The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 25:
Animalize: a huge hit not proportional to the quality of the songs inside. It went platinum on the strength of lead single “Heaven’s On Fire”, but going deeper into the record, Kiss did not have the goods this time.
New guitarist Mark St. John (formerly Mark Norton) replaced the fired Vinnie Vincent, and in doing so, continued Kiss’ quest for shreddery dominance. In the 80s you had to have an Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen to get noticed, or so it seemed, and that was what Kiss went for. In the meantime, Gene Simmons was off in Hollywood leaving Paul Stanley to do handle Kiss, something Paul eventually came to resent.
Paul Stanley re-teamed with his songwriting buddy Desmond Child. Their last collaboration was 1979’s disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” from Dynasty. The partnership struck gold a second time with “Heaven’s On Fire”, a simple song perfectly suited for the Kiss of the 80s and beyond. Paul Stanley’s “Woo-ooo-ooo-ooo-OOOOO-ooo” intro is legendary and truthfully a song like “Heaven’s On Fire” isn’t too far removed from classic Kiss. Paul’s sassy delivery is enviable.
Desmond Child also co-wrote the opening number “I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)”. As the 80s began, Kiss seemed determined to write fast songs for their albums. Very fast songs. “I’ve Had Enough” is one of those, and it’s a good one too, though it was rarely played in concert. You’d never guess Desmond was involved without reading the credits, but you’d also not imagine it was Kiss if it wasn’t Paul singing.
Another fine Paul song called “Get All You Can Take” is a co-write with Mitch Weissman whose name has repeatedly popped up on Kiss credits over the years. This slow paced sleazy rocker has one of the few Kiss f-bombs in the chorus: “What fucking difference does it make?” Mark St. John’s solo is a blazing showcase of different tricks and techniques, but it suits the song rather awkwardly like an ill fitting tux. Such was the problem with a jazz-influenced shredder in Kiss.
Another fast number is “Under the Gun” written by Paul, Desmond and drummer Eric Carr. This one was played frequently on the Animalize tour though there are better songs. Fluttery guitars sound like laser beams zipping back and forth. Carr kicks ass, but it’s not a great track. Paul gets in a cute double entendre though: “There’s no speed limit where I’m coming from…let’s hit the highway doing 69!”
The final Paul song is probably the best one, although he has since criticized it as not good enough. “Thrills in the Night”, co-written with Jean Beauvoir, deserves praise. Sometimes the artist is their own worst critic, but “Thrills in the Night” is awesome, dramatic Kiss rock. The chorus goes on for weeks and the soloing fits.
If Animalize was a Paul Stanley solo EP, there would be enough good songs to give it a passing grade. However…we have the Gene Simmons songs.
Animalize shall forever be cursed as the album with the lyric, “I wanna put my log in your fireplace.” Yes, the man who once wrote a song with Bob Dylan also wrote a ditty called “Burn Bitch Burn”. The riff is awesome. It has its moments. It’s also undeniably one of Gene’s worst lyrics, and that is saying something. The song also sounds unfinished, as if he said, “OK good enough, onto the next song.” Fortunately Mark St. John’s solo playing is awesome, though not especially accessible. And that’s Gene’s best song on the album.
Gene’s other songs are “Lonely is the Hunter”, “While the City Sleeps” and “Murder in High Heels”. Of these, “Lonely is the Hunter” is by far the best. A slow sleazy groove is more up Kiss’ alley than these fast speed rockers. All three of these songs have one quality in common with “Burn Bitch Burn”, and that is that they sound like rough ideas gone unfinished. Animalize was produced by Paul (with a co-producer credit for Gene). A Kiss producer like Bob Ezrin likely would have told Gene to go back and come up with better material. The most interesting thing about “Lonely is the Hunter” and “Murder in High Heels” is the solo work. It’s stellar. It’s not overdone. It’s melodic and memorable. And it’s…familiar. Future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick stepped in to play ghost guitar on these songs.
The trend of Kiss using uncredited outside musicians was growing. Allan Schwartzberg (who also played on The Elder) did drum overdubs. Jean Beauvoir played bass on “Under the Gun”. Gene played the rhythm guitars on his own songs. That’s why the credits on Kiss albums always simply state: KISS – and the names of the members.
Gene cut his hair short for a movie called Runaway. He starred as the villain (of course) Dr. Luther, opposite Tom Selleck. Kirstie Alley was in it, and it was written and directed by Michael Crichton. Considering the year and the names involved, this was a fairly high profile role. Gene went for it, and has since admitted his brain wasn’t in Kiss at the time. The wig he wore on stage with the band made him look silly, and new fans considered Paul the singer and Gene a secondary guy. Gene’s songs weren’t singles anymore. They weren’t being played live. “Burn Bitch Burn” was only ever played once! These were all clues as to what was going on behind the scenes. Paul was sailing the ship now. He had no choice. Animalize suffers for it. Gene is to blame for his own downfall during the period and has since gracefully accepted that.
The Animalize tour was the biggest Kiss had done since the glory years, but troubles began early. Mark St. John couldn’t play. He was diagnosed with an arthritic condition called Reiter’s Syndrome. His hands swelled up and he simply could not do the gig. Mark passed away in 2007, but suggested that the arthritis may have been triggered by stress. The aforementioned Bruce Kulick stepped in to take his place, and did so with professionalism and respect. He got along with everyone. He was willing to learn. He was a great fit. The first great fit in many years.
The Animalize period put Kiss on MTV and on back the radio again, but its success was vastly disproportional to its quality.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: There really isn’t much to say here. “Heaven’s on Fire” is a good song that I still enjoy hearing. Everything else is OK at best and non-essential. “Burn Bitch Burn” might have some of the worst lyrics of all time.
Favorite Tracks: “Heaven’s on Fire”
Forgettable Tracks: take your pick
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/31