Beth

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Destroyer (1976)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 7:  

scan_20170301kiss-logoDestroyer (1976 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

Kiss had “made it”.  Alive! put them where they wanted to be:  on the charts and headlining concert stages coast to coast.  The financial pressure was off and they didn’t have to simply crank out new albums to keep the band afloat.  They could now take their time and make something that was more thought out; a statement.

The first issue to deal with was Kiss’ past sonic inadequacy in the studio.  Prior albums produced by Kenny Kerner & Richie Wise, and Neil Bogart did not capture the full-on Kiss thunder.  They failed to shred the speakers.  They needed somebody “big time”, to give them the punch they desperately needed.  That somebody was Canadian producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin had been an instrumental guiding force for Alice Cooper.  Now it was Kiss’ turn to receive the platinum Ezrin magic touch.

Ezrin agreed to work with Kiss, reportedly influenced by a neighbor kid who liked to discuss music.  “The kids from school love Kiss,” the boy told Ezrin.  “The problem is, their records sound so shitty.  But the band is so good we buy the records anyway.”  Working with Kiss wasn’t much different from working with Cooper.  These were not schooled musicians.  Ezrin had to take them to boot camp.  Keeping the drums in time was a challenge.  Peter Criss had difficulty maintaining a steady tempo, so Ezrin would beat a briefcase to keep him in time.  He wore a conductor’s coat and tails, and pushed the rest of the band like a drill sergeant.  Even the mighty demon Gene Simmons was chastised, for finishing a take before the producer instructed him to stop.  And when Ace Frehley didn’t show up because he had a card game?  Shenanigans were not tolerated.  When Ace wasn’t available when he should have been, Ezrin’s buddy Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper) was there.  For the first time, a Kiss member was replaced on album by an outside uncredited musician.

kiss-and-ezrin-in-tails

One innovative technique that Ezrin brought in to thicken up Kiss’ sound was using a grand piano to back up the big guitars.  The end result doesn’t sound like piano and guitars, but one solid wall of rock, like Phil Spector channelled through Bob Ezrin.  Where Kiss used to rely on rag-tag recordings they now had a big glossy sound to play with.  Ezrin was also fond of sound effects and orchestration, and he brought both to Kiss.

The opening track “Detroit Rock City” was a slam-dunk intro to the new Kiss sound.  After an extended start with the sound of a fan driving to a Kiss concert, the band thundered into focus.  That trademark riff chainsaws through, before Paul Stanley’s powerful pipes take command.  What a song.  The new Kiss had arrived, shiny and sleek, souped up and fueled, as if they were a brand new band.

detroit_rock_city“Detroit” faded out into “King of the Night Time World”, an outside song brought in for completion by Ezrin and Paul Stanley.  They turned it into something that worked for a Kiss album, albeit very different from their past.  As for Paul, he contributed a fast hard rocker called “God of Thunder”.  Though reports sometime differ in the details, ultimately the song fit Gene Simmons’ demon persona better and the song was given to him to sing.  It was slowed to a monster plod, and a few lines were changed to suit.  (“Make love ’til we bleed” was changed to “Hear my words and take heed”.)  And those little demonic voices?  Bob Ezrin’s kids, playing with walkie-talkies.

“Great Expectations” (based on Beethoven) has to be the most bizarre song on the album and one of the weirdest that Kiss have attempted.  A lush ballad with strings and choirs and Gene Simmons in crooner mode, it is definitely different.  Even one of the rockers, “Flaming Youth” written by Frehley/Stanley/Simmons/Ezrin, is different for Kiss.  It’s a rock song…with calliope.  (Picture circus music.)  Gene’s “Sweet Pain” had female backing vocals like an old Motown single.  These are all interesting experiments, but none of those three songs have become live concert classics.

Bob Ezrin tricked the band into writing “Shout it Out Loud”.  He realized they needed one more song, so he told the band that they had lost the masters to “Great Expectations” and needed a replacement.  Gene and Paul hurriedly wrote “Shout it Out Loud” with the producer and had another instant classic.  Like “Rock and Roll all Nite” before it, “Shout” was an anthemic rallying cry that a concert audience could get behind.

The album closer was a track called “Do You Love Me”, another tune brought in by outsiders (Kim Fowley) to be finished by Kiss.  Though on the surface “Do You Love Me” is a bit repetitive and dull, it was later covered by Nirvana.  There must be something to it that struck a chord.

There was still one more song on the album, a throwaway.  It was used as a B-side to “Detroit Rock City”, as the band didn’t have much faith in it.  Peter Criss had brought forward a love song called “Beck”, named for a girl named Becky, written by Stan Penridge for their old band Chelsea.  The song needed work, including a new title.  Ezrin revamped it completely, and the result was one of Kiss’ all time biggest hits:  “Beth”.  Tender and accessible, the only Kiss member on “Beth” was Peter Criss himself.  Dick Wagner played acoustic and Bob Ezrin played piano.  The orchestra finished it off.  Eventually, radio stations started flipping the “Detroit” single and playing “Beth”.  This led to Casablanca reissuing “Beth” as a single A-side, Kiss’ highest charting ever.


With the help of “Beth”, Destroyer maintained Kiss’ stardom and opened up the doors for any future musical experiments they could fathom.  Its cover showed Kiss in an apocalyptic landscape, in full super hero mode for the first time.  Artist Ken Kelly created something that helped define Kiss as larger than life…and larger than life they did become.

That wasn’t the end of the story for Destroyer.  For years it became the benchmark that Kiss albums were measured against.  In 2012, Bob Ezrin revisited the backing tapes and produced an alternate mix called Destroyer: Resurrected.  This featured some previously unheard music such as an alternate Ace Frehley guitar solo for “Sweet Pain” (Dick Wagner played the original solo).

Destroyer is far from the definitive Kiss album.  In fact, it is more like a one-off, an experiment that was never fully revisited.  Some of its songs are less than classic.  Others are so classic that you can’t imagine the world without them.  The bottom line for Kiss was that Destroyer propelled them further towards their goal of becoming the hottest band in the world.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4/5 steaks 

Meat’s Slice:  The general consensus of casual Kiss fans is that this is their greatest studio album.  Let’s examine this.  I’ll start with the iconic.

“SHOUT  IT OUT LOUD” – On May 22, 1976, this song went number one in Canada, the band’s first ever number one song.  40 years later and “Shout it Out Loud” might be the Kiss song with the longest shelf life.  One of two perfect “live concert” songs on Destroyer.  The other?

“DETROIT ROCK CITY” –  Thin Lizzy-esque two-guitar rock fest.   Sitting on the same shelf as “Shout it Out Loud”.  Iconic indeed.   Unperishable.   Even has a movie named after it. I have never seen  it.   Maybe it’s finally time to do so.

“BETH” – If any other member sang “Beth” it wouldn’t have been the same song, or had the same success.  Peter Criss has a special rasp in his voice that can both rock and schmaltz it up.  Like Rod Stewart, or that goof that sings for Slaughter.   I personally wish “Beth” would “fly to the angels” up in the sky, but this song did do one good thing for me.  My grandmother refused to get me anything Kiss related until I pointed out to her that “Beth”, on the radio in the car at the time, was actually Kiss.  So thanks for that at least.

“DO YOU LOVE ME” –  Perhaps this song is more iconic in my own mind specifically, since it is in my Top Five Kiss songs.  Classic Paul Stanley stuff here.

“GOD OF THUNDER” – Unique in every way for the time.  A lot of Ezrin tricks in this track including backwards drumming.  I still have not heard the great cover of this song I always thought I would from some Metal band.  There’s still time….

No wonder the casual Kiss fan believes this is the best of all of the Kiss studio albums.  It is a great collection of songs that are still loved today.  But everything else on Destroyer not listed above is average at best,  or much worse than that.  Maybe it’s because Kiss was too busy getting music lessons from Bob Ezrin while in the studio.  Maybe it’s simply that Kiss was tired of being looked at as a “joke” and wanted to get more serious, hence getting some more respect from the mainstream press.  Now again, this is my opinion and I’m sure that some might vehemently disagree with me about some of the deeper Destroyer tracks.  The best of which I think is “Flaming Youth”.   “King of the Night Time World” is pretty good, but borrowed from another song.  “Great Expectations” is blah stuff except for the melody stolen from Beethoven.  “Sweet Pain” sucks.  And “Rock and Roll Party” is just unnecessary filler, very much like “Inside”, the ending track on 5150.  Might as well take the needle off the record as soon as the song starts and put on something else immediately.

Let’s use this analogy

A couple raises 10 children.   Three of their children become world leaders.  Two others become successful doctors.  But half of their kids are in jail, some for unspeakable crimes against humanity.  Can you call them the best family overall because half of them are special?   Destroyer is definitely not the greatest Kiss album. 

Agreed?  Discuss….


 

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/06

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#411: Stop Playing ‘Beth’ – The Post-Sausagefest Countdown

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#411: Stop Playing ‘Beth’ – The Post-Sausagefest Countdown

Perhaps the only bigger production than going to Sausagefest is coming home from Sausagefest.  At least when you’re travelling with Uncle Meat.

As we have previous years, Uncle Meat rode up with me.  This time he slept in my car too.  This pretty much left me responsible for him.  I roused bright and early from a restful slumber on Saturday morning to evacuate my bladder.  Imagine my surprise when I found, at 6:30 in the morning, Uncle Meat, Bucky and Matt still up from the night before.  They were just starting to fall asleep when I took my morning shit.  I then went back to sleep in my tent for a few more hours.

Our Saturday morning tradition is to hit up the Flying Spatula in Flesherton for our breakfast fill-up.  Sebastien, driving his 4×4, stopped by my tent and asked if I was riding up with him.  Ready for some bacon and eggs, I hopped on board with Seb, while Meat snoozed away in my car’s passenger side seat.

My first controversy of the weekend was not waking Meat up for breakfast.  Being that he had only gone to bed a couple hours before, I thought I was doing him a favour.  Apparently not.  “Breakfast before sleep!” he said.  Apparently that’s the Meat priorities.

Saturday went off without a hitch, breakfast arrangements aside.  I will post the full 78 song countdown (plus a couple odds n’ ends) in the days ahead.  Saturday night was loaded with long bombers, such as “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (13 minutes), the live “Child in Time” from Made In Japan (12 minutes), and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (25 minutes).  The excellent countdown (dubbed “the greatest songs of all time”) ended after midnight.

Sunday morning, I found I had the most difficult job of all.  It took me an hour and a half (close to two hours) to wake Uncle Meat from his slumber.  As the others were packing up their tents and heading off into the sunrise, I found I had a passenger unwilling or unable to rouse himself.  “If you let him sleep in your car again next year, then there will be nobody to blame but you,” said Troy.

I cranked “I Stole Your Love” at max volume.  No reaction.  Tom threw a 12-pack of socks at his head (photo above).  No reaction.  I played Kiss’ “Beth”, followed by the 1988 Eric Carr re-recording.  Still  nothing.  Only when I put the car in drive and started moving it around did Meat finally decide to wake himself.  I took him on a drousy “drive of shame” to visit all the people who had no trouble waking up.  “I have a boner” he announced.  Yes, it’s true — Uncle Meat woke up with wood.

After telling us all about his boner, he kept shouting “Stop playing ‘Beth’!” even though the song was no longer playing. This continued when we pulled into our first stop, Top of the Rock, for him to get his first coffee. “Stop playing ‘Beth’!” he shouted in a barely-there voice, any time somebody was in his vicinity.

“Stop playing ‘Beth’!” he shouted, when his roomate Zack also pulled into Top of the Rock. Zack informed us, “That’s just him. He’ll just keep repeating it unless he gets something new in his head.” Zack paused and said, “Watch. Rododendron!”

“Rhododendron!” shouted Meat, parroting his roomate. “Rhododendron! Stop playing ‘Beth’!”

And that was it pretty much the rest of the ride home. A selection of brief statements, repeated ad nauseum: “Rhododendron!” “Stop playing ‘Beth’!” “Coffee!” Repeat.

The weekend more than made up for the ride home. Sebastien and I shot lots of footage, including underwater stuff with his GoPro. For the first time ever, we will be combining footage and doing the annual videos together. Be patient, this will be worth it.

Three albums I must own, after this year’s Sausagefest:

  • Trouble – Trouble (1990)
  • Rheostatics – Whale Music (1992)
  • Grand Funk Railroad – Live: The 1971 Tour (2002)

Stop playing “Beth”? Never, man! Stay tuned….

REVIEW: Criss – Cat #1 (1994)

CRISS CAT 1_0001CRISS – Cat #1 (1994 Tony Nicole Tony)

I am a Kiss fan, and I am also a Peter Criss fan. I like his first bunch of post-Kiss solo albums, Out of Control and Let Me Rock You just fine. They are not perfect but they have some good songs and are enjoyable, if dated, slices of the era.  I think most fans would grudgingly admit that Let Me Rock You isn’t bad.

Cat #1 (terrible title!) was supposed to be Peter’s comeback, after a decade of working with bands that went nowhere such as Balls Of Fire and The Keep (with Mark St. John). He later assembled the Criss band, which included Mike Stone (who would later end up in Queensryche). Cat #1 was also preceded by a mail order EP simply called Criss, with some exclusive songs.  That release was marred by an incompetent record company who took close to a year to mail out the orders.

Unfortunately, Peter did not need a record company to tank this release.  This CD tanked itself.  The problems with Cat #1 are three-fold:

1. No great songs.
2. Bland, uninspired performances and terrible singing by the backing band.
3. Bad production and plastic sounding drums.

The one good song is “Blue Moon Over Brooklyn”, the heartfelt ballad written for Peter’s mom who had passed away recently.  This song, though imperfect, justifies me having it my collection.  (Well, that and it’s Kiss related.)  Phil Naro co-wrote this one, and diehard fans know he’s a talented guy who has written some pretty good songs.  It’s just too bad that “Blue Moon Over Brooklyn” wasn’t fully realized by an ace band and producer.  Somebody to help Peter know when he’s singing flat, you know?

Naro wrote two tunes here, “Bad People Burn In Hell” is the other.  It’s not bad either.  It’s a fun rocker where Peter gets to sing in his Elvis voice for a bit. But that’s basically it. The rest of the songs sound like a hodge-podge of unrelated bits stuck together, and wouldn’t even pass as filler on the worst Kiss albums. You could probably Frankenstein bits and pieces from these songs to make one good song out of the bunch of them, but that’s all. For example, the chorus from “Strike” is decent, put that with the verses from “Bad Attitude”…you know what I mean?  Maybe you could make one good song out of them.   (“Bad Attitude” by the way seems to be about that homeless man who claimed to be Peter as documented on the Phil Donahue show. Remember that?)

CRISS CAT 1_0002The production though is terribly bland, and Peter’s drums sound like triggered samples.  They really sound terrible.  The drum sound alone robs Peter of the swing.  It’s distracting.  His singing is good in spots, and he actually wails pretty good on tracks like “Bad Attitude”.  “Bad Attitude” is vintage Kiss vocally, but shite musically.

Mike Stone sings lead on a couple tracks, and his voice is like…how do I describe this? He’s like Glenn Tipton meets an asthmatic Dave Mustaine or something. Not a good singer at all. When he takes the lead on tracks like “Show Me”, it sinks the song. Even when he backs Peter up on songs like “Bad Attitude”, it’s weak. A third voice is singing on “We Want You”, who I assume from the writing credits is Mike McLaughlin. His voice is even weaker, it’s like a raspy whisper.

Finally Peter recycled “Beth”, yet again.  It was great to finally have an unplugged acoustic version of the song, but he has really milked that one, hasn’t he?  It’s a good version, and it’s a slightly different mix from the one used on the earlier EP.

As marked on the cover art itself, Ace Frehley plays guitar on three songs: “Bad Attitude,” “Walk the Line,” and “Blue Moon over Brooklyn”. But you can’t really tell.   Let’s talk a moment about that cover art. Actually, let’s not: You can see it for yourself, so you decide what you think.  Challenge yourself to come up with one-word descriptions and post them in the comments.

1/5 stars

REVIEW: Criss – Criss (1993 EP)

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CRISS – Criss Special Limited Edition (1993 EP, TNT Records)

At long last, Peter Criss was releasing new music, for the first time since 1982’s Let Me Rock You, over a decade prior.  Tellingly, it was a mail-order only release, on a small California label called Tony Nicole Tony Records.  It ran me over $40 Canadian (with shipping) to order it.  It was a limited edition, all copies to be numbered and signed by the Cat himself.

An angry letter and six months later, I finally received my Criss EP to find that the hyped signature was just printed on.  Yes, it was numbered (mine is #2408), but for $40…come on.

I overlooked the sad artwork of Peter’s face, half painted in his old cat makeup, and hair bleached blonde.  I cracked the seal, put the disc in and hit play.

I was struck immediately by the poor production.  The drums sound awful.  For a solo EP by a drummer, I was hoping for better sounding drums than this.  Peter’s singing was OK, but the lyrics?  He does this section near the end of the the first song, “The Cat”, that was just…stinky.

Listen to this one now.
Gene and Paul went up the hill to fetch a pail of water,
Gene fell down and broke his crown,
And Paul came tumbling over.

And then his does this weird high pitched shriek that is so embarrassingly terrible, that I couldn’t believe it made it only to the album.  Well, it could only get better from there.

Nope.

The same awful sounding drums, rapping, and another awful lyric:

Planes, trains and limozines,
So what? What does it mean?
We’re burning down like Mercury,
God bless the Killer Queen.

This time the singer isn’t Peter, but a fellow with a mohawk called Mike Stone.  This same Mike Stone would later end up in a band called Queensryche.  And if anything was worse than Peter’s shrieking on track one, it’s Mike Stone’s singing on track two.  And the song sucks, too.

“Good Times”, an electric ballad with a soulful vocal from Peter, is pretty good.  It has the vibe of something that would have fit onto Peter’s 1978 solo album, without the schlock.  OK, one good song.  At least there’s one.

But then Mike Stone rears his ugly mohawk again, on a song called “What You’re Doing”.  No, not the Rush tune.  It’s not a bad song, but Stone’s truly awful singing renders it unlistenable.  Finally, Peter saves this drowning EP with an acoustic remake of “Beth”.  It must be remembered that up to this point, an acoustic version of “Beth” had never been released.  It was presented that way in the Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park movie, but until this EP, you couldn’t buy it like that.  So this is cool, and slightly different from the version that later ended up on the Cat #1 album.

I have no doubt this is very rare today, and I’ve never seen another copy.  If you can find it, great.  But you may not need to listen to it.

1.5/5 stars