Sunday, August 10, 2014

KIX "Rock Your Face Off"

(c) 2014 Loud & Proud Records

  1. Wheels In Motion
  2. You're Gone
  3. Can't Stop The Show
  4. Rollin' In Honey
  5. Rock Your Face Off
  6. All The Right Things
  7. Dirty Girls
  8. Inside Outside Inn
  9. Mean Misadventure
  10. Love Me With Your Top Down
  11. Tail On The Wag
  12. Rock N Roll Showdown
Steve Whiteman--Vocals, Harmonica
Ronnie "10/10" Younkins--Guitars
Bryan "Damage" Forsythe--Guitars
Mark Schenker--Bass
Jimmy Chalfant--Drums, Vocals

Nineteen years.  That's how long it has been since Kix released a studio album.  Heck, there are people who weren't even born yet that can vote now...that's how long 19 years is!  But, you had to wonder if the top dog of the B-level hair bands wasn't going to take a stab at a new record at some point, especially with the release of their live record a couple years ago.  And, now in 2014, we find that Kix did have (at least) one more trick up their sleeve, as they have released Rock Your Face Off to their surprisingly large fan base.

A couple of weeks ago, the band teased the album's release with a lyrics video of the lead single, "Love Me With Your Top Down", and judging by the internet chatter I observed on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, the initial impression was mixed, at best.  While I certainly didn't think the song was a world changer, it was still a Kix song, without question, from the vocals of Whiteman to the catchy-yet-cheesy lyrical approach and the AC/DC-meets-a-barroom-hair band musical approach.  I had hope, but I wasn't going to let that hope turn into hype at that point.  But, once I actually received the disc and popped it in, a smile spread across my face and I was sold.  Kix was back.

True, founding member Donnie Purnell is gone from his position as bass player and chief songwriter, and that meant the band was already behind the 8-Ball to a degree, at least in terms of carrying on the musical tradition of the band.  It's one thing to go out and play all the songs you have been playing for years, and still pull it off.  But its quite another thing to write new material that still sounds like your band, especially if one of the key songwriting ingredients is gone.  For the most part, Kix manages to capture the essence of who and what they have always been on this new record.

Right from the start, the album is front-loaded with the best material on the record.  "Wheels In Motion" jumps out of the speakers with an urgent tempo and rhythm that immediately throws the listener back about 23 years, as this song is very reminiscent of the approach used on the Hot Wire album.  "You're Gone" keeps things going, but this time with a more mid-tempo track that features a throbbing bass line throughout and Whiteman's instantly recognizable sneering snarl slinking along, snagging the listener's attention, especially on the chorus.  "Can't Stop The Show" is another great track, this time taking a more simplified approach during the verses, using an out front drum-and-bass delivery to support Whiteman before the guitars come ringing in.  Three-for-three is a great way to start things off, to be sure!

"Rollin' In Honey" slips off the mark just a bit.  Lyrically and thematically it is everything Kix has always been, but the music is missing something.  It's just doesn't grab my attention all that well for some reason.  Not a skipper, but a weaker point in an otherwise great first half of the record.  The same can be said of the title track, "Rock Your Face Off", which seems like a statement kind of song from a band who has no reason to make a statement.  Yeah, we get it...you're in your 50's and you still rock.  Got it.  No need to state it or put it to music.  Honestly, if there was one song I was going to completely remove from the album, it would probably be this one, and this is as close to skip material as there is on the record.

"All The Right Things" quickly rights the ship, however, and is probably my favorite track here.  Starting off with a dark, bluesy guitar riff, this song reminds me a lot of vintage 70's era AC/DC in the way it starts, before the jangly Kix approach to music slips in and takes over in an insanely catchy song that comes so very close to capturing the magic of the band in their Midnite Dynamite-Blow My Fuse-Hot Wire span.  Just a great, great song.  

"Dirty Girls" is a simplistic, yet fun, song that really needs no explanation, as the title  pretty much says everything that can be said about this uptempo rocker that, again, really has that 70's ear AC/DC thumbprint on the music.  Again, this is one of the better songs here and really finds the band at least touching, if not fully grasping, that Kix musical magic from the late 80's/early 90's efforts.  The same can be said for album closer, "Rock & Roll Showdown", which wraps things up perfectly and gives the listener the hope that perhaps there is one more great album left in this underappreciated band that I still contend was one of the most entertaining and consistent bands of the 80's.

There are a couple of entries in the complaint department here.  One, the "big" ballad isn't present here, which is a bummer. No, I didn't expect "Don't Close Your Eyes II" or anything like that, but "Inside Outside Inn" just doesn't really hold my attention all that well.  It's not horrible, but I doubt anyone will rush right out to download this as a single, either.  The other real issue I have here is that some of the songs seem thin, like there are instruments missing.  You know what I'm talking about...when a song just doesn't feel "full".  Sometimes this happens with albums on small, independent labels that have no real production budget to speak of, and I'm wondering if that isn't the case here.  "Mean Misadventure", for example, is a solid Kix track, it just doesn't have any "beef" to it.  "Tail On The Wag" is another good track that kind of feels flat, for lack of a better term.  I don't know if this is the absence of Purnell showing through, if its a production thing, or if it was an intentional stripping of the sound, but for me it takes a couple of pretty good songs and leaves them below the par of the rest of the album.

In the end, Kix's return is a very good, very solid one, if not career re-defining.  Not as good as Blow My Fuse, Midnight Dynamite, or Hot Wire, but certainly better than their first two records and $how Bu$ine$$, this record will keep Kix fans more than happy for a long time, I suspect, and will be given consideration for many Top 20 lists by fans of the genre in general.

Rating:  Crank this to 7 and let the good times roll once again!

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