After the successful one-two-three punch of Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun, along with the live Alive and Alive II albums, KISS seemed poised to take over the music world for good. Instead of attacking the masses with another big album in 1978 however, the band decided to go the solo route with all four members of the band releasing solo projects to mixed reviews.
Depending on whom you ask, the four album project was either a money-making ploy or an attempt to salvage the strained relationships within the band itself. Regardless of what truly motivated the project, it was deemed a failure by the band and 1979 promised bigger things with Dynasty, the first album featuring all four members (albeit very loosely) since Love Gun.
Dynasty produced one major hit, I Was Made For Lovin' You, and spawned two other mildly received singles. Hardcore KISS fans who were turned on by the bands earlier hard rock sound were turning off Dynasty's milder, pop rock feel.
In May of 1980, KISS once again released an album that had fans hoping for a return to their grittier roots. What they got instead was Unmasked, a pop rock album that leaned heavily on the disco sounds that were still popular at the time. In fact, I would so far as to say that Unmasked and not Dynasty is the real KISS "disco" album.
Produced by Vini Poncia (who also produced Dynasty and Peter Criss), the album is the farthest to stray from the KISS sound in my opinon. Even the band's next release, the concept album Music From The Elder, sounds more like a KISS album to me.
The album found Peter Criss on the ropes and about to bail out of KISS due to personal problems. Although he is featured on the album cover, he contributed nothing musically to the project. Anton Fig took over Criss' duties on the album. Ace, who's solo project was the most successful of the bunch, was beginning to realize that he might be better off as a solo artist (even he admitted this). Perhaps as a result of this, I personally find Ace's guitar work a bit uninspired on this album. Gene and Paul were still attempting to hold the band together according to their own accounts.
With all of this knowledge in tow, is Unmasked a bad album? Not at all when it is compared to other pop rock and adult contemporary projects from that time. It is a very, very good pop rock album. While the bulk of the tunes have a disco sound to them, none of them are all that bad.
Paul Stanley is especially good on this album. He co-wrote four of the album's tracks and performs lead vocals on five songs. In fact, Stanley performs all vocals and guitars on the biggest hit off of the album, Shandi. His production and overall leadership skills really shine through on this album. The man just knows how to write and/or perform a great pop song.
Anton Fig's drum work is flawless and, although I hate to say it, is probably some of the best drum work you'll ever hear on a KISS album outside of Eric Carr's contributions to the band.
Gene is as steady as always, and it isn't until his first co-penned song and lead vocal on the album, the track Naked City, that I actually hear some of the old KISS sound.
The always reliable Ace Frehley isn't so reliable this go-round. All three of his contributions to the album, Talk To Me, Two Sides Of The Coin, and Torpedo Girl, fall short of the expected hard rock sound that is a signature of Ace's playing style. Ace's guitars sound as if they are being held back and I actually hear a few of his old solos laced through many of these songs (in particular, his solo from Black Diamond). Of the three tracks he did, Two Sides Of The Coin is probably my favorite.
Is That You?, What Makes The World Go Round, Tomorrow, and Easy As It Seems (all of which feature Stanley on lead vocals) are all solid pop songs and sound great. Gene Simmons' tracks, She's So European, You're All That I Want, and the aforementioned Naked City, are a bit edgier sounding and as I've already stated, they are the closest sounding tunes to the old KISS sound.
So Unmasked is somewhat of a disappointment as a KISS album when compared to the rest of KISS' music catalogue, but when put up against other pop rock from that era, Unmasked is a solid project. Personally, I find myself singing along to a lot of the songs, especially Shandi and Tomorrow.
Hardcore KISS completionists will pick up this album simply to have it in their collection but, much like Music From The Elder, it probably won't get much airplay. Pop and adult contemporary fans will enjoy this project because it is a very good pop album. KISS fans like myself, who actually enjoy it when KISS experiments with their sound (and their lineup) will most likely enjoy this album as well.
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