This has been a weird year. Comforting, nostalgic sounds in the age of Covid have dominated at LeBrain HQ. There are two Kiss albums that have been absolute joys this summer for blowing the blues away. They have been Dressed to Kill, and Unmasked. Originally rated 2.5/5 stars, I was definitely wrong on Unmasked. The band may have disowned it, and it might not be hard rock, but reviewing it is not as “Easy As It Seems”. This album definitely has “Two Side of the Coin”. It might not be “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” but this summer, I just want to say one thing to Kiss Unmasked: “You’re All That I Want”.
One reason I may have judged Unmasked harshly before is that first impressions are strongest. In a case of Classical Conditioning, my first impression was not good. In fact, for the first two years of hearing Unmasked, my copy was all but unlistenable. In the beginning, I taped my first Kiss albums from next door neighbour George. He fancied himself a bass player. While he was recording Unmasked for me, I sat in his bedroom while he played bass along to it. Every song. Unbeknownst to him, his bass bled onto my tape. Every time I played the album, it was like a remix with George overdubbed on bass, and I had the only copy. Sometimes he continued playing well after the fade, other times he came in prematurely. Either way, my first two formative years with this album were awful. Even after buying a proper copy on cassette, I couldn’t hear the album without the auditory illusion of George’s bass ringing in my skull. Though not the only factor, that had to be one of several reasons for my dislike of the album. A dislike which in no longer: in 2020, it’s love. Just a fun anecdote to colour in some history, nothing more.
“Is That You?” asks Paul Stanley on the opener, a Gerard McMahon song that boasts grinding verses and a killer chorus. Piano tinkles quietly in the background, but the guitars are nice and rich, especially Paul’s solo. His lead vocals absolutely rip, while a sultry Gene sings the backgrounds.
A second Paul vocal follows, and it’s the big hit “Shandi”. Listening with 20/20 hindsight in the year 2020, it’s amusing to ponder how anybody thought this was Peter Criss on drums. It was a secret that Anton Fig played on Unmasked and Dynasty, but it’s really obviously not Peter Criss. That disco groove is too impeccably perfect to be the Catman. Paul is, in fact, the only Kiss member to play on “Shandi”. And while this song is a softie, it ain’t a baddie. It’s clear that Kiss were not the rag-tag rock and roll beast they once were. They had evolved. Temporarily, at least.
If the first two tracks were light on Ace Frehley, that’s not indicative of the album. Three lead vocals for the Spaceman this time, including the single “Talk To Me”. Shiny and chromed-up, Frehley’s songs are among the best on Unmasked and “Talk To Me” could be the top track.
I always had problems with “Naked City”, but part of that might be that I can still hear George come in early on the bass. Gene Simmons makes his album vocal debut here, and while the chorus and riff are still not top-notch, the verses are excellent. Songs like this also demonstrate that Gene is an underrated singer. He’s more versatile than people realize.
Paul strikes a cool riff on “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”. He often talks about how the album had good songs, but they should have sounded different. This one sounds like it could have turned out more like the first three albums. You can imagine how the riff would have been more prominent. As it is though, it’s one of the most unabashedly catchy songs Paul’s ever written, and his guitar solo is simply delicious. You can slag Paul for doing something so pop, but can you slag him for doing it so well?
Side B’s opener is “Tomorrow”, with Paul’s vocals cleanly produced as per the pop trends of the day, with slapback delay and airy EQ. But like “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, this is pop rock done really well. The keyboards are too prominent, but at least Ace gets a tasty solo here. As Kiss songs got catchier, so did the Spaceman’s solos. Frehley’s next lead vocal follows on “Two Sides of the Coin”, the song title which inspired a podcast (“Three Sides of the Coin“). Y’see, Ace just can’t pick a girl! But he has to. “Two sides of the coin to choose from, I’m getting weary. Which one should I choose? I need time.” He insists that the girls don’t mind, but I question that assertion. But he has to pick a mate because he’s “tired of all those dates”! Silly words aside, Ace has knocked out two top-notch songs on Unmasked so far.
Gene’s back on “She’s So European”, a song about a girl with a French accent who drinks pink champagne. I’ve softed my stance on this one too. You can certainly hear the rock n’ roll riffiness that it could have been. That’s been replaced by keyboards and slick beats, and it’s fine. “Easy As It Seems”, a Paul song, really sneaks up on you. It disappears into the fabric of the album until one day you just can’t get it out of your heard. Paul lays down another fine solo, and weaves a plaintive tapestry with his incredible voice. What range he had.
An album highlight is the third and final Frehley concoction — a weird little number called “Torpedo Girl”. Surf rock meets the Space Ace. The guitar lick is a tricky little off-beat riff, but with Anton Fig behind on drums, Kiss could do complex stuff like this. Especially since that’s Ace playing the bouncy bass part too. It’s also one of Frehley’s most entertaining lyrics. A submarine with a pretty girl on the bridge has surfaced in the bay! Better go check it out.
The final track, “You’re All That I Want” is a Gene number. Like “Easy As It Seems”, one day it just catches you. Especially Paul’s “answer” vocals in the outro. One thing (among many) that made Kiss truly special is the multiple lead singers. And unless you’re a Catman diehard, you don’t really miss Peter in that mix. Frehley more than made up for the lack of Criss. While four singers is better than three, remember that Kiss only had three lead singers for their first five studio albums.
I don’t want to have to three-view the entire Kiss catalogue but it is amazing how Unmasked just opened up to me this summer. I’m enjoying more than ever, with that nostalgic glow for days gone by. The “good old days” were not always good, but at least the music was.
– Creatures of the Night(1982 Casablanca, 1985 Polygram reissue, 1997 Mercury remaster)
The internal problems with Kiss continued full-bore into their next album, the surprisingly powerful Creatures of the Night. Ace Frehley was on the cover, and in the music video, but like Peter Criss before him, he didn’t play a note. In the midst of recording with new producer Michael James Jackson (Red Rider), they were also auditioning new guitarists to replace the Ace.
As a result of the embarrassing failure of their concept album fiasco Music From the Elder, Kiss had little choice in what to do next. If they had any hope of survival as a musical entity, they had to return to rock. What may have come as a surprise given their recent history including two pop “Kissco” albums was that their new music was really, really heavy. Kiss were unleashed and went full-bore heavy metal.
Aiding and abetting this: drummer Eric Carr was unchained on Creatures of the Night. His drum sound, inspired by the massive slam of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, was completely off the hook. These are by far the biggest sounding drums on any Kiss album. Also helping the band get heavier: a new songwriting partner. Vincent Cusano wrote and played on several tracks on Creatures. His talent was evident to all.
In fact there is a school of thought today regarding Mr. Cusano, later redubbed “Vinnie Vincent”. A large vocal group of fans proclaim today that “Vinnie Saved Kiss”. And that theory does hold some water.
Other contributors to the LP included Canadian writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Adam Mitchell and Mikel Japp also wrote with Paul and Gene. Guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Farris and Adam Mitchell lent chops and solos to the album. One guy who Gene claims came to the studio, but did not play, was one Eddie Van Halen. According to Gene Simmons, Eddie came down and poured his heart out complaining how miserable he was in Van Halen…and then asked to join Kiss. Believe it…or not?
The incendiary title track “Creatures of the Night” is powerful and instantaneous enough to be used as a concert opener. The metallic chug was new to Kiss, but not alien to them. This anthemic Paul Stanley rocker had the goods. Kiss were back, and in a big way. Just listen to those opening drums! It’s as if Kiss knew that Eric Carr still needed a more suitable introduction, and they gave it to him.
Creatures is notable for one major “first”. It was the first of many Kiss studio albums to only feature two lead singers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Gene’s debut on Creatures is the incredible “Saint and Sinner”, heavy but low-key and based on a killer verse melody. “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please…you can go to hell,” sings an angry Demon. And that’s Vinnie, absolutely smoking with a brilliantly melodic guitar solo. What a player…but only when he can control his instincts to play too fast.
Paul turns up the sex on “Keep Me Comin’” (har-de-har har!), a sleazy Kiss rocker with a heavy Zeppelin groove. While not quite filler material, “Keep Me Comin’” and another Paul track called “Danger” are definitely on the lower rungs of this album. “Danger” is the prototype for a kind of speed metal Kiss rocker that Paul threw on all the albums from this point to 1985.
One of Paul’s best songs, and longest lasting in concert, was the ballad “I Still Love You”. This is one heavy ballad, but Paul’s singing is completely over the top. Again, it’s more like a heavy Zeppelin blues ballad. A track like this proves why Paul is considered one of the greatest hard rock singers of all time. Not too many can do it like Paul on “I Still Love You”…and that’s Eric Carr on bass, by the way. Gene doesn’t play bass on most of Paul’s songs. Jimmy Haslip (ex-Blackjack featuring Michael Bolton and future Kiss member Bruce Kulick) and Mike Porcaro took over bass duties on “Danger” and “Creatures” respectfully.
As for Gene, Creatures really sounds up his alley, with tunes like “Rock and Roll Hell”, “Killer”, and “War Machine” suiting his dark persona. And what tunes these are, particularly “Rock and Roll Hell” which simmers with a midnight intensity. The song rides the basic bassline with not much in the way of additional crunch, into chorus time. The interesting thing is the song is actually a thorough re-working of an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song written by Jim Valance. In fact, Valance claimed that Simmons only insisted on reworking the song in order to get writing royalties. Either way, “Rock and Roll Hell” just burns like an ember. Then in another interesting twist, the song was later covered by Ace Frehley (Origins Vol. 1)! A Kiss cover of a Kiss song he never played on.
“Killer” reeks of Vinnie Vincent. One of the key guitar riffs sounds quintessentially Vinnie, and kind of similar to his later solo track “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”. It’s a brilliant track, right up Gene’s alley, with intense speed and hooks. The female backing vocals in the outro are a surprise. “War Machine” on the other hand sounds purely Gene, even though it’s a co-write with Valance and Bryan Adams. Something about it personifies the “monster plod” sound that Gene specializes in. It’s apocalyptic Kiss metal for your nightmares. It’s strong and relentless.
The single was, of course, the overplayed “I Love it Loud”, which in turn was transformed into a killer music video featuring Ace Frehley miming Vinnie Vincent’s guitar. “I Love it Loud” is insanely catchy and unshakeable during its first several listens. After that, it’s too simple to maintain interest too long. It’s kind of baffling how this song has remained in set lists well past its sell-by date, especially when tracks like “Killer” and “Saint and Sinner” are not.
In 1985 this album was reissued with new non-makeup cover art. On the cover they replaced Ace Frehley, who never played on the album, with Bruce Kulick…who never played on the album. Three songs were remixed: “Creatures of the Night”, “War Machine”, and “I Love it Loud”, but only “Creatures” was included on the 1985 album. The remixed “I Love it Loud” was later issued on a compilation, and the remixed “War Machine” has yet to be released. The remixes by Dave Wittman generally toned down the awesome drum sound, weakening the experience overall.
Vinnie Vincent joined the band officially after Creatures was recorded, and was given his own makeup design: The “Ankh Warrior”. A strange choice for a new character; perhaps Kiss were plain out of ideas or just didn’t care. It’s the only Kiss makeup design to never be seen on an album cover. Then, Kiss embarked on their first American tour in years, the 10th Anniversary Tour. It featured a stage with a tank for a drum riser. “Killer” indeed!
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice:When Creatures of the Night was released in 1982, Kiss had been on the back burner for me for a couple years. Obviously still loved the classics, but 12 year old Meat was starting to become a huge fan of Heavy Metal music. Two different friends of mine and I were discovering new music together. Albums like Ace of Spades, Maiden Japan and Saxon’s Denim and Leather were the gateway drug for me on my way to being addicted to Heavy Metal. So when Creatures came out I recall being so into it, primarily because this was a “Heavy Metal” Kiss record. What’s not to like? The video for “I Love it Loud” was awesome and renewed my love for the band at the time.
So I listened to Creatures from stem to stern the other day, 35 years after it was released, and my take on this album is now quite a different story. I am expecting that many will disagree with my slice on this one, but circumstances dictate my review. Metal music just doesn’t inspire me the way it used to. The love is still there but the lust is gone. Obviously there are staples that I will always love, and new exceptions pop up all time time, but the truth is I would rather put on stuff like Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Steve Earle, Drive by Truckers etc etc.
If I would have done these Meat Slices let’s say…20 years ago?…I probably would have panned Unmasked and praised this album. But now it is the opposite. The album’s title track, “I Still Love You” and “I Love it Loud” are still enjoyable to me, but pretty much every other song sounds very forced and downright boring to me. This is what happens when a band, who was used to ruling the world, tries to regain said status by joining the new Heavy Metal revolution. Trying to be something they are not. The albums previous (with maybe the exception of the song “The Oath”) and the albums that followed were not Metal albums. The following albums have some heavy songs, but are definitely not Heavy Metal records. You have to fast forward a decade until they released Revenge, and even that album had some different styles within it. It’s so strange to me that a Kiss record that sees Kiss trying SO HARD to be a heavy metal band, turns to Bryan Adams for inspiration? What’s Metal about that? Hello. McFly?
Rating this album was tough for me. I had to consider how much I loved it when it came out, and that the Creatures of the Night tour was my first Toronto arena concert. I can’t say I dislike the album, but I can say that of all the Kiss records I have revisited doing these slices, it’s this album that truly disappointed me because I went into the listen looking forward to hearing it again.
My final thoughts are this. Would diehard Alice Cooper fans consider Flush the Fashion a classic Alice Cooper record? It’s an album I owned on vinyl and I like the album, but it’s a blatant grab at the New Wave market and sounds nothing like the rest of his career. Celtic Frost has done everything possible to erase the memory of the deplorable Cold Lake, since it is a very un-Celtic Frost like record for the band. Creatures of the Night is not genuine to me. Most of the album sounds like the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s album, Smell the Glove. Especially the song “Heavy Duty”, and not surprisingly it was released not long after this in 1984. So, to end this slice I will refer to the immortal Derek Smalls and put it like this. Creatures of the Night is a disingenuous collection of head banging bullshit that to me is forgettable. It sounds square, clunky and has way too many forgettable songs on it. I would rather listen to Bryan Adams’ 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife. But Kiss…I still love you.
Favorite Tracks: “I Love it Loud”, “Creatures of the Night”, “I Still Love You”
Forgettable Tracks: The rest
LeBrain’s rebuttal:You’re Wrong on Creatures
For this Kiss Re-Review series, I have purposely avoided reading Uncle Meat’s reviews, and vice-versa, until they are ready to post. We wanted to avoid influencing each other. Creatures is an exception. Meat sent this to me a couple weeks ago, long before I even started my review. And now that I have read it…I feel like crying a single solitary tear of sadness, just like the one Gene shed in the video for “A World Without Heroes”.
Uncle Meat has a point about the switch to heavy metal music seeming like an act of desperation. I don’t doubt that if The Elder had been a hit instead of an abject nearly career-ending failure, Kiss would have continued in that direction. But we are talking about Kiss here. This is a band that have usually been followers, not leaders. Were they the first to wear makeup and heels? No. Did they invent disco with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”? No. Going forward into the future, you will see Kiss continuing to chase other people’s sounds, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains. Even Revenge, which Meat mentioned above, seemed like an effort to bring things in line with what was happening in rock and roll.
Having listened to Creatures again for what must be the 30,000th time, my love for it is still strong. I’ve bought Creatures five times over the years. Every time I play it, I’m a 13 year old again. I sink into the guitar tones, which Vinnie just nailed on this album, and enjoy the booming echo of the drums. “I Love it Loud” no longer pitches my pup tent, but mostly due to overexposure.
On this, the Meatmaster General and I will have to agree to disagree. It’s something we often do when it comes to music, but the benefit is that it generates rich discussions, just like this one. — LeBrain
PETER CRISS – Let Me Rock You(1982 Casablanca, 1998 Mercury CD reissue)
Life after wasn’t easy for the cat known as Peter Criss. His first post-Kiss album was met with indifference, and the superior second LP suffered the same fate. This marked an 11 year gap before the Catman released anything else. Let Me Rock You, Peter’s third solo album in total remains his best to date. It has a number of Kiss konnections, including a song written for Kiss by Gene Simmons. Looking further down the credits and you’ll find Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, Paul Stanley’s co-writer Adam Mitchell, and a young upstart named Vincent Cusano, who features into the main story very soon.
Let Me Rock You is the better of the Criss albums for a number of reasons. One is that is has superior songs, often pulled from outside sources. Another is that returning producer Vini Poncia gave it a harder rocking sound. It’s still nowhere near a Kiss LP, but the adult contemporary leanings are severely curtailed. Opener “Let It Go” has a little bit of the familiar R&B beat that Criss likes, but is otherwise a steady rocker. “Tears” (Cusano/Mitchell) is a pop rocker that missed the mark just enough that John Waite was able to make it a hit a mere two years later. Peter’s version is less overblown, and daresay more likeable.
Most of the songs have a vague pop rock vibe circa 1982: “Move on Over”, “Destiny”, and “Bad Boys” sound like rock hits from the period. Bon Jovi’s early excursions are not too far from this. A Russ Ballard song called “Some Kinda’ Hurricane” fits the same mold, but a second Ballard tune (the better of the two) is completely different. “Let Me Rock You” is doo-wop right out of the 1950s. If “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is OK, then so is “Let Me Rock You”. In fact it’s the most fun track on the album.
The unfortunate cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” adds nothing to the party except a reminder that Peter Criss will never be as good as the artists he so admires. The worst track is Stevens’ ballad “First Day in the Rain”, which might have been a better song performed by…anyone else. Peter sleeps right through this one and some listeners will have a hard time finishing. Keep going though; Stevens plays a sweltering guitar solo. Elsewhere on the album, Steve Lukather contributes six string.
By far the most historically interesting track is the Simmons-penned “Feel Like Heaven”. A snip of the original Simmons demo, for consideration during the Music From the Elder sessions, can be found on the previously reviewed Kiss – Deadly Demos CD. It’s too funky and danceable for Kiss, but Peter sounds more at home. It is a shame that the (very vulgar!) Simmons original has yet to be released. Until then, feast on the Peter Criss version, which is good enough for now.
Although Let Me Rock You was the first album to feature Peter’s unmasked face, it failed to sell and Peter entered a long period of obscurity. A short-lived band called Balls of Fire was followed by a project with another ex-Kiss member called Mark St. John (who joins the main story in 1984). He wrote with Buffalo’s own Phil Naro of Talas, and did a guest shot on Ace Frehley’s 1989 solo album Trouble Walkin’. His biggest humiliation had to be when a homeless imposter claimed to be him with little difficulty since nobody had seen Peter Criss in so long. It didn’t seem too unbelievable…even if there was no resemblance at all.
(l) Criss (r) imposter
At least Peter has one decent solo album, and that album is Let Me Rock You.
– Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)
Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked. The band’s stature was in jeopardy. The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection. As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr. His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss. The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots. Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.
Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album. Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction. That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley. Eric Carr had no say, being an employee. Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album. If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie. And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?
The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley. It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.
So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album. Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch. Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent. Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin. Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done. There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell. Hence the title, Music From the Elder. Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.
A word about the running order. When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense. It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”. Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier: “The Oath”. But the concept never made any sense. In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order. They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks. The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”). The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release. (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.) The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.
The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”. “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas? If hope is lost then so are we. While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.” The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”. He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder. “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes. He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.
Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm. It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band. Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album. The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all. “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition. It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals. It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics. Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not: a lyric sheet. With that in hand, you can follow the story.
In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album. Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine. It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.
Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album. “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss. It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it. Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album. “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment. This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two. Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun. It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.
The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album. It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works. It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme. Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny: “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you? And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?” The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.” In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.
According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction. In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar. “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons. “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus. But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt. Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines. Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig. Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”. In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil. Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo. Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.
Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”. Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.” These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song. Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss. Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs. Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.
At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero. This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”. This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot. You can still understand why they did this. Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed. Paul sings in falsetto again: “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.” The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays. Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos. If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.
So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.
At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.
The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.
A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”
There are two ways to listen to The Elder. If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl. If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release. But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.
Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness. It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves. What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place. Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home. Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour. The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted. The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!
A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley. Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998. It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.
If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently. We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records. Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many. When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be: Some bands should not make concept albums. Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess. I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album. Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record. It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:
“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song. I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song. Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss. More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record. Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.
“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again. Solid song. Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel.
“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track. I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.
“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice. Right producer, wrong band. (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)
“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me. Gregorian Monks? Bah….
“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now. Could have used more Lou Reed.
“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track. Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me. One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it. Unmasked this album is not.
“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker. Great drumming. This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live. LeBrain? [Nope]
“Odyssey” – WTF? Was this Paul’s tryout demo for Phantom of the Opera? This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.
Favorite Tracks” “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”
“I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album. It’s wimpy” – Paul Stanley, KISS Behind the Mask
Here we are at Unmasked, the very album that inspired the Kiss Re-Review series in the first place. It’s a polarizing platter. The band often trash it and shun it in concert. Meanwhile, some fans have grown to appreciate it, particularly in Europe and Australia. There is even a tribute CD on a German label with covers of the entire album. Indeed, Unmasked is not without strengths. Ace Frehley contributed another three songs of his own, continuing the growth he demonstrated on his solo album and Dynasty.
On the other side of the ledger, there were factors that fans see as a diluting of the Kiss sound. Co-writers were now the norm. Returning producer Vini Poncia had eight co-writes. They used a track by songwriter Gerard McMahon. Even ghost guitarist Bob Kulick had a co-write on Gene’s “Naked City”. Most importantly, but publicly unknown at the time, was that Kiss had effectively become a trio. Peter Criss’ substance issues had come to a head and he was not involved with the album at all. He was on the cover, and in the credits, but all Peter did was mime some drums for the “Shandi” music video. When that shoot was done, Peter was gone. Anton Fig (Dynasty, Ace Frehley) returned again to fill the gap behind the scenes.
The album demonstrated a slick turn towards pop rock. Not disco so much, although the compression on the drums and guitars gives it a disco sound. The keyboards and slick production sweetened the album to the point that the thunder of Alive! or Love Gun was completely absent. Kiss were becoming caricatures in pursuit of megahits.
The Gerard McMahon song “Is That You?” was selected to open Unmasked. This sexy grind is one of the best tracks, with Paul in peak voice showing off what he can do. The slow and dirty pop rock number gets the job done, with minimal loss of integrity. That’s Paul on lead guitar too, one of several songs on which he solos, though it is hard to tell. In fact Unmasked is one of those Kiss albums on which you can’t be sure who played what.
Only one Kiss member appears on the big single, “Shandi”, and that’s Paul Stanley. On bass was Tom Harper, and Holly Knight on keyboards. There is little doubt that “Shandi” is a fantastic song, and it worked particularly well live in the acoustic setting. While Unmasked blurred the lines between rock and pop, “Shandi” is pure pop joy — almost adult contemporary!
Frehley’s first track was a favourite called “Talk to Me”, a song many Kiss fans easily embraced. These first three songs were performed on the Unmasked tour, which demonstrates their worth. “Talk to Me” has a cool guitar riff and one of Ace’s most infectious choruses – an instant classic. Ace had really grown as a singer by this point.
The waters get murkier after the first three tracks. Gene’s “Naked City” is a grower. It possesses hooks and great verses, but the main guitar riff doesn’t hit the spot. Gene’s falsetto voice is employed to great effect. It takes a few spins, but “Naked City” has a cool darkness to it and a strange kind of class. That is followed by the very pop “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a keyboard-heavy Paul Stanley tune. It sounds very little like Kiss, but Paul’s performance (guitar solo included) is stellar. Falsetto must have been very popular at the time. Bee Gees, anyone?
Paul’s side two opener “Tomorrow” is just as pop as “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”. These would be great songs for somebody else’s album. Perhaps Rick Astley. Fortunately the side is quickly redeemed by Ace’s excellent “Two Sides of the Coin”. Notably, this song inspired the title of Michael Brandvold’s Kiss podcast, “Three Sides of the Coin“. Ace’s track is a fan favourite, upbeat and melodic with just enough guitar bite. If the production was meatier, as on Ace’s solo album, it would be an absolute killer.
Gene continues chasing the ladies on “She’s So European”, a filler track with familiar themes. “She makes love on a brass bed, because her parents are still awake.” Not Gene’s finest moment. “Easy As It Seems” is a Paul track, and also not one of his finest, but the bouncy bass (by Paul) is quite great. But is that a bloody keyboard solo that I detect?
One of the most interesting tracks, and most instrumentally impressive, is Ace’s surf rock classic “Torpedo Girl”. This is just a fun summertime track with infectious ooh-ahh vocal hooks. His role within Kiss resulted in some of their more unique songs, and “Torpedo Girl” is unorthodox. Ace’s picking is enviable, and the lyrics are just pure fun. “Come on, get your feet wet.”
Album closer “You’re All That I Want” is one of Gene’s tunes, but Paul’s vocals on the outro sell it. It’s a little on the light side, as is much of Unmasked, but it remains a good song.
On a personal note, I have one very strong memory of Unmasked. I first heard it by taping it off a friend, my late neighbor George. George dropped the needle on the record, hit record on my tape, and then got out his bass and played bass along to every song. Unbeknownst to him, his bass playing bled onto the tape. From that point until I finally got a store-bought cassette copy, I always heard George’s bass on the fade-outs of every song. I can still hear it in my head. I suppose that’s one way that George is still alive, in my memory.
Unmasked was released on May 20, 1980, with a bright cartoony cover including Peter Criss. Meanwhile the band were already preparing for their first of many lineup changes, something that was kept quiet until the right moment.
In July, Kiss were ready to unveil the new member. Paul Caravello, from Brooklyn, impressed Kiss with his audition and humble personality. The story that everybody remembers is that Caravello asked the guys for their autographs in case he never saw them again. No worries there; the job was destined to be his. But Kiss couldn’t have another guy named Paul, and his last name was too “ethnic” (obviously Italian), so his name was changed to Eric Carr. (Fortunately, Gene’s suggestion of “Rusty Blades” was discarded.) The newly dubbed Eric was an energetic mighty-mite of rock, and the band quickly grew to love him. Everything was new to him.
A new makeup design was required. This was a big deal — a new challenge. A hawk concept was tried, but in the costume Carr looked more like Big Bird than a rock star. He drew up an inspired fox design which immediately clicked. The new character was born!
Carr’s first appearance with the band was at their only US date on this tour: New York on July 25 1980. The rest of the tour took place in Europe and Australia where “Shandi” became a hit. There were only 41 shows in total. Despite their best efforts, Kiss’ fortunes were shifting. Opening acts on the tour included Iron Maiden, which must have been quite the mismatch. Given Maiden’s reputation for blowing away headliners (much like Kiss when they started out), you must wonder how this went down. Girl, featuring future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis, also opened a handful of gigs.
Unfortunately for fans, especially in North America, this was the last tour for a long time. It was also the only tour featuring this lineup. While Kiss had endured their first lineup change, that was only just the beginning of the problems to solve.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice:Unmasked was released in May of 1980. A couple of months later I had heard that Kiss was going to introduce their new drummer on a show called Kids Are People Too. Seeing Kiss in the Phantom movie on TV was one thing. But knowing they were being interviewed, and introducing their newest member…Eric “The Fox” Carr. I watch it today on YouTube, and it’s so…umm…not what I remember. But it was monumental at the time for me. At this point, I had heard Unmasked once at a friend’s place and was underwhelmed. But I loved the album cover and still think it is probably their best. My take on Unmasked is much different now, and was how LeBrain’s Re-Reviews started in the first place. First of all I will address this. Mike referred in the beginning of this series to the two “Disco” era Kiss albums of Dynasty and Unmasked. Dynasty has one Disco song. Unmasked does not have anything close to a Disco song. Some would say “Shandi”, but that is Kiss capitalizing on the Soft Rock success of the day. Unmasked may not be a typical Kiss album, but thanks to Vini Poncia it’s a great album of Rock tunes and one of my favorite Kiss albums.
The drumming on this album is a major high point. Anton Fig shines all over this disc. Ace also continues his consistent roll with great rock songs like “Talk To Me”. He has such a great Rock and Roll voice. The background vocals are great too. “Two Sides of the Coin” is another song with incredible drumming, and a single writing credit. Both this song and “Talk To Me” are the only two songs on the album that don’t have an outside writing credit. Subsequently these songs sound more like classic Kiss than the rest of the album. However “Torpedo Girl” is another story. This might be the shining moment of Ace’s career in Meat’s opinion. Unbelievable guitar riff and funky drum beat. I have had it in my head for days now.
It seems that the addition of Vini Poncia to the Kiss machine inspired Gene Simmons as well. Unlike Dynasty where his songs were mostly forgettable, a couple of his songs on this album shine here. “She’s So European” is “completely ridiculous” but a “great fucking tune” (according to my longtime Kiss-mate Scott) . That about says it all. “Naked City” sees the falsetto of Gene Simmons on display here in another catchy song. There are great hooks within this song, which is indicative of the whole album really. However the album closer, “You’re All That I Want” might be the weakest track on the album. I do though love the ending, which you hear Stanley screaming in his typical live-show style.
Paul Stanley’s contributions on this album are good as well, with a few curveballs thrown in. “Shandi” was a massive Australian hit, and even though the song is about as limp as it can be, I still love the song. Reminds me of the Little River Band and Ambrosia songs of the Soft Rock era that I still dig. “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” is a solid song, with some of the greatest solo guitar playing Paul Stanley has put to record. “Tomorrow” sounds a lot like .38 Special to me and is just OK. “Easy As it Seems” is a solid song that incorporates keyboards in an interesting way, and might be the best Stanley song on Unmasked.
Overall Unmasked is a misunderstood, understated classic. I am curious to see if time has changed LeBrain’s take on this album. All I can say is…this may be Kiss’s last truly great album. From here on in, the “Meat’s Slice” section will start to get a lot shorter, with a couple exceptions.
Favorite Tracks: “Torpedo Girl”, “Shandi”, “Is That You”, “Talk To Me”, “She’s so European”
Forgettable Tracks: “You’re All That I Want”, “Tomorrow” (both borderline)
– Dynasty (1979 Casablanca, 1997 Polygram Japan remaster)
“The Return of Kiss”. It sounds quaint today, that after a two year absence they called it “The Return of Kiss”. Two years today means nothing. But for Kiss, who were doing two releases a year, it did actually mean something. Their last project was their series of four solo albums, one for each member, and unified by cover art. This project only reinforced the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The truth is, the original Kiss were already over. Peter Criss returned from his solo album and a car accident as a changed man, and not in a good way. Upon walking in the door he insisted upon seeing sheet music for the new tunes. That was a first. It was quickly apparent that Peter was not in a condition to perform. The band had even hired his solo album producer, Vini Poncia, to helm the new Kiss. Poncia deemed Criss’ current abilities inadequate and he was replaced for the album by Anton Fig. Anton was Ace’s solo drummer, and more than capable of filling in. Previously, when Bob Kulick was hired to replace Ace on side four of Alive II, he was instructed to “play like Ace”. Anton Fig was given no such instruction and was free to drum as he pleased. Some Kiss fans were able to pick up on that. Ultimately Peter Criss played drums on only one song, his own called “Dirty Livin’”. And that would be Peter’s final appearance on a Kiss studio album until 1998’s Psycho-Circus, on which he also played drums on only one track. Kiss was indeed broken, but few on the outside knew it. Peter would never play on a whole Kiss album again.
A lot had changed. Kiss’ massive marketing campaigns paid off, but was that a good thing? Little kids were now coming to Kiss concerts. Paul Stanley was actively seeking hits. Together with new songwriting friend Desmond Child, Paul wanted to write a dance single. Inspired by the clubs of New York, the pair produced “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, the song that gave Kiss the “disco” tag. The single sold a million copies. Needless to say, it was not the last Kiss single written with Desmond Child.
The album went platinum and became the hit it was designed to be. Inside the sleeve, the music was streamlined and more commercial than before. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” led the way, demolishing the walls between dance and rock. Frehley had a hot solo in the mix, and the bouncy bass was performed by Paul Stanley. The song had all the right ingredients and though thin sounding by today’s standards, it’s still a great little dance rock number.
The real revelation about Dynasty wasn’t the turn towards slicker, highly compressed recordings. It was Ace Frehley coming out of his shell. Newly confident after his hit solo experience, Frehley had three songs to sing on Dynasty. Ace covered the Stones on “2000 Man”, a version that may be more beloved than the original. It certainly sounds at home. Ace rocks it up significantly. Ace also had lead vocals on “Hard Times”, a track about growing up as an aimless youth in New York. “We’d go to school, then we’d cut out, go to the park, and space our heads out.” “Hard Times” is not an exceptional song, but it’s interesting since it’s so autobiographical. Ace’s last song was the more aggressive “Save Your Love”. This track closes Dynasty with the kind of rock that people often forget is on the album. Ace’s tracks are the only ones that can be classified purely as “rock”. He has more guitar riffage on “Save Your Love” than the other songs combined. Without the Space Ace, Dynasty would have been a much weaker album.
The increase in Ace’s participation was balanced by a decrease in that of Gene Simmons. Gene only had two songs on the album, neither of which were singles. “X-Ray Eyes” and “Charisma” inhabit the same kind of compressed audio landscape as the rest. “Charisma” is the best, due to its unusual echoey vocals, fitting for the demon persona. Gene’s prime interest was still the opposite sex, and both songs have the demon’s stamp. The main hooks on both are delivered by the backing vocals during the choruses.
The dominant force on Dynasty — and as it turns out, for the coming decade – was Paul Stanley. Not only was “I Was Made for Loving You” a massive hit, but the second single “Sure Know Something” was also one of his. Paul wrote this dancey ballad with producer Vini Poncia. It’s not all simply dance floor moves though, as the chorus has the power chords and lung power that Kiss fans expected. Stanley also wrote “Magic Touch”, a lesser known album classic. “Magic Touch” burns slow, but hot. Paul’s falsetto was a sign of the times, but the power chords explode on the chorus.
And that leaves poor Peter. “Dirty Livin’” was written with Stan Penridge and Vini Poncia, and it was written as something more R&B in direction. It was Kiss-afied and included on the album as Peter’s only appearance. You can hear that it’s not the same drummer and that it’s a very different vibe.
For all outside appearances, Kiss maintained an image of solidarity. There was no mention of a session drummer, and Peter was there on tour for all 82 shows. However there were some cracks visible. Several shows had to be cancelled for poor ticket sales, in areas such as New York City and Pontiac Michigan. With the toys, comics and merchandise, Kiss were beginning to be seen as a kids’ band. Dynasty was the hit it needed to be, but the situation was not sustainable.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: The first of the two supposed “Disco Era” Kiss records LeBrain referred to in the introduction of this series, Dynasty really just is a pretty solid rock and roll record other than the mega-hit, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”. There really is not another song on the record that could be classified as Disco. But more on that when I talk about Unmasked.
This album sees the beginning of a couple new eras in Kisstory. The first being the band’s writing collaboration with Desmond Child. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” was the first hit of many for Desmond Child. He has “songwriter” credits (and yes I am using that term loosely) on such deplorable pap as “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, “She Bangs”, and upcoming Kiss dung like “Let’s Put the X in Sex” and “Uh! All Night”. Basically when a band gets shittier, they go to Desmond Child. When Ratt got shittier, in came Desmond. When the Scorpions got shittier, he pops up again. When Aerosmith started becoming a glossy joke, here comes Desmond Child and “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”. Yes, as good as this album is, Kiss was starting to get shittier.
As George Costanza would say, worlds collide for me on this album. For years I had no idea Peter Criss only played drums on his own song on Dynasty. His phantom replacement turned out to be Mr. Anton Fig, who played drums in one of my favorite bands ever, Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band. Even Anton’s dry humor on the show was a high point in Late Night with David Letterman for me. I am a true Letterman head and always will be. Anton Fig went on to be Ace’s drummer in Frehley’s Comet, so maybe Fig’s presence somehow inspired the Space man, since he is a high point of Dynasty. The Rolling Stones cover “2000 Man” is a fucking great tune. “Hard Times” is just as good and a personal favorite of many Kiss fans.
There are a few weaker-ish songs on the album but nothing egregious here. Very good rock album with ONE disco song. Thank you Desmond Child for injecting Kiss with your “Bad Medicine”. (Yes, he wrote that too. As well as writing songs for such wonderful artists like Hanson, The Jonas Brothers, Lindsay Lohan and Clay Aiken.) Hey Desmond…in the words of Ricky…you are truly a FuckGoof.
– Paul Stanley (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we know that Paul Stanley was capable of pretty much running Kiss by himself. During much of the 1980s, Gene Simmons’ participation in Kiss had a severe drop. Paul took the reins and the band more or less sounded like Kiss. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Paul’s 1978 solo album was also very Kiss-like. Of the four, Paul’s album had an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. His solo songs sound very much like his Kiss songs. Co-producing with Paul was Kansas producer Jeff Glixman.
Paul’s songs are often overblown, and usually loud. “Tonight You Belong to Me” is one such track: melodramatic, riffy and loud. It rocks hard. It has loads of hooks, killer playing, and lead vocals that slay. Few singers could touch Paul Stanley in his prime. If that riff sounds familiar, the Hellacopters ripped it off for the intro to a song appropriately titled “Paul Stanley” (from 1999’s Grande Rock).
“Move On” is upbeat, Kiss-like rock and roll augmented with female backing vocals. It’s the only song that Kiss played live on their 1979 tour. It probably fits that standard Kiss mold better than any other tune on the album. “Ain’t Quite Right” brings things down with a dark acoustic ballad, quite different from past songs Paul has written. Its sad sound was fairly new territory for an upbeat rocker.
Hold on tight for “Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me”. If this song was covered by a pop-punk band (pick one: Sum 41, Blink 182, any of that ilk) it could be huge today. It’s loud, brash and incredibly rocking, but Paul outsings any punk-pop upstart. When Paul released his solo One Live Kiss album/video in 2008, “Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me” was one of its highlights. Kudos must be given to drummer Richie Fontana for kicking it in the nuts.
One of rock’s most legendary (and hardest hitting) timekeepers plays drums on the massive “Take Me Away (Together As One)”. You don’t associate Carmine Appice with Kiss, but there he is one of Paul’s songs. It’s a bombastic arrangement of electrics and acoustics, and one of Paul’s most devastating tracks. Carmine turns it from “stun” to “kill” with his dominating presence. At 5:26 this is the longest song on the album and as close as Paul gets to epic.
Side two is just as vigorous as side one. “It’s Alright” has a bright shimmer, plenty of hooks and guitars. It easily could have been a Kiss classic. “Girl if you want me to stay satisfied, girl if you want me to stay for the night, it’s alright.” Sure sounds like Kiss to me. The guitars have a very “rock and roll” vibe, a classic progression. Paul has a knack for riffs like this, and “It’s Alright” is one of the best.
Paul’s single was the schlocky piano ballad “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)”. Fans will either love it or hate it. It’s a song that could have been an AM radio hit on a 70s light rock station. Lionel Richie could have recorded it. The guitar solo cooks, and that is all Paul. He handled all the guitars on this song. Love it or hate it, it was the second most successful solo Kiss single after Ace’s “New York Groove”.
As the album draws to a close, “Love in Chains” hits hard with punchy drums and choppy guitars. But it’s just a jab, compared to the closer “Goodbye”, which finishes things off with a flourish and hot riffing. There is a cool descending guitar part, a superior chorus, and some seriously cool and busy bass by Eric Nelson. “Goodbye” is a brilliant closer, and it held that slot on Paul’s 2006 solo tour.
Paul’s was the second shortest of the solo albums (only Peter’s being shorter), but it packed more punch than any except Ace Frehley’s. Everybody has their favourites, and Ace’s album is always held in high esteem. Ace stepped out of his box and delivered. Meanwhile, Paul stuck to what he does best, and nailed it. It’s a “safe” solo album, but lethal when it clicks with you.
– Gene Simmons (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)
Given Gene’s demon persona, certainly some fans would have expected his solo album to be the heaviest and darkest. Imagine their shock upon finally hearing the finished disc! Musical flights of fancy and whimsical songs dominate Gene’s record, as the demon was determined to do something very different. His album has the most guest stars, the most diverse songs, and the most split of personalities.
Even the “evil” sounding choirs that open the album are more whimsical than demonic. This soon gives way to a guitar riff, and the first song “Radioactive”. The audio compression gives it a disco-like beat, but “Radioactive” is a rock and roll track. It is one of the songs featuring guests Joe Perry and Bob Seger, not to mention a slew of backing vocalists. It’s also the one track that Kiss played live on tour in 1979.
The demon sounds like he’s prowling for ladies on “Burning Up With Fever”. If you’re wondering about that funky bass line, it was played by Neil Jason. In a surprise move, Gene didn’t play bass on his solo album, only guitar. This lends the whole LP a funkier-than-expected sound. This plus the ample backing vocals almost makes Gene Simmons sound like an R&B/rock hybrid from time to time. “Burning Up With Fever” is a bad tune for a sexed-up demon, but not one of his finest either.
Some of Gene’s solo songs were oldies that predated Kiss. Others were of more recent vintage. The folksy ballad “See You Tonite” sounds like one of the older tunes. It’s a good one; good enough that Kiss recorded it live in 1995 for their MTV Unplugged appearance. In a strange twist, some of the best tunes on Gene’s solo platter are the ballads. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter played on this one and “Burning Up With Fever” as the cavalcade of guest stars continues. Even Katey Sagal (Married With Children) sings on the LP.
“Tunnel of Love” and “True Confessions” are two of Gene’s non-descript exploits, fairly ordinary songs given a huge boost by the larger than life production (by Gene and Sean Delaney). The backing vocals are immaculately arranged. “Tunnel” features Joe Perry and Donna Summer. Helen Reddy sings on “True Confessions”. Unfortunately these two songs are more notable by who appears on them rather than how good they are.
Gene was dating Cher at that time, so it’s not really a surprise that Cher appears on “Living in Sin” (as the groupie on the phone). This side two opener has a bit of that rock and roll spirit missing on other songs, though very corny. The ballads on side two are better. “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide” has some of Gene’s best singing, showing off that high falsetto. Gene couldn’t get the Beatles to appear on his album, so he did the next best thing and had Mitch Weissman and Joe Pecorino from Beatlemania sing on “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide”. This melancholy song is one of Gene’s most ambitious.
“Man of 1000 Faces” is big and bombastic, orchestrated for maximum impact. It has more in common with Destroyer than anything else Kiss has done, but even more overblown and bombastic. It also suits Gene’s persona perfectly. “I can put on any face, you won’t know me but it’s no disgrace. The king of night, he understands!” Then “Mr. Make Believe” is laid back and acoustic, and also another fantastic song. Gene’s ability with ballads should not be understated. “Mr. Make Believe” is the most Beatles-esque of Gene’s solo tracks.
“See You In Your Dreams” is a remake of the Kiss song from Rock and Roll Over. Apparently Gene thought it could have been recorded better, but the more basic Kiss version is much more appealing. Rick Neilson from Cheap Trick plays guitar on it, but Michael Des Barres’ backing vocals are obtrusive and irritating.
And that leaves only the final track. Some stop playing the album before track 11, others consider it an indispensable part of Gene’s solo statement. But there it is: “When You Wish Upon a Star”, the song whose lyrics meant so much to Gene that he recorded it for the last track of his album. It was not intended as a joke, but many see it as such.
Gene’s solo album can’t be dismissed as garbage, not with the great tunes it has (especially the ballads). However it’s so scattershot and just plain strange that it’s hard to really just enjoy. It’s interesting to study and dissect. Not so much fun to play in the car.
– Ace Frehley (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)
Of the four members of Kiss, Ace Frehley felt he had the most to prove on his solo album. He’d only had two lead vocals with Kiss, and usually only contributed a couple songs to each album. Could he write and sing an entire solo album? Some in the Kiss camp had their doubts.
Ace regrouped with his favourite Kiss producer, Eddie Kramer, and crucially got a newcomer named Anton Fig to play drums. Anton, from South Africa, has a long and fruitful career but a huge chunk of it was with Ace, and it started right here. Ace Frehley played almost everything else himself. Will Lee (Anton’s future bandmate on the Late Night with David Letterman show) played bass on three tracks. Ace also wrote the majority of the songs by himself, proving he wasn’t reliant on Gene and Paul.
“Rip It Out” is one of the great Ace album openers. He used it to open his Frehley’s Comet shows in the 1980s, and on album, it really sets the right scene. Ace was singing great, but more importantly, he had a chance to really let his guitars shine. Listen to the main riff — you can clearly hear an acoustic guitar mixed in with the electrics. In Kiss, Ace’s job was to solo and complement the rhythm guitars. Now Ace could play with multi-layered guitars and effects. “Rip It Out” really sounds like a statement of intent. Listen very carefully to the number of guitar parts happening in the mix, from slides and squeals to solos.
Ace has a knack for a pop melody, and “Speeding Back to My Baby” has that side to it. It’s pop rock complete with female backing vocals, but with serious crunch. Frehley is the master of guitar crunch, so even when we call a song “pop”, it really rocks. Check out Frehley’s partly backwards stoppy-starty guitar solo too.
The heavy side of Ace is explored on “Snow Blind”, a mean rocker with a nasty riff. The solo section is to die for. “Ozone” too is heavy, and possibly better known as a cover by the Foo Fighters. There weren’t any questions about the subject matter: “I’m the kind of guy who likes feelin’ high,” sings Ace in the opening line. Gene would not have approved, but note the combined use of electrics and acoustics once again.
Ace ended the first side with another triumphant pop rocker: “What’s On Your Mind”. It is tracks like this that helped Ace’s solo album become a clear fan favourite. The guitar riff has punch, but when doubled with acoustics, it rings like a bell. From brilliant guitar licks to the unforgettable melody, Ace nailed it with “What’s On Your Mind”. It also bookends the first side very well with “Rip It Out”.
The big hit, still getting radio play today, was the Russ Ballard cover “New York Groove”. Ballard originally gave his demo to the band Hello, but it was Ace that made it an important song. Ace took the words (written by an Englishman!) and adapted his persona to them. His lovable rough and tumble New York personality fit the song to a “T”. It’s a bit cheesy, but Ace can take cheesy and make it cool. The stompy beat was created using studio experimentation, Eddie Kramer the mad genius who would record anything and everything to get just the right sound.
A pair of rock tracks, “I’m In Need of Love” and “Wiped Out”, fill the middle of side two. Ace’s echoey guitar slides on “I’m In Need of Love” deliver the prime hooks. It’s an excellent example of what Ace can do with an electric guitar. Meanwhile, “Wiped Out” is like a sequel to the surf rock classic “Wipe Out”, and not Ace’s last foray into surf rock either. His intricate picking here would cause a lesser player’s fingers to fall off. Check out that wacka-ja-wacka stuff too, funky and cool.
Ace saved the most impressive track for the last, and the first in his so-called Fractured Quadrilogy: “Fractured Mirror”. This instrumental features shimmering six and twelve strings working in tandem. Ace and producer Eddie Kramer went to great lengths to get the guitar sounds on this song. One technique included playing the figure on a doubleneck guitar, but only using the pickups on the open-tuned second neck. The pickups to the neck that Ace was actually playing on were turned off. Once overdubbed, this gave the guitars a bell-like chime, and fans spent years trying to figure out just how Ace did it. Now you know.
This album was a turning point for Ace. It gave him confidence. It ushered in a slew of Ace Frehley lead vocals in Kiss. And eventually, it set him up for his departure, as nothing he did in Kiss was as artistically freeing as his first solo album.
– Peter Criss (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)
Peter Criss’ dreams of superstardom died with his first solo album.
To assuage egos and blow off steam, all four Kiss members agreed to record and release solo albums simultaneously. This was done under the Kiss banner to unify them, but each member had complete creative freedom on their own.
A project like this had never been attempted before by anybody, and Casablanca records gambled on all four being equally huge. They gambled wrong. Peter Criss’ album was the biggest casualty. It sold the poorest and charted at a lowly #43 (Billboard). He assumed he was the star of the band due to “Beth” being their biggest single. He set out to make an album like that, but Kiss fans were not likely to buy an R&B ballad album.
Criss hired Ringo Starr producer Vini Poncia (his first of a few Kiss collaborations), and wrote part of the album with his old Chelsea partner Stan Penridge. He had a band of studio musicians, but was unable to play drums on the whole album due to injury. For those tracks he used Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene Simmons’ solo LP.
There was a clear R&B direction, the stuff that Peter loved and couldn’t play in Kiss. There are horns a’plenty and cool non-rock grooves. Opening track “I’m Gonna Love You” pointed the way: mid-tempo, loads of soulful backing vocals, easy beats and raspy singing. His drums fit the sound perfectly. “You Matter to Me” brought 70s synth into the mixture. Easy listening light rock ballads go down smooth but don’t leave you feeling satisfied.
“Tossin’ and Turnin’”, the old 1961 R&B hit, was the only tune played live by Kiss on the 1979 tour. Peter’s version of course does not sound like Kiss, but it’s a lively version suited to his style. Another ballad, “Don’t You Let Me Down”, is a tender song but lighter than light. Absolutely too soft for Kiss, but one of the stronger Penridge/Criss compositions that might have worked well covered by an easy listening artist. Unlike “That’s the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes”, which is not a good song at all.
Criss played all the drums on side one. Schwartzberg was on most of side two, opening with the quiet yet epic ballad “Easy Thing”. It has a slow build into something big and orchestrated, and for this album it works. Sean Delaney’s “Rock Me, Baby” brings things back to rock and roll, but with a mediocre track that wouldn’t be good enough for Kiss. “Kiss the Girl Goodbye” was another soft and light ballad, pleasant enough but far from outstanding. Penridge’s guitar is a delight, but the only delight. “Hooked on Rock and Roll” on the other hand is a standout akin to “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, a little bit of an autobiographical track about the Catman. “Every morning at the break of dawn, you could see him dragging home his drums.”
The final track, and one of the most polarizing, is Sean Delaney’s “I Can’t Stop the Rain”. Some love it, some hate it, but one thing for sure: it’s one of most bombastic ballads Peter’s ever recorded. Piano, orchestration and stellar guitar by Elliot Randall (Steely Dan) make for a huge ballad. Love it or hate it, “I Can’t Stop the Rain” is schlocky and bittersweet.
When Peter’s album failed to sell, Casablanca rushed out two singles. The other Kiss members only got one each. Neither “Don’t You Let Me Down” nor “You Matter to Me” made any impact. The fallout from this album was that Peter Criss was perceived as out of touch by his band and his fans. He was hoping to become a blue-eyed soul star, but his image never recovered. From this point on, Peter’s dedication to rock was always under scrutiny, and his time in Kiss truly began to tick away.