounts should be an epic fail on the vein of I Was Made For Lovin’ You
, yet somehow works beautifully. At times, it almost sounds like a cover of another band, but a quick Wiki consultation tells us it is an original, written by Gene Simmons and Vini Poncia.
The remaining songs work well, even if at times they feel a little dumb (Two Sides Of The Coin
comes “yea” close to standout status, but ranks in an honourable fourth place, with Talk To Me
hot on its heels. Two Sides Of The Coin
and What Makes The World Go ‘Round
don’t compromise, either, and round up a strong set of songs.
Musically, there has also been a progression. Gene Simmons is now capable of carrying a rhythmic line without fumbling, while Ace Frehley, though not as blistering as on Dynasty
, continues to contribute with pretty awesome solos and appealing lead-vocal performances. Anton Fig is perhaps a little too basic as a drummer, and Paul Stanley never particularly shines, but overall things are looking pretty good. Lyrically, however, not much has changed, as the lyrics continue to veer between the insincere (”all I want is a little conversation”
, really?) to the randomly silly (”she’s so European/she’s one of a kind
”) through the puerile (Two Sides Of A Coin
as a whole). Most of the songs are insincere professions of love whose only purpose seems to be to get as many girls as possible into the members’ beds.
Still, all of this ends up not mattering in the big picture. What does drag the album down are the awful attempts at pop, best represented by Shandi
and Naked City
. The former sounds like a bad 80’s pop song (which it is), while the second sounds like the backing track for a road-trip montage in an 80’s B-movie. However, repeat listens will make you go over these bumps to appreciate the album as a whole.
Overall, then, Unmasked
is a huge progression in comparison to the previous album. In the overall scheme of KISS albums, it comes in firmly behind Destroyer
and Dressed To Kill
, but miles above Dynasty
or Hotter Than Hell
and slightly above Love Gun
or Rock And Roll Over
. It is about on a par with the debut, although with a bigger recurrence of weakish songs. The perfect rating would have been about a 3.7 or 3.8, but since Sputnik does not allow this rating, we will have to go with a 4. Damn, but I like this album!
Is That You
She’s So European