Sunday, July 1, 2012

Creatures of the Night - 5 Reasons to Remember

A very dynamic photo from their last days in the Carr-Frehley era.

With the 40th anniversary of KISS right around the corner, the band has been rapidly approaching a lot of milestones.  More so, they've been making sure that fans remember those anniversay just as well; to the point where they were promoting the 35th anniversary of the Alive! album with a tour two years before it's anniversary.  (Ah, but my biography about them, Black Diamond, came out in a revised "tenth anniversary" edition twelve years after the first edition, so who am I to nitpick?)

We just saw the 35th anniversary of Love Gun (released in June 1977), and it too got a bit of a push by the band and fans.  Still, there's one rapidly approaching that probably will get glossed over and that's the 30th anniversary of Creatures of the Night being released (October 1982).

Yet, there are so many milestones associated with this album that they really do need to give it some love in the coming months.  With this album we saw:

1)  The final album of the band in their makeup personas before dumping them with the Lick It Up album in 1983.  It would never be the same after this.  We had gone nine years with them building upon their makeup and costumes to the point we saw these characters on-stage singing songs rather than just four guys in makeup playing characters.  "God of Thunder" and "War Machine" never sounded the same after this, even with Gene standing there and singing them just as before with the makeup, because on that tour in 82-83 and before it was always the DEMON singing them, not Gene.  We could lose ourselves in the magic of the moment.  Even Gene knew this and chose not to sing "God of Thunder" for many years without the makeup.  Now he does it again in costume and makeup, but we know Gene too well these days.  It's no longer the DEMON there, it's this rich old guy who fronts a burger and a mini-golf joint, while strong-arming fans to buy merchandise.  Gene's not alone there - the return of the makeup was a nice reminder of the past, but it was never THE past.  The original band would die after the Creatures tour and be reborn as KISS with regained strength, but it would never be THAT band from the 1970s ever again.

2)  The first album where fans REALLY knew something was wrong.  Before this, we had inklings that something was up.  We could sit there listening to Unmasked and say, "Boy, that doesn't sound like Peter," but there he was in the "Shandi" video and there he was with the other three publicly wishing each other well as Peter left the band (true, we would later find out that they were patting each other in the back with knives in their hands, but for the moment at least, it felt like sincere best wishes from all involved).  Here, however, we could instantly tell, "I see Ace on the cover, but I'm not hearing him on this album."  Then the word got out that Ace was "sick" and would have a substitute for "part of the tour."  Yet, we accepted it, because we believed in these guys and thought, "Hey, cool, maybe this concert will be the one that will see Ace return!"  We believed. Even when we got to the shows and saw the "tenth anniversary" t-shirts with Vinnie on them instead of Ace, we believed.  And we kept on believing until Vinnie turned up on the next album cover.  And we all felt a bit suckered at that moment, even if we knew they were lying to us all along.

3)  The first album to have a really, really screwy front cover.  Okay, that's pretty much a lie in some ways, as the cover photo by Bernard Vidal is brilliant.  The problem is that it has a lead guitarist on there that isn't represented on the vinyl therein.  Instead, it's a number of performers, with Vinnie Vincent picking up a lot of the slack.  Then they re-release it in 1985 with a revised cover ... only this time (A) without makeup and (B) with Bruce Kulick there.  As discussed in my new book KISS FAQ, Neil Zlozower's photo wasn't even intended for the cover, but used as an afterthought because it was a good photo of the then-current band.  And the fact that Bruce isn't on the album?  Ah, who's gonna care, right?  Saying all this, it is also ...

4)  The first album with Vinnie.  Vinnie would throw in enough ideas for this album that you can immediately tell why Gene and Paul decided he would be a good catch for lead guitarist.  And with that addition, Vinnie would go on to really become a central part of the success in the follow-up album, Lick It Up.   For years, fans have been split on if it was his influence that saw the band reignite in the 1980s or because the makep came off, but it's all "chicken or the egg" stuff 30 years on.  The relationship would soon sour (something for another blog in the future), but there's no denying the fact that Vinnie had a strong say in creating songs for the band that would do very well for KISS on the subsequent album.  It all started here.  Yet, on the other side of that argument --

5)  The turn of the band back up from the bottom began here.  Unmasked had been a popular tour for KISS ... but in Europe and Australia.  In the U.S.A., there was even a wonder if perhaps the band had broken up (and maybe that was a hope by a few critics as well).  Then we got Music From "The Elder" and no tour, which seemed to have everyone on edge (including members of the band, and in particular Eric and Ace, who thought The Elder was a big mistake for the band, but couldn't get Gene and Paul to listen to them).  At a time where the British Metal movement was proving that the Hard Rock of the '70s could still sell well in the '80s as Heavy Metal, here was KISS doing a orchestrated rock-opera aimed at kids.  No wonder there were questions about the band.  Yet, as Eric Carr once told me in an interview, then came Creatures, which was a hard-rocking album with a lot of "take no prisoner" songs on it.  If, as Eric put it, that album had come out in 1981 instead The Elder, the band would have never seen the problems they ran into in 82-84.  Maybe he was right, but as it was, the album and tour sold poorly based namely on the perception that KISS was no longer relevant, even though Creatures demonstrated that perception was incorrect.  They would prove those naysayers wrong, but it would take the removal of the makeup to get the general public to even look their way again.  Yet, as much as Lick It Up is seen as a turning-point for the band's popularity, without Creatures there never would have been a Lick It Up.

Even with all this, Creatures is typically pushed aside, as the band and fans concentrate on the albums around it today.  Even The Elder gets more love, it seems.  But for those of us who were there, remember running out to buy the album that October and standing in the freezing snow to get tickets to that tour, it was a glimmer of light in a period of darkness for the band.  KISS would soon be back on top as the 1980s moved along, relieved in knowing that somehow they had gotten back in control of their career(s), but for those of us listening in October 1982, we knew.  We knew.

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