KISS: Unmasked(1980)

 

 

Hey Folks this wraps up for the time being my KISS 70’s Review’s for a bit. I was going to go all out and do the four 1978 KISS solo albums but I’m a little fried out  so bear with me on that ok? I mean I gotta try to focus and listen to the Peter Criss album  and give it a fair shake right??!

Seriously ,thanks for reading along  as I know KISS is not everyone’s cup of tea or maybe  they are but make no mistake about it every one has an opinion  on them that’s for sure whether its good or bad!

First of all I have to give a few shout outs with this review. The first being to Arena Rock reader Muc who was the first guy in Thunder Bay I’m sure to have scooped this album as Muc was in Kansas City back when Unmasked hit the streets! When Muc got home and showed me this record   I couldn’t believe it! A new KISS album?? Score…

Also to my Pal Tbone in which I sold him back in 1981 Unmasked for the price of a Hit Parader Magazine for about $2.00. After I was done reading that issue of Hit Parader I wanted my copy of Unmasked back. Tbone obliged and sold it back to me for $3.00! A one dollar mark up!  This has to almost be the first ever Pawnshop like transaction ever in Thunder Bay!

I never sold another album to Tbone again!

For myself personally KISS has been in my musical DNA now for 41 years of my 51 years on this earth! Hell, this upcoming October marks the 40th anniversary of when I first seen KISS live!

When I first started this blog I did a week of 3/4’s KISS Filler Week. One of those albums was 1980’s Unmasked release which I kinda dismissed it or trashed it depending on your spin of it..

My thoughts on it have changed greatly in 4 years and here’s why. Well, I try to explain why! ( didn’t help the fact that Paul in his autobiography called Unmasked Wimpy or Crappy or something to that effect so if Starchild says so I guess were drinking the KISS KOOL AIDE but not this time!)

Unmasked to my ears in 2019 is a brilliant piece of Melodic Hard Rock/KISS POP!

There I said it…Lemme Explain!

You see a few weeks back one of the used record shops that I visit (Moon Money Vintage) posted some new/used releases in their Record Bins. One of them was Unmasked!

WHUT?

I was intrigued. Why after 39 years would I be intrigued by an album I have dissed basically for 39 years all of sudden make me want to own it?

Do I have a Concussion? Whats going on here?

So I zipped a message via Facebook to Moon Money Vintage asking if they still had that copy of Unmasked sitting in the bin!

Derrick the owner of the shop said yep it still there and not only that but it was a sealed copy 180 Gram version for $19! SOLD!

Once I secured a copy I was kinda psyched to spin it and hear it again after all these years away from it except for the last time that I reviewed it which was on CD about 4 years ago. A quick review I did back than. I think I was on a KISS trashing spree a that time!

The Verdict…

After listening to Unmasked front to back for the first time it becomes real apparent with  KISS  that this was the direction Paul Stanley wanted KISS to head in. I’m sure the success of 1979’s mega hit (from Dynasty)Y I Was Made For Lovin You must have messed with Stanley’s Noggin somewhat.

So why not continue that kind of formula onto Unmasked. Not a disco album mind you but more of a grown up milder KISS since it was about Merchandising in the late 70’s with Doll’s/Lunchbox/Cards/Magazine’s/T-Shirts/Belt Buckles etc becoming almost as important as the music to a certain extent.

The success of Dynasty produced by Vini Poncia was carried over onto the slabs of vinyl in regards to Unmasked. A bigger role Ponicia with Unmasked. Not only did he produce the album but he was the cowriter on 8 of the albums 11 tracks.

The biggest surprise I suppose looking back at it even though Peter Criss is featured on the cover in cartoon form is the fact that Pete was already out of KISS by Unmasked’s release.  Anton Fig did all  the drumming on Unmasked just like Anton did all the drumming except for one track on the previous Dynasty album.

As a 13-year-old back in 1980 I had no idea there was trouble in KISS land but there was…

The guitars on Unmasked sound somewhat quiet I suppose. You would think with a bombastic sound like they’re live show’s prove that the KISS studio sound would have a little more oomph but nope. Hell, they were all millionaires at this point so money was not an issue…

But I’m thinking Gene and Paul were driving the KISS Bus at this point. Peter was gone and Ace had found the promised the land musically and creatively after Ace’s 1978 solo album was the best of the bunch which irked Gene and Paul I’m sure to no end!

So when Paul in his book disses Unmasked its no one faults but Pauly so maybe that’s why I’m digging this record again. Kinda a middle finger to Starchild from me!

Back in 1980 I was drinking the KISS Kool Aide that these guys were serving me! 2019 brings a wiser older perhaps more musically sharp 51-year-old Deke that can give records like this a second chance…

Drop the Needle….

Opener Is That You a cover tune written by Gerald McMahon is a great opener! Man its a tune about a crazed Serial Lady Killer. Check out the lyrics and video below..(featuring Criss’ replacement the Late Great Eric Carr)

Cat’s droolin’ on the bar stool, shake your hips and crack your whips
Cheap seventeen and trashed out, you went too far, been a bitch you are
Your reputation’s in the bathroom, it’s on the wall and down the hall
I hear you’re cheatin’ with my teacher after school, tell me what you do

When you know, you always get the boys you like
Play nice, then stick them with your knife, take off your insecure disguise..

What a ripping cool stalker tune that even has Stanley taking the solo in the song as well. Great verses/choruses/everything. Creepy KISS! I posted a live clip of this track so you can all sing along when your eating your egos at the breakfast table. Man you gotta love Ace in this video as he’s stumbling around on stage looking like he’s looking for the next waterhole to visit!

From the knife wielding Crazy Chick opener of a song Paul heads into Popville with Shandi. Guess the success of I Was Made For Lovin You carried  the sound of the guitars on this track. Shandi though a huge hit in Australia as was KISS in 1980 whereas in North America the tide was turning on KISS! Cue Gene and Paul having a mid-life crisis at the age of 30 at that time!

Space Ace delivers a decent hardball of a track in Talk To Me. As any fan knows Ace grew a ton of confidence in KISS after his 1978 solo album was the best of the bunch. Ace continued that winning streak into Dynasty which in turn led to Ace delivering a couple of cool tracks on Unmasked. Talk To Me has Ace laying down that cool street rock voice of his along with a real slick chorus as well…..

Well Mean Gene Simmons gets his first tune on Unmasked fourth song into the album which has to be a first time. Hell, Ace squeezed his song on before Simmons on Side 1! How the hell did that happen? Naked City is Mr SImmons deal and instead of me yackin about it let my Good Bloggin Pal John Snow(My third Shout out) tell ya all about Naked City. Click the link and read some fine words from Mr Snow!

My Sunday Song – “Naked City” by Kiss

What Makes The World Go Round ends Side 1 with a Hard Power Pop Track from Stanley that has a real good driving chorus. How about those 1980 effects attached tot he drums with every snare hit that Fig hits on the drums. Actually a pretty decent tune as Stanley had a knack for writing this kind of stuff.

Side 2 begins with Tomorrow another straight ahead Stanley hard pop track. See a pattern here? Paul I’m sure it got into his head after the success of the Disco tune from 79 wanted to hear hits on the  radio. Tomorrow fits that bill to a T but the problem was this  kind of tune was that it was  delivered a little too late to the masses as the tide was turning on KISS by that point.  Still though another solid catchy chorus…

Ace delivers another classic sounding Frehley track in the form of Two Sides of the Coin. Great opening/Great verses/Great Chorus and a not so typical Ace solo which shakes things up as don’t expect the expected.

Gene delivers his typical Gene tune in She’s So European which is a kooky tune that features a syruppy pre chorus Synth that oozes a bit of cool before Gene slobbers all over the chorus in a good way! Two Gene songs in on Unmasked two winners…Heck Ya!

Speaking of Synth/Keys. There’s a ton of that stuff on Unmasked. Filling out the sound I suppose as at certain points the keys are buried but you can still hear em..

Easy as it Seems is yet again another Stanley tune aimed at radio. It’s amazing that all the Paul tunes on this album are geared for the radio but other than Shandi none of them made it. Having  said that Paul still delivered on his tracks albeit with one hand on the radio dial!

Ace without a doubt has one of the most funny intros ever. I mean listen to Ace in his trashed out state say ‘Man Torpedo Stations’ haha. Love it as Ace kept KISS fun but make no bones about it delivers some fantastic tunes as well. Torpedo Girl features a wicked Drums/Bass intro followed by the snap crackle and pop Guitar sound of Ace. You always knew by the Ace stuff on KISS records there would be no love mushy goop in the grooves. Just cool song titles like Torpedo Girl! Hell just listen to the tune below…

Gene sends off Unmasked with Your All That I Want. A pretty decent end of the album tune. The verses have a good pace to them along with some cowbell added for good measure! Decent enough tune to end the album that’s for sure!

There ya have it folks…Thanks for sticking around and if you made it this far I Thank You!

KISS was in shambles. Unmasked hit Gold status in Canada and the U.S but these sales were pretty low for KISS Standards! Shame really as Unmasked after reacquiring it is a different listen now to me than it was back in 1980!

I mean look at the Drums. The only mention of Criss is on the album cover and that’s Pete as a drawing!  A cartoon no less…Hahaha…

Also of note here’s who played what on Unmasked. Ace does it all on his own tunes(except for the drums)….

  • Paul Stanley – rhythm guitar, vocals, lead guitar on “Shandi”, bass and guitar solo on “Tomorrow” and “Easy As It Seems”, guitar solo on “Is That You?” and “What Makes The World Go ‘Round”
  • Ace Frehley – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals, all guitars & bass on “Talk to Me”, “Two Sides of the Coin” and “Torpedo Girl” and guitar solo on “Naked City “
  • Gene Simmons – bass guitar, vocals, rhythm guitar on “You’re All That I Want.

Additional musicians

  • Bob Kulick – aditional guitar on “Naked City”
  • Anton Fig – drums
  • Vini Poncia – keyboards, percussion, backing vocals
  • Tom Harper – bass guitar on “Shandi”
  • Holly Knight – keyboards on “Shandi”

Yup looks to me that is a band that is in trouble. Putting songs together at times separatley (Hello Ace !) and making it look like a happy bunch but that’s so far from what went down  at KISS HQ’s circa 1980!

deKe’s score of Unmasked in 1980 & 2015- 4/10

deKe’s score of Unmasked in 2019-7.5/10

 

 

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32 thoughts on “KISS: Unmasked(1980)”

  1. Fair play for reassessment and giving your old opinion an overhaul. I love the album because it’s so bad. Kinda like watching a trashy B-Movie I just find it fascinating. Same with The Elder and Dynasty. I live them because of how I heard them as a kid but I know they’re not Destroyer or Hotter Than Hell… or Ace’s solo album good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks…
      I need to at some point dig in with The Elder but i’m not to sure about wanting to hear the Flute yet on a KISS albums haha..
      Dynasty was a album I repurchased as well a year ago and once you get past the opening the track its a very solid album..
      I appreciate there stuff now more especially on vinyl. Just something about it…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s awesome….For me it’s Creatures. It came out at a time here in NA when no one cared about KISS but that album just impacted me at the right moment as a 15 year old in 1982!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like to hear how people come across albums in certain order..
        For myself especially from Dynasty on I bought the KISS stuff when it first hit the street. Even though they weren’t the huge sellers they once were they would always get a ton of press still in the 80’s along with everyone else…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great one Deke!! I am with you, this album is way better now than it was back in the day. Ace’s songs were great and you can tell his confidence is way up. It was a softer side of Kiss when bands like AC/DC and Van Halen were taking rock heavier. They definitely weren’t following the trend here…they did that later in the 80’s. Thanks for the shout out as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries John. When u posted Naked City I thought man I’m stealing this write up haha
      Its true KISS were going mellow while you had AC/DC just laying down the law with some serious hard rock..
      But I get it now what KISS was doing…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Derek. Very thorough and your praise is well-earned, as this album holds up extremely well compared to the way we felt about it back in the day. I recently revisited their late-70s & early-’80s albums (Dynasty through Creatures) for the first time in several years, after reading the Kiss: Behind The Mask book that had been sitting on my shelf for 15 years. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Unmasked. As for the solo albums, I recently wrote a possibly-controversial comment over at LeBrain’s site, as I think the Peter Criss solo album is tied with Ace’s for most consistent of the four. It doesn’t hit the highs of Paul’s & Gene’s but, song-for-song and start-to-finish, it’s just as rewarding and doesn’t have anything truly embarrassing or forgettable. Sure, a lot (all?) of the songs were co-written years earlier for his pre-Kiss band, and there are no radio-friendly tracks, but it really is a fun, soulful record and his voice is great throughout. I hope you find some high points whenever you revisit the solo releases. Looking forward to reading your appraisals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rich.
      I totally get what your saying in regards to the Criss solo album! I think the last time I heard it was 78-79 I was way to young to absorb that kind of style of music at the time Peter was doing. I wanted Ace like Rock.
      I will for sure take what your saying into account when I spin it!
      That’s the great thing about albums we can’t all agree but it sure is fun finding out why one album resonates with you as a listener! Who knows maybe I’ll be surprised just like when I actually gave Unmasked a real listen!

      Like

    1. Thanks for following along. I have been lucky at finding some of these KISS reissue’s at a decent price. Others I purchased from a friend. So its a wish mash but KISS sounds better on vinyl than CD i can tell you that much

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve enjoyed these reviews and they’ve led to a me giving the albums a listen. Anyway, I like when I reassess an album after a while and find that it’s much better than I remember. I also think the ritual of vinyl can sometimes improve an album.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve done the same a few times… Y’s said “I thought you didn’t like that one”… and I’m like ‘yeah… but, y’know, maybe I’ll like it now?’.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review, glad you finally saw the light on this one and I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned to you before that this album is a favorite of mine because of its varied songs in it from rockers to poppers. Plus it was one of my first purchases of Kiss and you know the rules back then, you listen to what you paid for.

    Also cool mention about Shandi and Australia, so you can just imagine how exposed we were to this album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT BROTHA! haha
      It’s been a great trip down memory lane thats for sure Peter!
      When KISS years ago put out those DVD sets they featured the full show from Sydney! I wish they would actually release it on audio so good as Carr just pounds those drums back than..
      It’s amazing how Australia totally embraced this era of the band where here in North America KISS was trending downward as the kids say nowadays!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The beauty of geo restrictions.
        From my understanding, Australia/NZ, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland all got into the Kiss “Dynasty” and “Unmasked” period. Of course we didn’t get the overexposure that the US and Canadians got with tour after tour and Kiss lunch boxes and what not.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That is very true. Every month on the cover of magazines, overexposure comes to mind but in Kisstory they had to be pretty pleased that those markets supported them whereas Canada and the States fans went elsewhere somewhat ..

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Fucking epic. I’ll tell you man, I play this at work a lot! Cat’s droolin’ on the barstool…gets me every time, and suddenly I’m in a good mood! For years I thought KISS wrote that song, too.

    Also good job on getting those credits there. Hard to believe some songs have only one Kiss member….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Brother!
      Is That You could have been a KISS original for sure. It still boggles the mind that they were so broken by than but no one had any idea except for them…
      I had to salute Peter on the cover of the Unmasked! haha

      Like

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