The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 21:
No matter how you feel about Kiss’s concept album Music From the Elder, it was a commercial dud. It was Kiss’ first serious flop as a band since hitting the big time in 1975 with Kiss Alive! More significantly, it was part of a trend: Kiss chaos. Since the solo albums, Kiss were fragmented. The band weren’t playing on all the songs anymore, and members were leaving. They had strayed from their music roots and become a comic book novelty act. The Elder was not so much an album that people didn’t “get”, but one they didn’t care to “get”. Fans were moving on.
The European record label, Phonogram, was in damage control mode. They drew up plans to issue an album consisting of new and old songs; a compilation to put some money back in the coffers. They weren’t mucking around. They wanted a batch of new rock songs, but Kiss had effectively become a trio. Ace Frehley hadn’t left the band officially, but he was no longer involved creatively. Filling the guitar slot again was Bob Kulick. As he did on Kiss Alive II, Bob played lead guitar on the new songs. A 1988 book called Kiss: Still on Fire also named Ratt’s Robbin Crosby as a guitar player on the new songs, though this is a claim not backed up in any other source. Paul provided the new songs, written with old and new friends: Mikel Japp, Adam Mitchell, and some Canadian guy named Bryan something. Bryan Adams? Cuts like a knife indeed! Adams co-wrote the lethal “Down On Your Knees”, and it wouldn’t be his last songwriting credit with Kiss either.
The best new tune in the batch was called “Nowhere to Run”, and it was one of the rockers that Kiss were working on before they decided to do The Elder instead. The sheer quality of this Stanley-penned underdog really supports the theory that doing The Elder was a mistake. “Nowhere to Run” was classic Stanley, as good as anything on his solo album and exactly the kind of song that Kiss should have been doing. In an alternate universe where The Elder never came out, what could have happened to Kiss? Unfortunately the new compilation called Kiss Killers was never released in North America. “Nowhere to Run” could do very little to change Kiss’ fortunes without being released in their native country.
The second-finest of the new songs is a little ditty called “I’m a Legend Tonight”. Paul has somewhat disowned these songs since, but it is really hard to understand why. This is a hard hitting Paul rocker, as only Paul can do. It’s all innuendo and hot guitar licks. The riff is simple and hooky, while Kulick plays for all he’s worth. No longer was Bob being told to “play like Ace”. His signature scorch really makes these new songs sound like a continuation of the Paul Stanley solo album. Then there is “Down on Your Knees”, the one with Bryan Adams’ fingerprints on it. It’s hard to tell, although it’s not outside the Adams ballpark. It’s a sleazy rocker, spare and sounding great. The new tracks were produced by Michael James Jackson, who finally captured Eric Carr’s drums properly. Bob Ezrin buried them under mud on The Elder. Kiss Killers sounds more like the real Eric Carr debut album. The last of the new songs, “Partners in Crime”, is the weakest of the four. Paul takes it down to a slow sexy grind, but “Partners in Crime” lacks the charisma of the other three.
As far as the new songs could be considered a “comeback”, it’s close but no cigar. There’s no discernable Demon. Where is Gene Simmons? The lack of any audible Simmons vocals makes you question whether he even played bass on the new songs. Regardless, Kiss is about a balance between Gene and Paul, and Killers represents the first heavy skew towards Paul.
The hits on the record make for great listening. Most of the key bases are covered: “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “Love Gun”, “God of Thunder” and even “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”. There are no Peter Criss songs, and the only Frehley is “Cold Gin”, which Gene sings. The only ballad is “Sure Know Something”, a minor hit in Germany where this album was issued. In a cool touch, the record closes with the “live” (quotation marks!) version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” that made them superstars. It is the more well known, and arguably superior version. (Some of the other tracks are edits or single versions.*)
Kiss’ very first Japanese bonus tracks were on Killers. The Japanese version is an even better listen. They put a bonus track in the second-to-last position on each side: “Shandi” (massive hit in Australia) and “Escape From the Island” (previously unreleased in Japan — it wasn’t included on their version of The Elder). “Shandi” is just a great fucking song, and “Escape From the Island” is a cool inclusion because of a) its obscurity, and b) its total Ace Frehley shreddery. It is interesting to note, that only Japan had tracks from the two most recent Kiss albums, Unmasked and Music From the Elder. The rest of the world did not. Were Kiss already trying to bury those records?
Periodically, the new songs on Kiss Killers have reappeared on single B-sides, compilations and box sets. The best way to get them is just to pick up a copy of Killers. Choose your format, sit back and rock!
* “Shout it Out Loud” is a single version with a different mix on the lead vocals and an early fade. “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” are edited versions.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/27