black diamond

BOOK REVIEW: Dale Sherman – The KISS FAQ

I’ve had numerous requests for some rock book reviews.  So let’s start with a new release:  Dale Sherman’s The KISS FAQ!

DALE SHERMAN – The KISS FAQ – All that’s left to know about the hottest band in the land (2012 Backbeat Books)

Dale Sherman’s written two of the best unofficial Kiss books:  Black Diamond, and Black Diamond 2.  Both are noted for their almost OCD level accuracy, objectivity, attention to detail, and ample Eric Carr content.  Sherman was lucky enough to get some really excellent Eric Carr interviews, and his perspective is one that isn’t often reflected in Kiss written works today.

A new book from Sherman was very welcome to this fan.  According to the author, this book is about “the various topics that fans discuss at the hotel bar after a Kiss expo,” and that about covers it!  The minutaie.  The tall tales, myths and truths.  The who-played-what-when.  Lists, lists, and lists.  The albums, the personalities, and the personas.

There are also some nice black and white pictures of memorabilia and artifacts from the author’s collection.  The author seems to have a large collection, so there are plenty of pictures to leaf through.  Colour would have been nice, but then I wouldn’t be paying $22.99 for the book, would I?

Don’t expect writing with a lot of flare, but do expect encyclopedic knowledge.  My one beef is this.  I’ve already read Black Diamond and Black Diamond 2 numerous times, and there’s quite a bit of overlap between those and The KISS FAQ.  It’s not the same text, but the subject matter overlaps.  The compensation for this is that The KISS FAQ is up to date, where Black Diamond and Black Diamond 2 were both circa the reunion era.

As a Kiss fan who likes to pretend I already know it all, I enjoyed this book.  It was like a refresher course in Kiss.  There’s lots of obscure facts I’d forgotten about.  It was a helpful reference when I did my recent series of Kiss album reviews.  Recommended.

3.9/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)

Redemption! Part 30 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

I still love this video.

KISS – Revenge (1992)

The death of Eric Carr at age 41 was a terrible tragedy.  A guy who lived a healthy lifestyle, struck down by cancer, at the peak of his talents.

The initial concept of having Eric Carr play on half of Revenge and Eric Singer the other half was shelved.  Carr was simply too sick, something he had a hard time accepting, according to Dale Sherman in his excellent Carr-centric book Black Diamond.  When Eric Carr passed, bringing Singer into the fold was a natural step.  Singer had already worked with Paul Stanley on his 1989 solo tour.

Eric Carr did manage to record background vocals to the preview single, “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II”, before passing in November 1991.

Kiss felt like they had something to prove on Revenge.  After a series of poppy albums and lacklustre tours, they found their roots again.  In addition producer Pop Ezrin challenged Bruce Kulick to better himself and make his soloing more aggressive. As a hard-fought result, Kulick’s guitar had never sounded better. It is mean, aggressive, like blood splattering on the railroad tracks. Wah-wah pedals and effects came to the forefront and it completely suited the music that Kiss had written.

“Unholy”, the first song and first single, was also the first Gene Simmons lead vocal in a Kiss single since “I Love It Loud”. It sounds like the demonic half-brother to “War Machine” from Creatures Of The Night. Indeed, if Revenge would be compared to any previous Kiss album it should probably be Creatures.

“I Just Wanna” was the second single, a Paul song. Sadly it is quite a transparent rewrite of “Summertime Blues”. It also has a silly chorus: “I just wanna fuh-, I just wanna fuh-, I just wanna forget you.” Despite this it’s also one of the catchiest tunes on the album, and quite irrestible despite its flaws.

Third single, “Domino”, was another Gene track, this one the most vintage-KISS of them all. It is a basic stripped down groovy rock track with Gene singing about a girl named Domino who “got me by the balls”. The video was quite unique in that it featured Kiss playing as a trio, Paul on bass, while Gene was out cruising in his car. Bruce’s soloing here is really good.

Fourth and final single from the album was “Every Time I Look At You” featuring Bob Ezrin on piano. It’s another power ballad, along the lines of “Forever” or the later “I Finally Found My Way”. Sadly in the era of grunge it was quickly forgotten, but aside from a very nice version with strings from MTV Unplugged it is largely forgettable anyway.  Inferior to “Forever” despite the superior production values.

The rest of the tracks include “Take It Off”, Paul’s tribute to strippers everywhere, and very similar in style and tone to “I Just Wanna”. Paul’s “Tough Love” channels S&M, a bit and is a very cool heavier rock track with some great Bruce solos. “Spit” is quite possibly the album’s best song, and the most fun.  Paul even quotes Spinal Tap:  “The bigger the cushion, the better the pushin'”. Its vocals are split between Gene and Paul, a rarity in later Kiss. Bruce’s solo here is awesome. His technique is stunning, the solo is both amusing and jaw-dropping.

“Side 1” of the album ended with a remix of “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II”, previously released on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.  Not really an outstanding song, it’s a semi-cover of an old Argent song and again features Gene and Paul splitting the lead vocals.

“Side 2” kicks off with the Vinnie Vincent-penned “Heart of Chrome”, one of Paul’s coolest titles and another outstanding track, somewhat similar to “Tough Love”. Gene’s “Thou Shalt Not” covers similar lyrical territory as “Cadillac Dreams” from the last album, but is a much better song.  It is very catchy and has some cool licks on guitar. “Paralyzed” is another Gene track, only this time the verses are cooler than the chorus. There’s also a nifty spoken word bit in the middle as only Gene can do, kind of funky.

The album ends with “Carr Jam 1981”, an Eric song which had circulated in collector’s circles for a long time, except with Ace Frehley on lead guitar. It was recorded by Ezrin during The Elder sessions which yielded a ton of unused song ideas. Ace Frehley decided to use it himself in 1987 as “Breakout”, on the Frehley’s Comet album. This version however replaces Ace’s guitar with Bruce Kulick’s.  Eric Carr plays the only drum solo he ever recorded in the studio.  It is a very fitting tribute to the man who helped Kiss get through some very tough times, and didn’t live long enough to play drums on this fantastic album.

Some fans heard the heavier sound on this CD and accused Kiss of selling out to grunge. Not so; the album was released in early 1992 and was written before grunge took hold. Music was naturally moving in a heavier direction at the time, and Kiss were part of that.  Kiss’ recent evolution had shown that Revenge was the only possible next step.

Well, other than a reunion.  And Revenge would prove to be the last studio album released (though not recorded!) before the long-awaited return of the original Kiss.

4.5/5 stars