The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 3:
Sunny California awaited Kiss, and producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise. Hotter Than Hell was an apt title for the album they were set to record, but nobody was happy. Maybe it was homesickness, but Hotter Than Hell is sonically perhaps the very worst Kiss album ever released. Brittle, thin and tinny are three appropriate words to describe its sonic flatness. What are supposed to be drums sound more like wooden planks. It sounds less like an human drummer and more like a clanking machine flailing away in a deep cave.
Production issues keep Hotter Than Hell off the tops of many lists, but the songs were all there. It remains a favourite for many, a reminder of times both good and bad, as nostalgia helps wipe clean the lingering audio disappointment. Kiss had little problem coming up with 10 great songs, mere months after their debut album Kiss (also 1974). Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had the usual goods, and Ace Frehley provided co-writes on three songs. And what songs they were.
The slow riff for “Got to Choose” is a perfect opener, chunky yet melodic. Paul sings lead, Gene harmonizes, and a Kiss classic is born. “Ooh ooh ooh, got to choose who’s your baby!” they sing, and who doesn’t love “ooo ooo ooo’s” in their choruses? They contrast well with the heavy Kiss guitars, much edgier than the jangle of Kiss. Yet that’s nothing compared to the machine gun tactics of “Parasite”, a Frehley signature track as sung by Gene Simmons. When Ace does contribute his own material, it sounds like idiosyncratic Frehley. “Parasite” powers its way through the sonic haze, forcing its way above the sludgy sound. Ace’s solo remains a trademark, a stuttering classic you can hum in your sleep. Guitarists the world over got their start trying to play “Parasite”.
This makes way for the first Kiss “ballad” if you want to call it that: “Goin’ Blind”. It’s really too heavy to be a ballad, but it’s also too slow and mournful to be a rocker. This track goes back years, as Gene wrote it with his Wicked Lester bandmate Stephen Coronel as “Little Lady”. Though the lyrics may not appeal to all (“I’m 93, you’re 16”), “Goin’ Blind” is one of Gene’s finest songs. Ace’s solo just cries (loudly).
Paul Stanley’s title track is a favourite. The groove is what Kiss call their “monster plod”, and you know it when you hear it. It stomps, it rolls, and it takes its time. “Hotter Than Hell” has not one but two amazing riffs, and some of Ace Frehley’s coolest wailing. Frehley’s outro solo is multitracked, surely one of the earliest examples of this in Kiss. Then Frehley burns it all to the ground on “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Lightning licks and turbo charged rock n’ roll get the sweat pouring. Anyone who wants to know what the fuss about Kiss is all about just need to play “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Get past the sonics and focus on the adrenaline.
Dig that cowbell on “All the Way”, a Simmons rock and roll celebration. Though it wasn’t on Kiss Alive!, and hasn’t become a Kiss mainstay, that is not a reflection on its quality. Hotter Than Hell is often heavy and oppressive. “All the Way” is just fun, blowing off steam, and having a good time. “Watching You”, on the other hand, is one of those heavy Kiss grooves that Gene does so well. Listen to his bass playing, too. Cream were one of his big influences, and though Gene is no Jack Bruce, he composes melodic rolling bass lines. Because of his persona, and because it is more about the act than the musicianship, Gene’s skills on the four string are often overlooked. “Watchin’ You” places them front and center. And just listen to Paul Stanley coming in screamin’ at about 1:35! What a voice. There were no slouches in Kiss. Even hampered by the tinny drum sound, Peter Criss is ferocious, almost tribal. (And with tasteful use of cowbell.)
Paul Stanley has come up with some very cool, simple and classic rock and roll riffs over the years. Tracks like “Mr. Speed”, “C’mon and Love Me”, and more recently “All For the Love of Rock & Roll”. Add “Mainline” to that list of great Paul Stanley guitar parts. This song is given to Peter Criss to apply his rasp to. Compared to the more aggressive material elsewhere, “Mainline” almost slips between the cracks. It has become a favourite in fan circles. So has “Coming Home”, a rare Stanley/Frehley co-write. It is unfortunate that you cannot clearly hear the nuances of the rhythm guitars, because Paul and Ace blend their parts very well. “Coming Home” is so upbeat and energetic that you just keep trying to hear it a little better.
A Sabbathy closer called “Strange Ways” was written by Ace and given to Peter Criss to sing. This is an early example of Frehley’s loyalty to Criss. Ace knew that Peter could use another vocal on the album more than Paul and Gene did. Peter nailed it, and with Gene Simmons joining on the chorus, Kiss just flattened everything. Kiss rarely got as heavy as “Strange Ways”, and “Parasite” too…both Frehley songs.
Hotter Than Hell could easily score a 5/5 stars, but the sonics are impossible to simply ignore. Every time you listen to it, there are things that sound irritating. Instruments that don’t sound like themselves. Notes and beats you struggle to hear. It’s unfortunate that such a potentially lethal album was neutered by the lack of magic in the studio. But it was OK. Casablanca Records weren’t about to give up. A third album would be needed, pronto.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Some of the party/sex/sex/sex etc. songs Kiss filled the first album with were replaced by songs with darker lyrical themes. The sound on this album is, well…shit. This seems fitting considering all the bad experiences the band had while making this record (Ace’s face was mangled in a car accident). There are some great songs here, especially on side one. But side two is murked up a bit with a some clunkers.
Not only the first Kiss album I ever owned, but the very first rock record as well. I think my second record was The Bay City Rollers Greatest Hits.
Favorite Tracks: “Parasite”, “Got to Choose”, “Strange Ways”
Forgettable Tracks: “Mainline”, “Comin’ Home”
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/06/29