bruce kulick

REVIEW: Union – Union (1998, 1999 reissue with bonus track)

The third and final Kulick review from our Kulick week at mikeladano.com!

Tuesday: Blackjack – Blackjack (1979)
Wednesday: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20160928UNION – Union (1998, 1999 Spitfire reissue)

A mighty Union was formed from the ashes of two classic bands’ lesser-known lineups.  First up is Bruce Kulick, formerly of Kiss and now in Grand Funk.  Kulick had been taking an increasingly important role within Kiss, leading to the Carnival of Souls LP which Bruce was instrumental in writing and recording.  With him was John Corabi who had just been booted from Motley Crue after making (arguably) their best album (or one of).  Corabi was in a bit of a state.  His confidence in himself was shaken after the Motley experience, who seemed impossible to please when their album tanked.  John told Bruce that he didn’t want to sing anymore, he just wanted to play guitar.  Bruce’s response was “Dude, you’re fuckin’ high!”

And so it was that Bruce and John teamed up (with Brent Fitz and Jamie Hunting) in the aptly named Union.

You wouldn’t call Union a supergroup, but they did create a fine album.  It is in the mold of the last albums these guys made separately (Motley ’94 and Carnival).  Union turned out as an angry, dark rock record, very much a child of the 1990’s.  With Kulick on guitar, Union was more than a 90’s alt-grunge retread.  The 90’s are omnipresent in the droning riffs and staggered rhythms, but then Bruce dumped out his tackle box of guitar tricks.  Bruce evolved over the years from a guy who played really fast on 80’s Kiss albums to a serious player interested in pushing his own limits.  Where he used to be content to play flurries of notes, on Union he goes for maximum gut impact.  It’s less about playing the notes than bending them to his will.

It’s also quite clear how much writing Bruce and John did in their respective bands, judging by the sound of this.  “Around Again” bears groovy similarities to tracks like “Jungle” by Kiss and “Uncle Jack” by Motley.  There’s a pissed-off attitude, and musicianship that would make Nikki Sixx crap his pants.  Thankfully Union have a good batch of songs backing them.  Much like the previous Kiss and Crue records, Union is not instant love.  It takes about three good listens to penetrate its metal-grunge (with a touch of Beatles) hybrid sound.  Union usually seem to go for the guts rather than singalong melodies.

One of the exceptions to this rule is the pure fun “Love (I Don’t Need it Anymore)”.  This is the one that hooks you on the first round.  With a funky little riff and a chorus that sinks right in, it slays.  The ballad “October Morning Wind” is another catchy track, an acoustic number a-la Zeppelin.  Think of a track like “Loveshine” from the Motley album for the right ballpark.  Stealing a Zeppelin title, Union’s song “Tangerine” is a groove rock tune like a heavier Aerosmith.

On the other side of the spectrum:  psychedelic rock.  “Let It Flow” is a trippy song broken up into sections called “The Invitation”, “The Journey” and “The Celebration”.  I think John was smoking something green when he wrote the lyrics, but Bruce’s sitar-like guitar is the perfect complement.  “Empty Soul” has similar scope, being a pretty huge song with musical goodness coming out the wazoo.

Adding the Beatles cover “Oh Darlin'” to a reissued version of the album is a little greedy, but fortunately worth it.  As it turned out this band only made two studio albums, so more Union is good Union.  If you recall the original song, Paul McCartney gave it his best rasp screams.  Up to bat is John Corabi who can sing that way in his sleep.  It’s a perfect match and “Oh Darlin'” is a nice little extra on which to end an exceptional album.  The only issue I have with “Oh Darlin” is actually its placement as the last song.  Previously, the solo-written Corabi acoustic ballad “Robin’s Song” was the closer, much like “Driftaway” was on the Motley album.  You become accustomed to “Robin’s Song” as a closer, because it has that quality to it.  “Oh Darlin'” is not a closer.  It would have worked better earlier in the track list, so feel free to shuffle as you choose.

Whatever version you acquire, any fan of Kulick and/or Corabi would be foolhardy to live without this CD.  It ranks as one of the best albums by either.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20161003BLACKJACK – Worlds Apart (1980 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

Blackjack (Bruce Kulick, Jimmy Haslip, Sandy Gennero and some unknown guy named Michael Bolton) made a grand total of two albums before splitting.  Michael went on to a fairly successful solo career (two Grammy awards), and a few years later Bruce joined Kiss.  Neither guy is really sweating the fact that Blackjack had no impact.  The albums are long out of print, except in Japan.

Their second album, unfortunately, lacks the memorable hooks of the first one.  Starting off with a cover is rarely a good sign.  The Supremes’ “My World is Empty Without You” is as ham-fisted as you can imagine, with heavy handed bass forced into what is usually a fine soul song.  Bolton oversings.  It’s a misstep from the get-go, and it’s not a good sign that this is one of the better tracks on the album which is otherwise mostly written by Bolton and Kulick.

“Love is Hard to Find” works well as an early-80’s Bon Jovi blueprint.  The ballad “Stay” certainly sounds like Michael Bolton, or more accurately, it sounds like Michael covering an over-dramatic Rod Stewart ballad.  “Airwaves” passes as a rock song, but it certainly is a weak one even compared to similar bands from the era such as Journey.  Ironically what it needs is Michael to let loose with those pipes, the way he does on the ballads.  Even a title like “Maybe It’s the Power of Love” lacks the kind of vocal power you want (though Bruce does get a tasty little solo with a dual harmony part).

The hardest rocker of the album is the side two opener, “Welcome to the World”, which bizarrely opens with an actual recorded baby birth.  That aside, it’s a pretty solid rocker with more of those Kulick harmony licks.  Strangely, Kulick had nothing to do with its writing.  This works into the very 80’s sounding “Breakaway” with its programmed keyboards and soft-rockisms, and among the worst tracks on the album.  “Really Wanna Know” is almost as bad, so cheesy you can smell it coming by the opening synths.  “Sooner or Later” works better, again perhaps a precursor to early Bon Jovi.  Good track, and Michael lets the voice rip like you want to hear it.  And then the album craps its own pants with the closer, “She Wants You Back”, lighter than light rock.  There’s a lick that borrows from Steve Miller’s “Swingtown”, but the Miller song is better.

The second Blackjack album has no surprises, no progression and little impact  Even though the second LP is a soundalike to the first, it’s weak.  And so they split.  Bruce Kulick’s brief foray into “moustache rock” ended and he was on to other things.  Blackjack and Worlds Apart are interesting mostly to Kiss fans and collectors.  As for Bolton fans, I know he still has many, but I think only these two fellas would buy Worlds Apart (they celebrate the guy’s entire catalogue).

2/5 stars

scan_20161003-2

REVIEW: Blackjack – Blackjack (1979)

It’s Bruce Kulick week here at mikeladano.com! Check in for some cool releases featuring the extremely talented former KISS guitarist.

scan_20161002BLACKJACK – Blackjack (1979 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

The Kiss family tree is a fascinating tangle of disparate roots and branches.  One of the most intriguing branches is that of Bruce Kulick (Kiss guitarist 1984-1996) who has played with a number of fantastic artists over the years.  After completing a tour with Meat Loaf, Bruce was invited to form a new band with a hot young rock singer out of New Haven, Connecticut. This singer was a powerhouse with a Seger-like rasp, mixing soul and rock in equal measure, and able to write songs too. In fact today, this singer has sold 75 million albums with his name on them. Or at least the shortened version of his name. Back in 1979, his last name was spelled “Bolotin”. Today, he’s known as Michael Bolton.

Today, Bolton is probably best known for covers (“When a Man Loves a Woman”), but in 1979 he co-wrote every song on Blackjack’s debut. Both Kulick brothers (Bruce and Bob) have credits on a number of songs. And shockingly, they are generally pretty good! Fair warning though, this isn’t hard rock or heavy metal. Look at Bruce’s moustache. This is 1979 moustache music. It actually sounds bang-on in tune with the 1978 Kiss solo albums.

Bolton’s blue-eyed soul had a remarkable youthful energy. Check out the powerhouse chorus on the lead track “Love Me Tonight”. It’s hard to recognize the chops of Kulick, who was just beginning his evolution. The focus is undoubtedly on the singer, who impresses on every song. Second in line is “Heart of Stone”, a dusky soul-funk-rock number with some unbelievable singing. Unfortunately the ballads are less interesting then the rockers. “The Night has Me Calling for You” lacks the focus of the prior two songs. Following it with “Southern Ballad” makes it seem like we’re listening to a Peter Criss solo album at times. The side resumes to rocking with “Fallin'”, a great little tune that again sounds like it could have fit on one of the Kiss solo albums.


They even made a music video!

Although this is a remastered Japanese HM-CD, the second side of the original LP would have commenced on “Without Your Love”, a catchy and hit-worthy rock song a-la Journey (the members of whom helped out Bolton on his hit 1987 album The Hunger). Although “Countin’ On You” counts as a ballad, it’s better than the two on side one. It bears a strong chorus with urgency, and some cool finger picking by Bruce. The chorus of “I’m Aware of Your Love” is awkward but also catchy. I mean, who says “I’m aware of your love”? Is that a thing people say? If it works for you, sing along with Michael!

For soul ballads, “For You” is quite good, and Kulick complements it well. Finally the album ends with energy courtesy of “Heart of Mine” another strong soul-rocker with some powerful Bolton pipes. This is good stuff, horribly dated but if you like the cheesier side of late 70’s rock, then dig in. Who knew that Michael Bolton could rock? Kiss fans, that’s who. Because of Kulick, fans have been aware for years that Michael Bolton did rock at one time. Now with both Blackjack albums re-released in Japan on super high quality CDs with LP style packaging, you can get in on the fun too.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Deadly Demos (1995 bootleg)

First of a Kiss two-fer.
Scan_20160808KISS – Deadly Demos (1995 Firehouse Records bootleg)

Some Kiss fans are willing to pay money for every burp and fart that Gene or Paul have committed to tape.  Deadly Demos (or Deadly Kisses according to the CD itself) definitely has some material that is difficult to listen to quality-wise.  It also has some decent versions of rare tracks that Kiss fans are seeking.  When it comes to collecting Kiss, the band occasionally cough up official versions of heavily bootlegged rarities.  The Kiss Box Set gave us a number of these tracks, as did Kiss 40 and the Love Gun deluxe edition.  That may sound generous, but there are so many more Kiss demos out there that the band could easily compile onto a few CDs worth of decent tracks.  Gene has always said “don’t worry, they’re coming”.  Impatient fans have had to settle for shoddy unofficial discs like Deadly Demos to get their fix.

“Nowhere to Run”, originally from Kiss Killers, is an early version of the song, but the demo is unfortunately hampered by the too-fast tape speed.  This can easily be fixed digitally, but the track suffers from high static and low clarity.  It’s too bad because the demo version sounds fiery.  “Secretly Cruel” (Asylum) is better and rocks harder than the album version.  Because these are demos, you have to expect a certain lack of clarity, but it’s cool hearing slightly different arrangements and lyrics.  “Nobody’s Perfect” is a great little song that didn’t appear officially until 2009’s Sonic Boom, heavily re-written, but the chorus was intact a long time ago.  Another Gene demo “It’s Gonna Be Alright” just has a drum machine and simple guitar part, but it would be one of Kiss’s pop rock classics if they ever decide to commit it to album.

A Paul demo (“Get All You Can Take” from Animalize) breaks up the Gene party, but it is an instrumental version.  It has a heavy Zeppelin sound without the vocals, but the sound quality is pretty poor.  When these guys were recording demos like this, it was mostly just to get the idea down onto tape so you could show the others what your idea was.  Fidelity was not considered essential, and a lot of these tapes had been copied many many times before they were finally digitized onto CD.  “Thrills in the Night” is probably from the same source.  You can hear other music leaking through too.  The sound is atrocious, but what is cool here is that it gives you an idea how Paul Stanley writes.  The music and melody are all but complete, but the lyrics are not, so Paul sings it in “doo doo doo” vocals.  It’s incredible how intact the song already was at this stage, including a guitar solo that is clearly by Mark St. John.  An earlier song, Paul’s “Deadly Weapons” from the Kiss Killers period would have been a fun hard rocking addition to that LP.  Some of the lyrics were used on Gene’s “Love’s A Deadly Weapon” from Asylum, which is the reason it has a Stanley/Simmons/Swenson/Beech writing credit.  Paul and Gene weren’t writing together for pretty much all of the 80’s, but Gene lifted some words from “Deadly Weapons”.

Populating the demos from the late 80’s, “Hide Your Heart” is outstanding, very close to the album cut, and has decent audio.  However the real holy grail is “Sword and Stone”, the track Paul wrote but was recorded by Bonfire for the Shocker soundtrack.  Having it on bootleg is not as good as having an official quality release, but this will have to do for now.  Kiss really should have put out this version on something back when it was recorded.  They shouldn’t have given it away.  As such it’s become a fan favourite over the years.  (Maybe Kiss should considering re-recording some of these old songs and releasing an album like Van Halen did.)

Other interesting tracks include “Let’s Put the X in Sex”, which isn’t even a demo.  This sounds flat out like a bad remix of the album version.  There are three “Let’s Put the X in Sex” remixes on this disc.  These are supposed to be promotional dance-y remixes done to get the song some club play.  While it’s nice to get tracks like this, the disc is called Deadly Demos, not Deadly Misc. Rarities.  Come on people.  The sound quality isn’t even a vinyl rip, so the origin of these remixes is questionable.  A much better (though still not a demo) inclusion is “Hard Luck Woman” performed on Leno by Kiss and Garth Brooks in 1994, to promote the Kiss My Ass tribute album.  From the same period, it’s Gin Blossoms and Kiss doing “Christine Sixteen”, on Letterman.  There are a few other live tracks, from unknown (broadcast) origins, but you can tell it’s Eric Singer on drums, so it must have been the 90’s.

The most infamous Kiss outtake of all time is the song “Feels Like Heaven”, which Peter Criss actually recorded himself on his second solo album, Let Me Rock You.  It’s an urban funk/soul combo but what exists on tape is just a snip of the song.  The reason it is so infamous is that Gene ends the song with a pretty crude statement that I won’t even reproduce here!  (And I’m a guy who’s written multiple articles about poop and pee!)   Oh Gene, you smooth talker you.

In order to rate a disc like this, you have to remember that it doesn’t simply boil down to numbers.  There are some valued tracks here, such as “Sword and Stone” and “Deadly Weapons”.  There is also a lot of material that will strain you just to listen to it.  As always, spend your money appropriately.

2/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Bruce Kulick – BK3 (2010)

Scan_20160527BRUCE KULICK – BK3 (2010 Rocket Science)

There is so much more to Kiss than just the original members.  Sure, you may think Ace Frehley rules, and that his solo albums are awesome.  You’d be right — I’ve reviewed every single Ace Frehley album.  But let’s not forget about Bruce Kulick, who humbly held down the fort from 1984-1996.  Today, Kulick’s rocking the house with Grand Funk, and doing a fine job of it.  But just as there is more to Kiss than just the original members, there is more to Bruce than just Kiss or Grand Funk.  Bruce has always treated Kiss with respect, and his solo music shows the same care and love put into it.  BK3 is my favourite of his solo albums, including Audio Dog and Transformer.

Surely one of the draws to this Kulick record has to be the big name guest appearances.  The best of these is the late Doug Fieger (The Knack) on “Dirty Girl”, an incredibly catchy radio rocker.  So good is it, Classic Rock magazine listed it as the 29th best tune of 2010.  Hey, that’s a proud moment!  If I didn’t know it was Fieger singing, I wouldn’t have guessed.  I figured it was some young unknown with a great voice.  As great as this song is, and how hit-worthy it could have been, I don’t think it would have suited Kiss.  It’s too pop for Kiss, I think, but it’s not sell-out in any way, because Kulick makes sure the guitars are sweet, crunchy and loud.  Other guest shots include Steve Lukather, dueling with Bruce on the only instrumental “Between the Lines”.  Tobias Sammet shows up to sing the grinding “I’m an Animal”, and on drums is Kiss drummer Eric Singer.  As if that’s not enough, there are not one but two Simmons on this album.  The old man sings “Ain’t Gonna Die”, a heavy Kiss-like armor plated beast.  Then the Son of Simmons, young Nicholas, sings on the even better “Hand of the King”.  Almost a dead ringer for his old man, Nick lends the song a demon-like aura.

There is one more cool guest shot that needs to be highlighted.  There are 3/4 of Bruce’s old late-90’s band Union, on a great tune called “No Friend of Mine”.  John Corabi lends his unmistable gravel to this melancholy rocker.  With shades of acoustics and ripping lead vocals, this as good as anything in the original Union catalogue.  I still think their debut album was incredible.  Canuck Brent Fitz is on drums, also from the Union days but probably on a break from Slash.  Only bassist Jamie Hunting is missing, but it’s safe to say that this song could easily fall under the Union umbrella.  Kulick’s shredding on this one is insane, used sparingly but effectively.

BK3 is also diverse.  Bruce sings the rest of the material, but the most interesting is the closing ballad “Life”.  It sounds like a King’s X track circa Faith Hope Love, augmented with violins and the flute!  This is truly is an outstanding ballad.  Bruce would be the first one to say “I’m not a singer”, so it takes courage to do the lead vocal on a track like this.  Bruce’s voice has his personality in it:  it sounds like the Bruce Kulick we know and love.  It’s a very human sound, and he does a great job.  His voice is similar to Steve Vai’s, another artist who is not afraid to sing lead.

If you appreciate great rock music, meticulously and lovingly assembled, then give BK3 a shot.  There are so many great songs on here.  If you’re a fan of Kiss, The Knack, Motley Crue, or any of the other guests, then this purchase is somewhat of a no-brainer!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Unholy Kisses (1992 bootleg)

UNHOLY KISSES_0002KISS – Unholy Kisses (Audience recorded bootleg, 1992 Flashback)

“You know who we are, let’s kick some ass!”

That’s how Paul Stanley introduced the legendary Kiss on their stripped-down 1992 club tour, April 23 1992 in San Francisco.  The Revenge album was a “reboot” of sorts, out of necessity.  New drummer, new attitude, and a return to the producer (Bob Ezrin) who helped make them huge.  A return to the clubs without the lights, stage show, and costumes helped Kiss transition into the 90’s.  If this one bootleg CD is any indication, then the club tour was a huge success.

Eschewing their normal opening routine, the band entered to the sound of “Love Gun”, but heavier than ever.  Many fans consider the Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer lineup to be among their best, and this live bootleg proves why.  In fantastic voice, Paul leads this devastating lineup to demolish the clubs in their wake.  Full of adrenaline, “Love Gun” is faster than its studio counterpart, and Bruce Kulick creates his own individual guitar solo that fits the track.

Gene’s next on “Deuce”, the new lineup infusing it with menace.  The CD, though obviously a bootleg, sounds great.  Even though the drums are a bit distant you can hear that Eric Singer has come into the band paying homage to the drum parts he inherited.  Then Paul takes a moment to tell the audience that they’ve been so fired up about the way Kiss have been sounding, that they just got to come down to San Fransisco and play.  A rough opening to “Heaven’s On Fire” is a mere hiccup after they get going on the hit single.  For the first time you can clearly hear new guy Eric Singer singing background vocals.

“You ready to hear something old? One of those Kiss klassics?  Bruce – let ’em have a taste.”  Then the shocked audience picked up their jaws as Kiss slammed through “Parasite” for the first time since 1976.  Returning to songs like this was critical for a band who spent the 80’s largely ignoring the deep cuts.

UNHOLY KISSES_0001One thing I love about bootleg CDs is the chance to overhear some audience chatter.  “Shout it Out Loud” however is marred by one nearby fan who keeps singing “You got to have a party,” even when that’s not the current part of the song!  Minor beef, as “Shout it Out Loud” rocks and is another song that was tragically ignored during most of the 80’s.

“How many of you people have Kiss Alive?  Gene must know this one.  Gene’s got Kiss Alive.  Goes like this!”  There begins “Strutter” (also from the first Kiss album) and the crowd goes nuts.  “Dr. Love” follows, with Eric Singer showing off some fancy footwork on the double bass drums.

Fans who were shocked by these old tunes must really have lost their minds when “I Was Made For Loving You”, heavy as hell, tore through the club.  “I Was Made For Loving You” was re-imagined as a chugging metal track and in the club environment, it’s only more raw and aggressive.  Then Paul lets another bomb drop when he introduces “100,000 years” from the first album.  “Oh my God!  I don’t fucking believe it! I do not fucking believe it!” says one nearby fan, obviously excited by this rarity.  It’s incredible how well Bruce and Eric adapted to the sound of old raunchy Kiss.

But what of new Kiss?  The band weren’t ready to start unveiling all the new songs, as Revenge hadn’t even come out yet.  They did roll out two: the first single “Unholy”, and album cut “Take it Off”.

“We got a new album about to come out,” begins Paul.  “And I’ll tell you something, this album is the shit.  I’ll tell you, this album is our fuckin’ Revenge and when you hear the album you’ll know what I’m talking about.”  Indeed, as promised the new songs kick ass, though “Unholy” is kind of awkward in the live setting.  “Take it Off” is more like Kiss.

It’s all oldies from here.   Aside from the new Revenge songs, the most recent track that Kiss played here was “Heaven’s On Fire” from 1984!  (Note: this CD is not the full concert and 1985’s “Tears are Falling” was also played that night.)  I think it’s safe to say that Paul and Gene understand some of the errors in direction they made over the last 10 years, and successfully steered the ship back on track.  “Firehouse” and “Cold Gin” from the first album are present. “I Stole Your Love”, “Detroit Rock City”, and “I Want You” close the CD.  “I Stole Your Love” with the backing vocals of Eric Singer is top-notch!

The songs played that night that aren’t on this CD are “God of Thunder”, “Lick It Up”, “Got Gave Rock and Roll to You II” (its live debut), “Rock and Roll all Nite” and the aforementioned “Tears Are Falling”.  Too bad this is only a single CD bootleg, but bootlegs were so expensive that a double would have cost at least $60-80.  If it was a double, I never would have bought it and heard what I have of this awesome show!

4.5/5 stars

UNHOLY KISSES_0003

CD KISStitics

Songs:

  • 5 from Kiss (1974)
  • 2 from Destroyer (1976)
  • 2 from Rock and Roll Over (1976)
  • 2 from Love Gun (1977)
  • 2 from Revenge (1992)
  • 1 from Hotter Than Hell (1974)
  • 1 from Dynasty (1979)
  • 1 from Animalize (1984)

#372: Top Five Reasons Why I Love Kiss

KISS ARMY FRONT

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tales
#372: Top Five Reasons Why I Love Kiss

A while ago I recorded this segment for a proposed podcast over at KingCrimsonProg.  The podcast hasn’t come together yet, for the moment anyway, but I’ve decided to use my segment right here because it’s a subject of interest.  Listen to the embedded video below to hear my Top Five Reasons Why I Love Kiss!

REVIEW: KISS – 40 (2015 single CD Japan Commemorative edition)

 

NEW RELEASE

KISS 40 2015_0001KISS – 40 (2015 Universal Japan single CD Commemorative edition)

Wait a minute, I’m confused — did I just buy Kiss 40, again?

Wait a minute, it’s 2015 now — shouldn’t this be Kiss 41, or something??

Wait a minute, what the hell is “Kiss vs. Momoiro Clover Z”???

Eager to buy anything new from Gene and Co., I got this new single CD version of Kiss 40 without really knowing what it was about.

Now that the CD has arrived at the door, I discovered that Momoiro Clover Z is a Japanese all-girl pop group with similar intentions as Kiss themselves.  They dreamed big dreams for themselves and aimed to entertain and bring a spectacle to the people.  They have colour coordinated members and characters, so perhaps a Kiss collaboration seemed like the next step for them.  I don’t know how the collaboration came to be, but the result was a brand new Kiss song written by Paul Stanley and producer Greg Collins.

This edition of Kiss 40 commences with a Kiss-heavy mix of the new collaboration, “Samurai Son”. There are other versions available on two singles and on iTunes, but reviews for those will wait until they arrive at LeBrain HQ.  The good news is that the “U.S.” mix of “Samurai Son” has no problem hanging out on a Kiss greatest hits CD.  Musically, it’s not too much of a departure of the direction from Kiss’ last album, Monster.  It’s just more produced, polished and embellished.  The girls from Momoiro Clover Z come in during the chorus, but it’s not the first time Kiss have had female backing vocals on their albums.  It’s the first time since 1989, but remember old classic tunes like “Tomorrow and Tonight” from Love Gun, and “Sweet Pain” from Destroyer?  Female backing vocals.  The new twists this time are the lines in Japanese, and the very slight J-pop slant.  It’s not too far of a departure.

Collector's card included inside Kiss 40

Collector’s card included inside Kiss 40

It may not be to your taste, but I love “Samurai Son”.  The lyrics address Kiss’ experience of hitting Japan for the first time back in 1976:

“I took a flight into Tokyo,
Into the Land of the Rising Son,
I heard my song on the radio,
Blowin’ my mind like a shot from a gun.”

Paul then proceeds to tear it up all over town, “Livin’ life with no regrets.”  The words suit one of those fast paced Kiss rockers that they’ve been doing of late — think “Hell or Hallelujah”.  There are some cool Thayer licks and you can tell that Gene Simmons showed up for the sessions, because you can hear him singing on the choruses.  The overall impression is that “Samurai Son” is one of those solid Kiss catalogue rockers.  It’s like the new material on side four of Kiss Alive II: pretty good but living in the shadow of the Kiss greats.

KISS 40 2015_0006From this point on, Kiss 40 (the 2015 abridged version) continues with the “best” hits from the full length 2 CD version…but not quite.  There have been some major tweaks to the tracklist, perhaps to maximize the listening pleasure of consumers who just need one CD of Kiss in their lives.  The classic live version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” has been replaced with the studio version from Dressed to Kill.  Same for “Shout it Out Loud” and “Detroit Rock City”, here in their original full Destroyer guises instead of live. I like the way the car crash ending of “Detroit” merges into “Calling Dr. Love”.  “Dr. Love” and “Love Gun” were thrown into the pile here, even though they weren’t on the original Kiss 40 in any form.  A little further down, a different song was plucked from Kiss Killers:  The superior “I’m a Legend Tonight” replaces “Down on Your Knees”.

Moving on from the makeup years to the non-makeup 1980’s, the original version of “Crazy Crazy Nights” replaces that unreleased live version from the double Kiss 40.  That sums up the song substitutions; the album still continues chronologically to the current era.  I’m pleased that even though early songs from the first two Kiss albums were axed, songs from the last two Kiss albums were not.  I think Sonic Boom and Monster are Kiss albums the band should be proud of, so you get “Modern Day Delilah” and “Hell or Hallelujah”, as it should be.  Other albums excluded from this compilation are The Elder, (surprisingly) Creatures of the Night, Hot in the Shade, the live records and the solo albums.

With all these tweaks and alterations, the overall listening experience is enhanced albeit at the cost of some deeper tracks. It’s a give and take, so the overall score for the new Kiss 40 remains:

4/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: KISS – 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection (2004)

KISS – 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection (2004 Universal)

These 20th Century Masters DVDs were a fun way to pick up key music videos from major bands at a cheap price.  Today this role is largely filled by sites such as YouTube.  The Kiss edition features five of their biggest from the 1980’s:  One with makeup, four without.  One each from Creatures, Lick It Up, Animalize, Asylum, and Crazy Nights.

“I Love It Loud”, of course, features the band in full makeup and costumes, including Ace Frehley, even though he did not play on Creatures of the Night.  This brilliant video spoofed the popular “rock and roll is brainwashing our kids” fears of the 80’s.  In this video, Kiss use their incredible brain powers to do that very thing.  Gene can even melt objects with his fire breathing, through a fucking television set.

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Let me set the stage for you in the clip for “Lick It Up”:  It is the Future.  Nuclear war has seemlingly reduced America to a wasteland, the population are dressed in rags.  The only human beings left alive are women…and of course the four guys from Kiss (now including Vinnie Vincent on guitar).  Only they can bring salvation (and music) to the surviving ladies.

“Heaven’s On Fire is a pretty standard 80’s video.  The band frolic with babes, Gene wags his tongue, Eric shakes his hair.  This video is however notable as the one and only appearance of guitarist Mark St. John (who replaced Vinnie Vincent) on lead guitar.

The clip for “Tears Are Falling” isn’t the best.  It’s a better song than a video, but there’s a cool part where Bruce plays a guitar solo in the rain.  It’s too bad that Kiss chose the Asylum period for a garish set of sequined covered bathrobes, a popular 1985-86 trend.

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“Crazy Crazy Nights” boasts some pretty big production values and the debut of the “new” late-80’s KISS sign.  I hated the softening of the musical and visual direction of Kiss in this video.  This is the beginning of Paul Stanley merely dancing with his guitar in videos, rather than playing it.  Watch the video.  At no point is Paul doing anything more than wearing or dancing with his guitar!

Eric Carr was the drummer on all tracks, rest his soul.

3/5 stars

KISS DVD 20TH CENTURY MASTERS_0001

REVIEW: KISS – 40 (Japanese import with bonus track)

NEW RELEASE

KISS – 40 (2014 Universal Japan)

Alright people. I got a question for everybody here (and I didn’t forget about you people upstairs neither, woah yeah!).  How many of you people believe in rock and roll?

If you believe in rock and roll, like you say you believe in rock-and-ro-oh-oll, then you know that 2014 is the 40th anniversary of the very first Kiss album.  Gene Simmons believes in rock and roll.  So does Universal music.  They believe in rock and roll’s ability to fill their pockets again and again.   As fans, we have learned to accept this.  You don’t have to buy every re-package and reissue that comes out; we all choose which releases to buy based on our wants and budgets.

Unreleased music is a top priority for me, so seeing Kiss 40 coming out with a number of unreleased tracks, I was excited about this release.  I bought the Japanese edition from the folks over at CD Japan, for the Japanese exclusive bonus track.  I’ll talk about that track in a bit, for now I want to express how happy I am with Kiss 40, as a compilation aimed at fans both new and old.

Sets like this are tricky.  You have to include familiar versions of familiar hits for the people buying their first Kiss CD.  You have to include value to the cantankerous old fan, and present the old songs in novel ways.  What Kiss and Universal chose to do was include one song from every Kiss album, including every live album.  Sprinkled into that are the unreleased songs.

High points:

I love that they used the Paul Stanley version of “God of Thunder”, the fast one.  Marko Fox has been using that as his theme song on his show for a while, and I’ve really grown to love this version.  All four solo albums have a song included.  (I would have preferred a harder song from Paul’s album, but “Hold Me, Touch Me” was the single after all.)  Killers is represented, via “Down on Your Knees”.  Not a bad song.  I’m glad to have the radio edit of “Jungle”, finally.  I never had that before, and “Jungle” probably wouldn’t be on the album if it wasn’t edited down from its full seven minutes.  (Although not stated, “Psycho-Circus” is also edited to remove the “circus” intro.)

Low points:

The goal of including Kiss songs from every album also means that you have to hear “Let’s Put the X in Sex”.  Although this would have been a great place to use a rarer remixed version, it’s just the same one from Smashes, Thrashes & Hits.  Another total miss that is here is the dreadful “Nothing Can Keep Me From You”, from the Detroit Rock City soundtrack.  Whyyyyy.

Nitty gritty details:

The first rarity is a 1977 Gene Simmons demo called “Reputation”.  You can hear that aspects of this song later made it into other Gene Simmons compositions such as “Radioactive”.  This is one of those song titles I’d read about for years, but have never heard until now.  Cool.  While the song is definitely a demo, and not quite as good as most finished Kiss songs, it does boast a cool dual guitar solo and rocking piano a-la “Christine Sixteen”.

KISS 40On the second CD are the rare live tracks.  In addition to live songs sampled from You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!!, Alive IV: Kiss Symphony and The Millenium Concert, there are rare ones here from Instant Live CDs.  Instant Live CDs are live albums you buy at the concert, immediately after the concert — a souvenir of the show you just saw.  Extras are then sold online.  I have a handful myself, but nobody has all of them (at least, nobody I know of!).  “Deuce”, “Cold Gin”, and “Crazy Crazy Nights” are all from these Instant Live albums.  “Crazy Crazy Nights” is the one I was most interested in.  Live performances of that song are scarce in my collection.  It is from the Sonic Boom tour, and it’s pretty solid.  The song is played in a lower key to accommodate Paul, who does pretty good anyway.  Eric and Tommy help him out on the chorus.  Thayer simplifies the original Kulick solo, adapting it to his style and keeping the key hooks intact.  The result is a tasty guitar solo which is a cross of both players.

Finally, those lucky lucky fans in Japan got a brand new live song:  “Hell or Hallelujah” recorded at Budokan.  Although the song itself smokes, Paul’s voice is really sore on this one.  (Both the intro and outro, which could have been neatly edited out, are really harsh.) The song includes the line, “No lies, no fakin’,” and that is totally appropriate, because this sounds 100% live and untouched.  Gotta give ’em credit for not trying to fix Paul’s voice in the mix.

Notable omissions:

“Love Gun”, “Creatures of the Night”, “Hotter than Hell”, “I Stole Your Love”, “Rocket Ride”, “Sure Know Something”, “Hide Your Heart”, “Domino”.

The verdict:

Buy this CD.  The concept of “one track per album” creates some interesting listening results.  The ratio of rarities to hits keeps it fresh all the way through.  And if you’re a Kiss fan absolutely get the Japanese version.  Just go to CD Japan and order it.

4/5 stars

Disc One

  1. ‘Nothin To Lose’
  2. ‘Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll’
  3. ‘C’mon and Love Me’
  4. ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ (Live)
  5. ‘God Of Thunder’ (Demo)
  6. ‘Beth’
  7. ‘Hard Luck Woman’
  8. ‘Reputation’ (Demo) – Previously Unreleased
  9. ‘Christine Sixteen’
  10. ‘Shout It Out Loud’ (Live)
  11. ‘Strutter ‘78′
  12. ‘You Matter To Me’ (Peter Criss)
  13. ‘Radioactive’ (Gene Simmons)
  14. ‘New York Groove’ (Ace Frehley)
  15. ‘Hold Me, Touch Me’ (Paul Stanley)
  16. ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ (Single Edit)
  17. ‘Shandi’
  18. ‘A World Without Heroes’
  19. ‘I Love It Loud’
  20. ‘Down On Your Knees’
  21. ‘Lick It Up’
  22. ‘Heaven’s On Fire’

 

Disc Two

  1. ‘Tears Are Falling’
  2. ‘Reason To Live’
  3. ‘Let’s Put The X In Sex’
  4. ‘Forever’ (Remix)
  5. ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II’
  6. ‘Unholy’ (Live)
  7. ‘Do You Love Me?’ (MTV Unplugged)
  8. ‘Room Service’ (Live)
  9. ‘Jungle’ (Radio Edit)
  10. ‘Psycho Circus’
  11. ‘Nothing Can Keep Me From You’ (Detroit Rock City soundtrack)
  12. ‘Detroit Rock City’ (Live)
  13. ‘Deuce’ (Live 2004) – Unreleased commercially
  14. ‘Firehouse’ (Live – 1999/2000)
  15. ‘Modern Day Delilah’
  16. ‘Cold Gin’ (Live 2009) – Unreleased commercially
  17. ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ (Live 2010) – Unreleased commercially
  18. ‘Hell or Hallelujah’
  19. ‘Hell or Hallelujah’ (Live in Japan 2013) – Japanese bonus track