Blatant Pop Attempts: Kix, “Cool Kids”

Written by Music

The cutout bins are filled with what I’ve always called “blatant pop attempts” — albums created for maximum commercial appeal that, despite such intentions, failed miserably on all fronts. In most cases, one listen to the album in question reveals precisely why it was such a dud. I mean, we consumers have bought a lot of crap over the years, but we know when we’re being pandered to, right?

But what about those BPAs that really weren’t all that bad?

One such album is Kix’s 1983 release Cool Kids. I remember seeing the cover and thinking the band had a bit of a Ramones vibe going on. They looked metal, of course, but these were the days before “hair metal,” so the shaggy manes weren’t an automatic turn-off. I was in the mood to rock and these guys looked like they might just deliver, so I bought the album.

What I heard both confused and delighted me. Imagine, if you will, a band that looked like a Baltimore street gang (not that I’ve actually seen a Baltimore street gang, mind you) coming at you with a synth-heavy mix of bubblegum and vintage AC/DC. It’s a weird mix on paper and even weirder coming through the headphones, but once I wrapped my teenage mind around it, I was hooked.

“Cool Kids” is the kind of song that should’ve been blasting out of radios during the summer of ’83, a pitch-perfect slice of teen angst set against staccato guitars and a tight-as-a-prom-date (did I really just type that?) bass line. Seriously, download this bad boy and give it a spin. If you aren’t rockin’ the air guitar in your cubicle by the first chorus, we may wanna start feelin’ for a pulse, brah.

“Loco-Emotion” continues in a similar vein, mixing percolating synths during verses that are just as sing-along as the Firebird-approved chorus. The only downside to this gem of a track is a hilariously misguided sax break at the 2:16 mark. If not for that, I’d be hard-pressed to find any reason for this track remaining such a well-kept secret.

A precursory glance at the writing credits reveals some interesting names. Holly Knight (a writer-for-hire best known for such vanilla pop hits as “Obsession,” “Love Is a Battlefield,” and “Better Be Good to Me”)? Nick Gilder (he of “Hot Child in the City” fame)? Normally, seeing such names should strike fear into the hearts of the faint, but here, the damage is kept to a minimum. In fact, the outside material meshes incredibly well with the band’s own material, resulting in an album that sounds like a unified effort rather than a hodgepodge of mismatched ingredients.

“Nice on Ice” and “Mighty Mouth” are probably the best unadulterated Kix tracks, free of kitschy synthesizers and other bells and whistles employed on much of the rest of Cool Kids. While revisiting these tracks for the first time in 20-odd years, it dawned on me that Kix was probably about three or four years ahead of their time and that a little band called Poison swiped the template right out from under these guys and rode it to the top of the charts. Bret Michaels, in fact, seems to have stolen his entire shtick from Kix’s far superior frontman, Steve Whiteman.

Sure, Kix did manage a top-ten hit of their own in 1989 with the rote power ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” but, by then, many lesser bands had rocketed to platinum status by employing much the same strategy Kix displayed on Cool Kids. Too bad nobody was paying attention.

Peak chart position: #177