War Machine: KISS’s Creatures of the Night Turns 40 

Diving into the new Super Deluxe Edition of the classic 1982 LP

Creatures of the Night promo poster (Image: eBay)

Creatures of the Night is the greatest KISS album of the ‘80s. It’s probably also the second-best studio release from the quartet.

And, yep, just like Burt Reynolds made better movies without a mustache, KISS made better albums with makeup. To wit: Destroyer, Creatures, Alive! 

But if there was a time for the New York quartet to take off its makeup and shake up the rock ‘n’ roll dust, 1982 was probably it. Sure, there was a KISS in name but not necessarily spirit. 1981’s rather good (Music From) The Elder had stiffed like a Dom DeLuise/Don Knotts-led rom-com; Peter Criss was gone and although Ace Frehley appeared in publicity shots and on the cover of Creatures you’d have to be deaf to think those solos were his. Casablanca Records was in the rearview and the band’s relationship with manager Bill Aucoin had crumbled. And, who, besides KIDDS liked KISS anyway? (Not even them, it would appear.) 

So how the hell do you get a band that may not even be a band to sound like a band that has a plan? 

Dispense with the high-minded concepts, record some loud ass drums and bring your A game in the songwriting department even if it means employing hired hands. And for gawdz sake, pretend like nothing twixt Dynasty and 1981 ever happened. This was a group led by a demon, dig? 

KISS Creatures of the Night, Casablanca Records 1982

Whoever issued that brief got the message across, and 40 years on Creatures of the Night burns as brightly on your favorite DSP as it did on your turntable back when it came out. If you haven’t listened to the proper album for a while (we’ll get to those bells and whistles and tanks sounds momentarily), take note: It is as good as you remember and Gene Simmons, the atrocities he committed on later KISS albums (“Burn Bitch Burn,” anyone?) owns this album. He was the motherhumpin’ DEMON and in a way that he, never, frankly, was again. 

Take the arguably last gigantically great KISS number “I Love It Loud.” There, Simmons is full throttle attitude, delivering an anthem for the masses that serves as a mission statement for what KISS is all about—unbridled, unapologetic loudness that is not, need we reminded you, for the innocent. Co-written with Vinnie Vincent (as were two other tracks on the LP’s second side), it should have been the second coming of KISS. Perhaps had it emerged in 1983 when Quiet Riot wanted everyone to feel the noize and when Nikki Sixx and Co. were getting faux Satanic, it would have stood a chance. Instead, the album and song fell quietly into the world in 1982, just as Michael Jackson’s Thriller was about to dominate the charts. KISS wasn’t young, wasn’t good looking, but goddamn if they weren’t louder than Satan himself. 

 

VIDEO: KISS “War Machine”

And who cared (or knew) that “Rock and Roll Hell” was actually a Bachman-Turner Overdrive track (you can follow the strange history of that song online) or that it was co-written by Jim Vallance and Bryan Adams who were just beginning their ascendancy to stardom? (A second Adams / Vallance / Simmons track, “War Machine,” closes out the original LP.) It’s that hard-hitting, fire-spitting stuff that make the album so damn fine (in case that isn’t clear), enough so that Paul Stanley, whose writing would buoy the group for the remainder of the decade, sounds (for once) in danger of being outclassed by his partner. 

Stanley delivers the powerhouse ballad “I Still Love You” with aplomb and his attack on the titular piece is remarkable, but his “Danger” and “Keep Me Comin’” almost make later Simmons compositions, such as the aforementioned “Burn Bitch Burn” and “Murder in High Heels” (to say nothing of “Secretly Cruel”) seem like Renaissance masterpieces. In fact, wading through the multitude of demos and so forth, it almost seems like someone tricked latter-day Simmons into believing he was bereft of a formidable talent. The tune “Saint and Sinner,” which made the album, could have been a second or third single, but deeper material, such as “Feel Like Heaven” and “Legends Never Die” to say nothing of “It’s My Life” (later recorded by Wendy O. Williams) suggest that an even stronger album could have been constructed. 

That becomes the real joy of this set—constructing an alternative album or wondering what could have been had some of demos been fleshed out into fully-realized songs for 1983’s Lick It Up or 1984’s Animalize. We’ll never know the future KISS could have had had one or two things gone differently in 1982 and perhaps that’s why there are umpteen podcasts devoted to the group today and also why a number of fans like to pretend that the ‘80s never happened. 

Creatures of the Night box set (Image: UMe)

Another bit of “What If” gets played during the first four songs on the second disc, which previously appeared on Killers, a 1982 compilation initially available only outside the U.S. Featuring the Fearsome Foursome in their Elder-era makeup, the collection drew from both the Criss and Carr eras and suggested what the band might have sounded like had they chosen Bob Kulick rather than Vincent as their axe man. Those four new songs—“I’m A Legend Tonight,” “Down On Your Knees,” “Nowhere To Run” and “Partners In Crime”—suggest that there might have been a superb—and far more commercial—effort lying in wait between The Elder and Creatures. They also suggest that Stanley was, just then, on a hot streak as a writer, having at least half a second solo album among those songs. (Curiously, nothing save “I Still Love You” on Creatures stands up to the Killers cuts.) 

All of that is well and good and is spelunking into the lore surrounding the record—Eric Carr’s drums, Michael James Jackson’s production, how Simmons doesn’t play bass on everything, who actually plays the guitar solos—is equally fun. The new deluxe box also takes us in the half-empty arenas that KISS played during the Creatures tour, though we don’t get a true full show. (Cuts are culled from different nights.) Though we are spared(?) some interminable soloing from Vincent, we are not spared Stanley’s raps from the time. A consummate frontman and one of the wisest elder statesmen of rock, he was searching for something that David Lee Roth had already found when it came to stage patter. 

So, what do we do with this version of KISS, the one that existed just before the makeup came off, the one when we still bought into the dream, the one that was still the loudest band in the world if not the hottest band in the land? Same as we’ve always done. Same as we’ve always done. 

 

 

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Jedd Beaudoin

Jedd Beaudoin is a writer, educator and broadcaster based in Wichita, Kansas.

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