REVIEW: Vinnie Vincent Invasion – All Systems Go (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 35Vinnie Vincent solo #2.

VINNIE VINCENT INVASION – All Systems Go (1988 Chysalis)

Ex- guitarist Vinnie Vincent could have made it big as a solo artist.  He had the talent, and the songwriting ability.  What he didn’t have was self control.  It’s too bad, because his second album was far more accessible than the first.  With a movie tie-in with the lucrative Nightmare on Elm St. movie series, the Invasion was primed and ready….

And then the band split.

According to singer Mark Slaughter (on an instalment of the Eddie Trunk show), Vinnie told Mark that was going to fire bassist Dana Strum.  “Where does your loyalty lie?” he asked the vocalist.  Mark told him if Dana was going, he’d rather go with Dana.  So that’s what happened. Mark and Dana formed the successful Slaughter, while drummer Bobby Rock joined another huge band called Nelson.

This all came as a bit of a shock to fans, who expected the Invasion’s second album All Systems Go to take off.  It spawned two singles/videos that were right in sync with popular rock at the time.  Vinnie toned down his guitar excesses from the first album, and Mark Slaughter was obviously the kind of frontman born to rock.  A damn shame.

All Systems Go wasn’t a skimpy album:  11 tracks plus two CD-only instrumentals.  Vinnie took sole writing credit on every track, including the drum solo.  For extra fun, the tracks are not listed in order on the back cover and the instrumentals are unlisted.  This is a throwback to the way records were sometimes released in the 60s and 70s.  The tracks (including the instrumentals) are listed in the correct order on the CD itself.  This kinda sucks when you are actually listening to it and want to know which song is playing.

This is the album that lived up to what Vinnie was capable of, although he stated a preference for the first “uncompromised” first album.  “I should never have changed singers,” he said without mentioning Mark by name.  Mark’s sassy vocalizin’ dominates the album, which might have pissed off Vinnie.  His charisma and talent is immediately obvious on the sleazy groove rocker “Ashes to Ashes”.  A tight song with a good riff and a great chorus is all you need.  Vinnie’s solo is no less impressive, but much more innovative and suiting to the song.  Guitar heroism in the making…almost.

“Dirty Rhythm” brings more sleaze: faster, more cowbell and more Sunset Strip.  The Invasion had more talent than the average glam rock band of the day, and so this is pretty exceptional stuff for the genre.  Where they really succeeded was with the radio friendly stuff.  The Freddy Krueger crossover ballad “Love Kills” should have been massive. We the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Mark Slaughter was born to be a star. He was absolutely the right singer for these songs.

Goofy title aside, “Naughty Naughty” is a decent return to sleazy glam, and “Burn” rocks similarly.  “Heavy Pettin'” is an even worse title, concealing another good glam rocker.  Perhaps lyrics weren’t Vinnie’s greatest talent, but there’s not much else wrong with it.  Guitar heroism returned on “The Star-Spangled Banner”, played by an orchestra of electric guitars!  It’s an apt intro for “Let Freedom Rock”.  It’s over the top fun, and the guitar solo would make Yngwie pee his leather pants.

The other single “That Time of Year” was just as good as “Love Kills”, if not better just because it’s not as dark. Its midtempo rock pseudo-ballad stylings were instantly likable.  It’s easy to imagine it as a hit, despite a glut of soundalike bands in 1988.  Vinnie’s solo verges of majestic.  It’s really hard to imagine was he didn’t like about this album.  It’s not a bad thing that the songs dominate over the solos; the solos are more impressive when they serve the song.

Had the band not split, and if they released a third single, it could have been “Ecstasy”.  Don’t forget, Vinnie wrote “Tears” which was a pop hit for John Waite, and even recorded by Peter Criss.  “Ecstasy” is its spiritual sequel.  “Deeper and Deeper” also has pop qualities, but is clearly a rocker.  The point is this:  don’t underestimate Vinnie Vincent.

Out of the blue, the LP/cassette version of the album ended on heavy shred metal.  “Breakout” kicks ass.  If fans felt at any point that the album was going soft, then “Breakout” would have redeemed it for them.  The only real issue is a problem on many of the songs on this album: the production.  It’s thin, and the backing vocals tend to be shrill.  “Breakout” could be rib-busting with more crunch.

On CD, there are two instrumentals to close.  “The Meltdown” is a messy cacophony of drums and electronics.  You’ll be thankful it’s over.  Stick around for Vinnie’s acoustic tune “‘Ya Know’ – I’m Pretty Shot”.  What a diverse and schooled player he is.  From classical fingerpicking to blues and traditionals, is there anything he couldn’t do with just six strings?  Years from now, this is what Vinnie should be remembered for.  This one acoustic instrumental should establish him as a genius on the same level as Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Potential was almost fully realized here.  If the sound was thicker and the disc was trimmed for length, All Systems Go would be fully classic.

3.5/5 stars

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12 comments

  1. You definitely could tell there was something special about Mark. I loved Slaughter. Vinnie was a talent wasted, but so glad to see him going to be at the Kiss Expo in Atlanta. It is real encouraging that he is doing promos for it now so maybe it will really happen after all. Still early though.

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  2. Yes. This album a very good one, I think. But think about it, if Mark had been the singer on the first album and the production had been more like on this album, how great could that record had been?

    About the song writing credits, I know that Vinnie is a stellar song writer but after listening to Slaugther’s debut album, wouldn’t you say there’s a similarity in the song writing on that album and on this one? Especially the more melodic tracks. Hmmm. I have always wondered if Mark and Dana had a hand in the song writing for Love Kills, That Time Of Year and Ecstasy. Maybe Ashes To Ashes and Dirty Rhythm too. On the other hand, neither Mark or Dana have claimed any credits for All Systems Go so maybe it’s just my suspicious mind.

    Great review, Mike. I agree on just about everything you wrote here.

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    1. Hey Jon! I definitely think Mark and Dana had some kind of impact on the songs. But who knows, as you said they’ve never gone after Vinnie for money. But that too could be a choice they made for any number of reasons, such as “not worth it”.

      It’s too bad things went down like they did. I think Vinnie had a 8 album contract. They could have been huge.

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  3. Way too much over the top wacka doodling guitar on this album. VV will always be the guy that saved KISS from the junk heap with some great songwriting and playing on Creatures and LIU! Revenge as well with the co writes…
    I will indeed give him his due for that but he needed a stronger opinion to tell him to knock off as he was the captain of his own destiny which imploded but while he had Demon and Strachild as his bosses his was great ….

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    1. Wacka doodle! Yeah although I don’t think Vinnie is a “band” player, he would do well with a partner who had 50/50 say. A David Lee Roth to his Steve Vai, perhaps.

      Vai himself has a saying: “Sorry, I can’t help myself!” You either like it or you don’t. Same could be said for Vinnie. I like Vai’s solo stuff, but Vinnie’s first album can take a walk.

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  4. I think immediately upon hearing the solo for “Ashes to Ashes” I was relieved. He was still going over the top, but there was much more substance to the solo, and the melodies weren’t being buried in crappy production and guitar wanking off. Someone must have told Vinnie to cool it.

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    1. Yeah I have always wondered about that. Was it more of a band effort? Did the label reel him in a little bit? Is that Dana Strum’s influence as co-producer? Either way, I have always said: Vinnie Vincent is brilliant when he’s slightly restrained.

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