KISS Unmasked–the pop album (A Tuesday Review)

There are few days when I’m not reminded how blessed my siblings and I were to have a mother who didn’t censor us. If our mother had been the paranoid and nay-saying gatekeeper that some parents are and were, I would have never gotten to listen to KISS, and, man, I’ll tell you, this whole musical journey I’ve been on, and the person I’ve become in part because of it, would be something different entirely.

I’d imagine that all of you have a distinct feeling when you hear KISS mentioned. They’ve been loved and hated, laughed at and praised, exalted and diminished, respected and maligned. I think they’ve deserved it all.

I’ve been a fan for about all but a year or two of their 43 year run, so they have been all of those things for me especially. Still, when all is said and done I know them, and that familiarity breeds affection.

It bothers me to hear people denounce others’ tastes in the different art forms. The right elements–time, space, place, nature, nurture, all of it–came together in each of our lives, and, while similar elements may affect others in a group, the factors that have bearing on where our interests go is unique to us. So being, it is not in any one person’s purview to doubt, or to not comprehend, someone else’s tastes in music or a movie or a TV show.

It’s all about the cauldron of the world we’re born into.

Well, I was born into the cauldron of being a rebellious ten year old preacher’s kid in 1976, and that could only mean KISS.

Despite where I might have gone with the band in the more than four decades of my fandom, what I might have thought or felt about them, their music, and their career decisions over the years, the music now has the affection of familiarity for me. That, as you can probably imagine, makes it easy.

KISS was an easy pick for me today, which loomed with so much work to be done and pieces to be moved, but which also came with an overall drag of lethargy. The ease first proved itself just with the simple decision when it came to choose some music. I didn’t want it to be a thing, and when I don’t want it to be a thing, it’s KISS. The decision was made inside of 30 seconds. I’d go to YouTube and just let a string of full studio albums run. That’s what I did.

I wanted to try to stay with albums I don’t listen to as often as others, but for some reason I wanted to hear a first song with some good speed, so “Exciter,” from 1983’s Lick it Up came to mind.

So, Lick it Up is where I started, and despite having to bypass Creatures–it’s the one I usually find myself gravitating toward–I pretty much just took what they gave me. Animalize, from 1984, the year I graduated high school, is now playing, and it is the tenth KISS album I’ve listened to today. That’s half of their studio album output.

Between those two, I listened to 1979’s Dynasty, ’77’s Love Gun, ’76’s Rock and Roll Over, ’76’s Destroyer, ’75’s Dressed to Kill, ’74’s eponymous debut, ’80’s Unmasked,  and ’86’s Asylum.

The one that made the biggest impression on my today, whether or not it’s the best album they ever released, was 1980’s Unmasked.

This album is often considered as the second of a two-album disco swing–following 1979’s Dynasty–and I’ve even bought into that thought at times myself. Listening to it today, however, I realized it has to be considered what I’ve never heard any KISS album considered, KISS’s pop album.

The Crazy Nights album, from 1987, is the only other that I can see vying for that title, but I don’t see it coming even close.

Unmasked is just so easy to listen to. It’s catchy, it’s hooky and poppy. You’ve got “Is That You?” and “Shandi” to open; you skip a couple of tunes and you get “What Makes the World Go Round” and “Tomorrow.” Later still, you get “Easy as it Seems,” which is one of the best poppy Paul songs the band ever recorded.

And, yes, those are all Paul songs. It’s like some of the music is a continuation of Paul’s work on his 1978 solo album through to the work the band would do later in the 80s, when Gene was splitting his attention between the band and a movie career and Paul took the helm more on his own.

Gene is here on Unmasked, however; his offerings “Naked City” and “You’re All that I want” are excellent cuts from his lexicon, but even they are subdued. The demon is certainly evident on a track like “Naked City,” which is just a stand out track, but he’s a more sinister and thoughtful version than his normally demented self. That opening baseline is nice evidence of the vibe of this band.

This album is certainly not one of my favorites, but I understand it so much more after today than I did at any point since it first came out, when I was 14.

And I’m just pleased that Mom said it was OK; otherwise, Lord knows where I would have ended up.

Thanks for letting me stretch my legs, beautiful people. We’ll talk soon, I think.

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