The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 36:
– Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988 Mercury)
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, Bob 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