Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES
Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review
In the 1980s, there were generally no Kiss books on the market. If you found one, you bought it. The only widely known Kiss book back then was 1978’s paperback Kiss by Robert Duncan. I was lucky to find Kiss Still On Fire in Stratford Ontario on December 27, 1990 in a great little store called The Book Vault. Still On Fire is very very unofficial, but it was unequalled in its time: 130 magazine sized pages, mostly in full colour, loaded with pictures, facts and a few errors.
Peppered with old interviews and article snippets, Still On Fire takes a balanced look at the band and isn’t afraid to get critical when it’s warranted. It also attempts to take a crack at who played what on some of those tracks where it wasn’t quite clear. For example, Ace Frehley is pictured on the front cover of Killers, but didn’t play on any of the new songs. Still On Fire quotes a Paul Stanley interview. Was it Bob Kulick playing lead on these tracks? “Bob did come out, yes, but he didn’t play. When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave us a little help.” The book states this friend was Robbin Crosby of Ratt, a claim that is not backed up in other sources. Did Crosby play on Killers? Who knows, but according to this book, he did. Other books such as Julian Gill’s Kiss Album Focus claim Bob Kulick did play some on Killers. In other words, if you read something interesting in this book that contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere, take it with a grain of salt.
There’s a bit of content here about what Gene was doing in the 1980s outside of Kiss: producing bands such as Black & Blue and EZO. Gene was responsible for EZO’s fantastic single “Flashback Heart Attack”, co-written by James Christian of Simmons Record act House of Lords. Gene was also working on movies but was having trouble finding the time. Apparently Sergio Leone really wanted Gene Simmons for Once Upon a Time in America in the role of Max, ultimately played by James Woods. Can you imagine?
Besides the ample photos, the most impressive feature of Still On Fire is the discography. Though incomplete, Still On Fire attempts to document myriad Kiss bootleg recordings, including cover art. There are also interesting promo and foreign releases, such as the Special Kiss Tour Album and Kiss – The Singles. Side projects and solo albums are included, from major (Frehley’s Comet) to obscure (Bruce Kulick’s band The Good Rats). A variety of singles, picture discs and videos are on display, fully illustrated. All of this was completely new to me then. Not to mention the titles of unreleased songs! What the heck were “Don’t Run” and “The Unknown Force”? (The Elder demos.) This is also where you’ll find the most typos and spelling errors. (I really want to hear this song called “Pick It Up”.)
Still On Fire isn’t definitive nor is it definitely 100% accurate, but it should still prove to be a valuable resource for your Kiss library.
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 36:
Though hard to believe, in 1988 Kiss needed the money. According to CK Lendt in his book KISS and Sell, they were in trouble financially. Some bad investments and too many expenses, plus the underperformance of Crazy Nights, had the band in a bind. The traditional easy solution is to throw together a “greatest hits” set.
Gene announced this album to Canadian audiences on a trip to the Great White North promoting his record label, Simmons Records. House of Lords were the band he primed to be big, and their debut album is held in high esteem by rock connoisseurs worldwide. It seemed to fans that Simmons was transitioning from Hollywood to businessman. Surely, it was hard to believe him when he claimed Kiss was still his priority.
Greatest hits albums need something new to sell them. This was left to Paul Stanley, who produced two new songs co-written with Desmond Child (and Diane Warren on one). It seems unlikely that Gene cared much at this point. In the music video for one of the new songs, “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, he can be clearly seen miming the wrong words.
Speaking of music videos, “Let’s Put the X in Sex” was something new for the band (and it wasn’t the lawsuit from the people who owned the building in the video). Suddenly, Kiss were a three-piece backing band with a guitar-less frontman. At least in the videos for Crazy Nights, Paul Stanley wore and danced with a guitar. In “Let’s Put the X in Sex”, he is front and center, without instrument: the frontman. Gene’s just the bass player in these videos, looking completely lost. Paul was doing all the work behind the scenes, therefore he was going to take the spotlight. And why not?
Getting two new Kiss songs on a greatest hits was good in theory. Even back then, we sensed they were more the “Paul Stanley Project” than Kiss. For Kiss, they are too light and glossy. “Let’s Put the X in Sex” has horns (or is it synth?) making it sound vaguely like an Aerosmith outtake from Permanent Vacation. At least Steven Tyler injects a little cleverness into his innuendo. Both Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr rise to the occasion with worthy work, but the tune is a dud.
Likewise with “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, which passed for a rocker at the time. Neither of the new tracks are as good as the four on Kiss Killers. Paul must have just been out of gas. He states these songs were the best he could do at the time without his partner in crime. “Rock Hard” is just Kiss by numbers.
First two tracks aside, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits contains 13 of the greatest. Most are remixed (ill-advisedly) to bring all the tracks to a standard sonic backdrop. The remixes are from a variety of names in a number of studios: Dave Wittman, David Thoener, Jay Messina for example. Some played it a little more loose with the tracks, others didn’t meddle much. “Love Gun” is an example of a remix that changes things up, but still works. Ace’s solo is given more emphasis by mixing out the vocals. It’s a cool alternate arrangement. Excess echo is added on the drums…you can’t win ’em all. Many of the remixes suffer from drum related issues.
Smashes, Thrashes & Hits takes a scattershot approach to running order. It’s very telling that no tracks from Crazy Nights were included, except in the UK where “Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Reason to Live” were hits. No tracks with an Ace Frehley writing credit were included, and only one from Peter Criss. That’s another gripe that fans have with this album.
“Beth” is included, a throwback to one of Kiss’ biggest hits, which they tended to shun since Peter’s 1980 departure from Kiss. It’s considered a slap in the face to Peter that Eric Carr was called in to re-record the lead vocal. The backing track is identical. Carr never felt comfortable in this role, but had never been featured on an album lead vocal before. It was a hell of a dilemma for the drummer. He’d been in the band for six years and six albums, and never got a lead vocal. He did the best he could. The re-recorded “Beth” didn’t replace the original, and it remains an oddity in the Kiss canon.
One afternoon in the summer of 1990, Bob and I were hanging out with these two girls at his trailer that we were going out with. We were listening to songs, but Bob and I didn’t seem to get much say in what songs. One of the girls said, “I have some Kiss!” and put on Beth. As soon as she did, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the original. Simultaneously, Both and I both said, “Oh no, it’s Eric!” The girls had no idea what we were talking about or why it was a big deal.
Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was the first compilation to reconcile the makeup and non-makeup eras of Kiss. The majority are from the makeup years, as it should be, with only three from non-makeup albums. You could argue for this song and that song, but the running order is jarring. “Heaven’s On Fire” into “Dr. Love” is not even as bizarre as “Beth” into “Tears are Falling”. The less familiar remixes don’t help the situation. Incidentally, the only songs untouched by remixers’ hands are “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”, “Tears are Falling” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.
There was no tour for Smashes, Thrashes and Hits. Gene had his label stuff, including a new Canadian band called Gypsy Rose to think about. (Remember “Poisoned By Love” on Simmons Records?) Paul Stanley didn’t want to sit idle, and so did a 1989 solo tour. Kiss family member Bob Kulick returned to his side on guitar. Kiss keyboardist Gary Corbett was there with bassist Dennis St. James and ex-Black Sabbath drummer Eric Singer. The setlist featured a number of old Kiss classics that hadn’t been played live in 10 years, such as “I Want You”. Eric Carr was unhappy about the solo tour, worrying about what it meant. Like most Kiss fans, he wondered if it was the beginning of the end. He also worried that Paul didn’t ask him to be his solo drummer. Paul said it was because two Kiss members wouldn’t be right for a solo tour. Ominously, Eric Carr said about Singer: “That’s the guy who’s going to replace me.”
Fans were confused and some were unhappy. Like they had once before, Kiss were drifting further and further into pop music. This time, it was without Ace Frehley to keep them anchored. Paul Stanley now seemed to be a Bon Jovi-like dancing frontman. These new songs were not easy to stomach, and the Eric Carr vocal felt all wrong. Had Kiss lost all credibility? Smashes, Thrashes and Hits wasn’t winning any back.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/08/06
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 31:
“Hello. The show we are about to see is a rousing docu-drama. It will disgust some, and titillate others. But whether it disgusts you, or titillates you, it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but…the truth.”
Kiss were on to something here. The concept of a home video release that was more than just a compilation of clips was fairly new. Kiss took the bull by the horns and put together a video that was all at once extremely sexist and innovative, offensive and invaluable. Only fans need apply; anyone who is sick of Gene Simmons’ schtick will bore quickly of his oafish humour. But when Kiss play it “straight” in certain interview segments, light shines through. The old memories and the old friendships are fresh and vivid.
Interviewer Mark Blankfield strolls up to the “Kiss Mansion” where all four members live Monkee-like together in one house with dozens upon dozens of beautiful women. The doorbell plays “Rock N’ Roll All Nite”, and Paul Stanley is confused. He thought the interview was scheduled for…not noon, but 12 midnight! Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.
Some of the scripted bits are actually funnier than you’d expect. Paul and Gene are natural clowns, and playing the role of disinterested rock stars tickles the funnybone. Blankfield keeps chasing them around, trying to get them to do some interviews. All the while, he encounters scantily clad babes in various states of undress, and a butler intent on keeping him away from them. Subjects of discussion in the scripted bits include nutrition and fitness. Learn about Joseph Kiss Sr., who came up with the vision of Kiss in 1773. Check out Paul Stanley’s workout video! Meet his best friend, a monkey named Sonny Crockett. Cut to a music video!
The music videos are something. In a scripted bit, Paul is surprised that they have access to the uncensored version of “Who Wants to Be Lonely”, which neither MTV nor MuchMusic were willing to play. Censors were offended by images of women in bikinis spraying themselves with hoses, even though I’m sure George Michael did something similar a couple years later. Every music video that Kiss filmed from “I Love It Loud” (1982) to the Asylum album (1985) is included, except “Thrills in the Night”.* All videos from eras prior to this are live and unreleased!
Live in Rio, from Kiss’ very last concert in makeup, it’s “I Love It Loud” with Vinnie Vincent! This is good quality video and audio from a TV broadcast. From the now famous bootleg Kissin’ Time in San Francisco (1975), it’s a nuclear version of “Deuce” in black and white. It’s the first appearance of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in this feature, and the rawness of the old band is a delightful contrast to the new. Then it’s “Strutter” at Cobo Hall in ’76, an Ace guitar solo from 1980, and “Beth” in 1977 with Peter Criss (and a pretty bad final note). Gene’s got a bass solo/blood spitting clip to show off, but the most interesting clip of the batch could be “Detroit Rock City” in Australia, 1980. Paul did the verse melody with a slightly different twist. “Rock and Roll all Nite” is included from the same show, which had Eric Carr on drums. “I Stole Your Love” and “Ladies Room” have the original lineup from the Love Gun tour; Kiss at their bombastic best.
Of the best of the “straight” interview clips is the question, “How did you two get together?” Paul and Gene start busking to “I’ll Be Back” by the Beatles, and suddenly you can imagine what they sounded like in 1972. They even sing bits of Gene’s more…obscure early material. “I love Eskimos…” “My mother is beauuuutiful…” (Hopefully we will hear these songs on Gene’s upcoming 150 track box set, Vault?) Another good question, to Gene, is “Have you gone Hollywood?” which he answers with candor.
The very large issue with this DVD is the absence of Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr. They only appear in brief cameos, and get a couple lines a piece. That’s very unfortunate. And then there is the excessive objectification of women. It’s done as an obvious satire of the rock star stereotype, but not particularly well. Too bad. This isn’t Spinal Tap.
Some of the diehards would have preferred a home video with more music and less gags. Fortunately Kiss got the message when they eventually got around to a sequel.
* It appears that “Thrills in the Night” must have been intended for inclusion at one point, because it’s in the songwriting credits at the end of the video.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/08/03
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 24: New bonus review!
For the first time in my life, I bought a CD that sounded so shitty, I couldn’t even stand to listen to it. I knew that the bootleg CD, Kiss Demos 1981-1983 wasn’t going to sound terrific, because my neighbor George had a version of this on LP way back in the day. I didn’t know it was going to sound this horrid.
Demos 1981-1983 collects some Kiss and assorted tracks, from some very dubious sources. It sounds like 12th generation cassettes, complete with music bleeding through. You can actually hear “Tokyo Road” by Bon Jovi bleeding through on track 7. Enjoy the tape drop-out and inaudible drums too. There are some interesting bits here, and some useless ones.
You can divide this CD into three sections. The first six tracks seem to be Vinnie Vincent demos. They include “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which evolved into two separate songs. The verses became “And on the 8th Day” by Kiss, from the 1983 album Lick It Up. The choruses became “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” from Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s debut LP. These demos reportedly feature Vinnie himself on lead vocals, and he does a fine job of it in fact. Why did he even need a lead singer? Another curious track is “Back on the Streets” which Ace Frehley was known to play live before his first Frehley’s Comet album. In fact the Comet band covered it on the tribute album Return of the Comet, and Vinnie put it on the first Invasion album. Finally there is the track listed on the back as “Your Baby”. This is actually “Baby O” also from Invasion’s debut.
Moving on from the Vincent tracks, there are a few Kiss demos supposedly from The Elder sessions. These include titles that are probably made up: “Heaven”, “The Unknown Force” and “Council of the Elder”. They are accompanied by an instrumental demo of “A World Without Heroes” and the original Frehley version of “Dark Light”, called “Don’t Run”. These are actually really cool skeletons of tracks. The one titled “Unknown Force” is a bass-led instrumental, and it has a funky little guitar part that is insanely nifty, but it’s just one idea that needs to be fleshed out. Then there is “Heaven” which fans today know better as “Carr Jam” (on Kiss’s Revenge) or “Breakout” (on Frehley’s Comet). Eric Carr wrote this riff for The Elder sessions and though Kiss didn’t use it, Ace did. “A World Without Heroes” is an instrumental on which you can barely hear guitars. Finally there is the track called “Council of the Elder” which could be the best of the lot. It has a Zeppelin-y beginning reminiscent of things like “Thank You”, before it blasts into a cool riff that I don’t recognize from anywhere else. Only a small part of the song seems to have been used, in “Only You”.
The third chunk of songs focuses on Lick It Up demos, a boring bunch of inaudible crap, all but one snippet called “You”. It’s just a few chords and a vocal melody idea that Paul and Vinnie came up with, but it’s cool to hear them harmonize. It’s possible this track evolved into “A Million to One” as the chords are similar.
The most inexcusable inclusion on this CD is “Young & Wreckless” which claims to be a Lick It Up demo with vocals by Vinnie Vincent. This inclusion is an error that goes all the way back to the vinyl versions of this bootleg that circulated in the 80s. The immediately obvious issue is that it’s not Vinnie Vincent singing, it’s Brian Vollmer. That’s because “Young & Wreckless” is a Helix song, and this track is lifted right from their 1984 album Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge! Like the rest of the CD, it sounds like an 18th generation cassette copy.
This disc is for die-hards only. What I’d like to see is an official release of the demo tracks from The Elder period, which are great. Next box set, boys?
To be continued…
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 22:
The internal problems with Kiss continued full-bore into their next album, the surprisingly powerful Creatures of the Night. Ace Frehley was on the cover, and in the music video, but like Peter Criss before him, he didn’t play a note. In the midst of recording with new producer Michael James Jackson (Red Rider), they were also auditioning new guitarists to replace the Ace.
As a result of the embarrassing failure of their concept album fiasco Music From the Elder, Kiss had little choice in what to do next. If they had any hope of survival as a musical entity, they had to return to rock. What may have come as a surprise given their recent history including two pop “Kissco” albums was that their new music was really, really heavy. Kiss were unleashed and went full-bore heavy metal.
Aiding and abetting this: drummer Eric Carr was unchained on Creatures of the Night. His drum sound, inspired by the massive slam of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, was completely off the hook. These are by far the biggest sounding drums on any Kiss album. Also helping the band get heavier: a new songwriting partner. Vincent Cusano wrote and played on several tracks on Creatures. His talent was evident to all.
In fact there is a school of thought today regarding Mr. Cusano, later redubbed “Vinnie Vincent”. A large vocal group of fans proclaim today that “Vinnie Saved Kiss”. And that theory does hold some water.
Other contributors to the LP included Canadian writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Adam Mitchell and Mikel Japp also wrote with Paul and Gene. Guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Farris and Adam Mitchell lent chops and solos to the album. One guy who Gene claims came to the studio, but did not play, was one Eddie Van Halen. According to Gene Simmons, Eddie came down and poured his heart out complaining how miserable he was in Van Halen…and then asked to join Kiss. Believe it…or not?
The incendiary title track “Creatures of the Night” is powerful and instantaneous enough to be used as a concert opener. The metallic chug was new to Kiss, but not alien to them. This anthemic Paul Stanley rocker had the goods. Kiss were back, and in a big way. Just listen to those opening drums! It’s as if Kiss knew that Eric Carr still needed a more suitable introduction, and they gave it to him.
Creatures is notable for one major “first”. It was the first of many Kiss studio albums to only feature two lead singers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Gene’s debut on Creatures is the incredible “Saint and Sinner”, heavy but low-key and based on a killer verse melody. “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please…you can go to hell,” sings an angry Demon. And that’s Vinnie, absolutely smoking with a brilliantly melodic guitar solo. What a player…but only when he can control his instincts to play too fast.
Paul turns up the sex on “Keep Me Comin’” (har-de-har har!), a sleazy Kiss rocker with a heavy Zeppelin groove. While not quite filler material, “Keep Me Comin’” and another Paul track called “Danger” are definitely on the lower rungs of this album. “Danger” is the prototype for a kind of speed metal Kiss rocker that Paul threw on all the albums from this point to 1985.
One of Paul’s best songs, and longest lasting in concert, was the ballad “I Still Love You”. This is one heavy ballad, but Paul’s singing is completely over the top. Again, it’s more like a heavy Zeppelin blues ballad. A track like this proves why Paul is considered one of the greatest hard rock singers of all time. Not too many can do it like Paul on “I Still Love You”…and that’s Eric Carr on bass, by the way. Gene doesn’t play bass on most of Paul’s songs. Jimmy Haslip (ex-Blackjack featuring Michael Bolton and future Kiss member Bruce Kulick) and Mike Porcaro took over bass duties on “Danger” and “Creatures” respectfully.
As for Gene, Creatures really sounds up his alley, with tunes like “Rock and Roll Hell”, “Killer”, and “War Machine” suiting his dark persona. And what tunes these are, particularly “Rock and Roll Hell” which simmers with a midnight intensity. The song rides the basic bassline with not much in the way of additional crunch, into chorus time. The interesting thing is the song is actually a thorough re-working of an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song written by Jim Valance. In fact, Valance claimed that Simmons only insisted on reworking the song in order to get writing royalties. Either way, “Rock and Roll Hell” just burns like an ember. Then in another interesting twist, the song was later covered by Ace Frehley (Origins Vol. 1)! A Kiss cover of a Kiss song he never played on.
“Killer” reeks of Vinnie Vincent. One of the key guitar riffs sounds quintessentially Vinnie, and kind of similar to his later solo track “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”. It’s a brilliant track, right up Gene’s alley, with intense speed and hooks. The female backing vocals in the outro are a surprise. “War Machine” on the other hand sounds purely Gene, even though it’s a co-write with Valance and Bryan Adams. Something about it personifies the “monster plod” sound that Gene specializes in. It’s apocalyptic Kiss metal for your nightmares. It’s strong and relentless.
The single was, of course, the overplayed “I Love it Loud”, which in turn was transformed into a killer music video featuring Ace Frehley miming Vinnie Vincent’s guitar. “I Love it Loud” is insanely catchy and unshakeable during its first several listens. After that, it’s too simple to maintain interest too long. It’s kind of baffling how this song has remained in set lists well past its sell-by date, especially when tracks like “Killer” and “Saint and Sinner” are not.
In 1985 this album was reissued with new non-makeup cover art. On the cover they replaced Ace Frehley, who never played on the album, with Bruce Kulick…who never played on the album. Three songs were remixed: “Creatures of the Night”, “War Machine”, and “I Love it Loud”, but only “Creatures” was included on the 1985 album. The remixed “I Love it Loud” was later issued on a compilation, and the remixed “War Machine” has yet to be released. The remixes by Dave Wittman generally toned down the awesome drum sound, weakening the experience overall.
Vinnie Vincent joined the band officially after Creatures was recorded, and was given his own makeup design: The “Ankh Warrior”. A strange choice for a new character; perhaps Kiss were plain out of ideas or just didn’t care. It’s the only Kiss makeup design to never be seen on an album cover. Then, Kiss embarked on their first American tour in years, the 10th Anniversary Tour. It featured a stage with a tank for a drum riser. “Killer” indeed!
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: When Creatures of the Night was released in 1982, Kiss had been on the back burner for me for a couple years. Obviously still loved the classics, but 12 year old Meat was starting to become a huge fan of Heavy Metal music. Two different friends of mine and I were discovering new music together. Albums like Ace of Spades, Maiden Japan and Saxon’s Denim and Leather were the gateway drug for me on my way to being addicted to Heavy Metal. So when Creatures came out I recall being so into it, primarily because this was a “Heavy Metal” Kiss record. What’s not to like? The video for “I Love it Loud” was awesome and renewed my love for the band at the time.
So I listened to Creatures from stem to stern the other day, 35 years after it was released, and my take on this album is now quite a different story. I am expecting that many will disagree with my slice on this one, but circumstances dictate my review. Metal music just doesn’t inspire me the way it used to. The love is still there but the lust is gone. Obviously there are staples that I will always love, and new exceptions pop up all time time, but the truth is I would rather put on stuff like Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Steve Earle, Drive by Truckers etc etc.
If I would have done these Meat Slices let’s say…20 years ago?…I probably would have panned Unmasked and praised this album. But now it is the opposite. The album’s title track, “I Still Love You” and “I Love it Loud” are still enjoyable to me, but pretty much every other song sounds very forced and downright boring to me. This is what happens when a band, who was used to ruling the world, tries to regain said status by joining the new Heavy Metal revolution. Trying to be something they are not. The albums previous (with maybe the exception of the song “The Oath”) and the albums that followed were not Metal albums. The following albums have some heavy songs, but are definitely not Heavy Metal records. You have to fast forward a decade until they released Revenge, and even that album had some different styles within it. It’s so strange to me that a Kiss record that sees Kiss trying SO HARD to be a heavy metal band, turns to Bryan Adams for inspiration? What’s Metal about that? Hello. McFly?
Rating this album was tough for me. I had to consider how much I loved it when it came out, and that the Creatures of the Night tour was my first Toronto arena concert. I can’t say I dislike the album, but I can say that of all the Kiss records I have revisited doing these slices, it’s this album that truly disappointed me because I went into the listen looking forward to hearing it again.
My final thoughts are this. Would diehard Alice Cooper fans consider Flush the Fashion a classic Alice Cooper record? It’s an album I owned on vinyl and I like the album, but it’s a blatant grab at the New Wave market and sounds nothing like the rest of his career. Celtic Frost has done everything possible to erase the memory of the deplorable Cold Lake, since it is a very un-Celtic Frost like record for the band. Creatures of the Night is not genuine to me. Most of the album sounds like the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s album, Smell the Glove. Especially the song “Heavy Duty”, and not surprisingly it was released not long after this in 1984. So, to end this slice I will refer to the immortal Derek Smalls and put it like this. Creatures of the Night is a disingenuous collection of head banging bullshit that to me is forgettable. It sounds square, clunky and has way too many forgettable songs on it. I would rather listen to Bryan Adams’ 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife. But Kiss…I still love you.
Favorite Tracks: “I Love it Loud”, “Creatures of the Night”, “I Still Love You”
Forgettable Tracks: The rest
LeBrain’s rebuttal: You’re Wrong on Creatures
For this Kiss Re-Review series, I have purposely avoided reading Uncle Meat’s reviews, and vice-versa, until they are ready to post. We wanted to avoid influencing each other. Creatures is an exception. Meat sent this to me a couple weeks ago, long before I even started my review. And now that I have read it…I feel like crying a single solitary tear of sadness, just like the one Gene shed in the video for “A World Without Heroes”.
Uncle Meat has a point about the switch to heavy metal music seeming like an act of desperation. I don’t doubt that if The Elder had been a hit instead of an abject nearly career-ending failure, Kiss would have continued in that direction. But we are talking about Kiss here. This is a band that have usually been followers, not leaders. Were they the first to wear makeup and heels? No. Did they invent disco with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”? No. Going forward into the future, you will see Kiss continuing to chase other people’s sounds, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains. Even Revenge, which Meat mentioned above, seemed like an effort to bring things in line with what was happening in rock and roll.
Having listened to Creatures again for what must be the 30,000th time, my love for it is still strong. I’ve bought Creatures five times over the years. Every time I play it, I’m a 13 year old again. I sink into the guitar tones, which Vinnie just nailed on this album, and enjoy the booming echo of the drums. “I Love it Loud” no longer pitches my pup tent, but mostly due to overexposure.
On this, the Meatmaster General and I will have to agree to disagree. It’s something we often do when it comes to music, but the benefit is that it generates rich discussions, just like this one. — LeBrain
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/28
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
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:
Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked. The band’s stature was in jeopardy. The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection. As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr. His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss. The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots. Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.
Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album. Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction. That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley. Eric Carr had no say, being an employee. Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album. If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie. And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?
The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley. It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.
So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album. Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch. Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent. Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin. Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done. There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell. Hence the title, Music From the Elder. Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.
A word about the running order. When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense. It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”. Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier: “The Oath”. But the concept never made any sense. In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order. They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks. The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”). The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release. (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.) The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.
The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”. “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas? If hope is lost then so are we. While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.” The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”. He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder. “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes. He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.
Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm. It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band. Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album. The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all. “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition. It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals. It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics. Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not: a lyric sheet. With that in hand, you can follow the story.
In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album. Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine. It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.
Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album. “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss. It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it. Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album. “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment. This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two. Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun. It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.
The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album. It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works. It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme. Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny: “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you? And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?” The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.” In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.
According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction. In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar. “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons. “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus. But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt. Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines. Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig. Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”. In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil. Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo. Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.
Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”. Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.” These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song. Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss. Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs. Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.
At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero. This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”. This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot. You can still understand why they did this. Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed. Paul sings in falsetto again: “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.” The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays. Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos. If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.
So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.
At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.
The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.
A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”
There are two ways to listen to The Elder. If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl. If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release. But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.
Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness. It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves. What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place. Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home. Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour. The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted. The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!
A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley. Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998. It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.
If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently. We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records. Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many. When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be: Some bands should not make concept albums. Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess. I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album. Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record. It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:
“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song. I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song. Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss. More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record. Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.
“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again. Solid song. Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel.
“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track. I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.
“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice. Right producer, wrong band. (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)
“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me. Gregorian Monks? Bah….
“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now. Could have used more Lou Reed.
“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track. Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me. One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it. Unmasked this album is not.
“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker. Great drumming. This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live. LeBrain? [Nope]
“Odyssey” – WTF? Was this Paul’s tryout demo for Phantom of the Opera? This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.
Favorite Tracks” “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”
Forgettable Tracks: Take your pick….
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/26
Brief explanation: After the #200wordchallenge, I was inspired to come up with an even more daunting task. Could I do a review in 0 words — without using any words at all? I invite you to the #0wordchallenge! Mine is below, but use your imagination and come up with something uniquely you! This review is a part of…
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 19:
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/09/03
bThe KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 18: It’s a KISS three-fer! LeBrain and Uncle Meat discuss KISS Unmasked below. Meanwhile Deke at Stick it in Your Ear has an accompanying piece called Peter Criss: Tossed and Turning!
“I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album. It’s wimpy” – Paul Stanley, KISS Behind the Mask
Here we are at Unmasked, the very album that inspired the Kiss Re-Review series in the first place. It’s a polarizing platter. The band often trash it and shun it in concert. Meanwhile, some fans have grown to appreciate it, particularly in Europe and Australia. There is even a tribute CD on a German label with covers of the entire album. Indeed, Unmasked is not without strengths. Ace Frehley contributed another three songs of his own, continuing the growth he demonstrated on his solo album and Dynasty.
On the other side of the ledger, there were factors that fans see as a diluting of the Kiss sound. Co-writers were now the norm. Returning producer Vini Poncia had eight co-writes. They used a track by songwriter Gerard McMahon. Even ghost guitarist Bob Kulick had a co-write on Gene’s “Naked City”. Most importantly, but publicly unknown at the time, was that Kiss had effectively become a trio. Peter Criss’ substance issues had come to a head and he was not involved with the album at all. He was on the cover, and in the credits, but all Peter did was mime some drums for the “Shandi” music video. When that shoot was done, Peter was gone. Anton Fig (Dynasty, Ace Frehley) returned again to fill the gap behind the scenes.
The album demonstrated a slick turn towards pop rock. Not disco so much, although the compression on the drums and guitars gives it a disco sound. The keyboards and slick production sweetened the album to the point that the thunder of Alive! or Love Gun was completely absent. Kiss were becoming caricatures in pursuit of megahits.
The Gerard McMahon song “Is That You?” was selected to open Unmasked. This sexy grind is one of the best tracks, with Paul in peak voice showing off what he can do. The slow and dirty pop rock number gets the job done, with minimal loss of integrity. That’s Paul on lead guitar too, one of several songs on which he solos, though it is hard to tell. In fact Unmasked is one of those Kiss albums on which you can’t be sure who played what.
Only one Kiss member appears on the big single, “Shandi”, and that’s Paul Stanley. On bass was Tom Harper, and Holly Knight on keyboards. There is little doubt that “Shandi” is a fantastic song, and it worked particularly well live in the acoustic setting. While Unmasked blurred the lines between rock and pop, “Shandi” is pure pop joy — almost adult contemporary!
Frehley’s first track was a favourite called “Talk to Me”, a song many Kiss fans easily embraced. These first three songs were performed on the Unmasked tour, which demonstrates their worth. “Talk to Me” has a cool guitar riff and one of Ace’s most infectious choruses – an instant classic. Ace had really grown as a singer by this point.
The waters get murkier after the first three tracks. Gene’s “Naked City” is a grower. It possesses hooks and great verses, but the main guitar riff doesn’t hit the spot. Gene’s falsetto voice is employed to great effect. It takes a few spins, but “Naked City” has a cool darkness to it and a strange kind of class. That is followed by the very pop “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a keyboard-heavy Paul Stanley tune. It sounds very little like Kiss, but Paul’s performance (guitar solo included) is stellar. Falsetto must have been very popular at the time. Bee Gees, anyone?
Paul’s side two opener “Tomorrow” is just as pop as “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”. These would be great songs for somebody else’s album. Perhaps Rick Astley. Fortunately the side is quickly redeemed by Ace’s excellent “Two Sides of the Coin”. Notably, this song inspired the title of Michael Brandvold’s Kiss podcast, “Three Sides of the Coin“. Ace’s track is a fan favourite, upbeat and melodic with just enough guitar bite. If the production was meatier, as on Ace’s solo album, it would be an absolute killer.
Gene continues chasing the ladies on “She’s So European”, a filler track with familiar themes. “She makes love on a brass bed, because her parents are still awake.” Not Gene’s finest moment. “Easy As It Seems” is a Paul track, and also not one of his finest, but the bouncy bass (by Paul) is quite great. But is that a bloody keyboard solo that I detect?
One of the most interesting tracks, and most instrumentally impressive, is Ace’s surf rock classic “Torpedo Girl”. This is just a fun summertime track with infectious ooh-ahh vocal hooks. His role within Kiss resulted in some of their more unique songs, and “Torpedo Girl” is unorthodox. Ace’s picking is enviable, and the lyrics are just pure fun. “Come on, get your feet wet.”
Album closer “You’re All That I Want” is one of Gene’s tunes, but Paul’s vocals on the outro sell it. It’s a little on the light side, as is much of Unmasked, but it remains a good song.
On a personal note, I have one very strong memory of Unmasked. I first heard it by taping it off a friend, my late neighbor George. George dropped the needle on the record, hit record on my tape, and then got out his bass and played bass along to every song. Unbeknownst to him, his bass playing bled onto the tape. From that point until I finally got a store-bought cassette copy, I always heard George’s bass on the fade-outs of every song. I can still hear it in my head. I suppose that’s one way that George is still alive, in my memory.
Unmasked was released on May 20, 1980, with a bright cartoony cover including Peter Criss. Meanwhile the band were already preparing for their first of many lineup changes, something that was kept quiet until the right moment.
In July, Kiss were ready to unveil the new member. Paul Caravello, from Brooklyn, impressed Kiss with his audition and humble personality. The story that everybody remembers is that Caravello asked the guys for their autographs in case he never saw them again. No worries there; the job was destined to be his. But Kiss couldn’t have another guy named Paul, and his last name was too “ethnic” (obviously Italian), so his name was changed to Eric Carr. (Fortunately, Gene’s suggestion of “Rusty Blades” was discarded.) The newly dubbed Eric was an energetic mighty-mite of rock, and the band quickly grew to love him. Everything was new to him.
A new makeup design was required. This was a big deal — a new challenge. A hawk concept was tried, but in the costume Carr looked more like Big Bird than a rock star. He drew up an inspired fox design which immediately clicked. The new character was born!
Carr’s first appearance with the band was at their only US date on this tour: New York on July 25 1980. The rest of the tour took place in Europe and Australia where “Shandi” became a hit. There were only 41 shows in total. Despite their best efforts, Kiss’ fortunes were shifting. Opening acts on the tour included Iron Maiden, which must have been quite the mismatch. Given Maiden’s reputation for blowing away headliners (much like Kiss when they started out), you must wonder how this went down. Girl, featuring future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis, also opened a handful of gigs.
Unfortunately for fans, especially in North America, this was the last tour for a long time. It was also the only tour featuring this lineup. While Kiss had endured their first lineup change, that was only just the beginning of the problems to solve.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Unmasked was released in May of 1980. A couple of months later I had heard that Kiss was going to introduce their new drummer on a show called Kids Are People Too. Seeing Kiss in the Phantom movie on TV was one thing. But knowing they were being interviewed, and introducing their newest member…Eric “The Fox” Carr. I watch it today on YouTube, and it’s so…umm…not what I remember. But it was monumental at the time for me. At this point, I had heard Unmasked once at a friend’s place and was underwhelmed. But I loved the album cover and still think it is probably their best. My take on Unmasked is much different now, and was how LeBrain’s Re-Reviews started in the first place. First of all I will address this. Mike referred in the beginning of this series to the two “Disco” era Kiss albums of Dynasty and Unmasked. Dynasty has one Disco song. Unmasked does not have anything close to a Disco song. Some would say “Shandi”, but that is Kiss capitalizing on the Soft Rock success of the day. Unmasked may not be a typical Kiss album, but thanks to Vini Poncia it’s a great album of Rock tunes and one of my favorite Kiss albums.
The drumming on this album is a major high point. Anton Fig shines all over this disc. Ace also continues his consistent roll with great rock songs like “Talk To Me”. He has such a great Rock and Roll voice. The background vocals are great too. “Two Sides of the Coin” is another song with incredible drumming, and a single writing credit. Both this song and “Talk To Me” are the only two songs on the album that don’t have an outside writing credit. Subsequently these songs sound more like classic Kiss than the rest of the album. However “Torpedo Girl” is another story. This might be the shining moment of Ace’s career in Meat’s opinion. Unbelievable guitar riff and funky drum beat. I have had it in my head for days now.
It seems that the addition of Vini Poncia to the Kiss machine inspired Gene Simmons as well. Unlike Dynasty where his songs were mostly forgettable, a couple of his songs on this album shine here. “She’s So European” is “completely ridiculous” but a “great fucking tune” (according to my longtime Kiss-mate Scott) . That about says it all. “Naked City” sees the falsetto of Gene Simmons on display here in another catchy song. There are great hooks within this song, which is indicative of the whole album really. However the album closer, “You’re All That I Want” might be the weakest track on the album. I do though love the ending, which you hear Stanley screaming in his typical live-show style.
Paul Stanley’s contributions on this album are good as well, with a few curveballs thrown in. “Shandi” was a massive Australian hit, and even though the song is about as limp as it can be, I still love the song. Reminds me of the Little River Band and Ambrosia songs of the Soft Rock era that I still dig. “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” is a solid song, with some of the greatest solo guitar playing Paul Stanley has put to record. “Tomorrow” sounds a lot like .38 Special to me and is just OK. “Easy As it Seems” is a solid song that incorporates keyboards in an interesting way, and might be the best Stanley song on Unmasked.
Overall Unmasked is a misunderstood, understated classic. I am curious to see if time has changed LeBrain’s take on this album. All I can say is…this may be Kiss’s last truly great album. From here on in, the “Meat’s Slice” section will start to get a lot shorter, with a couple exceptions.
Favorite Tracks: “Torpedo Girl”, “Shandi”, “Is That You”, “Talk To Me”, “She’s so European”
Forgettable Tracks: “You’re All That I Want”, “Tomorrow” (both borderline)
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/25