KISS "Creatures of the Night" Album Review
KISS—Creatures Of The Night (1982)
KISS was one of the most successful rock bands of the 1970s, but the fearsome foursome's empire was on shaky ground as the decade turned. Two consecutive studio albums had failed to reach the lofty multi-platinum sales heights that KISS was accustomed to—1980's radio-friendly Unmasked briefly cracked the top 40 but then struggled to reach Gold Record status, and 1981's disastrous concept album Music From "The Elder" sank without a trace. The band was also struggling with personnel problems during this time. Drummer Peter Criss was dismissed in 1980 and though the superior drumming skills of his replacement Eric Carr had proved to be a musical shot in the arm, original guitarist Ace Frehley was also looking for the exit door after the Elder debacle. Amidst all this turmoil, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley realized that they'd managed to alienate much of their loyal KISS Army fanbase by flirting with pop, disco, and art-rock on their past few records, and resolved that their next album - to be titled Creatures of the Night—would be a "back to basics" LP filled with the classic loud, raucous hard rock anthems that had been KISS' trademark.
"I Love It Loud"
KISS began recording Creatures in July of 1982 with producer Michael James Jackson behind the control board. Jackson was not related to the "other" Michael Jackson, but he was a prolific producer and songwriter with a long list of credits (including work for such diverse artists as Little Richard, the Animals, and Paul Williams) dating back to the late 1950s. Due to Ace Frehley's lack of participation in KISS business at the time, the band produced Creatures as a trio, with a number of studio musicians contributing uncredited guitar leads. One of these fill-in guitarists - Vincent Cusano, a.k.a. Vinnie Vincent - contributed heavily to the songwriting on the album and was eventually chosen to be Ace Frehley's permanent replacement, taking on an Egyptian styled "Ankh" makeup design for the subsequent concert tour. Several tracks were co-written with outside songwriters, including Adam Mitchell, Jim Vallance, and Bryan Adams (yes, that Bryan Adams!). The resulting album was KISS' hardest rocking album since the glory days of the early '70s. Heavy metal was on the rise again at this time, thanks largely to the newly-created MTV network, and KISS certainly seemed poised to take advantage of its resurgence with Creatures.
The title track opens the album and immediately makes a bold "We're BACK!" statement. Catchy and featuring soaring vocals by Paul, this track sets the album's tone and paves the way for Gene's first vocal contribution, the sinister "Saint and Sinner." "Keep Me Comin'" suffers from an irritating chorus but again, Paul is in great voice. Gene's "Rock and Roll Hell" is up next and it's a satisfying slab of fire and brimstone rock with Simmons' growly vocals providing the usual amount of leering menace. "Danger" ends side 1 and is a fast paced rocker with Paul screaming for all he's worth on the chorus.
Side 2 is mainly Gene's show. "I Love It Loud" starts things off and this thumping anthem has gone on to become one of KISS' signature tunes. Yeah, the lyrics are ridiculous but you can't argue with Eric Carr's cannon-fire drumming. Things slow down a bit on the ballad "I Still Love You," which just may be the finest vocal performance of Paul Stanley's career. Listen to the way he wails out the chorus towards the end and see for yourself. "Killer" picks up the pace again with another crunchy riff and more thunderous Carr drum work, before closing with the absolutely bad-ass "War Machine," which echoes the grandeur of "God of Thunder" (from 1976's Destroyer). When the smoke cleared at the end of this album, the message was obvious - KISS was firing on all cylinders again, and they had enough ammunition to kick your ass into next week!
"I Still Love You"
Creatures of the Night was met with tepid initial response upon its release. MTV only provided minimal support to the music video for "I Love It Loud," and the album stalled after reaching #45 on the Billboard chart. Ticket sales for the Creatures U.S. tour were also less than spectacular. Several dates on the tour were played to half empty arenas, while other shows were cancelled due to lack of interest. The band's profile may have been suffering in their homeland, but KISS learned that their overseas following was still as fanatical as ever when they traveled to Brazil in early 1983 and packed massive soccer stadiums with crowds that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. These Brazilian shows were the last concerts KISS would play in makeup till the 1996 reunion tour. When they returned home, KISS prepared their next album (Lick It Up), "unmasked" on MTV and spent the next decade and a half rebuilding their brand without the iconic war paint.
The Many "Creatures" Covers...
The Creatures album cover has become one of the most iconic images in the KISS catalog, featuring the four band members' faces staring menacingly out at the viewer, bathed in an eerie blue glow. Ironically, this image is totally inaccurate due to the presence of Ace Frehley in the cover photo. Ace had nothing to do with the making of Creatures, yet due to behind-the-scenes contractual wrangling he was still obligated to appear on the album cover and in the music video for "I Love It Loud." Aside from a few promotional appearances when the album was first released, these were Ace's last activities as a member of KISS and he was officially replaced by Vinnie Vincent by the end of 1982.
Adding to the confusion, Mercury/Polygram remixed and reissued Creatures in the mid '80s, after the band had removed their trademark makeup, to capitalize on their resurgence in popularity. The original cover was replaced by a new photo of the now-barefaced quartet, including then-new guitarist Bruce Kulick -- who didn't play on the album either! The original cover was re-instated when Creatures was remastered and reissued along with the rest of the KISS catalog in 1997.
In the mid-2000s, KISS Collectors began salivating over rumors of a newly discovered stash of so-called "Brazilian Promo" copies of Creatures, which featured Vinnie Vincent in Ace Frehley's place on the cover, wearing his "Ankh" makeup. Legend had it that these "ultra rare" editions were sold in Brazil when KISS performed their final shows in makeup there in early 1983. The LPs began fetching premium prices on eBay and other auction sites, until it was revealed that the so-called "Brazilian" pressings were merely the creation of a bootlegger with better-than-average airbrushing skills.
Their best album of the '80s? Yes, I think so.
Summing It Up...
Creatures' reputation has slowly grown over the years. KISS fans and band members alike agree today that it ranks as one of the band's finest hours. Gene Simmons has stated that KISS is best represented by three albums: Destroyer in the '70s, Creatures in the '80s, and Revenge in the '90s. The album was eventually awarded a Gold Record (for sales of 500,000 copies in the U.S.) in 1994 and songs from it still turn up in live sets to this day. This writer feels that it's their most bad-ass record of the 1980s and quite possibly their most bad-ass album overall. Newcomers to the KISS Army (as well as anyone who might have passed on it the first time) are well advised to give this underrated classic a spin. As for everyone else... well, if it's too loud, you're too old!!
© 2012 Keith Abt