KISS‘ unmasking ranks among the most disappointing moments in my life. The MTV special lacked a certain gravitas as half of the “un-maskers” had barely been in the band in 1983. Meaning for lifelong fans the only moment of interest was the two founding members of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. We find out Paul without make-up looks an awful lot like Paul with make-up. Gene. Not so much.
While seeing Vinnie without makeup will never be a key moment of KISS fandom I look back on, Lick It Up stands as KISS’ finest record of the 80’s. Vinnie Vincent had a heavy hand in its greatness. Alas, we all know how the story goes from there. His tenure, while brief, was key in putting KISS back on the map. His contributions to the albums Creature of the Night and Lick It Up and later Revenge were all significant to the success of those records.
Regardless of how one views his much-discussed departure from KISS, one thing is true. Vinnie felt restrained in KISS. And anyone who dared doubt that saw the light with the late summer of 1986 release of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion self-titled record. I had no idea what to expect as a 15-year-old me held that album in the record store. Drummer Bobby Rock’s pants actually looked painted on. Singer Robert Fleischmann, who was holding a horse whip for some reason and looked like he came straight out of a Jefferson Starship music video, didn’t exactly fit one’s perception of that era. And Vinnie. No longer the reserved classic rocker. His hair was so big it barely fit on the albums back cover. I immediately started bartering with my father to get the money to buy it.
The opening track and lead single “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” is 80’s Sunset Strip Hair Metal at its finest. The opening riff is so virile it can get you pregnant. I couldn’t hit rewind fast enough. The subsequent video, however, featured a different singer. Some little whippersnapper named Mark Slaughter. We were fed a bullshit rock ‘n’ roll tale of Vinnie wanting Mark originally but he lost his number so asked Robert to keep the seat warm until Vinnie and Dana figured out how to use a phone book. As silly as that story was, I miss the innocence of that time. Before everyone was a cynical prick. Sometimes the truth is just boring. Does it really matter why?
Before the listener gets to the second track, “Shoot U Full Of Love”, one thing is clear. This isn’t a KISS record. In many ways, it’s like listening to music for the first time. Vinnie doesn’t play the guitar on this record. He punishes it. Often playing at a pace so frenetic, I felt like I needed to clean up after each guitar solo.
Things slow down a bit with “No Substitute” which I guess is ok. But one of the tracks I like the least. “Animal” and “Twisted” are like sister cities. By the time I managed to make it to the end of side one I was in a haze. The music was both violent and melodic. I wasn’t actually sure I liked it. I didn’t know how to take it. Is it a guitar record? 80’s metal? Thrash? Melodic rock?
Flipping the tape helped. “Do You Wanna Make Love” is the most straight-up metal pop song on the record. I was instantly hooked. Unbeknownst to me, the next song “Back On The Streets” had been kicked around for some time. And almost everyone with a record deal in the early 80’s took a stab at recording their own version of it. Ace Frehley demoed it for his first post-KISS recordings. KISS demoed it for Lick It Up. And former Europe guitarist John Norum put it on his debut solo album. Here it features Vinnie splitting lead vocals with Fleischmann. I never understood the love for this song. Vinnie is an amazing songwriter. This song is a hookless snoozer.
Not to worry. The rest of the way is pure gold. “I Wanna Be Your Victim” is my favorite track on the record. Today anyway. In the same vein as “Do You Wanna Make Love” it is a radio-friendly track that should’ve been a single. It was a different world in 1986 so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the misogynistic undertones of this record forced the label and radio to stay away from songs like this. “Baby-O” is another track with some history. Based on some the early recordings I’ve heard of this song, they perfected the track for this record. Just a beautiful song.
The album ends with what could be called a title track of sorts. “Invasion” sounds like it was written to end an album. In particular this album. An epic track with one Vinnie’s best solos. Ever. The song comes to an end and we are hit some sort of feedback looping for about 73 minutes. Of course, it’s just a couple of minutes but to a fifteen-year-old, it seemed to never end. The main reason I didn’t press stop was because I had to hear how it ended.
The self-titled debut from Vinnie Vincent Invasion is an outrageous, over the top metal masterpiece. Often overlooked in an era that favored Motley Crue, RATT and Bon Jovi, VVI’s first record was a proclamation of virtuosity and songwriting. It has its haters but they are wrong. From the first boner inducing notes of “Boyz Gonna Rock” to “Invasion” last gasping sound of a guitar that had been waterboarded for 47:55, Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion is one of the best albums of an era that is easily dismissed. It challenged the perceptions of what could be done with guitars, bass, and drums. It features some of the purest peak range vocals with some of the strongest melodies and hooks of any era. If you’ve never heard it you are missing out. You can buy it here.
And if you also haven’t heard, Vinnie is taking a break from his reclusive life to spend some time with fans at the Atlanta KISS Expo on January 19th and 20th, 2018. Where you will also find some members of the Decibel Geek team. See you there!