ROCK YOUR FACE OFF
Kix might just be the last of the '80's bands to release new material. By now, it seems like everybody else you could name from the glory days of yesteryear has made a stab at making music in the new millennium. Of course, a lot of them, we wish they hadn't, and just left us to our misty-eyed memories. Others have released music that, while not stacking up against the old favorites, at least doesn't embarrass the band or tarnish the legacy. A bare few have been able to create something that rivals the classics.
There's no doubt Kix is as good a live band as they ever were in the '80's. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic, you've had plenty of changes to catch them live since their reunion during the holiday season of 2003, and the band has begun playing outside their home base more and more. Barring that, one viewing of the Live In Baltimore DVD, shot in late 2010, should answer any questions about the band's onstage prowess. But playing the old songs is one thing? How would they fare when it came to actually sitting down and writing songs, let alone without bassist Donnie Purnell, Kix's main songwriter during their first run (and the only member not included in the reunion)?
The answer comes in the form of Rock Your Face Off, the first new Kix material since 1995's oddly lackluster, tree-falling-in-an-empty-forest swan song, Show Business. And while it would have been damn near impossible to top the holy trinity of Midnite Dynamite, Blow My Fuse and Hot Wire, Rock Your Face Off is more than satisfying. Singer Steve Whiteman's band Funny Money have written a handful of songs on each of their albums that rise to near Kix-like quality, but having the twin guitars of Ronnie Younkins and Brian Forsythe, along with drummer Jimmy Chalfant and Funny Money bassist Mark Schenker, gives the overall sound that extra spark that sizzles for most of the album. Kix were always known as a very high-energy band, and songs like "Wheels In Motion," "Mean Miss Adventure," "Rock 'n' Roll Showdown" and the title track keep the accelerator jammed. Maybe even more rewarding are the big singalong choruses in songs like "Rollin' In Honey," "All The Right Things" and the disc's first single "Love Me With Your Top Down." Younkins and Forsythe show what an underrated guitar team they are, their approach deceptively simple, Forsythe with a twangy, Telecaster tone he's been using in his other gig with Rhino Bucket. Whiteman, perhaps owing to his day job as a voice teacher, is in fine form, putting most of his contemporaries to shame. Just watch him shriek through "She Dropped Me The Bomb" or Midnite Dynamite" on Live In Baltimore for proof. He isn't as over-the-top on Rock Your Face Off, but still gets his licks in here and there. He's bitched the most in the past about Donnie Purnell hogging the songwriting, so I would hazard the guess that most of the new songs are his. In a way, it sounds like if Funny Money could write most of an album full of "Boogie Man" and "About Women".
Say what you will about a bunch of 50-something men singing about chasing pussy and living the life of wild, freewheeling rock 'n' roll bandits, but what the hell did you expect from Kix? If they'd squeezed out a prune-fed turd of a song like "MP3" off the latest Tesla release, I think I might have lost faith completely. Besides, I hope chasing pussy, or at least thinking about it, never stops being fun. The one exception here is "Inside Outside Inn," which, unfortunately, isn't a paean to a no-tell motel. Instead, it's a tender, middle-aged-guy love song to his wife "and those two kids you talked me into." Gotta sing one for the little lady who puts up with all your bullshit, right? Not coincidentally, the song blows, the weakest track on the album, and Mrs. Whiteman is the only one diggin' it. But then, the band has never quite topped 1983's "For Shame" in the ballad department anyway. Aside from that, and a couple other below-average songs ("Can't Stop The Show" and "Dirty Girls"), it's hard to find much to complain about.
PITRIFF RATING - 81/100 - I ain't gonna lie to ya: Rock Your Face Off can't replicate the heard-it-at-a-million-parties familiarity of the band's best work. To expect that in 2014 would be ridiculous, and the same goes for the studio polish of 1988. But it's by no means a disappointment, either. Give the band credit for taking the trouble to write new material, rather than raiding the vaults, Van Halen style. (And there is a ton of unreleased Kix material out there in the dark corners of the Internet, in demo form from the old days.) Rock Your Face Off may not quite live up to the lofty standards of fan favorites from the past, but the band is generally successful in capturing the sound, and just as important, the intangible FEEL of Kix. They made the effort and got most of it right. What more could you ask for? I'm satisfied.