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Revisiting KISS' "Animalize"

I've been a KISS fan since '77, seen them live numerous times (in and out of makeup), and I'm a veteran of the KISS Expo/Convention scene.

"Animalize" album cover

"Animalize" album cover

KISS – Animalize (1984)

Label: Mercury/Polygram Records
Run Time: 35:42, 9 Tracks

KISS' quest to reclaim their hard-rock crown continued with the release of their twelfth studio album, Animalize, in September 1984. The band had removed their trademark makeup on the previous year's Lick It Up, which became the best selling KISS disc since their '70s heyday.

Obviously, KISS expected the follow up to capitalize on that hype and solidify their footing in the increasingly-crowded "hair metal" movement that was taking over MTV at the time. KISS' fortunes may have been on the rise in the wake of Lick It Up, but the production of Animalize was anything but smooth sailing.

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble was brewing between Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley as work on Animalize got underway. Lick It Up had raised KISS' public profile higher than it had been in a number of years, and Gene began using his renewed notoriety to pursue interests outside of the band, like acting in movies and producing albums for other acts. Gene was busy filming the sci-fi movie Runaway with Tom Selleck in early '84, so his participation in the making of Animalize was minimal at best. As a result, the album practically became a Stanley solo project.

In his book Face The Music: A Life Exposed, Paul says that in Gene's absence, he wound up doing the bulk of the work on Animalize -- producing the album, supervising its cover artwork and design, and doing most of the interviews and promotion for it. Paul's frustration with Gene's apparent disinterest in KISS business would only increase as the '80s progressed.

KISS were also looking for a new lead guitarist for the second time in as many years. Vinnie Vincent had played a major role in the creation of Lick It Up, but during the ensuing concert tour Gene and Paul became increasingly irritated by the shredder's oversized ego and demanding personality.

Vinnie was dismissed when the Lick It Up tour came to an end, and guitarist Mark Norton, now known as "Mark St. John," was chosen to replace him. Mark was a flashy, high-speed shredder similar to Vincent, but his personal quirks and unusual approach to guitar playing became problematic during recording sessions. According to Paul, St. John was never able to play the same guitar solo twice in the studio if he was asked to do a second take.

"Animalize" Lineup, L-R: Gene Simmons, Eric Carr, Paul Stanley, Mark St. John

"Animalize" Lineup, L-R: Gene Simmons, Eric Carr, Paul Stanley, Mark St. John

The Songs

The nine tracks on Animalize are a mixed bag of glammy '80s style hard rock, with slicker production and less crunch than the heavy-handed Lick It Up. Things kick off nicely with the speedy one two punch of "I've Had Enough (Into The Fire)" and the lead-off single, "Heaven's On Fire," both of which do a fine job of showing off Mark St. John's slippery fretboard acrobatics.

The "fire" theme continues with Gene's first lead-vocal appearance of the album, "Burn Bitch Burn," a mid paced thumper with a heaping helping of The Demon's typical cringe-worthy, sexual-caveman lyrics, like "I wanna put my log in your fireplace!" ... but as I'm so fond of saying, if KISS lyrics don't make you cringe at least once per album, they're not doing their job!

Paul reclaims the mic on the middling "Get All You Can Take" and Gene closes out Side 1 with the unremarkable "Lonely Is The Hunter." Side 2 shows promise by opening with another high-speed cut, "Under The Gun," even if the track is let down by another set of dorky locker-room lyrics ("There ain't no speed limit where ah come from... let's hit the highway doin' SIXTY-NINE!" Oooh, you're a smooth one, Stanley!)

The ballad "Thrills In The Night" has a catchy chorus that'll stick in your head like glue, and the last two tracks ("While The City Sleeps" and "Murder In High Heels"), both sung by Gene, are pretty much filler. If songs like these represent the best of the material Gene was "crapping out" (to use Paul's phrase from his book) during this era, I don't blame Paul for being annoyed with him.

The Reception

Thanks to regular MTV rotation for the "Heaven's On Fire" music video, Animalize quickly outperformed Lick It Up, peaking at #19 on the Billboard album charts and going platinum (one million copies sold) in the U.S.

The Animalize concert tour was also a success, though it came with its own set of problems. As KISS prepped for the tour, Mark St. John was suddenly diagnosed with Reactive Arthritis, also known as Reiter's Syndrome—a painful condition that caused severe swelling in his hands and fingers, so he was unable to play guitar.

KISS drafted Bruce Kulick, the younger brother of longtime friend Bob Kulick, to fill in for Mark on tour. Bruce's involvement was supposed to be temporary but as time went on, Mark showed no signs of improvement, so he was let go. Bruce's position as KISS' newest full time lead guitarist was made official via the music video for "Thrills In The Night" and the 1985 VHS concert film Animalize LIve Uncensored. Bruce provided KISS with some much-needed stability for many years afterward, staying with the band until they reverted back to their original lineup for 1996's Reunion Tour.

It's now been more than 35 years since the release of Animalize and I'd sum it up as a listenable, but not particularly essential, KISS album. It's not as good as its predecessor (Lick It Up) or its follow up (1985's Asylum) but obviously "Heaven's On Fire" was the right single for them at the right time, as it's the only Animalize track that has consistently stayed in concert set lists to this day.

© 2019 Keith Abt