Revisiting Vinnie Vincent’s ‘Invasion’
Vinnie Vincent might not have been a great fit for Kiss personality-wise, but his work on the band's 1983 comeback album Lick It Up unquestionably heralded the arrival of a major talent — one that seemed ready to fully come into its own with the release of his 1986 solo debut.
Based on the strength of his Kiss contributions, Vincent secured a solo deal with Chrysalis Records, where he assembled a new band he called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Blending new blood with established talent, Vincent recruited Los Angeles rock vet Dana Strum on bass and added drummer Bobby Rock after an audition — and on vocals, he enlisted Robert Fleischman, whose brief stint in Journey during mid-to-late 1977 produced a handful of co-writing credits that included the band's future hit "Wheel in the Sky."
With Vincent and Strum co-producing, the quartet tracked a 10-song debut set, titled Vinnie Vincent Invasion, that arrived in stores Aug. 2, 1986. Fueled by Vincent's Kiss notoriety and a glam metal sound perfectly in step with the times, the record seemed like a surefire hit — but a number of factors were already conspiring to keep the Invasion from success.
For whatever reason, Chrysalis found it difficult to connect the band with the metal-loving hordes of America. In terms of songs and production, Vincent had his finger on the pulse of the moment, but that might have been part of the problem — in 1986, there was no shortage of bands that sounded like the Invasion, and most of them boasted guitarists who could shred underneath a mountain of makeup and Aqua Net. Radio-friendly as the record was, it didn't stand out far enough from the pack.
"On the one hand, we were never pop-metal enough to really justify that much of a Poison/glam vibe," Rock mused years later. "On the other hand, because of all the glam s---, we probably alienated a lot of the heavier music fans — and even some of the musician types — who would've otherwise dug the band."
Also complicating things were the worsening relationships between Vincent's manager and the rest of the band. After tracking vocals on the record, Fleischman was bumped out and replaced by new singer Mark Slaughter — who, despite not singing on the album, appeared at the mic in the video for its single, "Boyz Are Gonna Rock." When fans caught the band in concert during tours in support of Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden, they were getting a different product than the one they'd bought on Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
The Invasion LP ended up spending about half a year on the charts, and although it lingered in the mid-to-lower reaches of the Billboard Top 200 Albums tally during most of its run, it still did well enough to justify a follow-up — perhaps partly because Chrysalis had invested enough in Vincent and the band that they weren't ready to cut bait just yet. But not long after the release of their second effort, 1988's All Systems Go, things went completely sideways.
In one of the more complete band mutinies of the rock era, Strum and Slaughter quit the Invasion together in 1988 — and ended up essentially stepping into their old group's Chrysalis roster slot thanks to a contract clause giving the label first option on any exiting band talent. Having already groomed Slaughter for frontman status during the Systems promotional campaign, and tired of Vincent's growing reputation for eccentric behavior, the label let Vincent go and hitched its wagon to Slaughter's star. The result, 1990's Stick It to Ya, went double platinum.
For Vincent, the implosion of the Invasion was just the start of a lengthy professional downward spiral. At the time, however, he vowed to keep working, signing a new deal with Enigma and reuniting with Fleischman for an album that was supposed to give listeners a glimpse of who he really, truly was as an artist.
"I was at a vulnerable part of my life during the early parts of my solo career and I was kinda treading water," Vincent told Kerrang! in 1990. "The Invasion was really a bunch of people I found to try and execute my thing. When I put my blood and soul into something and it gets tampered with… It's like additives. You either get homemade something or you get chemicals. The public won't know any different and they'll eat it anyway. My tastes are more special, so I won't eat it. I can tell the difference."
Unfortunately for fans, the Fleischman record never materialized, with only a handful of tracks seeing release later in the decade as part of an EP that was supposed to lead into yet another album — which has also yet to arrive. In recent years, Vincent has become known more for his legal travails and online auctions than his prodigious guitar talent; as outlined in a 2014 Rolling Stone profile, it's often been difficult just to figure out where he's living. With the benefit of hindsight, at least one of his former bandmates wonders whether it all could have been avoided if things had gone just a little bit differently behind the scenes.
"Looking back," admitted Rock, "I feel like Vinnie was probably less of a liability and more misunderstood, mishandled and mismanaged all the way around. It seemed like, on a certain level, he was being 'imaged' as more of a super-glam, wild and crazy rock star kind of character, when he should've been handled more like a private Ritchie Blackmore kind of character, which is more what he was like."
Kiss Albums Ranked Worst to Best