In 1982, rock icons KISS were in a dire situation to say the least. Two years prior, original drummer Peter Criss had been fired for substance abuse issues and was replaced by Eric Carr. All the while, lead guitarist Ace Frehley was coping with drug and alcohol issues of his own and wanted little to do with the band. Actually, many shared Frehley’s sentiment. The band’s last album, Music from the Elder, was a complete commercial disaster. Initially promised a return to the band’s heavy roots, fans were instead treated to KISS’s attempt at a progressive rock-styled concept album, full of pretentious medieval imagery, orchestral arrangements, and Paul Stanley’s falsetto vocals. Upon first hearing the album, Frehley reportedly smashed the tape against the wall. In fact, the album was such a flop that the band, known primarily for their live shows, couldn’t manage to fund a tour to promote the LP. It was clear that something needed to be done.
The band went into the studio in July of 1982 with the intention of delivering on their promise of a return to a heavier sound. Ironically, Frehley, who pushed hardest for more hard rock/metal material, was absent for the entire recording process. Nevertheless, he appeared on the album cover and in a few promotional appearances before leaving the band, to be replaced by Vinnie Vincent. Vincent played on several songs on Creatures of the Night and previously worked as a staff writer for the rather un-metal TV shows Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi.
As an album, Creatures of the Night is arguably one of the best albums the band ever recorded. The production by producer Michael James Jackson (not that Michael Jackson) stands in a class by itself. Eric Carr’s drums are simply monstrous, with a large amount of reverb and some spirited playing by Carr. From a songwriting standpoint, almost every song on the album is strong. The band benefited from the assistance of some prolific outside writers, including Vincent and Canadian soft-rock star Bryan Adams. Adams’s contributions, “War Machine” and “Rock and Roll Hell,” stand about as far as imaginable from the material that one would associate with him. Both songs are dark, heavy, and are played with a loose, yet purposeful feel, with solid vocals delivered by bassist/vocalist/businessman/reality star Gene Simmons. Paul Stanley’s contributions to the album range from the scorching opening title track, the Zeppelin-influenced “Keep Me Comin,’” and the heartfelt, soulful ballad “I Still Love You,” which features Carr moving from the drum stool to the bass. The only weak spot on the album is “Danger, ” which screams filler. Otherwise, the album is a classic and a must-have for KISS fans.
As for the album’s economic success, it proved to be too little too late for the band. Both the album and the supporting tour were disappointments. The following year, KISS would remove their makeup and reveal their faces for the first time on MTV. The unmasking led to a second wave of popularity for the band, who would eventually reunite with Frehley and Criss (and their signature makeup) in 1996. Over three decades later, Creatures stands as a fan favorite album, with tracks such as “I Love It Loud,” “War Machine,” and the title track being played in concert to this day.
If you enjoyed reading this review, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my next post. Next week, a friend and I will be taking a look at a recent KISS project so bizarre, it took two of us to review it! Stay tuned!