The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 23:
On September 18 1983, Kiss publicly unmasked on MTV. They each appeared with a name tag at a desk and answered questions from the press. Their first album with their bare faces on the cover was just released on that day: Lick It Up. With two non-original members now in the band, and their fortunes fading, it seemed like the best move commercially and artistically. According to writer Robert V. Conte, the Kiss press conference was overshadowed by an MTV special on Van Halen, broadcast the same evening.
It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss Kiss’ unmasking as a mere stunt, and in many ways they would be right, but it was not a decision made lightly. Kiss had legitimate fears about how they could carry on without the makeup and costumes. They came to realize that they could just continue doing what they do – playing their songs live as they always have.
The new album, Lick It Up, was brilliant. It is “exhibit A” in the case of “Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?” With eight out of ten writing credits, all of them great, it certainly appears that Vinnie gave Lick It Up a swift kick in the afterburner.
The stark white cover featured Kiss in their street clothes. It was a minimalist cover with the only clue to their identities being Gene’s tongue. In Japan, a full cover obi retained the band in makeup (including Vinnie) until you opened the package and saw the white cover inside. This led to an urban legend that Japan actually had a rare makeup cover on their edition of Lick It Up.
Strangely enough, even though Lick It Up was Vinnie’s official debut as a Kiss member, He didn’t play the solo on opening salvo “Exciter”. This was unknown to fans at the time, but “Exciter” was performed by Rick Derringer after Vinnie couldn’t nail the right vibe in the studio. It was an ominous warning of things to come.
Otherwise, “Exciter” ushered Kiss into the 1980s with a sound that fit. It had a chunky guitar chug, and killer melodic chorus, and left the sound of the 70s far behind. Perhaps most importantly, it had no outside writers. Nothing on Lick It Up required outside writers now that they had Vinnie in the band.
After the blowout opening of “Exciter”, Gene Simmons grinds it down slow with one of his heaviest tracks to date: “Not For the Innocent”. Gene adapted his singing style to include a Demon scream, and “Not For the Innocent” features lots of it on the outro. “Not For the Innocent” built on the heavy Kiss of Creatures of the Night and pushed it heavier.
The first single was the successful and surprisingly simple “Lick It Up”. It’s basically a textbook guitar chug with verses and a chorus – no solo. It was enough to go top 40 in the UK and Canada and has since become a concert staple. In fact it’s the only Lick It Up song to remain in the set beyond the 80s, and it’s a pretty good song for what it is.
Simmons returned to the fore on the frenetic “Young and Wasted”, an example of speedy 80s Kiss keeping up with their metal compatriots. Fortunately, Vincent provided a kicking riff. Live, “Young and Wasted” was often given to Eric Carr to sing. The studio version is the one to beat. Then it was Paul Stanley’s turn in the driver’s seat with “Gimme More”, keeping things rolling in a non-descript top gear.
One of the most interesting tunes on Lick It Up is the side two opener and second single “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.” It was begun as a Zeppelin-y riff by Eric Carr, and finished by all four members – only the second Kiss song ever credited to all four members. It became, in Eric’s words, a “rock and roll rap song!” That’s not quite so, though Paul’s talk-singing in the verses evokes the basics of rap. No worries though; this is one brilliant Kiss song that really deserved more exposure. One worth buying the album for.
The Simmons-dominated second side of Lick It Up is where most of the treasures are found, but Paul had one more kick at the can. Paul’s “A Million to One” is an unsung classic. A defiant Stanley tells an ex that her chances of finding a better lover are “a million to one”. With such an awesome song backing him, Paul makes a convincing argument. He hits a homerun with melody and angst.
A trio of Simmons tunes ends Lick It Up as one of Kiss’ heaviest album. “Fits Like a Glove” is speedy-Kiss again, hyper-caffeinated and playing as fast as they can. Gene’s barking out the words, chewing them up, spitting them out and taking no prisoners. Then, he brings it back to a groove on “Dance All Over Your Face”. It’s a song you might not know, but you should. Kiss’ deep cuts from the 80s have some rare diamonds, and this is one of them.
The closer was an apocalyptic rocker called “And on the 8th Day” which was based on a Vinnie Vincent demo. The verses of that demo became “And on the 8th Day”. The choruses became a later Vinnie Vincent Invasion track called “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which we will look at later on. The two songs share DNA but have little else in common. The Vincent demo is the kind of speed rocker that dominated Lick It Up. Meanwhile the Kiss song “And on the 8th Day” has the slow monster plod, a killer riff, and a chorus that goes on for days. Although it’s never seen the light of a concert stage, it really should have.
Though Vinnie Vincent co-wrote the songs that may or may not have saved Kiss, he was a real problem. His personality didn’t mesh, and his ego got the better of him. He couldn’t come to an agreement with Kiss over his contract, and in fact never signed one to become an official Kiss member. This caused him to be let go at the end of the European Lick It Up tour.
Finding a replacement for Vincent wasn’t easy, and he was re-hired for the American tour, though he still delayed signing a contract. Issues with Vinnie grew on this tour, as he grabbed more of the spotlight from his bandmates. Like Ace Frehley before him, Vinnie was given a five minute solo spot, but sometimes Vinnie dragged them out well into overtime. This caused plenty of tension, especially when he once broke into an impromptu solo leaving the band on stage not sure what to do. The issue of Vinnie’s contract became a non-issue when he was let go permanently. The band have had very little good to say about Vinnie Vincent since then, especially when the lawsuits began. Despite this, Lick It Up was not to be Vinnie’s final collaboration with his former band.
Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss? This argument will go on as long as there are Kiss fans to discuss it. Vinnie certainly did provide Kiss with some grade-A songs, both here and on Creatures of the Night. However he wasn’t the kind of guitar player they needed, who could play the old stuff authentically and also shred with the new kids. If Vinnie hadn’t come along, another talented writer would have, and Kiss would have continued. This doesn’t do anything to discredit Lick It Up, a damn fine “comeback” indeed.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: After my scathing review of Creatures of the Night, I wasn’t sure how to approach this Lick It Up Meat’s Slice. I guess I’ll start with March 15, 1984. My buddy Scott Hunter and I went to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Kiss on the Lick it Up tour, with supporting act Accept! This was to be my second Kiss concert, as we were also at Maple Leaf Gardens for the Creatures tour on January 14, 1983. A concert in which we didn’t know until well after that it wasn’t Ace Frehley on guitar…but none other than Vinnie Vincent. Of course Vinnie was on guitar for the Lick it Up tour as well. Great show with openers The Headpins. Before my 15th birthday, I had now seen Kiss twice. I am 47 now and haven’t seen them live since.
Kiss had taken the makeup off between these albums. Years before I remember seeing a People magazine in my grandmother’s bathroom, while taking a shit, that showed Gene Simmons with a bandana over his face just over his nose. Up until now I had not seen any Kiss member without makeup. So there they are on the Lick It Up cover and all I can think is…”Damn…wish they still had makeup at least for that really ugly dude,” (Vinnie). The title track of the album has become a bit of a Kiss classic and is still a great song. Not a lot of this album is exceptionally great in my opinion, but there are some good gems in there. The best of which I think is “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, which I have always loved and still do. Other than those two songs? The album lies somewhere between Meh and Good for me.
Funny Vinnie story for me though. Many years ago our makeshift band at the time were playing a Christmas assembly at St. David’s High School in Waterloo here. I was standing behind the soundboard as my guitar player was on stage doing a sound check. The sound guy asked my buddy Dave to play a bit to get a starting level. As per usual, Dave went ripping into some heavy metal bullshit soloing. After a few seconds of that I could see the sound guy waving his hands in the air in front of me, and after getting Dave’s attention, says into the microphone at the board, “Okay Vinnie Vincent…Settle down there.” Always found that kinda defined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
Favorite Tracks: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Lick It Up”
Forgettable Tracks: I don’t know about forgettable, but the rest isn’t that memorable.
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/20