(Loud & Proud Records)
KIX is the kind of band that has little incentive to make a new album, much less a good one, in 2014 and "Rock Your Face Off," its first studio album since 1995, is better than it has any right to be. Frontman Steve Whiteman's wiry yowl is remarkably well-preserved, and the Hagerstown-based band slams into every song with muscle and vigor. Production is often the Achilles heel of reunion albums—it's hard to come back after a couple decades away without sounding dated, or overcorrecting with trendy modern production. But Taylor Rhodes, who also produced 1991's "Hot Wire," knows exactly how KIX should sound, and polishes its sound for the 21st century without overdoing the Pro Tools perfection.
Bassist Donnie Purnell is the only founding member of KIX who hasn't participated in reunion shows over the past decade, and he was also the prolific songwriter behind most of the band's hits. Whiteman, who began writing songs more often with his post-KIX band Funny Money, takes the reins impressively on "Rock Your Face Off." The band's best songs always walked the fine line between stupid and clever, and the new album's lead single 'Love Me With Your Top Down' is a sleazy double entendre worthy of classic KIX or even classic Spinal Tap.
Although KIX came to be associated with the glam metal of the Sunset Strip, the working-class Maryland guys always seemed a little closer to the genre's '70s influences like Aerosmith and AC/DC, with a generous dollop of Cheap Trick-style new wave and power pop. "Rock Your Face Off" doesn't mess with the formula too much, focusing on hard-charging anthems and only throwing in one acoustic ballad, 'Inside Outside Inn.' Whiteman's harmonica only comes out to play briefly once on 'Tail on the Wag,' but guitarist Ronnie Younkins, who also leads The Blues Vultures, contributes greasy slide guitar to 'All The Right Things' and a chooglin' riff to 'Mean Miss Adventure.'
Perhaps there's a certain futility in a band like KIX making new music when its primary asset is its past. 'Dirty Girls' swaggers like 'The Itch' from the band's 1981 self-titled debut, but it will never get the same kind of roar of recognition in concert. "Rock Your Face Off" is better than, say, the last Van Halen record, but KIX never got big enough for a comeback album to register as a mainstream event. But it can rest assured in the knowledge that it's made the best butt rock album of 2014, even if there isn't really an award for that.