Kiss – ‘Unmasked’ (1980) – Album Review (The Kiss Review Series)

By the end of they Dynasty Tour, the Kiss Empire was eroding quickly. Between Ace’s and Peter’s drinking problems (among other things), the band was at an all time low. During an interview on October 31, 1979 on the Tom Snyder Show, Ace was totally hammered and you could see the faces of Gene and Paul and they did not look altogether happy. Pissed is a probably a good word for it. And let us not forget Peter during the Tour. By the end, he would make so many screw-ups and some times would simply stop playing. Gene and Paul had had enough and so had Peter.

When 1980 rolls around, the band have to make a new album and this would become the first album without all four members of the band. Peter did not play on the album at all and there are no Peter sung songs, but he was credited to play and he was on the cover as Kiss wanted to keep the illusion going the band was fine for as long as they could. Who handled the drumming, well that would’ve been Anton Fig.

Now Ace, well, he was on the album, however, he only shows up on probably 5 of the 11 songs with the rest of the guitar parts being handled by Paul, Gene or Bob Kulick. It was becoming more and more obvious that the end was near for Ace as well although it wouldn’t be for another year or two. He somehow managed to hang in there for a little while longer.

When it came time to make the album, producer Vini Poncia was brought back in yet again to handle the boards and as a result, the toned down album of Dynasty saw the same thing here. The album was another of those more in the Pop realm then the Rock realm. With bands like AC/DC and Van Halen tearing up the charts, Kiss for some reason thought the pop market was where they needed to be. It was a huge mistake as this became the first album since Dressed to Kill to not go Platinum. The album came out on May 20, 1980 and only hit #35 on the Billboard charts in the US and Kiss were no longer the Kings of the U.S. market. Now, that is not to say that this album didn’t do well around the world because the Aussie’s really loved this album and when Kiss toured there, they were met like Rock Gods with madness that matched that of The Beatles mania.

Let us talk a little about the album packaging. The cover, which is a comic strip of the band being chased by paparazzi trying to get a picture of them without their make-up, was done by artist Victor Stabin. I will admit, this isn’t the best cover they have done although I did like the last box where the photographer says “I Still Say They Stink!”. That was kind of funny. Of course, as a kid we were hoping they actually were going to be unmasked, but that wouldn’t happen for about 3 more years. The album sleeve for me was only a solid black sleeve with no pictures or anything on it as seen below. I think this is what it came with which is kind of boring.

The album also came with the usual merchandise form which of course isn’t in mine as my brothers probably bought something off of it as a couple of those items look familiar like I saw them around the house when I was a kid.

And the biggest get in the album is the poster which is a shot of the bottom frame of the album cover. And yes, this is by Victor as well. And no, I am not lucky enough to have this poster in my copy of the album (insert sad emoji here).

Back to the band. After the album was done, the band needed a drummer. Of course Anton Fig was considered a member for a like a day until they realized he wasn’t a good fit and was let go. They interviewed a ton of drummers including Tico Torres who would go on to work with a little band named Bon Jovi. However, the band settled on Paul Charles Caravello, but you know him better as Eric Carr. He had to change his name because they couldn’t have two Paul’s in the band. They created a new make-up for him because unlike today where the drummer wears Peter’s Cat Make-up, back in the day, that would never happen as Peter was the Catman. There is I am sure a long story about what they came up with, but I have rambled on for too long and we haven’t even gotten to the music yet so I will let you know it was a Fox.

Here is the band in their Unmasked Costumes…

Okay, okay, enough already. It is time to talk about the music.

SIDE 1:

The album kicks off with the song “Is That You?” which was written by Gerard McMahon and not a singe Kiss member. Though not a cover, it certainly isn’t a Kiss song either. What is different about this album is it is the first Kiss album to include a co-write on almost every song (Ace’s being the exception). Outside writers were now leaving their mark with Kiss. When the song starts you immediately can tell, this doesn’t sound like Kiss. The guitar sound is different and has no punch to it as it sounds almost New Wave. Paul is doing the solo, but that is not the problem. It might have fit nicely on Paul’s solo album, but it isn’t Kiss. It doesn’t mean it is a bad song, just different.

They go straight in to “Shandi” which was a massive hit in Australia going to #5, but in the U.S. didn’t even break the Top 40 charts. Although a hit in several countries around the world, Kiss couldn’t catch a break in the U.S. The song was written by Paul Stanley and Vini Poncia and was actually inspired by “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by Bruce Springsteen, but not his version. It was the cover version done by The Hollies. Again, it sounds nothing like Kiss. It is tame and so pop almost to a point of pure cheese. There is no sign of Ace’s guitar sound to be found anywhere as it is Paul on guitar. And two song in you are starting to think this is a Paul Solo album. There was a promotional video done for the song and it does feature the last appearance of Peter Criss…that is until the MTV unplugged era in the 90’s.

Thankfully, it is time for Ace Frehley and we get the song “Talk to Me”. One of the more rocking songs and one of my favorites from the album. It is classic sounding Ace. Now it is toned down a little because well, Ace is constantly out-voted by Gene and Paul now that Peter is gone. However, it wasn’t toned down too much and it sounds like a Kiss song…thanks to Ace. The song was never released as a single in the U.S., but it was around the world and did so-so.

Another favorite song on the album is Gene’s “Naked City”. This was written by Simmons and Vini as well as Bob Kulick and Peppy Castro. The song is more of a pop/rock song and doesn’t have the full edge of the classic Kiss tunes, but it is smoking when it comes to overall tone, groove and Gene’s vocals.  Even without all original members (Anton on drums, Bob Kulick on guitar), it is still Kiss and it is still fantastic.  The song is about New York City (which a lot of their songs are about).  The song talks about the fact there are so many people in the city, so many lonely and lost people.  It is actually quite a sad, insightful and observant viewpoint of the city.

The final song on the first side is “What Makes the World Go Round” written by Paul and Vini. This is right back to the beginning of the album with another pure Pop song by Paul. It is like two different worlds as you have Paul’s sound and then Ace and Gene are different which wasn’t always the case. It is a fun song and a decent track on its own, but I will keep repeating myself, it isn’t Kiss. Paul solo, yes…Kiss, no.

SIDE 2:

Side 2 starts off with “Tomorrow” which was written also by Paul and Vini. This was the third and final single around the world not the U.S. as they only had 1. This is a little more upbeat and a little more rocking and more what I like from Paul. It might be my favorite Paul song on the album. It is catchy, a little anthemic and sticks in your head. Now Paul actually did all the guitars and the bass on this one. No other original members of the band.

Then Ace is back with another classic song called “Two Sides of the Coin”, not to be confused with the podcast Three Sides of the Coin which took their name from this song. Another Ace only song, meaning he wrote it and played all the instruments but drums. Ace had two of the best songs on the album and helped keep a little rock credibility for the band despite the rest of the pop songs on the album. Interestingly enough I believe the song is about Ace’s wife and possibly another girlfriend and he didn’t know which one to choose. In the end, he did divorce his wife so I guess he did choose.

Next up is Gene Simmons song “She’s So European”. Now, I love Gene, but this song is So Awful. It is too poppy and doesn’t fit his demon persona. There are keyboards in it and that ruins it even more. There is no punch or darkness which I like for Gene.

“Easy As it Seems” is the next Paul song written by him and Vini, who is on most of these songs so it must be his fault. This is another filler song for me and the weakest of the Paul songs which is saying something on this album. More keyboards and more watering down of the Kiss sound. At least Dynasty still sounded like Kiss with only a couple exceptions.

Ace is back a third and final time with “Torpedo Girl” and this time he brought Vini along to help and it shows. The weakest of his three songs and starts out with the sounds of a submarine readying to fire a torpedo. The guitar sound doesn’t start off sounding like Ace until it kicks in to the main riff. However, with Ace having outside help, it gets watered down as well in to more of a Pop song than a rocking Ace track. Now, I still like this song just not as much as the others. At this point, I still thought Ace could do no wrong.

The album ends with “You’re All That I Want” with Gene on vocals and you know who helped write it. It is a catchy song, but it is a neutered down Simmons again. You can hear Paul on the backing vocals and it is nice to have the two of them singing together which doesn’t happen much. In actuality, this felt more like a Paul song than a Gene song. Maybe they should’ve switched leads on it.

Track Listing:

  1. Is That You? – Keeper
  2. Shandi – Keeper
  3. Talk to Me – Keeper
  4. Naked City – Keeper
  5. What Makes the World Go Round – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  6. Tomorrow – Keeper
  7. Two Sides of the Coin – Keeper
  8. She’s So European – Delete
  9. Easy As It Seems – Delete
  10. Torpedo Girl – Keeper
  11. You’re All That I Want – Delete

The Track Score shows 7 1/2 out of 11 or 68%. Kiss balls were chopped off for this album as they dove further in to the pop world despite the rock world getting heavier and it hurt their sales, their image and everything about them. They lost all credibility with the Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park movie, Dynasty and now this. The kid band’s fans had grown up and moved on. Despite the disdain from the public, it isn’t a bad pop album. I actually enjoy this album and will pull it out to spin on occasion. Overall, I would give the album a 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars. It definitely isn’t their worst album, but it isn’t their best either. It does have some shining moments with Ace’s tracks, Gene’s “Naked City” and Paul’s “Tomorrow”. I guess you can say “Shandi” was a big hit for the band so it does have it merits.

As a little something extra for the Kiss Review Series, I am also going to review one outside project for every member of the band (yes, even Mark St. John) and next week we have our first. They will come in during the Kiss timeline and since we are in 1980…the album below is next.

Next Up: Peter Criss – ‘Out of Control’ (1980)

Check out the rest of the series if you have time!!

The Kiss Review Series:

  1. Wicked Lester and the Progeny Demo Sessions (Bootleg)
  2. Kiss – Kiss (1974)
  3. Kiss – Hotter Than Hell (1974)
  4. Kiss – Dressed to Kill (1975)
  5. Kiss – Alive! (1975)
  6. Kiss – Destroyer (1976)
  7. Kiss – “Flaming Youth” 45 Promo Single – Bonus Edition (1976)
  8. Kiss – Special Kiss Album For Their Summer Tour (1976)
  9. Kiss – The Originals (1976)
  10. Kiss – Rock & Roll Over (1976)
  11. Kiss – Love Gun (1977)
  12. Kiss – Alive II (1977)
  13. Kiss – Double Platinum (1978)
  14. Kiss – Paul Stanley (1978)
  15. Kiss – Gene Simmons (1978)
  16. Kiss – Peter Criss (1978)
  17. Kiss – Ace Frehley (1978)
  18. Kiss – Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978) Movie
  19. Kiss – Dynasty (1979)
  20. Kiss – “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” (1979) – 12″ & 7″ Singles (Bonus Edition)
  21. Kiss – Unmasked (1980)

The Bootleg Series:

  1. Kiss – ‘Accept No Imitations’ (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ASYLUM TOUR)
  2. Kiss – Look Wot You Dun to Me (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (CRAZY NIGHTS TOUR)
  3. Kiss – The Summer of Satan: The Devils Ride Out! (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DESTROYER TOUR)
  4. Kiss – Return to Capital Center (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DYNASTY TOUR)
  5. Kiss – With Fire & Thunder (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (HOTTER THAN HELL TOUR)
  6. Kiss – Northhampton PA March 19th, 1975 (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DRESSED TO KILL TOUR)
  7. Kiss – The Hottest Show On Earth (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (THE HOTTEST SHOW ON EARTH TOUR 2010)
  8. Kiss – All the Way to the Ball Room (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (Australian Tour 1995)
  9. Kiss – Kiss of Thunder (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (The Rising Sun Tour 2006)
  10. Kiss – Agora Ballroom 1974: The Cleveland Broadcast plus Bonus Cuts (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (THE KISS TOUR)
  11. Kiss – Hotter Than Hell: Radio Broadcast 1976 (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ROCK & ROLL OVER TOUR)
  12. Kiss – The Tickler (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (LICK IT UP TOUR 1983)
  13. Kiss – Barbarize (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ANIMALIZE WORLD TOUR 1984 – North American Tour)
  14. Kiss – They Only Come Out At Night (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ANIMALIZE WORLD TOUR 1984 – EUROPEAN TOUR)
  15. Wicked Lester and the Progeny Demo Sessions (Bootleg)

Kiss – The Box Set:

Gene Simmons – The Vault:

37 thoughts on “Kiss – ‘Unmasked’ (1980) – Album Review (The Kiss Review Series)

  1. BS! “Easy As It Seems” is the best song, and I got Mr. Harrison Kopp on my side with that one. A poppy piece of hooky goodness! I agree with the 3/5 score though, maybe even think it’s a tad generous. This started the ’80s trend of Paul not writing a single song in that decade on his own. Love how he blew Peter Criss shit for using co-writers, and then hooks up with Desmond Child, Diane Warren, Poncia, and several others over the course of the ’80s.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I believe ‘more fun’ is the correct term. And it is quite ironic of me to accuse someone else of going too far. Except you’re not right anyway so it’s fine.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can tell you John that with the reissue of Unmasked the poster is included. I like this album more in 2020 than I did back in 1980. At times a continuation of the Dynasty album but the second album in a row where Ace brought the goods to the table.
    Too be honest I don’t think I would delete those three tracks you singled out as I can easily listen to this album right through.
    Guess I’m maturing ..somewhat!
    Great stuff John.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is about time you grew up! Ha!! I liked the album then and I like it now, but after listening to the albums in a row like I’ve been doing, it is a good album, but I can see why it was received the way it was. It isn’t as good as the rest, but still not terrible.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Around this time I remember seeing them on Kids Are People Too… The host asked the audience at first who was their favorite member…the first kid answered Peter Criss…and someone answered Ace… they explained that Peter married the Coppertone lady. Why that show sticks in my head I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carr was accepted fully by the Kiss Army. Are you thinking Eric Singer? He came in during the early 90’s and he was accepted until he donned the Cat make-up. I still think he is awesome though and it doesn’t bother me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well like most Aussies I like this album. The first two albums I actually got are Dynasty and Unmasked. There’s no doubt that Talk To Me carries the Kiss sound from the previous albums, but songs like “Easy As It Seems”, “Tomorrow” and “Naked City” are my favourites. Those songs are full of melody.

    And I read a story a long time ago in a magazine about how the album did good business on the illegal copying cassette side in countries like Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. And the story linked this album as the embryo to the melodic rock movement that started up in the early 2000s in those countries.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Torpedo Girl…yeah OK, I get why you say it’s the weakest of the three. Talk To Me, yeah that’s a top notch track. For sure. Two Sides of the Coin is also off the hook, melodically.

    But damn! Torpedo Girl is so damn funky for Kiss! Ace’s bass smokes, man it’s so hot! I mean, it’s not the same level of song as the other damn, but it sure is somethin’ else!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this album. It was huge in Australia when I bought it. Me and my friends used to stare at the cover and laugh. Kiss’ popularity was badly waning in the US but in Australia it was Kissmania. I still like Unmasked even compared to their entire output. Poppy, sure. Full of good numbers, especially Ace’s contributions. The opening track rocks too. I’ve seen that Tomorrow Show interview and Ace is hilarious. Completely wasted but having a good time. Paul and Gene were and are more uptight and wholly unlikeable people then and now, sorry. I’ve come to realise that after decades of Kiss fandom. Still love a good spin of Alive! any old time though. Great write up as per usual, thanks 2L2OM!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot! The Aussies loved this album, but I just liked it. Yes, some great stuff on here but weaker than anything prior. Now Paul and Gene come across as unlikable yes, I would agree. Paul is very shy, and very reserved. He is a tough nut to crack. Gene might come across as an Asshole, but from people that know him (I’m not one of those) I’ve heard nothing be great things about him in that he really is nice guy. You just have to be on his good side I guess.

      Like

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