bruce kulick

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Asylum (1985)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 28 

 – Asylum (1985 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

When we last met our heroes, they were a fractured bunch with differing priorities.  Gene Simmons cut his hair and went to Hollywood.  Paul Stanley was steering the Kiss ship singlehandedly.  They were down a guitar player (Mark St. John) but were fortunate to find his replacement in Bruce Kulick.  Not only was Bruce an old acquaintance (his brother Bob played on a number of Kiss tracks) but he was also just what the band needed.  He added a shot of stability and wrote good material.  He has three writing credits on his first album Asylum, and that was just the beginning.

Paul and Gene produced Asylum, in a similar way to how Animalize was recorded.  As had become routine, Gene wasn’t around to record some of the bass parts in Paul’s songs.  Jean Beauvoir returned to fill in, while Paul also played some bass.  Without Gene fully committed, Asylum was the second Kiss album in a row hobbled by his reduced participation.  Animalize was a huge selling album for Kiss having gone platinum.  Asylum sounds like Paul wanted to duplicate that record.

Eric Carr opens the album with a thunderously memorable drum intro.  Carr didn’t have to try to impress anybody; his drumming brought Kiss to a higher level musically.  His double bass work on “King of the Mountain” would make Lars poo his pants.  For Carr fans, “King of the Mountain” surely must be considered one of his brightest moments.  Fortunately the song also kicks ass.  As one of the Kulick co-writes, the new guitarist impresses immediately.  His soloing style was so much smoother than his predecessor Mark St. John.  He had similar speed and ability but better composition when it comes to solos.  Meanwhile, Paul takes this high octane speed rocker and turns it into a rallying call of encouragement.

I’m gonna climb the mountain,
I’m gonna hit the top,
I wanna go where nobody’s ever been,
I’m never gonna stop.

Who needs Shakespeare when you just need a good shake?  “King of the Mountain” is fuel injection for the bloodstream.

Over to Gene.  “Any Way You Slice It” kicks ass.  He had a habit of barking out his lyrics in the 80s, and “Any Way You Slice It” is very bark-y.  The riff really catches air and takes off.  Back to Paul, and a big single.  “Who Wants to Be Lonely” has a chug and a plaintive chorus.  Paul’s vocal abilities were at a peak, but it sounds like Gene was nowhere near the studio when it was recorded.

There are a lot of contributions from outside songwriters on Asylum, from people such as Desmond Child and Jean Beauvoir.  One of the few songs without them is “Trial By Fire” by Gene and Bruce.  Once again the rhythm is a chug, but this simple little rocker is appealing.  There’s nothing wrong with the chorus, but it has never been played live.  Nor has Paul’s “I’m Alive” which just takes the speed thing to an absurd level for this band.  Kiss isn’t a speed metal band and “I’m Alive” isn’t a memorable song.  “I’m hot enough to give you chills.”  I’ll take your word for it, Paul!

Flip the album and you’ll hear “Love’s a Deadly Weapon”, which both Gene and Paul have a credit on.  This is noteworthy, because the pair hadn’t written anything together on Animalize and only one track on Lick it Up and The Elder each.  That’s all the co-writing credits they had together after the infamous Kiss solo albums.  However, “Love’s a Deadly Weapon” isn’t really a co-write.  It’s one of Gene’s songs, with a title and some words taken from a Paul Stanley demo called “Deadly Weapons”.  Again, Kiss takes the speed level to the absurd.  This ironically renders the song powerless.

Fortunately Paul’s big single “Tears are Falling” brings back the quality.  It was one of the few songs from this era to continue to be played live.  It was kept in the set on the Revenge tour, and had been brought back periodically by the current lineup of the band, even appearing on their last album Kiss Rocks Vegas.  That’s because it has a chorus that goes on for days and days.  Bruce’s guitar solo is one his most memorable, which doesn’t hurt either.

Gene’s “Secretly Cruel” shows off his sleazy side, on a likeable but forgettable album track.  He wrote this one solo, just as Paul did for “Tears are Falling”.  And it’s sleazy from there in.  “Radar for Love” is a Paul/Desmond composition with a groove and a chorus that nails it.

And then it’s “Uh! All Night”.  Yes, “Uh! All Night” is the name of a song.

I’ll confess that when I first heard “Uh! All Night” in 1985, I didn’t know what “Uh!” meant.  I figured it meant “partying” or something.  And there was a period when I really liked this song, but that was over 30 years ago and it sure has worn out its welcome.

Kiss went on tour again, never leaving home territory except for one date in Toronto.  This was a step backwards for the so-called “Hottest Band in the World”.  Asylum wasn’t the hit album that Animalize was.  Money was becoming a problem.  These are problems they aimed to solve next time.

The irony is, although Asylum wasn’t as big as Animalize, song for song it’s probably a better album.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/02

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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Animalize Live Uncensored (2 CD broadcast)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 26

 

 – Animalize Live Uncensored (from 4 CD set Radio Waves 1974-1988) (2015 American Icons broadcast release)

The Animalize tour was the most successful that Kiss had done since the original lineup.  It was an exciting stage show including a finale with the band playing on a levitating platform over the stage.  It was logical to film the Detroit concert, returning to the Cobo Hall where much of Kiss Alive! was forged in 1975.  It had been a long time since Kiss released anything live.  The sequel album Alive II came in 1977, and then Kiss underwent radical upheaval and change, as we have documented through this series.   In the 1970s there was a pattern:  Three studio albums and then a live album.  Animalize was the sixth studio album since Alive II with no Alive III on the horizon.

Fans had their own theories as to why Alive III never materialized when due, but it likely has a lot to do with the lineup changes, shifts in direction, and fading fortunes.  These events all struck right around the time when the third live album would have been appropriate, but as Kiss replaced members and took off the makeup, they had to re-establish themselves as a valid, current entity not dependant on past glories.

The Animalize Cobo Hall concert that was filmed was released in 1985 as the home video, Animalize Live Uncensored.  For an entire generation of Kiss fans, Animalize Live Uncensored was our own Alive III.  You could break down KISStory up to this point into three distinct eras as seen in the chart below.
Kiss had a whole new generation of fans, the MTV generation, who associated the makeup with ancient history.  We didn’t have our own Kiss Alive.  Without one, we made Animalize Live Uncensored into our unofficial Alive III.

Kiss were introducing yet another guitar player to the fans, but Bruce Kulick was fitting in great.  Animalize Live Uncensored gave the fans at home a chance to check out his interpretations of new and old Kiss classics.  He gave the Mark St. John tracks a smoother soloing style with more emphasis on hooky licks.  The threw on tons of the flash that was in vogue at the time, but he didn’t showboat.  He did exactly what the bosses (Paul and Gene) wanted, and he did it well enough to win over fans and keep the gig.

The Kiss of the 80s were way, way faster than the Kiss of the 70s.  Eric Carr could play things that Peter Criss couldn’t, and speed was in fashion.  Even old songs like “Cold Gin” and “Detroit Rock City” were sped up and 80s-ized.  The fast stuff from their 80s albums, like “Fits Like a Glove” and “Young and Wasted” are done up even faster.  Lots of songs by the original band such as “Shout it Out Loud”, “Christine Sixteen”, “Firehouse”, “Strutter” and many more were dropped in favour of new ones.  “Under the Gun”, “Thrills in the Night” and “Heaven’s on Fire” were the newest, while plenty of songs from Lick it Up and Creatures were also retained.  Using the chart above for reference, only five Kiss songs from the first two eras combined were included.  The third era, never before represented in live form, gets ten tracks.  The rest of the space is taken up by solos:  Paul Stanley (guitar), Gene Simmons (bass) and Eric Carr (drums).  There is no Bruce Kulick solo.  As you have probably surmised, a Paul Stanley feature solo is as basic as they get, with Gene’s only a modicum more memorable.  Eric Carr’s is fun and flashy — more so on video.

One big highlight of Animalize Live Uncensored is Eric Carr’s lead vocal debut on a Kiss release.  The Fox was given “Young and Wasted” from Lick It Up to sing, in addition to Peter Criss’ part in “Black Diamond”.  And so Kiss fans began a long and painful wait to hear him sing something on a Kiss studio album.

For dyed in the wool Kiss fans, Animalize Live Uncensored is universally remembered for mainly one thing:  that is Paul Stanley’s epic song introductions.  “Love Gun” is the most legendary, a tale of Paul “partying” too much and having to go to the doctor to get himself checked out.  The nurse decides to “start this examination just a little bit early” and asks Paul to remove his pants…where she discovers his (wait for it) “LOVE GUN”!  There are so many great Paul intros on this video that it’s worth checking out for them alone.  Full visuals help.

But what about a CD release, for that generation of fans for whom this is their Alive III?  There are options.  None are perfect.  In fact, there isn’t even a DVD version.  There are only semi-official looking bootlegs and the old original VHS.  For CDs, you must go with a radio broadcast release, and none are perfect.  Single disc versions are obviously trimmed for time and usually have 15 tracks including a couple solos.  There is also a two disc broadcast from WLLZ in Detroit which has all 18 songs and all the solos too.  This is available on a quadruple disc set called Radio Waves 1974-1988, released in 2015.*  It even has intros and raps not included on the original Animalize Live VHS release!  “Black Diamond” has a much longer introduction and much of the talking isn’t available elsewhere.  During the encores, they mess around with the traditional “Oh Susannah”.  The other intros and raps, the classic ones, are edited or missing completely!  You just can’t win.

Only one track from this concert has been officially released on LP and CD:  “Heaven’s On Fire”, which was Kiss’ contribution to Ronnie James Dio’s Hear N’ Aid – Stars album in 1986.  Kiss completists will want to make sure they have that one.

One could meticulously paste in all of Paul Stanley’s missing and edited stage raps, and add them to your tracklist.  It would be bloody time consuming.  You’d have to listen to your compiled creation a few times to justify the time spent putting it together.  But it could be done.  It really is a shame that this broadcast CD is a few intros shy of complete.  The sound is iffy at times too, with a lot of static where there shouldn’t be.  But for the time being, it’s the best we got.

3/5 stars

To be continued…

*CD 1 is Agora Ballroom, previously reviewed in a prior superior edition.  CD 4 is Live at the Ritz 1988, but including the song “Reason to Live” often missing from the broadcast!

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/01

 

 

 

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Animalize

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 25

 – Animalize (1984 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Animalize:  a huge hit not proportional to the quality of the songs inside.  It went platinum on the strength of lead single “Heaven’s On Fire”, but going deeper into the record, Kiss did not have the goods this time.

New guitarist Mark St. John (formerly Mark Norton) replaced the fired Vinnie Vincent, and in doing so, continued Kiss’ quest for shreddery dominance.  In the 80s you had to have an Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen to get noticed, or so it seemed, and that was what Kiss went for.  In the meantime, Gene Simmons was off in Hollywood leaving Paul Stanley to do handle Kiss, something Paul eventually came to resent.

Paul Stanley re-teamed with his songwriting buddy Desmond Child.  Their last collaboration was 1979’s disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” from Dynasty.  The partnership struck gold a second time with “Heaven’s On Fire”, a simple song perfectly suited for the Kiss of the 80s and beyond.  Paul Stanley’s “Woo-ooo-ooo-ooo-OOOOO-ooo” intro is legendary and truthfully a song like “Heaven’s On Fire” isn’t too far removed from classic Kiss.  Paul’s sassy delivery is enviable.

Desmond Child also co-wrote the opening number “I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)”.  As the 80s began, Kiss seemed determined to write fast songs for their albums.  Very fast songs.  “I’ve Had Enough” is one of those, and it’s a good one too, though it was rarely played in concert.  You’d never guess Desmond was involved without reading the credits, but you’d also not imagine it was Kiss if it wasn’t Paul singing.

Another fine Paul song called “Get All You Can Take” is a co-write with Mitch Weissman whose name has repeatedly popped up on Kiss credits over the years.  This slow paced sleazy rocker has one of the few Kiss f-bombs in the chorus:  “What fucking difference does it make?”   Mark St. John’s solo is a blazing showcase of different tricks and techniques, but it suits the song rather awkwardly like an ill fitting tux.  Such was the problem with a jazz-influenced shredder in Kiss.

Another fast number is “Under the Gun” written by Paul, Desmond and drummer Eric Carr.  This one was played frequently on the Animalize tour though there are better songs.  Fluttery guitars sound like laser beams zipping back and forth.  Carr kicks ass, but it’s not a great track.  Paul gets in a cute double entendre though:  “There’s no speed limit where I’m coming from…let’s hit the highway doing 69!”

The final Paul song is probably the best one, although he has since criticized it as not good enough.  “Thrills in the Night”, co-written with Jean Beauvoir, deserves praise.  Sometimes the artist is their own worst critic, but “Thrills in the Night” is awesome, dramatic Kiss rock.  The chorus goes on for weeks and the soloing fits.

If Animalize was a Paul Stanley solo EP, there would be enough good songs to give it a passing grade.  However…we have the Gene Simmons songs.

Animalize shall forever be cursed as the album with the lyric, “I wanna put my log in your fireplace.”  Yes, the man who once wrote a song with Bob Dylan also wrote a ditty called “Burn Bitch Burn”.  The riff is awesome.  It has its moments.  It’s also undeniably one of Gene’s worst lyrics, and that is saying something.  The song also sounds unfinished, as if he said, “OK good enough, onto the next song.”  Fortunately Mark St. John’s solo playing is awesome, though not especially accessible.  And that’s Gene’s best song on the album.

Gene’s other songs are “Lonely is the Hunter”, “While the City Sleeps” and “Murder in High Heels”.  Of these, “Lonely is the Hunter” is by far the best.  A slow sleazy groove is more up Kiss’ alley than these fast speed rockers.  All three of these songs have one quality in common with “Burn Bitch Burn”, and that is that they sound like rough ideas gone unfinished.  Animalize was produced by Paul (with a co-producer credit for Gene).  A Kiss producer like Bob Ezrin likely would have told Gene to go back and come up with better material.  The most interesting thing about “Lonely is the Hunter” and “Murder in High Heels” is the solo work.  It’s stellar.  It’s not overdone.  It’s melodic and memorable.  And it’s…familiar.  Future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick stepped in to play ghost guitar on these songs.

The trend of Kiss using uncredited outside musicians was growing.  Allan Schwartzberg (who also played on The Elder) did drum overdubs.  Jean Beauvoir played bass on “Under the Gun”.  Gene played the rhythm guitars on his own songs.  That’s why the credits on Kiss albums always simply state:  KISS – and the names of the members.

Gene cut his hair short for a movie called Runaway.  He starred as the villain (of course) Dr. Luther, opposite Tom Selleck.  Kirstie Alley was in it, and it was written and directed by Michael Crichton.  Considering the year and the names involved, this was a fairly high profile role.  Gene went for it, and has since admitted his brain wasn’t in Kiss at the time.  The wig he wore on stage with the band made him look silly, and new fans considered Paul the singer and Gene a secondary guy.  Gene’s songs weren’t singles anymore.  They weren’t being played live.  “Burn Bitch Burn” was only ever played once!  These were all clues as to what was going on behind the scenes.  Paul was sailing the ship now.  He had no choice.  Animalize suffers for it.  Gene is to blame for his own downfall during the period and has since gracefully accepted that.

The Animalize tour was the biggest Kiss had done since the glory years, but troubles began early.  Mark St. John couldn’t play.  He was diagnosed with an arthritic condition called Reiter’s Syndrome.  His hands swelled up and he simply could not do the gig.  Mark passed away in 2007, but suggested that the arthritis may have been triggered by stress.  The aforementioned Bruce Kulick stepped in to take his place, and did so with professionalism and respect.  He got along with everyone. He was willing to learn.  He was a great fit.  The first great fit in many years.

The Animalize period put Kiss on MTV and on back the radio again, but its success was vastly disproportional to its quality.

Today’s rating:

2/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  There really isn’t much to say here. “Heaven’s on Fire” is a good song that I still enjoy hearing. Everything else is OK at best and non-essential. “Burn Bitch Burn” might have some of the worst lyrics of all time.

Favorite Tracks:  “Heaven’s on Fire”

Forgettable Tracks: take your pick


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/31

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

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!