Reviewing Paul Stanley’s new album, Now and Then featuring his new band Soul Station, is probably the most challenging task I have ahead of me this morning. It’s difficult for several reasons, primarily three. Full disclosure.
- Paul Stanley might be my favourite artist of all time.
- His voice is in decline and this is always evident.
- How can I review Paul’s soul covers without comparing to the originals?
The truth is I like soul just fine, but the bulk of my collection is made of different grades of rock. I have an Etta James CD. I’m far from qualified to review this. But I have to, so I’ll try.
Paul’s band is 10 members (excluding himself) augmented by a horn and a string section. 18 musicians are credited total, with Paul as “lead singer”: the first time on any of his albums where Paul plays no instruments. Unexpectedly, Paul’s Kiss bandmate Eric Singer is Soul Station’s drummer.
There are 14 tracks: nine covers, and five originals. You can’t accuse Paul Stanley of taking the easy route.
Remember when Kiss were accused of going Disco in 1979? “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” really sounds Disco, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with the flawless arrangement, from the lush strings to the punchy horns. In fact, Paul’s diminished voice is the only noticeable weakness. He covers for it pretty well. He used to belt it out all time; now he usually holds back in a soft whispery falsetto. A performer has to adapt to their limits at every age. Good tune. But this is a new Paul Stanley and he’s not the best singer in his band. He’s just the lead singer.
The first original, “I Do”, sounds like the real thing. It’s a light ballad, arranged with the strings and full band treatment to sound pretty much just like the covers. But the really surprising original is “I, Oh, I”, a terrific upbeat dance-y number. Not only does it sound authentic but it’s also catchy as hell. You could imagine it in a rock arrangement, and Paul points out in the liner notes that he wrote, arranged and orchestrated all his originals.
“Ooo Baby Baby” is a Smokey Robinson cover, and like the original it’s in falsetto. It’s one of the harder songs to listen to. “O-O-H Child” is better, though no substitute for the original. Paul does well on the upbeat tracks with plenty of melodic hooks. One of his backing singers take the lead on a few lines. And although Eric Singer does a mighty job on the drums, he is a rock drummer playing soul, and that’s evident in the fills. The groove of the 70s just isn’t something that can be recreated easily.
You can tell by the title that “Save Me (From You)” is a Paul original. Sounds like a leftover from the Live To Win album, jazzed up for the Soul Station. That said, it’s a pretty good track. It’s a nocturnal rumble that does really well standing up to the classics. It cannot be denied that Paul Stanley has a knack for writing a melodic song. All of his writing credits on Now and Then are solo credits.
“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is not bad. It’s the falsetto again, but massaged in the studio, and backed by the Soul Station, this one makes the grade. Nobody doubts Paul’s genuine love of this music. In the liner notes he takes ample time explaining his roots with Detroit soul. And it was him that was hanging out in New York Disco clubs, when he decided he could write one of those songs for Kiss.
“Whenever You’re Ready (I’ll Be Here)” is a duet with one of his backing singers; upbeat, well done. “The Tracks of My Tears” exposes the weaknesses in Paul’s voice but there are plenty of backing singers to cover for him. That aside, it’s another great Soul Station cover. “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) underwhelms; I mean how can it not? The best thing I can say is that it’s better than Michael Bolton’s version. “La-La — Means I Love You” also kind of just sits there, threatening to send the listener off to sleepytime land. Fortunately, Paul’s original “Lorelei” revives the album, with upbeat melodic charm. Cool guitar solo on this one too.
Two more covers to get through — “You Are Everything” (no thanks) and “Baby I Need Your Loving”. Fortunately the latter song closes the album, on an earnest upbeat note with Paul giving the lungs a little exercise. Solid ending.
Observation: I enjoyed Paul Stanley’s Soul Station more the first three or four times I played it — as background music. When it comes to listening intently, it didn’t capture me.
Observation 2: Peter Criss got shit all over for trying to make an album somewhat like this back in 1978.
If Paul had released a mini-album (or extra large EP) with only seven or eight tracks, I think we’d be praising his originals and taste in covers. Unfortunately chinks in the armour appear too frequently on the bulk of the album. Good background music, but not an outstanding set.
Paul’s originals – 4/5 stars
Covers – 1.5/5 stars
Kiss Fan Fanatic Score – 100/5 stars
Realistic Score – 2/5 stars