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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Gene Simmons (1978 solo album)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 15:  

 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.

2.5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/20

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#522: Smells Like Tim McGraw

GETTING MORE TALE #522: Smells Like Tim McGraw

Music fans can buy just about anything with their favourite band’s name on it.  While Elvis merchandise and the onslaught of Beatlemania stuff makes for fun collectibles, Kiss really blasted things into overdrive, for better or for worse.  Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, we were inundated with Kiss.  Neighbors on our street had Kiss cards, the Kiss remote control van,  Kiss comics, Kiss posters, books about Kiss and more.  You could buy Kiss dolls.  Kiss Your Face makeup.  Everything!  At the time Kiss were heavily criticized for their merchandising.  Paul and Gene defended it by saying, ‘if our fans want to buy a Kiss hat, then why shouldn’t they be able to buy one?’  Turns out their fans wanted to buy a lot more including cars and coffins!

Now the merchandise door is wide open.  Everybody has dolls; my sister had some wretched New Kids on the Block dolls.  I have a friend who owns the Spice Girls.  I myself own Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne.  Today, music celebrities have their own alcohol, such as Motley Brue or The Trooper beer.  Rock stars even have their own hot sauces.  I was a proud owner of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew.  (I’ve never been able to find Michael Anthony’s Mad Anthony sauce.)  I often like to picture Joe Perry hard at work over a boiling pot, mixing specially selected peppers and spices until he finally came up with his own Boneyard Brew.  It’s not impossible, although it is unlikely.

What is very highly unlikely is that Justin Bieber studied perfume chemistry to come up with his own scent, “Girlfriend”.

It seems perfumes and colognes are the latest hot trend in celebrity endorsements.    We are not so naive to think that the stars have anything to all to do with their own perfumes, but look at the list below.  (Courtesy once again of Uncle John’s calendar.)  Taylor Swift and Beyoncé don’t surprise me, but I didn’t know Tim McGraw had his own scent (“Southern Blend”).  Check out some of the interesting names below.

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Who knew Carlos Santana had a scent called “Carlos Santana”?  I wonder who came up with that clever name?  (Whoever they are, they probably make more money than us.) Even Kiss have a cologne, called “KISS Him for Men”. Kiss sell aftershaves and deodorants too. But we can’t blame Kiss for this trend, can we?  This one is on the shoulders of Hollywood.

The first celebrity scent was “Sophia” by Sophia Lauren, in 1981. The Italian film icon’s perfume was released by Coty who work with just about every major celebrity today. That’s not the interesting part. What is interesting is that we might be able to blame Gene Simmons just a little bit for the first music celebrity scent. After all, it was his ex-girlfriend Cher who was the first music star to enter the perfume world. Her scent “Uninhibited” was the first for a music performer. Did her ex-boyfriend’s merchandising ways have anything to do with this? The truth is, probably not — but it’s fun to blame Gene anyway.

With the reigning queens of pop like Katy (“Killer Queen” and “Purr”) and Gaga (“Fame for Women”), not to mention the boy-throbs like One Direction (“Our Moment for Women”), it is likely that music perfumes and colognes will remain big business for years to come.

#346: NO SOLICITORS!

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#346: NO SOLICITORS!

Yesterday and today, if there’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s people trying to sell us something. You know the feeling: You answer the phone, not looking or not recognizing the number, only to be asked if you want to hire a shady “duct cleaning” service that has a loose grasp of the English language.

Here are some of the methods we have used and things we have said to dissuade duct cleaning companies from calling us:

1. “Have you met Jesus?” – works every single time.
2. “Oh I’m sorry, we don’t own any ducks.” – gets them a little confused.
3. Speak back to them in French only. “Où est la poutine?”
4. I also enjoy asking them to help me solve the Tedious Tiresome Trivia question on 105.7 Dave FM.

Or, just hang up. That works too. The method you choose may depend on how irritated you are.

Reminding them that you are on the “Do Not Call” registry won’t help you.  Many of these scam artists are calling from overseas, according to the CBC.

At the Record Store, we had to put up one of those “NO SOLICITORS” signs but I don’t know why since every solicitor ignored it. Never once in my time at the store did I see someone come in trying to sell me shit, look at the sign, turn around and leave. Never once.  Are you surprised?

People around student age would occasionally pop in with boxes full of junk, and a big smile on their faces. They’d usually come in pairs. “Have we got some deals for you here!” they would say open entering, or something like that. They didn’t much like it when I would ignore their sales pitch and try to sell them some CDs instead. “I have a better deal for you,” I might have said. “New Cher album for $12. Do you believe in life after love? I’m the only one in this store who’s going to do any selling to anyone.”

I witnessed one guy wielding his box of junk playing chicken with an automobile in our parking lot, trying to get him to stop. He stood in the middle of his lane with his box, and moved to the right and left so the car couldn’t swerve around him. Then he went up to the driver’s window with his box. Needless to say, the driver bought nothing from that idiot.

From boxes of junk, to golf memberships, to Jehova’s Witness fliers, I have had just about everything shoved in my face at the Record Store. It was irritating, but not nearly so much as the daily phone calls from duct cleaners.

What is your favourite method for dealing with solicitors? Share in the comments.

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REVIEW: Spinal Tap – Break Like The Wind (1992)

SPINAL TAP – Break Like the Wind (1992)

Almost a decade after the movie, the “black album” (Smell The Glove), and the near-breakup, Spinal Tap returned!  Even Marty DiBergi’s documentary could not keep Tap down, and setting aside their differences, they created this reunion album.  Mostly new material with some oldies sprinkled in, Break Like The Wind was yet another masterpiece by the Tap.

The lineup was:  David St. Hubbins (guitar, vocals), Nigel Tufnel (guitar, vocals) and Derek Smalls (bass, vocals) with new additions Ric (brother of Mick) Shrimpton (drums) and Caucasian Jeffrey Vanston (keys).

It turns out that previous keyboardist Viv Savage was a drummer prior to joining Spinal Tap.  He failed to tell them this, and well, he befell the same fate as countless Tap drummers.

From the beginning, like so many Tap albums past, Break Like The Wind was misunderstood.  The first single “Bitch School” was about a dog, but many chose a sexist interpretation.  This simple rocker is an upbeat catchy single and indicative of the new Tap sound.

The regal “Majesty of Rock” is second.  This track was chosen as second single.  St. Hubbins dares to ask the deep questions within the framework of a 4 minute pop rock single.   “When we die, do we haunt the sky?  Do we lurk in the murk of the seas?  What then?  Are we born again?  Just to sit asking questions like these?”  An excellent question David.

I do not know why Nigel seemed prone to wearing wetsuits during this period.

Tap turn it up a notch on “Diva Fever”, a fast one to give Metallica a run for their money!  A man named Dweezil plays the blistering guitar solo.  What an odd moniker.

Just when you thought you could get none more regal, the queen herself, Cher, turns up to duet with David on the gorgeous ballad “Just Begin Again”.  With strings and horns beside them, Tap deliver another classic.The lyrics are again deep:  never give up, never surrender!  Just begin again!  As David says in the words, “Life is just a meal, And you never say when!”  And if people stand in your way and say enough is enough? “Make the bastards eat their words!” says David!

Derek Smalls takes his first lead vocal on “Cash On Delivery”, a fun rocker advising the listener how Smalls prefers to do business.  It rocks along nice.

This is followed by a remake on an old classic, “The Sun Never Sweats” the title track of course from the album The Sun Never Sweats.   Nigel’s solo is among the highlights of this classic.

And then, a long lost rarity, “Rainy Day Sun”.  It was the B-side to their hit “(Listen to the) Flower People”.  Here it is released on CD for the first time, gloriously swirly, psychedelic, and digitally remastered.  This ends side one of the original album.  If you are listening to a CD, please do not attempt to remove and play the other side.

Side two began with Tap’s first epic since the mighty “Stonehenge”:  “Break Like The Wind” itself.  Melding middle eastern melody with modern instrumental flare, this one is surprisingly beautiful.  Smalls’ bass weaves in and out, as David and Nigel play simple guitar melodies.  But all comes crashing down by the time of the powerful guitar solos, and Tap rock once more!

As a surprise to their friend Nigel, the band erased most of his guitar solos and replaced it with other people playing!  Four of the greatest guitarists of the 90’s stepped in for Nigel:  Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather, and Jeff Beck.    None more epic.

From there, Tap can only disappoint.  “Stinkin’ Up The Great Outdoors”, a protest song, is worth protesting.

Nigel finally sings his first lead vocal on “Springtime”, a welcome change of pace.  Nigel follows it with “Clam Caravan”, from his solo project.  The title was supposed to be spelled “Calm Caravan”, but Nigel liked the misspelled version.  “Clam Caravan” is another middle-eastern sounding song, and it lulls you off gently…

Only to be awakened by “Christmas With the Devil”!  This is a re-recording of their classic Christmas single from the mid 1980’s.  This sonically superior version is even more evil than the original.  Happy holidays, to all the children!

The hidden track “Now Leaving” follows, questioning what life is worth if you’re on life support?  All three members bring their thoughts to the table, but I think David asks the most eloquent question.  “Shall he lie there forever with a tube up his nose, And his peepee and poopoo slipping out through a hose?”

I do not know David, I do not know.

Thankfully, these mortal thoughts are ended by the beginning of “All the Way Home”.  You may remember from the film that this was the first song that David and Nigel ever wrote.  Finally, their original 1961 demo was found and restored, and mastered for its CD release.   This closes the album.

I do not know if the  general public felt differently about this album than I do, for Tap did not release another album for 17 years!

11/5stars

REVIEW: KISS – Music From The Elder (1981, 1997 remaster)

Part 17 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

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KISS – Music From The Elder (1981, 1997 remaster)

Exit Peter Criss.  Enter Eric Carr.

Music From The Elder has grown on me a lot since I first heard it back in 1986. It will grow on you if you let it. Its reputation is that this is the worst album Kiss have ever made, but I disagree. It’s very flawed, but it does grow on you and it does have many redeeming values.

Here’s a brief version of the story behind The Elder: Kiss intended to make a rock album, after the way-too-pop Unmasked.   The material they were coming up with (including “Nowhere To Run”, released on the next album Kiss Killers) was deemed to be too much like what Kiss had done before.  Producer Bob Ezrin (Destroyer) was brought back into the picture, and he encouraged them to do a concept album (he had  recently finished The Wall). Gene dug up a short story he wrote about a group of god-like beings called The Elder, who seek a hero in every time to fight evil. This hero, The Boy, is the protagonist of the story.  Got that?

If you have the original LP, cassette, or CD editions of Music From The Elder, the songs are in the wrong order.  Y’see, the record label (Casablanca) wasn’t too confident in Kiss’ new music, so they decided to change the track order so that the album started with a rocker (“The Oath”).  This makes the story completely jumbled and unintelligible.  The 1997 remaster with the restored track order also has some Gregorian chanting at the end of “fanfare”, that was previously cut.

I won’t get into the story except that there’s a boy (“Just A Boy”) who is recruited by The Elder (“Under The Rose”) to fight the evil (“Mr. Blackwell”). There’s an escape (“Escape From The Island”) and some self-affirmation (“I”) and that’s about it.  All the epic battles were to happen in Music From The Elder 2: War of the Gods. Ahh, but that’s another story.

Here’s a song breakdown.

“fanfare”: An orchestral bit by Ezrin based on Paul’s “Just A Boy” melody.

“Just A Boy”: Fantastic Paul ballad featuring his falsetto. Acoustic and powerful with epic verses and choruses. Great guitar solo too.

“Odyssey”: Paul sings this orchestral song as well. When I was a kid, I loved any rock songs with orchestras.

“Only You”: Gene’s first song, and the first tune that resembles a rocker. Starts off slow, then goes into a groove. Not a bad song, although not a standout.  At the end it goes straight into Paul’s “Just A Boy” melody again, which recurs on the album.  This has been covered by Doro, on a Gene Simmons produced solo album.

“Under The Rose”: Eric Carr’s very first songwriting contribution to Kiss.  Gene sings this slow song, which has a very gothic chorus sung by what sounds like a men’s choir. Very odd, but I quite like it.

“Dark Light”: Formerly “Don’t Run”, this is Ace’s first song and only vocal on the album. It’s not as great as any of Ace’s songs on previous albums. Still, it sounds like basic stripped-down Kiss, and it’s Ace, and it is one of the few songs on the album that has noticeable Ace guitar.

“A World Without Heroes”: Formerly, “With Every Little Bit Of My Heart”. Paul’s excellent demo apparently impressed Gene, who rewrote the lyrics with Lou Reed. One of Kiss’ softest songs, it has since been covered by Cher.

“The Oath”: Finally, a real rocker of a song that showed off Eric Carr’s drumming for real. Possibly the best song on the album, “The Oath” was just epic. Kiss could play it live today if they chose. The riff is the main focus of this song. Paul sings in falsetto again on the chorus.

“Mr. Blackwell”: A Gene song, probably my least favourite.

“Escape From The Island”: A Frehley instrumental, and a firecracker of a song. Ace makes some interesting sounds on his Les Paul and the song just rocks along at a furious pace. Eric Carr had a hand in composing this one as well.  This song didn’t make the Japanese release for some reason.

“I”: “I don’t need to get wasted, it only holds me down”. Obviously this is Gene’s baby, it is his philosophy on life. It is also a great song and a great single. A fast rocker, Carr doesn’t actually play drums on it. Allan Schwartzberg (of Gene’s solo album) does. I didn’t know that at the time. Ends with a spoken word coda.

Music From The Elder was thus named because it was supposed to be the first part of a series, perhaps a series of soundtracks to a movie. Thus, Music From something.  It was so poorly received that all plans were cancelled, and the band never toured for it. The shame of it is, when they played on “Fridays” with Ace Frehley, these songs sounded great. Frehley complained that Ezrin cut out half of his guitar work, and live there were ample extra solos. It makes you wish for what could have been.

Frehley left the band, sick of being sidelined by Gene and Paul and The Elder was his last straw. The fans hated it because, frankly, it doesn’t sound like Kiss. I don’t know what it sounds like. It doesn’t sound like progressive rock because it’s a little too clumsy, a little too blocky. It is Kiss after all, not Genesis. They get an “A” for effort, and the truth is the songs are pretty good. Production could have been better and there could have been more guitar. It is what it is.

3.5/5 stars.

Incidentally there are some great demos and outtakes from this album that are worth checking out, and one track was later used by Ace Frehley on his first solo album as “Breakout”. The very same track was used by Kiss on Revenge as “Carr Jam 1981”.  I have a CD (seen in the gallery below) called Demos 1981-1983.  It features intrumental Elder outtakes such as:  “Heaven”, “The Council of the Elder”, and “The Unknown Force”.