A brief look back at the "Making of KISS's Unmasked"
The first seven months of 1980 set a frenetic pace for KISS. The band booted Peter out after a tumultuous end of the previous year's by US tour, negotiated a multimillion dollar record deal with Polygram following the resignation of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart, booked, aborted, and later reschedulded their first tour of Europe in four years, and introduced Eric Carr at a special concert at New York's Palladium theatre.
Sandwiched into this was the making of "Unmasked". KISS tapped Vini Poncia to produce and co-write most of the songs. With Vini at the helm, the band hoped that he would reprise the success he created with "Dynasty", shaping KISS's music into a pop, mainstream sound that produced the radio-friendly disco hit "I was made for lovin' you". "Unmasked" would once again plug into the successful formula that toned down KISS's hard-edged metal sound and played up the band's new status at flamboyant pop culture-icons, validated by their apperance on the cover of People magazine in August.
My most vivid recollection of the "Unmasked" recording was Gene's obsession with the album cover. Gene loved comic book art. And it meshed perfectly with the band's larger-than life, pop art persona now firmly entrenched with the public. KISS would appear in a comic strip being stalked by a goofy photographer. When the band finally unmasks, the reveal themselves to be identical in appearance to how they looked masked and made-up.
Gene championed the comic strip cover concept for "Unmasked", immersind himself in every detail of it's execution and frequently huddling with the artists at Howard Marks Advertising, who commissioned the artwork. But Paul hated it from the start. He thought it was pandering to the kiddie market that had become an enormous segment of the KISS fan base now that that KISS dolls, make-up kits and plastic guitars where spilling off the shelves of America's toy stores. "Unmasked" was all but certain to reinforce that image.
Gene prevailed and "Unmasked" was released in May. It turned out to be a Pyrric victory. Little did anyone imagine at the time that the KISS image, personified by the "Unmasked" cover, was soon to become an albatross that the band would spend most of the 80's decade trying to get rid of.