carnival of souls

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

Advertisements

Part 189: Hiding the Music

RECORD STORE TALES Part 189:  Hiding the Music

1985:

There was a group of kids on the street (Bob, myself, Rob Szabo, and Peter Coulliard) that were competing for a cassette copy of Kiss Alive II.  There was only one copy that we knew of in town on cassette.   Guys like Bob and Szabo would know that — they were older, had nice bikes, and probably had been checking all over town.  The only copy we knew of was at a store called Hi-Way Market.

Other kids on the street such as George and Todd had the album on vinyl, but Bob and myself didn’t really have any decent equipment for playing records at the time.  Cassette was portable, it was our primary medium in 1985.  In 1985, you didn’t listen to “albums”, you listened to “tapes”.  The cassette copy at Hi-Way Market was priced at $12.99.  This was more expensive than most, because it was considered a “double album” even though it was still just one tape.

KISS ALIVE II BACK

None of us had $12.99 plus tax right then, but Hi-Way Market had this tape we all wanted.  Hi-Way Market was a great store.  It had old creeky wooden floors.  Downstairs were groceries and clothing.  Upstairs, the greatest toy store in town.  Every Christmas they did a giant Space Lego display.  It was incredible.  But off to the side of this store, up a narrow staircase, was a little record store.  I bought my first Iron Maiden (Live After Death, on vinyl) there.  (I think the deciding factor in buying the vinyl of that album was the massive booklet, a rarity in those days.)

Since none of us had the money, Peter Coulliard hid the copy of Alive II behind something else in the store.  Something where no Kiss fan would ever look for it.  Probably behind Duran Duran or Michael Jackson.  This enabled Peter to have the edge when he finally did gather the necessary funds, thus edging Bob, Szabo and I out in the battle for Alive II.

1999:

These two kids kept coming into the store that were fascinated by my copy of Kiss’ Carnival of Souls.  These were young kids…well, about the same age as Bob, Peter and I were back when we pulled this stuff.  They did not have the $10.99 ($12.64 with tax) to purchase Carnival of Souls.  We didn’t have the only copy they could find, but we did have the cheapest one.  The mall stores were asking at least $20 for new copies.

So these kids came in day after day, week after week, moving Carnival of Souls.  They continually got more creative with their hiding places.  My job was to make sure the shelves were also straight and orderly, and when you’d find Kiss under Anne Murray, you’d put it back.  When bosses found Kiss under Anne Murray they’d give you crap.  So, much as I sympathized with the kids’ musical choice, they were grinding my gears as manager.

Finally I got fed up.  I sent the CD to Trevor’s store with an explanation of why he had to keep it and sell it there.  Then the two kids came in again.

“Hey, umm, do you have Kiss Carnival of Souls?” asked the first one.

“Nope, sold it yesterday,” I lied.

“Awwww…” said the second kid.

It had happened.  I had become “the man”!  I had lost sight of my old self.  Didn’t I pull that “hide the album” stunt myself? In fact, didn’t I do it with GI Joe figures at Hi-Way Market?  I did!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…Early Birds.

Part 152: Carnival of Lost Souls

SAM_1775

RECORD STORE TALES Part 152:  Carnival of Lost Souls

The Year:  1996

The Place:  Dr. Disc, Hamilton Ontario

The Guilty Party:  Me

Remember when the original Kiss reunited back in ’96?  It was a huge deal.  Everybody was talking about it.  What very few people were talking about was the studio album that the previous Kiss lineup (with Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick) had completed prior to the reunion.  That album, Carnival of Souls, was shelved to avoid confusion.

It was, however, leaked.  Or, at least most of it was.  It revealed a new, grungier Kiss ready to take on the likes of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.  Not a bad album in fact, and some songs such as “Hate” and “In My Head” were downright vicious.  A buddy of mine, Len Labelle, hooked me up with a poor-sounding cassette.  It was better than nothing.

Both Gene and Paul pooh-poohed the idea of a release.  You’d read things like, “We don’t know when it’s coming out,” or “We have no plans to release it right now.”  But I was digging that tape and I wanted a CD, dammit!

T-Rev, Tom and myself were at a record show in Hamilton, and we stopped at a local Dr. Disc.  I went over to the Kiss section.  I saw two discs, both at $30 staring me in the face:  the ultra rare Japanese import Chikara, a greatest hits album, and a bootleg copy of Carnival of Souls

I had a limited budget and could only buy one.  I chose Carnival of Souls.  I’ve never seen a copy of Chikara again.  And Kiss officially issued Carnival 9 months later, rendering my bootleg obselete.  I can’t give it away, today.

It was a bad call, Ripley!  Bad call!

So what about this bootleg that I bought?  Well, it has a few notable features.

  1. The title is wrong.  The title on the bootleg is Carnival of Lost Souls.
  2. The wrong lineup is on the front and back covers.  They show the original Kiss, in makeup.
  3. Even though it says it’s “the complete 11 track version” on the front cover, Carnival of Souls has 12 tracks.  Missing is “I Walk Alone”, the lone Bruce Kulick lead vocal.
  4. The songs are in the wrong order, and most have the wrong titles.

For example:

  • “Hate” = “Hate (Is What I Am)”
  • “Master & Slave” = “Tell Me”
  • “Rain” = “I Think It’s Gonna Rain (Down On Me)”
  • “It Never Goes Away” = “It Never Ends”
  • “In the Mirror” = “(Take A Look) In the Mirror”
  • “I Confess” = “You Confess”

At best, this is now just a weird oddity that sits in my closet, unlistened to, unwanted, unloved, for the rest of eternity.  There’s $30 I’ll never get back again.  Yeah, like I said, it was a bad call!

SAM_1779

REVIEW: KISS – Psycho Circus (1998, Japanese and Australian versions)

Part 38 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster

 

PSYCHOKISS – Psycho Circus (1998)

I have a really hard time rating Psycho-Circus.  I played it every day when it came out, but I like it a lot less now than I did in 1998. Once I got over the novelty of “finally, a new album by the original Kiss,” I stopped listening to it.  I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Gene and Paul are essentially the only members of the original Kiss on most of it.  That’s the biggest problem.

On all but one song, drums are by Kevin Valentine (ex-Cinderella), a good studio drummer.  Guitars are handled by Tommy Thayer (who fits into the story later) on all but two songs.

The other problem is it’s way too overproduced and I lay that blame at the feet of Bruce Fairbairn, rest his soul.

Fairbairn was a great producer for Bon Jovi and especially Aerosmith in the 80’s, but he was the wrong guy to produce Kiss. I think he wanted to make a dense, lush album as if it were 1998’s version of Destroyer, and he failed miserably. Paul wanted Bob Ezrin to produce…oh, the album that might have been.  Paul and Fairbairn clashed in the studio regularly over the direction of the album.

The title track, though is amazing!   Vintage, anthemic Paul Stanley. The solo is great, also very vintage…but it’s Tommy. I don’t mind Fairbairn’s production here, the circus noises suit the song, however the drums sound way too plastic.  This is the case with almost the entire album.  The drums sound like samples throughout.

Gene’s “Within” follows, which I believe was a Carnival Of Souls outtake. (Two other COS/Psycho-Circus outtakes, “Sweet & Dirty Love” and “Carnival Of Souls” itself ended up on Gene’s solo album.) “Within” is a slow dirgey ditty.  It’s a good song with lots of atmosphere, but it has nothing to do sound-wise with the rest of this album.  It would have been more suited to Creatures or Carnival, but not so much this album.

The cumbersome Paul title, “I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock & Roll” is next. I hate this song. It’s a fast one, nothing special, a little stock, and to me is nothing but pure filler.

Then there’s finally a real Kiss song with all four members playing: Ace’s “Into the Void”. It is definitely one of the best songs on the album, with a riff that only Ace could play and the drums sound a lot better here.  It’s quintessential Kiss.  When I think of Kiss, I thik of songs that sound like “Into the Void”.

“We Are One” is a Gene song, and it sounds a lot like his 1978 solo album. It’s a nice song, I think it’s a tad slow, but it’s got that late 70’s vibe.  Maybe like a “Great Expectations” too.

The second side of the album starts with “You Wanted The Best” which was clearly written by Gene as a Kiss “comeback” song. It’s neat in that all four members sing lead for the first time ever, but really that’s its only selling point. Fairbairn overproduced once again, and the guitars sound a lot more processed than they should. The solo is definitely Ace, though. I think “You Wanted The Best” is another one of those Gene songs that had been presented to the band and rejected from previous albums like “Within” was.

Paul Stanley takes the next track with “Raise Your Glasses”, which is yet again overproduced and also a bit too pop sounding. It sounds like something from Hot In the Shade or that general era.  Paul sings some nice harmonies with himself in the middle, but the demo version of this is better (from the “Psycho Circus” CD single pictured below).

Since Peter Criss’ material was allegedly deemed too poor for this album, Paul and Ezrin wrote I “Finally Found My Way” for him to sing. It was meant to be the next “Beth” but I don’t need to tell you what happened there (nothing). It’s a piano ballad (that’s Ezrin on Fender Rhodes) and it’s a nice song, maybe it is was for Neil Diamond to sing. It’s just too darn soft, and Peter’s voice lacks the rasp.  The rasp would have given it some edge like Kiss ballads of yore.  He sounds great harmonizing with Paul on the bridge though.

Paul and Bruce Kulick wrote the next song, “Dreamin'”, which was ripped off of “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper. It is basically the same song, and I believe Alice beat them in court too.

The most interesting song was saved for last, Gene Simmons’ epic “Journey Of 1,000 Years”. I don’t know what this could be compared to.  Although it wasn’t popular with the Kiss fans I know, I think it’s the best song here. Overproducing worked on this song. It is loaded with strings and who-knows-what, and Gene’s chorus is just mindblowing. “Can you hear me calling, can you hear the sound? Can you hear me calling, or is the voice of the crowd?” If this song was on The Elder, it would have fit in better.  It’s majestic and I think a good example of what Gene is capable of when he sets his mind to it.

Japan got a bonus track written by Gene called “In Your Face”. He wrote it for Ace to sing, so it has become a little bit of special song, a lost Kiss gem. The production is a little more sparse and though it is not a great Kiss song, Ace’s vocal sets it apart a bit. Worth having.

I have a couple versions of this album.  I bought the Japanese version first, for the bonus track, and it was not cheap!  The packaging here is cumbersome, but superior to the fragile lenticular jewel case that North America got. It is a digipack whose front cover opens like doors to reveal the Psycho Circus “clown” inside in 3D. Typical gradiose Kiss and I love it.

Australia got a 1999 reissue with a 6 song bonus disc called Kiss Live.  It contains 3 classics and 3 newbies.  So, in other words, you can get versions of these songs played by the original lineup.  This is worth having.  Track list:  “Psycho Circus”, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”, “Into the Void” (with guitar solo), “Within” (with drum solo), “100,000 Years”, and “Black Diamond”.

When you hear Psycho Circus, you can’t help but think that Kiss blew a monumental opportunity to create history. In the end, it’s “just another Kiss album”, and not a particularly great one. It certainly inferior to the first 7 studio albums at best.  It has a leg up on some of the 80’s records, but it just doesn’t rock hard enough!  The right producer could have made this sound like Kiss, not Aerojovi.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Carnival Of Souls (The Final Sessions) (1997)

Part 38 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster

KISS – Carnival of Souls (The Final Sessions) (1997, recorded 1994-95)

Finally!  Five years since Revenge, a studio album!

But not the studio album that the general public had been expecting.  The average person on the street would have expected an album by the original Kiss, since they’d just finished a long worldwide smash hit reunion tour.  Carnival of Souls was an album by Paul, Gene, Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer; the album they had finished just before the reunion tour was announced.

Prior to the reunion tour, Gene hyped the new material:  “Very much a brother record to Revenge,” was a quote he gave to M.E.A.T Magazine.  “Head music” was another phrase he used to describe the new album, which was then still called Head (original artwork from Bruce’s website below).

COSartworkFlameHeadjpg

With 20/20 hindsight, I think it’s obvious that Kiss were choosing to evolve by jumping on the grunge bandwagon.  The producer was Toby Wright, best known for cutting two records with Alice In Chains.  The riffs were downtuned, heavy, and obviously not from the streets of New York like classic Kiss.  These sounded like riffs from Seattle.

The thing is, I like Carnival of Souls, quite a bit.  I absolutely loved it back then.  I paid $30 for a bootleg copy (at one point, this was the most heavily bootlegged album ever) back in 1996.  I like almost every song, and this record was historic for Bruce Kulick.  Not only did he have a whopping 9 writing credits out of 12 songs, but he also had his first lead vocal:  “I Walk Alone”.  (Today, Bruce sings lead vocals on his excellent solo albums — check out the BK3 album featuring Gene & Nick Simmons.)

Ironic that Bruce would indeed walk alone in early ’96, having been a driving force of this record.

Kicking off with a lot of noise, feeback, and Paul’s backwards distored vocals, “Hate” opens Carnival of Souls.  Anchored by a complex drum & cymbol pattern by Eric Singer, “Hate” is probably the heaviest song Kiss has ever recorded.  It is a relentless Soundgarden-ish assault with a drum pattern straight out of the Matt Cameron book of tricks.

Paul’s “Rain” is another good, grungy song, but it is nothing compared with “Master & Slave”.  Also known as “Tell Me” on some bootlegs, this is a bass-driven number, with an actual chorus that can be sung along to.  Kiss fans latched onto this one as an early favourite.

“Childhood’s End” is the first epic ballady type song on the album, a Gene title stolen from an Arthur C. Clarke classic.  Lyrically unrelated, this song features a children’s choir and probably could have been on an album like Revenge had Bob Ezrin produced.

Perhaps unwisely, this is followed by a true ballad, Paul’s “I Will Be There”, a song written for his son.  It is a beautiful, sparse, strictly acoustic piece with a soaring vocal.  Bruce’s intricate solo sends this one into the net for a goal.

Closing this “side” of the album is “Jungle”, the only single from Carnival.  Clocking in at almost 7 minutes, this is the album’s standout song.  It is a powerful bass-driven groove, with the kind of anthemic Paul chorus that keeps me coming back.  I love this song, and when I played it in the store, people loved it too.

The second “side” of the album opens with “In My Head”, probably the weirdest Gene song on the album.  Heavy, angry, weird.  I love this song, but it’s pretty different.  Lyrically, musically, this is unlike anything Kiss have done before and I’m at a loss to compare it to something by somebody else.

“It Never Goes Away” follows “In My Head”, another slow one, this one very powerful and perhaps like something that would have been on an album like Superunknown.   “Seduction of the Innocent” continues the slow song pattern.  It sounds a little like heavy Beatles.  I can hear some of that psychedelic “Tomorrow Never Knows” vibe, but in a heavy context.  Gene’s chorus tops the cake.

An epic is up next:  Gene’s “I Confess”.  The verses sound much like outtakes from The Elder, with strings and a dark vibe.  Then Gene’s chorus nails the foot back to the gas pedal.  The song alternates between heavy choruses and quiet verses, much like the popular music of the time….

Paul’s final song of the album, “In The Mirror”, is a scorcher.  It has a killer riff and could have fit on any number of Kiss albums.  Imagine it recorded by the original lineup.  If you can picture it in a “I Stole You Love” vibe, suddenly it sounds like something that could have been on Love Gun.  As it is, the guitars are very 90’s in their sound and the drums very dry.  It was the fashion.

Carnival of Souls ends with what ended up being Bruce Kulick’s swan song, his first and last lead vocal:  “I Walk Alone”.  This fan favourite has a very tentative lead vocal, he’s noticeably improved in the years since.  Still, it’s a nice ballad, and when Gene joins him singing the end, it’s perfect.  Strangely enough, this song never made any of the bootleg discs out there.  Perhaps it was never meant to be on the album?  I don’t know the answer to why.

Carnival has two obvious weaknesses:  the trendy grungy sound, and the fact that so many songs are slow or ballads.  I feel that the ballads are more than made up for by the heaviness of songs like “Hate” and “In My Head”.  I think that Paul’s best two songs, “Jungle” and “Master & Slave” make up for any dull moments.  As for the sudden defection from rock n’ roll to grunge?

Well, keep in mind that this is the band who went disco in ’79.

There was one outtake from this album, which is on the Kiss Box Set:  “Outromental”, which made it onto promo cassettes but was cut from the album itself.

The biggest disappointment with this album was the packaging.  The band decided against the original cover art, and to avoid confusion put the bare-faced lineup on the cover.  But there’s no booklet, no lyrics, and only a couple pictures.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Alive III (1993)

Part 31 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

KISS – Alive III (1993)

I like Alive III, but I don’t think any fan can say it’s as good or better than I or II.  How could it be?  Artificial or not, Kiss Alive! is one of the greatest live albums of all time.  Alive II was a contender.  Alive III simply could not live up to either.

If it didn’t sell well, I don’t particularly blame Kiss.  It was the summer of “live albums”.  Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and Iron Maiden all had double live discs out that summer, and that’s a lot of money to be spent by the devoted rock fan.

Although the first two Alives avoided song overlap, Alive III does contain some old Kiss songs that were previously played on one of the first two:

  • “Deuce”
  • “Detroit Rock City”
  • “Rock And Roll All Night”
  • “Watchin’ You” (given a funkier touch here by Bruce)

Everything else is a more recent vintage, and rightfully so. Kiss hadn’t done a live album in 16 years at this point, so there were lots of new songs to play. “Creatures Of The Night” had been a setlist staple for ten years at this point.

Performance wise, this is really good. With Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer in the band, Kiss had evolved to a sleeker machine. The songs were played much more expertly, and not as loose. A critic would use the word “mechanically” but it’s just different, and a matter of taste. Bruce Kulick at this point was not playing his solos with as much 80’s trickery, and was now much more suited to playing Ace Frehley’s songs. Eric Singer seemed to master a nice middle ground between Peter Criss and Eric Carr’s styles.  He is in fact my favourite Kiss drummer because of his creativity on the kit.

All songs are sung by Gene and Paul, although Eric sings very nice backups.  There is one instrumental, Bruce Kulick’s guitar showcase on the “Star Spangled Banner”, never recorded by Kiss in studio form!

On the negative side, I don’t like the production, once again by Eddie Kramer who also helmed the first two.  It sounds too polished.  The audience sounds artificial, pasted on.  When Paul raps, the audience just screams through, there’s no reaction.

Interestingly, there are a total of five songs from Revenge (including the Japanese/vinyl bonus track “Take It Off”). That shows how strong the new material was, and why there aren’t more Kiss oldies.  It is a shame that today Kiss doesn’t sprinkle that much new material into setlists.

A point of trivia, at one point the inclusion of a brand new studio song called “Carnival Of Souls” was discussed. It was finally released a decade later on Gene’s solo album, Asshole.  So this is the time period from which that song originated.  Astute fans will recognize it as the title of an eventual studio album.

A Gene song was even selected as the first and only single:  “I Love It Loud”.  Personally I feel that even Eric Singer can’t play this song like Eric Carr did.  And it’s way too overplayed now.

Alive III is not as essential as the first two, but if you pick up the Alive Box, which is the route I stronly suggest you take, you’ll get them all (with the exception of the symphonic Alive).   Listening to I, II and III in a row will reveal growth and a strong catalogue of songs not immediately noticeable otherwise.

4/5 stars

With the long-awaited Alive III now behind them, Kiss began work on a number of new projects, including their own tribute album, a studio album to be called Head, and an acoustic “konvention” tour.  Check this space again for all that and more.