In order to shake off the stench of commercial disappointment that accompanied their three previous albums (Unmasked, Music From “The Elder”, Creatures of the Night), Kiss was now at the biggest crossroads of their career. After being increasingly viewed as a dated relic of the 1970s, their album sales continued to suffer. One more flop would most assuredly have been the final nail in the coffin of their career as a band. They were lagging way behind the big hard rock/metal acts of the day, like Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Van Halen, and the like.
Simply put: something had to be done. So in a last-ditch effort to not only be taken seriously as a band but to also draw attention to themselves, they stripped off the makeup and costumes and “came out” in a televised special on MTV in 1983 to promote their latest album Lick It Up.
The stunt ended up working like a charm. While not an all-out smash, Lick It Up was a hit, going Gold immediately, eventually hitting Double Platinum status in North America. Lead guitarist and co-songwriter Vinnie Vincent was now prominently featured as a band member (although he had significantly contributed to the previous album as a songwriter and guitarist), yet (like drummer Eric Carr) he was in essence a hired hand. Kiss was basically Paul and Gene at this point, more so the former than the latter.
I was 12 years old when the album dropped, and I paid it no attention whatsoever. It’s entirely Vinnie Vincent’s fault. I don’t know if it was Hit Parader, Creem, Guitar Player… one of those rock magazines. He started running his mouth off in an interview about how much of a superior player he was to Ace Frehley, and that did not sit right with this massive Ace fan. At all
Plus I wasn’t a big fan of the singles: at the time I thought the title track and “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” were both pretty damn lame. So I never bought the album. Years later I finally gave it a listen-to, when I found out how much Vinnie had contributed to the quality songwriting on Creatures of the Nightas well as a bit on 1992’s Revenge. He might have come-off as a jackass in interviews, but he was a talented songwriter and guitarist, something Kiss really needed at the time.
Lick It Up is a good album. It’s a step down from Creatures, but it not only rescued Kiss from being a 70s relic, it still brought the rock and melodic hooks that the band needed to stay viable on the rock/metal musical landscape. The album has a more “refined” feel than Creatures, not as rich or as heavy. The influence of 80s hair metal is beginning to show here, thinner production values to play up the poppier/more melodic edge of the music. Aldo Nova called, he wants his groove back. Still, this is a far, far, FAR cry from the rounded pop Dynasty or Unmasked. Paul and Gene co-produced the album with Michael James Jackson, focusing on a less metal, more straightforward hard rock sound.
Here’s a quick track-by-track rundown:
Exciter – This is one Kiss’s best album openers and a fantastic out-of-the-gate tune, with cool hooks that lead up to a great chorus. There is some fine fretwork from guest guitarist Rick Derringer as well. One of my favorite KISS tunes.
Not For The Innocent – A really good Gene tune, with a solid beat, great lyrics and a full, rich sound. I don’t think Gene would ever approach this level of quality again until the Revenge album, some nine years later.
Lick It Up – Like it or not, this has become a “signature” tune. My junior high-era garage band covered “Lick It Up”, because it was so freakin’ easy to play. Anyway the song is a bit too poppy, very repetitive with uninspired riffs and a bland solo. Yet there’s still something unexplainably catchy here. This is one of those songs that sounds infinitely better live.
Young And Wasted – Eric Carr once again makes us forget about the long-departed Peter Criss all over again with his drumming. Another really good tune from Gene.
Gimme More – This album track is forgettable, but not awful. The riff is pure early Maiden wannabe, Paul even sounds like he’s aping Paul Di’Anno. Not a bad song, but definitely not memorable either. “Cmon lick my candy cane”…? Oy.
All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose – Absolutely idiotic and mind-numbingly bad. The riff is pretty great though, courtesy of Eric Carr (!)
A Million To One – Fantastic. Paul went back to indulge his pop-rock proclivities and the results are really great. The song still feels fresh and energized over 30 years later.
Sadly, here’s where the album limps to the finish line…
Fits Like A Glove – Gene’s contribution is his weakest effort on the album. Pretty forgettable in a”insert generic rock song here” way.
Dance All Over Your Face – And here’s another forgettable Gene inclusion. I like the groove of the song, but little else.
And On The 8th Day – In a lot of ways I like the musicality of this song, but it’s juvenile in a way that doesn’t make juvenile lyrics so damn fun; it’s almost as if the entire band knew how entirely dopey the subject matter was and plowed through it with a sense of resignation, as opposed to embracing its stupidity with a sense of haughty Rock imperviousness.
So overall there are four songs I really don’t care too much about one way or the other (the last 3 and “All Hell’s Breakin Loose”), two great songs (“Exciter”, “A Million To One”), three really good songs (“Young and Wasted”, “Not For The Innocent”, “Lick It Up”), and one completely average one (“Gimme More”). That gives Lick It Up a good batting average and remains the band’s second best album of their “unmasked” era. This is a decent rock album and a good Kiss record, more well-known for the stripping of the make-up rather than for the music contained therein. Unfortunately, the promise and excitement of both this album and Creatures of the Night would go completely unfulfilled for nearly an entire decade.