GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Kix (1981)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

KIX – Kix (1981 Atlantic)

Kix: one of the most beloved and influential rock bands of the time that only made it big after years of great albums, legendary live performances, and a work ethic that never failed them. Unfortunately, they only seemed to stay there for the album/tour cycle of their classic Blow My Fuse. While over the years they’ve returned to being more of a cult act than a mainstream rock group, the effect the left on rock culture shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s common knowledge that Bret Michaels liked the group enough that he decided to “borrow” some moves from singer Steve Whiteman. Anthony Corder from Tora Tora called Kix a huge influence on the development of their second album Wild America. Despite all their influence, the band never seemed to secure a position as one of the most popular acts of the day. Bad management, label indifference, and being a little ahead of their time prevented them from becoming the multi-platinum success they deserved to be on every one of their albums.

As far as being ahead of their time, this eponymous debut was released on a major label in 1981, when even Mötley Crüe were still grinding it out on Leathür Records. Kix were one of the first hard rock acts signed from the decade, but were hardly acknowledged for it. This debut album sold very poorly, and original prints are tough finds out in the wild today. 1981 may have been just too early for a release like this to find widespread success. It’s also possible that Atlantic didn’t know how to market the band, as their debut album is an interesting and masterful blend of hard rock, new wave, and bubblegum melodies that sound like they could have come from the 1950s.

Produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard), the album is given a very punchy and dynamic sound. The drums sound big and chunky, and everyone is audible in the mix. Anyone familiar with the Kix of the later ‘80s may find this release a bit jarring at first. There’s a certain quirkiness to the songs that isn’t as prevalent later on in their career. This would be the new wave sensibilities. Not all the guitars are overdriven in a way that you’d expect from a hard rock record. There are a number of songs that glide by with clean guitars, and still manage to rock with a ton of energy thanks to the contributions of drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfont, and the contagious exuberance of singer Steve Whiteman. Of course, not all the record is this style, there are songs where the guitars have plenty of distortion, and they’re power loaded with midnight dynamite force.

The album opens with the scorcher and fan favorite “Atomic Bombs”. Starting with air raid sirens and some tasteful drum fills, the suspense of the song builds as a riff that Poison probably ripped off for “Look What the Cat Dragged In” tethers the song, and keeps it from completely going out of control. The first Kix song about blowing things up (a favorite topic of these Maryland hicks), it sets the tone for the album. It’s a relentless hard rock number with dynamics, and a nice solo that manages to create a feeling of the impending chaos of fallout. Opening with a rocker was a good choice; it gets people’s attention so that they’ll be more open-minded about what’s to come.

“Love at First Sight” is the first of the quirky Kix tunes. It’s a bouncy new wave influenced song, without any keyboards. If the thought of new wave scares you, it really shouldn’t because it’s so skillfully blended with these songs. It’s more Devo than it is Flock of Seagulls, and it shouldn’t turn off anyone even if they don’t enjoy new wave. The song gets a kick in the ass from guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe, as the distortion kicks in and the guitar solo gives the song the kick it needs to succeed. They were never the flashiest or greatest players of the ‘80s, but they were melodically wise, and knew what fit the song.

At this point in the record we get yet another change of pace, the ‘50s heart throb tune “Heartache”. With a bubblegum melody bound to get stuck in your head, that goddamn Kix band gives another change of pace. Rarely do audiences get this much diversity from a record of any genre. Kix would never release another album as eclectic as this one. Bass player Donnie Purnell locks in perfectly with the guitars and drums to give this tune an infectious energy that seems to fuel this entire album. The song builds with the addition of more guitars. The band has mastered dynamics, and knows just how to play them for the benefit of the song. The album is filled with tunes that blend each of these styles, some in which they are blended so seamlessly it’s impossible to pick what style is dominant. Take “The Itch”, the riff and song structure sounds similar to the underrated AC/DC tune “What’s Next to the Moon”. They’ve somehow taken that song structure and turned it on its head. Giving it breezy rock verses that build in intensity until the chorus which delivers another catchy melody complete with claps and gang backing vocals. The blend of styles shown on this album is seriously impressive for such a young group.

In case that wasn’t impressive enough, Kix closes the album with concert favorite “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” (not an Alice Cooper cover). It’s a hard rock tune that lasts seven minutes, featuring the infamous rant from Steve Whiteman, complete with crowd noise. Steve is upset because the woman he’s been seducing has puked all over his floor. That’s a big mistake. Don’t puke on Steve Whiteman’s floor. Go outside and do that. The subject matter is juvenile, but this is rock and roll. It closes the album on a fast tempo upbeat note. Every song on here could be considered upbeat, no ballads, the energy never lets up.

As the album finishes a look at the liner notes reveals that this is the only Kix album in which they weren’t pressured to work with outside writers (at least of the ones on Atlantic). It can be concluded that this album is the purest distillation of the Kix sound. While I like some of their more hard rocking albums later down the line better, this album is interesting because of the fact that it and its much lesser follow up Cool Kids (the only Kix album I’m not overly fond of), contain a new wave style that the band would never return to. It’s interesting hearing the young Kix and what their original vision is. Some people consider this the best Kix album. Not me, but it’s still pretty damn good.

4/5 stars

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40 comments

  1. Thanks for this review. I guess I will be checking out some Kix in the coming days and weeks.

    I noticed they are reeeeeaally corny in their videos. Like extra-corny stage moves.

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    1. Yes, extra over the top. Their budget wasn’t exactly stellar though. For a Kiss connection, Anton Fig plays drums on some of the songs on their third album “Midnight Dynamite” because Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfont broke his arm.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah I bought Blow My Fuse at the time as they were opening for Ratt that featured Great White as well so we had tickets and than the date was scrapped as Ratt couldn’t sell enough tickets in Ladano’s Favourite U.S city Duluth! This was back in 89…
    A few years back I bought one of KIX’S live albums. It was pretty good and a decent retrospective of their material….

    Liked by 1 person

        1. LOL! Ever After Festival. Yeah somebody asked what the difference was between this concert and any other and I said “It’s in our back yard”. Because we get NO concerts here. That’s a big deal.

          Somebody took that as some kind of complaint and went off on me. Jesus Christ!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. My response shoulda been “Well then don’t call me entitled!”

          I’ve seen that guy around on all the local news sites, but that was our first interaction!

          Back to rock and roll! Ever After is electronic dance music. I heard of (I think) two of the artists before. Maybe two. The best thing about Ever After is the costumes…a friend of ours wore “naughty Wednesday Addams”. Ooh la la.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’m the first guy supporting music coming here. Unfortunately we had the “Big Music Fest” which went bust. Biggest acts were Soundgarden and Aerosmith. Rod Stewart cancelled…Blondie cancelled…

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Yeah thats crazy….I just talked to Frank our local promoter and he told me he’s not close to half sold with the Sebastain Bach show two weeks from tonight..
          This town is big on walk ups

          Liked by 1 person

        5. We have Sebastian coming here too. I have a feeling it’s the same situation here. However at least my sister and Sebastian can say they both headlined at Maxwell’s Music House….

          Liked by 1 person

        6. ha…so did thew Current River band 25 years ago playing Crocks…
          I’m taking two of my daughters for there first ever bar show…
          Lexie knows Bach from the Trailer Park Boys…
          Lauren has no idea who he is….hahaha

          Liked by 1 person

        7. Do you think Bach has cheapened himself by doing that show? Like people aren’t buying tickets because “Oh I saw him on TPB…”

          Steve Harris is playing the same stage. I have a feeling that will do better just based on the name. Hope people are not disappointed when it sounds nothing like Iron Maiden.

          Liked by 1 person

        8. No I’m sure it has given him street credibility …
          He was here a year and a half ago…that might have to do something as well as its a Monday night …
          Harris frigg yeah and Coney…what a show..
          I didn’t mind that Lion album for what it was a different sound…

          Liked by 1 person

        9. You know how Sloan (used to) hand the bass over to someone in the audience for Underwhelmed so Chris could just sing lead?

          Well one local show, they handed off the bass to a girl and she didn’t know how to play it. A guy we know jumped on stage, took the bass, started jamming out, playing all these ascending links, being a showboat, totally being a rock star…holy shit was Chris pissed. LOL

          Liked by 1 person

      1. I looked over their “Essential” CD. I can’t say I’m overly impressed with the tracklisting actually. I think the sensible alternative is to simply buy their first five albums as a sampling method. Or the “Original Album Series”. Some of those original prints are hard to find.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Pfft. I got Cool Kids for $12. Discogs usually has them for pretty cheap. Blow My Fuse and Hot Wire are both really affordable, can probably find them in used bins for no more than $5, but the earlier three (particularly the first two) are definitely more scarce. I mean, Blow My Fuse is a pretty sensible starting place. It was their big breakthrough.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I have another big Toronto trip coming in August so that will be my first serious chance to look for some Kix. I see the Canadian Amazon store has the first album and Blow My Fuse in stock for decent prices.

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        3. I go back and forth between Blow My Fuse and Midnight Dynamite being my favorite. Blow My Fuse is more hard rock, while Midnight Dynamite has a more unique sound, ,more diverse, lots of melody, not quite as heavy. Can’t really go wrong with either.

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    1. I saw a show on that tour in Florida a year or so before I moved to Japan. KIX (promoting “Blow My Fuse”), Great White (promoting “…Twice Shy”) and RATT (promoting “Reach For The Sky”).

      Liked by 2 people

        1. >Nice..betcha it was a good show!

          Ironically, though KIX were the opening act with the shortest time on stage, and RATT were the headliners (Great White were in the middle)…of the three, RATT were the least entertaining on stage, Great White were better…and KIX were the best.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. They do have a song called “Kix Are for Kids” on this album. Never the ones without a sense of humor. Their anti-suicide ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was huge in America, but unfortunately they never got that popular other than on that album. It’s a great record though. I thought they were always interesting, with the genre blending. Can’t say they’re derivative though, since they’ve been around longer than almost all the bands that got successful from the ’80s rock scene.

      Their most popular rock song is probably Cold Blood. Verses sound like The Cult, while the chorus is pure pop harmony payoff.

      Here they’ve got some pop chanted combined with a uptempo heavy as hell arrangement that never buries the melody.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So you are probably wondering why I don’t have any Kix.

        Here’s the story. Not much to it.

        In 1988, they weren’t playing much Kiss on TV anymore. Kix however just released Blow My Fuse which was huge.

        Every single time they said “Up next…KIX!” I’d get so excited thinking they said “KISS”. I was bitter towards Kix!

        And that is the very simple and short story!

        Liked by 1 person

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