The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 5:
The band was expected to be huge, so what was going wrong? They had the look and they had the stage show. They had two albums and both underperformed. Casablanca label head Neil Bogart wasn’t about to give up, and took matters in his own hands. He brought the band back to Electric Lady in New York and economically produced the third album himself.
Kiss’ Dressed to Kill was their third LP in 12 months. It was not a drastic change of direction. It offered the same basic rock and roll that Kiss presented on the first two. Bogart provided a clean production, a better sound but not too dissimilar from the first Kiss. It was miles away better than the sludge of Hotter Than Hell, and it was a shorty (just half an hour). Like the first two albums, it recycled some old Wicked Lester songs and Kiss-ified them.
Kiss was touring relentlessly so it was no surprise to hear songs like “Room Service” among the new tracks.
I’m feelin’ low, no place to go,
And I’m a-thinking that I’m gonna scream,
Because a hotel all alone is not a
Rock and roll star’s dream.
But just when I’m about to shut the light and go to bed,
A lady calls and asks if I’m too tired or if I’m just to dead for…
Room service, baby I could use a meal,
Room service, you do what you feel,
Room service, I take the pleasure with the pain,
I can’t say no.
An upbeat workmanlike Kiss song about sex on the road? Just what Dr. Rock ordered. The jangly rock and roll of early Kiss is omnipresent, and so are the cat-like pitter-patter drum rolls of Peter Criss. Ace Frehley’s solo is multitracked for extra harmonic punch. Then the album goes for a slow groove on “Two Timer”, a Gene stomp powered by his melodic basslines. Kiss’ voices blend consummately for a nice memorable monster chorus. The “Ladies in Waiting” arrive next, and according to the lyrics, “You’ve been to the market, and the meat looks good tonight.” He’s not singing about Porterhouse steaks (or Uncle Meat). The groove has kick, and plenty of Ace’s guitar fireworks.
Peter Criss had only one lead vocal on Dressed to Kill: “Getaway”, written by Ace. The guitarist hadn’t started singing lead himself, and he knew that Peter needed more material to sing. “Getaway” is a traditional rock n’ roll lick with Pete’s rasp and smooth style. There is nothing wrong with an enjoyably simple Kiss song, especially when it’s one of Ace’s. That goes double if Peter Criss is singing on it. “Getaway” might not be a classic but it’s a deeply enjoyable album cut.
Dressed to Kill‘s first side had a brilliant closer in “Rock Bottom”, a song in two parts. In the years since, Ace Frehley has quite competently come up with some beautiful acoustic songs. On his solo and Frehley’s Comet albums of more recent years, he usually has an acoustic instrumental in his “Fractured” series. The “Rock Bottom” intro might be considered a prequel to the “Fractured” series. A piece like this came out of left field on a Kiss album. He and Paul Stanley created a lovely blend of acoustics, and Neil Bogart captured it warm and clean. As long as the intro is “Rock Bottom” itself, another one in a series of classic Paul Stanley rockers. Paul has a knack for punchy and memorable rock and roll guitar songs, and “Rock Bottom” gets you right between the eyes.
It’s actually two Paul songs in a row that deserve the “classic” tag. Not just “Rock Bottom”, but the side two opener “C’Mon and Love Me” is as brilliant as a 100 watt bulb right in the face. Paul is probably not recognized enough for his riff writing. Iommi, Page and Young are icons of riff, but Paul has really written some corkers over the years. “C’Mon and Love Me” remains so awesome today because of that biting riff. Not quite so with the pop rocker “Anything For My Baby”. It’s too similar to the forthcoming (and superior) “Rock and Roll all Nite”. However side two is quickly redeemed by the heavy-as-fuck “She”. Yes, “She”, the same “She” that sounded like Jethro Tull on acid when recorded for Wicked Lester (1973). Kiss transformed a corny hippie experiment into Sabbathy metal shrapnel. Instead of a wanky falsetto, Gene employed his deep monster voice on “She”. Combined with Peter Criss’ tribal drums, “She” slams you to the wall so turn it right up.
“Love Her All I Can” is goofy filler, another old Wicked Lester remake. Not one of their finest moments, but important to the history of the band. It is notable as being another fine example of Gene and Paul blending their voices for a nice thick chorus. Frehley’s solo smokes so hot it’ll set off your fire alarm, but the song itself ranks low. This matters not, because “Rock and Roll all Nite” was held back as the final track. When Gene and Paul wrote together, they created magic. But it’s not just Simmons and Stanley that can take all the credit. Peter Criss’ cat-groove is unmistakably integral to the song. Neil Bogart did a better job of capturing the band than Kerner and Wise did. He also pushed the band into writing an anthem for themselves, and write it they did. Notably, for the first time outsiders were brought into the studio to appear on a Kiss album. In this case it was just friends and roadies, but it was also the first Kiss “gang vocal”.
There we go. Hit written. Or was it?
“Rock and Roll all Nite” failed to scorch the charts as it was designed to do. Bogart and Casablanca Records were in dire straits now. They had unwisely banked on a Johnny Carson comedy album to sell millions, and were sitting on all that unsold product. (It would not be the last time Casablanca got cocky and made that mistake.) If the record label were in trouble, by extension, so was Kiss.
Dressed to Kill will always be fondly remembered for rocking and rolling us all nite, for the very first time. It’s also a beautiful record jacket to look at. The black and white photo of Kiss in ill-fitting suits, surrounded by embossed Kiss logos, was quite striking. Simmons looks particularly demented, only deepening his Demon image. It’s a good Kiss album, but if they were to survive they had to make a serious statement. Most importantly, they had to capture that thunderous sound at its full potential, something every producer thus far had failed to do. It was time to come Alive!
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Almost exactly half an hour of perfect Rock and Roll. The shortest Kiss album is the best Kiss album in Uncle Meat’s opinion. After a sophomore slide, Kiss’ third album somehow improved the sound by getting the president of their record company to produce? What shouldn’t have worked, worked perfectly with Kiss under the gun and writing, recording and releasing Dressed to Kill in a ridiculous five months after Hotter Than Hell. Why does it take Metallica 45 years to make a fucking album again? Don’t say ego…because we are talking about the Donald Trump of egos in Gene Simmons by himself here. Fuck Metallica’s bullshit!!! (* I apologize…this is for another time to be determined *) Anyway, Kiss became tighter as a band and better musicians through constant touring. This prepared them to brave these unlikely circumstances and produce not only some of my favorite all-time songs of theirs, but undoubtedly the song that would live on as the very flagpole the Kiss Army flag is attached to, “Rock and Roll all Nite”.
Short but sweet has never been so apropos to describe a record. The chorus of “C’mon and Love Me”. The cowbell in “Room Service”. Then “She” takes off her clothes and I’m sold. Best album of their career. Another interesting Kiss note…Only twice have Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley shared writing credits alone on a song together: “Comin’ Home” and “Rock Bottom”. The former being a song I have already mentioned I don’t really like much, and the latter being a Top 3 Kiss song for me. Ironically a song titled “Rock Bottom” is the exactly the antithesis of that. Top shelf Rock and Roll from the band that got me into Rock and Roll. Also in my Top 3 album covers of all time. Scared the shit out of me when I was a kid.
Favorite Tracks: “Rock Bottom”, “Love Her All I Can”, “She”, “C’mon and Love Me”, “Room Service”
Forgettable Tracks: None
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/04