With ‘Unmasked’ however, which along with ‘Crazy Nights’, it is easily the AOR highpoint of Kiss’s career.
Written by: Dangerzone
SERIAL: NBLP 7225
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Paul Stanley – guitars, bass, vocals * Ace Frehley – guitars, bass, vocals * Anton Fig – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Is That You * 02 Shandi * 03 Talk To Me * 04 Naked City * 05 What Makes The World Go Round * 06 Tomorrow * 07 Two Sides Of The Coin * 08 She’s So European * 09 Easy As It Seems * 10 Torpedo Girl * 11 You’re All That I Want
WEBLINKS: Site Link
‘Unmasked’, along with ‘Asylum’, is perhaps Kiss’ most forgotten album. It came at a time when the band’s popularity was waning in the U.S. It wasn’t helped by the departure of drug addled Peter Criss who although featured on the albums artwork, did not play a note on the album, replaced by session man Anton Fig, who was a member of Spider at the time. 1979’s ‘Dynasty’ had showed a more mainstream melodic side of Kiss, and they took it a step further.
With ‘Unmasked’ however, which along with ‘Crazy Nights’, it is easily the AOR highpoint of Kiss’s career. With Vini Poncia producing and contributing to all tracks minus two, he took Kiss in a direction that might have irked fans of the earlier, heavier albums, but ‘Unmasked’s worth as a credible venture into classic AOR cannot be undermined. That it failed was a result of changing times, not due to a musical failure, a bit like ‘The Elder’ and ‘Creatures Of The Night’.
The reliable pen of Gerald McMahon provides ‘Is that You’ with ambiguous lyrics and music (‘you went too far, being the bitch you are, your reputations in the bathroom’), a heavy handed yet worthy slice of melodic rock which Stanley was born to sing.
‘Shandi’ was a hit in Australasia, an area which was still enthoned in Kiss mania in 1980, to this day a ballad which was advanced for its time, sounding more like 1985. Frehley has three tracks featured, ‘Talk To Me’ being the first, with his simplistic lyrics and knack for a bouncy chorus which endeared him to the fans as the peoples choice of the band.
Of his other two efforts ‘Two Sides Of The Coin’ shades ‘Torpedo Girl’, a typical piece of Frehley naughtiness, the former containing the unforgettable lyric ‘Ive met some ladies, then some girls, but they don’t tell you, they just want a whirl’. I Peppy Castro and Bob Kulick get in the act, co-writing ‘Naked City’ with Simmons and Poncia, an automatic AOR classic that would have easily fit on a Balance album, especially those marvelous backing vocals.
The keyboard work on ‘Tomorrow’ veers off into new wave, which explains Stanley’s bogus haircut of the period, the song itself a key piece of pop-AOR which in another time might have been a hit.
A true AOR classic arrives in the shape of ‘Easy As It Seems’, defining the genre in 1980 better than a Styx, Journey or Foreigner could, the guitar solo a stand out, although surely it isn’t Frehley, perhaps it is some faceless session man behind the curtain as Kiss so often did. Simmons chips in with a pearler, ‘You’re All That I Want’, with the heaviest riffs of the album, but perhaps the most accessible chorus with guitar harmonies that read ‘Bob Kulick’ like a front page headline.
Depending on what version of Kiss tickles your fancy, this may not be for everyone, now or back then. But for true fans it’s every bit as accomplished as a ‘Destroyer’ or ‘Lick It Up’. AOR fans who may have overlooked this or disregarded it simply because of the name ‘Kiss’ may want to give this a chance.
The band steered away from AOR in the ensuing years, but gradually worked their way back during the mid 80’s, with some of their heaviest and melodic work in the process. ‘Unmasked’ might have seen Kiss at a turning point in their career, but decades later has stood the test of time, sounding fresher than many an album from the same year.
Easy As It Seems
Entire Album (Select Tracks)
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[Gdazegod] We should also credit Holly Knight who plays keyboards on the album, re: her recent interview on The Hustle podcast. I might just flesh out the additional personnel and add it to the article.
[Explorer] Spot on review. One of my favourite KISS albums. It`s an album I consider to be Power Pop rather than AOR, and one I return to on a regular basis.
[JeffLynneFan] After the dominating success of Ace Frehley’s solo album it wasn’t surprising to see Ace being featured more. Even though he ended up leaving. I’ve always liked the song ” Easy As it Seems”. So Gene didn’t play Bass at all on this album ?
[Gdazegod] Wasn’t he holed up in L. A at the time with Cher?
[Explorer] There’s an entire thread devoted to Gene’s involvement on Unmasked over at https://www.kissfaq.com/forum18/viewtopic.php?t=125232
[Dave T] Tom Harper (Paul Stanley’s guitar tech back then) played bass on ‘Shandi’. He, along with Holly Knight and Anton Fig, are credited by Paul Stanley on the KISS Box Set. Fig had also been credited for the first time on the 1997 Unmasked remaster liner notes.
Despite the fact that KISS was largely ignored in the US at the time, the Unmasked tour was one of the band’s live peaks in my book, especially the Down Under leg of the tour with Carr’s energy, Frehley taking a more relevant role and Stanley’s top notch vocals.
[Explorer] I remember seeing ‘The Inner Sanctum’ a documentary about their time in Australia on that tour. Essential viewing.
[RobLynott] Great review. This is a fantastic album. Kiss going Power Pop and AOR. ‘Easy As It Seems’ sounds like a huge hit, despite that it wasn’t. Up until this point Kiss always had a poppy and catchy side. So I wasn’t confused about that record at all.
Unmasked is also a very good example for the fact that North America is NOT the world and how Americans tend to ignore anything going on outside of their own country. In Europe, Australia and South America Kiss were more popular than ever during this time period. Same goes for Abba and 80s Queen btw.