classic rock

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Hot Wire (1991)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 5 in his KIX series

KIX – Hot Wire (1991 Atlantic)

It took the almighty Kix three years to follow up their commercial breakthrough Blow My Fuse. When they did, they had a new record contract, and an assload of debt from their first three albums. Being that this was 1991, the clock was ticking before that putz from Seattle would change the face of rock music forever by replacing talented musicianship and fun with glorified punk songs about deodorant. The resulting album Hot Wire was the band’s heaviest album to date, with their hard rock influences taking over their sound completely. While Hot Wire is still an entertaining listen, it’s not as consistent as the albums that preceded it, and is a little derivative at times.

Hot Wire is jumpstarted by the title track, which starts off with a riff that sounds like Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, and ends with a loving homage to “Have a Drink on Me”. The sonic annihilation in between is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and has Kix playing some of the most aggressive music of their career. Steve Whiteman in particular is taking no prisoners with an absolutely electrifying vocal performance that commands attention and respect. The song juggles the head banging verses with a trademark melodic Kix chorus that will blow your mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain was listening to this when his Kurt Cobrains hit the floor in April of 1994. It’s a great choice to open the album with, as it dispels any notion that Kix has become less hungry as a result of their platinum success.

Kix follows it up with what could only be described as a tribute to AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, complete with a Bon Scott impression. In lead single “Girl Money”, Whiteman channels Scott while talking about a woman of low moral fibre across the bar. The chorus is an absolute explosion of melody, literally. If you listen carefully, you can hear cannons going from the left to the right speaker after the lyrics “bang boom party”. The attention to detail is not only amusing, but it reflects the sonic identity of the record. The production on this album serves to polish the rough edges while retaining all the sonic power that Kix have to offer. It sounds good, but there are no frills to be found. This is a rock and roll record, and the band is going to treat it as such. No more Cool Kids new wave pandering, the group is out to rock your world.

 The fourth slot on the album is left to “Tear Down the Walls”, a weak ballad that was probably recorded to capitalize on the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but compare it to superior ballads on past Kix records. While it’s not nearly as iconic or enjoyable as “For Shame”, “Walkin’ Away”, or “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, it’s still a much better decision to listen to it than to marry Courtney Love, in my opinion only of course.

Kix only has one ballad again, and gets away with it by preceding it with the hook laden “Luv-A-Holic”, which has a similar structure to “Get It While It’s Hot” from the previous record, done in a heavier style that is more representative of the Hot Wire sound.  It’s one of the best songs on the album, and the deal only gets sweeter when “Rock & Roll Overdose”, (a song title I believe Kurt took too literally) greets the listener after the lacklustre ballad. One of the heaviest tunes Kix have ever done, it’s a nice ode to rock and roll itself with Whiteman bringing back his powerful raspy vocals from the title track. Guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe really get to shine on this track with each getting a chance to show off their solo chops. It’s much more enjoyable than listening to nursery rhyme melodies over three chord punk songs and pretending like you hate any band that has reached any kind of success, including your contemporaries that praise you.

What sinks the album is a sense of monotony. Some of the lesser tunes begin to sound the same, and some of them are lyrically lacking. “Hee Bee Jee Bee Crush”, “Bump the La La”, and “Same Jane” were in desperate need of penmanship reform. There’s also not as much variety as you would normally expect from a Kix album, as they seem to be firmly rooted in a hard rock sound. Choruses lack some of the staying power that they had on earlier albums, and the songs begin to run together.

While by no means a bad album, Hot Wire comes as a bit of a disappointment after the quality of the two previous outings. Unfortunately, due to shifting (shitty) tastes, Kix would only release one more album on their major label (1993’s appropriately titled Contractual Obligation Live!) before being pushed to the indie world. The mighty titans would regroup for one more studio album with the original lineup.  They disappeared for the better part of twenty years before reemerging with a new bassist as strong as ever.  As for Hot Wire…

3.5/5 stars

Authors note: I don’t really hate Nirvana, but they’re just so easy to poke fun at. I would take Badmotorfinger, Ten, & Ritual de lo Habitual over Nevermind any day of the week though.

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GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Blow My Fuse (1988)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 4 in his KIX series

KIX – Blow My Fuse (1988 Atlantic)

When Kix released their fourth album on Atlantic, the band would finally receive the recognition and popularity that they deserved. Blow My Fuse is one of the most fun hard rocking albums of the late ‘80s without the guilty feeling that you get listening to the other “hair bands” that were dominating MTV. You could blast this record in a way that you couldn’t with say, Warrant, and not care who heard you, because Kix aren’t a hair band. They’re a hard rock band. These glorious Maryland hicks with a collective explosion fetish crafted a glorious hard rock album in the mold of AC/DC, with the pop hooks necessary to get proper attention on the radio, without ever watering down the rock. Produced by Tom Werman (with help from Duane Baron and John Purdell), Kix finally teamed up with a production team that knew how to turn their material into charting hits without diluting it.

Album opener “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” displays Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant reclaiming his territory after an Anton Fig substitution due to a broken arm on the end of the last album. Pounding away with a simple but effective beat, he sets the stage for the duo of Brian Forsythe and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins to blanket the track with midrange guitar goodness. The production on this album is really outstanding. The power of Kix clearly shines through, but with a new sheen to polish some of the rough edges. Steve Whiteman builds anticipation with restraint in his singing at the beginning of the song. Kix are masters of both tension and dynamics. They know just how long to string the listener along before delivering the heavy payoff. The twin guitar duo comes in with the song’s main riff, and Steve Whiteman pumps on the gas taking his vocals full throttle with rasp and power. Note the background vocals before the chanted chorus, which add some killer harmonic melody to the blistering hard rock. A call and response section between the harmonica and the guitar build off each other to end the song leaving the listener with his ass bruised and sore from being kixed for four euphoric minutes.

After taking a minute to ice the destroyed rectum, “Get It While It’s Hot” starts with a synthesizer run and some backwards vocals that recall their new wave roots. However, this is a clever ruse. Soon the guitars come in and betray the intro. This is another full on rock tune with the drums really in the driver’s seat during the verses. The guitarists play a few chords, rest, and then play a few chords, then rest; each phrase expanding upon the last to complete the picture at the end of five measures. It’s a tension building technique Kix would use again. The chorus drastically changes things up, but the energy level doesn’t dip at all. At this point we’re greeted by the song’s hook. With some era appropriate multi-tracked backing vocals, it drives the point across well.

Even with all the fantastic tunes, the reason that this album went platinum was because of the ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. A number eleven hit in America, the song put the band on map, and on MTV. However, it wasn’t originally released as a single. When Kix were on tour with Great White, their manager Alan Niven asked the band why the song hadn’t been released as a single. Niven, despite being the manager for Great White, called up Doug Morris (president of Atlantic Records at the time) and told him they were sitting on a massive hit. They released it, and the rest is history. As for the song, it’s not a typical fluffy power ballad of the late ‘80s. It has more in common with “Dream On” than it does “Home Sweet Home”. The song is an anti-suicide PSA, a reassuring topic that proved Kix had more on their mind than just sex and explosions. It’s a great song, haunting and emotional. The lyrics and the conviction with which Whiteman sings them makes the hairs on your arm stand up. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is a powerful song that has probably saved more than one or two lives as well, and is one of the most respectable power ballads of the 1980s.

But who cares when they’re singing about sex when the music backing it is of such high caliber? “Cold Blood” was the first single, and it sold much better after “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became huge. This song deserved to be a huge hit. It’s a stone cold classic. Starting out with a riff sounding like Electric-era The Cult, and progressing to total pop harmony payoff, this one is definitely one of the band’s best tunes. It also received moderate MTV airplay, and became the band’s second most popular song, a place only challenged by the album’s title track. A very fun and electrifying number about singer Steve Whiteman getting his fuse blown, his tower shook, his wires crossed, his hair lit up, his senses overloaded, and his juice felt. The lyrics speak for themselves; this one is another genre classic.

The album is rounded out with several other dynamic hard rock tunes, and a supernatural ability to insert pop melodies into them without diminishing the power one iota. There is no filler on this album, every song is a keeper. A 30th anniversary edition remixed by Beau Hill was announced earlier this year. Start off with the original that has been serving the public well for three decades now. If you were only to buy one Kix album, this is the one.

5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Midnite Dynamite (1985)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 3 in his KIX series

KIX – Midnite Dynamite (1985 Atlantic)

In 1985, Kix returned after two commercially unsuccessful albums, with what they consider to be their magnum opus, Midnight Dynamite. This is where the new wave styles of the first two records take a backseat to the hard rock influences. Later on, they’d completely shun their new wave influences by kicking them out of the car, and making new wave watch hard rock shag its girlfriend. For now, the blend was still somewhat apparent, but with the mix changed.

Produced by Lebrain’s favorite producer of all time (Beau Hill), Midnight Dynamite definitely sounds like its era, much more so than the debut or Cool Kids. For the first time we get some electronic percussion thrown into the mix and it is the first album by Kix to feature synthesizers in a prominent role. This could have been disastrous, but luckily Kix utilizes them to color the sound and they don’t diminish the hard edge of the guitars one iota. This is a hard rock record first and foremost, and with Ronnie “10/10” Younkins back in the mix, the guitar duo of the first album is reestablished. Pressured once again to work with outside writers, the primary guy for the job is Bob Halligan Jr. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because he wrote two songs for Judas Priest (“Take These Chains” & “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”), and co-wrote with Icon on their second album Night of the Crime. Boasting some impressive credentials, the songwriting takes a step up this time around. Nearly all the songs are collaborations between bassist Donnie Purnell and Halligan.

The album is jump started by the title track. A slow and heavy number, it was a bold choice to open an album with.  Fortunately for Kix, it completely works. The intensity of the verses builds up tension for the ridiculously catchy harmonies in pre-chorus, where we finally get the big payoff during the chorus. This is melodic hard rock done right, without the frills that are usually associated with AOR or other bands of the time period. Kix made sure that the material had balls, something that many other bands of the time period eschewed for chart success. The intensity of the title track is followed by the erotic “Red Hot (Black & Blue)” with a sleazy stuttering riff. The production on this song is a little heavy handed with the reverse reverb in the verses, but it’s nothing that ruins the impact. Another song with dynamics, the verses stutter along with spunk, until the chorus where that Kix fire is unleashed. Some pretty cheesy lyrics, but if you weren’t prepared for that then why would you be reading a Kix review?

One of Beau’s buddies Kip Winger earns himself a writing credit on track number 3, “Bang Bang (Balls of Fire)”. As you can tell by the title, it’s one of the more generic rock songs on the album. It’s one of the least substantial, but it’s still an enjoyable tune. “Layin’ Rubber” is much better, as all the elements that make up the Kix sound are blended masterfully. Obviously more hard rock orientated than material of the past, the track features bubblegum pop chants before launching into a hard rock riff, while the intensity of the music elevates as the song goes on. Each section of the song’s structure is composed to perfectly transition into the next. One of the best tracks on the album, it manages to be damn brutal, and also catchy as shit.

The rest of the album proceeds in this manner, blistering hard rock tunes with undeniably catchy melodies that are never too sugary enough to make you sick to your stomach. There is only one ballad “Walkin’ Away”, which is built on synthesizers, but has enough of a kick to be enjoyable. “Cold Shower” was the other single, which features some rap like vocals in the verses and singer Steve Whiteman hitting some glass shattering notes before the chorus. It’s one of the most eccentric tunes on the album, and I’m surprised it was picked as a single.

Surprising songs or not, this album is one of the most underrated of the era. It’s a mystery as to why it didn’t sell better than it did. Label indifference? If you’re a fan of the rock music, you owe it to yourself to pick up this album and the even better follow up Blow My Fuse.

4.75/5 stars

A note for Kiss fans, Anton Fig plays drums on the last two tracks because Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant had broken his arm.

#690: Unholy Kisses

GETTING MORE TALE #690: Unholy Kisses

Kiss’ Revenge album (last discussed in Part 43 of the Kiss Re-Review Series) was an album that I had been waiting for a long time.  Not just in terms of the three year gap between it and Hot in the Shade.  I loved Kiss, but it had been a long time since they put out an album quite as solid as Revenge.  I wore my Kiss shirt with pride.

I can still remember the day I got my Revenge shirt, in Kincardine Ontario of all places.  My parents bought it for me at a local now-defunct clothing store.  As we browsed my dad asked, “Did you find a shirt, son?”

“Yep,” I answered.  “This one is cool, because it has the new Kiss member on it.”

“Yeah,” my dad said with a disapproving smirk.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that bearded guy before…”

But the new guy wasn’t Gene Simmons, silly dad.  It was the blonde Eric Singer, the first guy to break the Kiss hair colour code.  Yeah, I was proud to rock that shirt.

The parents were good to us.  Any time there was a record show (or record faire) within an hour’s driving distance, they would take us.  You usually had to drive to either Guelph or London.  Sometimes they’d even help us out with a little cash.  No matter how much you budget for a record show, you’ll never bring enough cash.  The treasures are far too numerous and tempting.

One has to learn to categorise and quantify things in order to successfully navigate a record show on a limited budget.  I have really distinct memories of one in Guelph; the one where I found the indispensable Kiss Unholy Kisses bootleg.

I knew going in that I wanted to buy a bootleg on CD.  I had a few on cassette, but never a CD before.  Record shows always had a table or two with guys selling CD bootlegs.  They were never cheap and you could typically expect to pay $40 for a single CD.  That’s how I budgeted it out.

I did plan to buy a little more than that, so I brought extra cash.  My first buy was a 7″ single for “From Out of Nowhere” by Faith No More, a UK import.  It had two live tracks on the B-side (“Woodpecker From Mars” and “Epic” recorded by the BBC).  I was trying to get a decent Faith No More collection so I picked that one early.

Meanwhile my sister found Bryan Adam’s first single, “Let Me Take You Dancing”.  Bryan started as a Disco artist, and his voice was sped up in the mixing in order to make it higher.  He has since disowned the song, and a CD release in any official capacity is highly unlikely.  She definitely found something of value to her.  As an added bonus, the record came with a story.

“I tried to get Bryan Adams to sign it,” said the vendor.  “I handed it to him and he refused.”  So my sister owns a record that Bryan Adams actually refused to sign and we both think that is pretty hilarious.

One thing about record shows that you need to be aware of:  there are always some vendors who are assholes.  It’s just part of the scenery of a record show.  As my sister and I looked around, one of them shouted out at her.

“People will think you stole that,” he said pointing to her Bryan Adams record.  “It’s not in a bag.”

We explained that she bought the record from another vendor.

“You need a bag.  Buy something from me and I give you a bag.  People will think you steal.”

“Here, put it in my bag,” I said to my sister.  “No thanks,” I added to the vendor, as we made sure not to buy anything from him.  He didn’t have anything we wanted anyway.

But what about bootlegs?  That decision had to be weighed.  There was so much to choose from.  The Black Crowes?  Black Sabbath?  They had a CD of early Def Leppard tracks with Frank Noon on drums.  That one was sorely tempting.  Leppard were another band I was trying to collect.  What I really hoped to find though, was Kiss.

There it was:  Unholy Kisses.  Recorded live in San Francisco April 23, 1992.  Revenge wasn’t even out yet when it was taped.  Although other Kiss bootlegs were present, I chose Unholy Kisses for a number of reasons.

  1. My first live versions of “Unholy” and “Take It Off”.
  2. My first live Kiss with Eric Singer.
  3. My first live version of “I Was Made for Loving You”, the old Kiss Disco classic.
  4. A host of other Kiss oldies they hadn’t played live in ages.

I chose wisely.  Unholy Kisses is a great fucking bootleg.

The club setting provides for a very loud concert recording.  It only amplifies the raw heavy new sound of Kiss.  Bruce Kulick nailed a greasy toned and Eric Singer?  Holy shit, did the oldies ever sound amazing with him behind them!  Yes indeed, the new Kiss lineup was excitement personified.  God bless Eric Carr, who will forever have a place in every fan’s heart.  With Eric Singer, Kiss found a credible way to carry on.  Any new member brings their own style and influence to Kiss.  When a drummer is a talented and versatile as Eric Singer, it enables a band to really play.

And strangely enough, during the Singer/Kulick era, one could make serious arguments for Kiss becoming a player’s kind of rock band.  Kulick, for certain, is one of the most talented guys to ever play guitar in Kiss, up there against Vinnie Vincent.  Kulick can play absolutely anything and strove to do new things on every Kiss album.  Whatever Bruce wrote, Singer could play.  This would spill onto the next studio album.

The Kiss Re-Review Series does not require another Unholy Kisses review.  It is bang-on.  For your convenience, you will find the full review below.

If you are even just a casual Kiss fan, pick up Unholy Kisses if you find it in the wild.  There are few official live Kiss albums as good as this.


KISS – Unholy Kisses (Audience recorded bootleg, 1992 Flashback)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 stars

UNHOLY KISSES_0003

CD KISStitics

Songs:

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Purple Chronicle – The Best Selection of 25th Anniversary (3 CD Japanese box set)

DEEP PURPLE – Purple Chronicle – The Best Selection of 25th Anniversary (1993 triple CD Warner Japan box set)

Here is something clearly designed for the archivist, not the casual listener.  Purple Chronicle is a strange but in-depth collection of singles, album cuts, B-sides and rarities.  With tracks spanning 1968 to 1976 (Deep Purple’s original run) there is much to cover.  There are even two mono mixes that are still unavailable on CD anywhere else.

The first two discs comprise a chronological look at the most key Deep Purple tracks.  Five songs are earmarked to represent the Rod Evans era, including the big one “Hush” and Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”.  It’s a mere brief glance at the three albums they did with Rod, but there are more rarities on Disc 3.

The classic Deep Purple Mk II era featuring Ian Gillan takes over on the next 11 tracks.  From “Speed King” through to “Fireball” and “Strange Kind of Woman”, the big hits are here.  Who Do We Think We Are from 1973 only has one track present (“Woman From Tokyo”).  “Into the Fire” is pleasing to find here, as one of Deep Purple’s short and sweet heavy metal stomps.

Deep Purple Mk III and IV (featuring David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes behind the microphones) are given 12 tracks to stretch out.  They don’t anything as long as Gillan’s “Child in Time” which exceeds 10 minutes, so this is still fairly proportional.  The best songs, both rockers and ballads, are laid out from their three records.  They include the unforgettable “Burn” and “Stormbringer”, the extended blues “Mistreated” and underappreciated gems such as “You Keep on Moving” and “Comin’ Home” with Tommy Bolin on guitar.

All of the songs on the first two discs would have been available on standard Deep Purple CDs at the time.  The third disc has a bunch of tracks that were (and some that still are) harder to come by.  It is dominated by B-sides, single edits and assorted rarities.  “Black Night” appears for the first time, as a single edit and live B-side.  Indeed there is a lot of repeat of Disc 3.  “Speed King” for example is here twice more, with both of its extended intros (noise plus keyboards, or just keyboards).  These weren’t on the typical CD release of Deep Purple In Rock at the time.  There are single edits of “Woman From Tokyo”, “Highway Star”, “Lazy” and “Burn” (two edits!).  And there are lots of rarities galore, culled from B-sides and Purple’s outtake album Power House.  Some, such as Rod Evans’ “Emmeretta”, and Gillan’s “Painted Horse” and “Cry Free”, are true unsung Purple classics.  “Coronarias Redig” is notable as the only instrumental of the Coverdale era.

The two tracks that are still true rarities today are the mono mixes of “Smoke on the Water” and its live counterpart.  More versions of “Smoke”?  Yes indeed, but unless you have heard them in mono before, you have not heard them all.  These are not “fold down” mono mixes made by just converting the stereo track to mono.  These are audibly different in subtle ways.

This is the kind of set that will be difficult and expensive to track down.  If you spy it somewhere, be aware of the value to collectors.  (I was fortunate that a copy in great condition just dropped in my lap for cheap.)  Consider it if collecting Purple is your thing.  Includes full booklet and poster with family tree.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Eric Carr – Unfinished Business (2011)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 42:  Eric Carr solo #2.

EC_Unfinished_Business_2011ERIC CARR – Unfinished Business (2011 Auto Rock Records)

Even though 2000’s Rockology compilation released a treasure trove of unheard goodies for the fans, there is always more to sell.  For the 20th anniversary of Eric’s passing, another batch of tracks were unearthed.  Some are mere filler, some are pretty decent.  Fans of the beloved  drummer will have to sift through the bad to get to the good.

There are a couple Kiss songs here for the diehard fans.  “No One’s Messin’ With You” is yet another demo of what would become “Little Caesar” from Hot in the Shade.  A third called “Ain’t That Peculiar” was released on the 2001 Kiss Box Set.  This is an almost completely different set of lyrics, although it does have the “Hey Little Caesar” chorus.  In chronological terms, this version probably falls between the other two, with lyrics still a work in progress and a different verse melody.  Then there’s “Shandi”, from Eric’s Kiss audition tape, with brand new acoustic backing music.  Unfortunately, Eric’s shaky voice (or a warbly tape) makes this totally unlistenable.

One of Rockology‘s highlights was “Just Can’t Wait” which was crying out for a lead vocal to finish it off.  This was completed by Ted Poley of Danger Danger.  Though the backing track lacks the fidelity of a proper Kiss recording, the song has taken shape as the shoulda-coulda-been hit that it is.  Eric would have been proud and very happy to hear it as a finished song.

The unfinished “Troubles Inside You” is a demo with regular Kiss collaborator and Beatlemania member Mitch Weissman.  It was recorded at Gene Simmons’ house, but the old cassette must have deteriorated pretty badly.  The music is barely audible, though hints of a good song shine through.  Two more Kiss outtakes include the legendary “Dial L For Love” and “Elephant Man”.  These were written for Crazy Nights and Revenge, respectively.  Neither were finished by Carr.  “Dial L For Love” has the bones of a good song with a unique riff.  Eric only managed to finish the lyrics for “Elephant Man”, but here it is given music and life by a group of musicians including the late A.J. Pero of Twisted Sister, and ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello.  Singer Bob Gilmartin did a great job of it, turning “Elephant Man” into a cross between ballad and rocker, and something Kiss totally could have done on Revenge.  “Midnight Stranger” is another unfinished riff.  Ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John was slated to overdub brand new solos for this instrumental, but he too passed before he could finish.  This is the original cassette demo.  The riff sounds like a brother to “Carr Jam”.  They are definitely related.

“Carr Jam 1981” is, unfortunately, not the original unaltered Elder demo.  It is a cover by drummer Joey Cassata, and a very authentic one at that.  Same with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”.  Just a cover, not a demo, by Cassata’s band Z02. Pretty good stuff, at least.  New backing music was recorded for “Eyes of Love”, a song previously released on Rockology.  The Rockology version with Bruce Kulick on guitar is superior.

Finally, some real serious archival treasures:  an Eric Carr drum solo basement tape (same as his live Kiss solo), and a 1967 recording by Eric’s first band The Cellarmen!  That’s Eric on lead vocals too.  It definitely sounds of its time. Added filler include a few interview bits and clips, including one with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin about Eric.

If the first Eric Carr CD release was best left to hardcore fans, it’s doubly true of the second one.  This is a fans-only release, period.  It is highly unlikely anyone else would get much enjoyment from this low-fi set.

2/5 stars

Although Carr’s loss was devastating to both fans and the band, there was no question Kiss would carry on with imminent Revenge….

 

RE-REVIEW: Eric Carr – Rockology (2000)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 41Eric Carr solo #1.

It’s back and picking up right where we left off:  the death of Eric Carr.  The previous chapter of this series was posted November 8 2017, with the intention to talk about Eric Carr’s demos next, before moving on to his replacement.  When Eric died of cancer in 1991, he left behind several tapes of unreleased material that have since been issued on CD.  Likewise, the Kiss Re-Review Series was derailed by Mrs. LeBrain’s cancer diagnosis, but will carry on now that she is well.  Thank you for your patience!

ERIC CARR – Rockology (2000 EMI)

The late  drummer Eric Carr was frustrated towards the end.  He was writing good material, but it was always being rejected by Paul and Gene.  In the press, Eric would tow the company line and explain that everybody else had such good songs, that there was no room for his.  In his heart, he was hurt and felt shunned.

Eric Carr wasn’t just a drummer.  He could sing lead, and he could write.  Kiss’ single “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” was an Eric idea.  He co-wrote “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” with Bryan Adams.  Although his writing credits on Kiss albums were sparse, he had plenty of material in the can.  2000’s Rockology is a series of those demos, some in a near-finished state and some left incomplete.  Much of this material was intended for a cartoon Eric was working on called The Rockheads.  10 years later, Bruce Kulick finished recording some guitar parts and mixed it for release.  He also wrote liner notes explaining the origins and Eric’s intentions for each track.

Eric didn’t have a particularly commercial voice, falling somewhere south of a Gene Simmons growl.  There’s no reason why Gene couldn’t have sung “Eyes of Love” from 1989, which has more balls than a lot of Hot in the Shade.  This demo has Eric on drums and bass, and Bruce Kulick on guitar with a solo overdubbed in 1999.  It doesn’t sound like a finished Kiss song, but it could have been tightened up to become one.  Same with the ballad “Everybody’s Waiting”.  It sounds custom written for Paul Stanley.  But it was 1989, and nothing was going to displace “Forever” from the album, nor should it have.

Many of the demos have no words.  “Heavy Metal Baby” features Eric scatting out a loose melody.  This heavy and chunky riff would have been perfect for the later Revenge album, had Eric lived.  In a strange twist, several of the best songs are instrumentals.  The hidden gem on this CD is the unfinished “Just Can’t Wait”.  It could have given Journey and Bon Jovi a run for their money.   Eric, Bruce and Adam Mitchell wrote it for Crazy Nights, and you can almost hear a killer chorus just waiting to leap out at you.  This potential hit could have been the best song on Crazy Nights, had it been finished.

“Mad Dog” has nothing to do with the Anvil song of the same name.  The chorus is there but the verses are a work in progress.  This hard rocker from 1987 was probably too heavy for what Kiss were doing, though it would have added some much needed groove.  “You Make Me Crazy” is in a similar state of completion and boasts a tap-tastic solo by Bruce.  Apparently this demo was originally called “Van Halen” and you can hear why.  Two versions of a song called “Nightmare” exist, including a really rough one without drums.  This incomplete song could have really been something special.  It has a dramatic feel and different moods, and was probably too sophisticated for Kiss, though any number of 80s rock bands would have been lucky to have such good material.

The last batch of tracks show off the Rockheads material.  Whether Eric’s cartoon idea ever would have happened or not, the advent of bobble-heads and Pops would have made marketing easy.   The songs are virtually complete though the drums are programmed.  “Too Cool For School” is a little cartoony, which is the point, right?  For keyboard ballads, “Tiara” showed promise.  It’s not the equal of “Reason to Live” but it demonstrates a side to Eric unheard before.  Next, Bruce says that they always wanted Bryan Adams to cover “Do You Feel It”.  It would have fit Adams like a nice jean jacket.  Not that Adams really needed the help, it would have been awesome on Waking Up the Neighbors.  The set closes with “Nasty Boys”, nothing exceptional.  It sounds like a song called “Nasty Boys” would sound…or anything by 80s Kiss really.

Before you spend your hard-earned dollars, remember that these songs are definitely unfinished. They are as polished as possible given some of their rough (cassette) origins. Eric’s talent still shines, but you have to be a fan.  Especially a fan of 80s Kiss.  They will find it to be a crucial companion piece to their collections.

Long live the Fox!

Today’s rating:

3/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2014/04/24

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Cool Kids (1983)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 2 in his KIX series

KIX – Cool Kids (1983 Atlantic)

Coming off the heels of their unsuccessful debut album, Kix returned to the studio with new producer Peter Solley to shell out what would be their most polarizing and least rocking album. Cool Kids is the most commercial album that Kix every recorded, pressured by Atlantic to deliver a hit after the failure of the debut to find an audience. This was 1983, just before Pyromania broke through the stratosphere to make melodic hard rock/heavy metal a viable commercial direction. Atlantic still had no idea how to market Kix, and also didn’t know what direction to push them in order to find an audience. For this album, they decided to push them towards the new wave aspects of their sound, forcing them to work with outside writers for the first time.

The production of Cool Kids is much more slick and pop-orientated than the rough and ready production of the debut. It’s obvious that the band was pressured into this direction, as a lot of the time they don’t sound comfortable in their own skin. Signer Steve Whiteman’s voice lacks its usual power and grit on this recording, likely being asked to hold back for the songs by producer Peter Solley. Another notable change to the band’s sound is the presence of new guitar player Brad Divens, temporarily replacing Ronnie “10/10” Younkins. This is the only Kix album to feature Divens, as Younkins rejoined them by their next album Midnight DynamiteCool Kids lacks the fiery and spontaneous edge of Younkins’ playing, and contributes even more to the album feeling sterile.

Despite these flaws, this is still a Kix album. There are still enjoyable moments throughout the record, quite a few actually. They are however, overwhelmed by the material that doesn’t work on this album. Opener “Burning Love” doesn’t introduce the set of tunes with a lot of power. Kix always has energy, but it seems to be counteracted with the sterile production and addition of keyboards. That being said, it’s a perfectly serviceable melodic rock tune, but there’s nothing genuinely exceptional about it. With it’s bouncy keyboards and lazy riff, it doesn’t sound much like Kix. This is one of the tunes that wasn’t written by the band. The title track follows it in a similarly sleek fashion, but is ultimately more enjoyable because it is more guitar-driven, and the band’s natural energy pushes through much more. It was also written by outside writers, but it is a very catchy tune. I’d say it’s a great melodic rock song for the early ‘80s. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound much like Kix either.

After two tracks that fail to encompass the Kix sound, the first band-written track is up with “Love Pollution”. One of the only straight-up rockers on the disc, it’s also one of the best songs on the album. Written by Whiteman and Forsythe, the song burns along with a killer guitar riff and a lot of attitude, and accompanied by piano in the chorus that actually helps the song. A truly killer tune, one that I think represents the direction that this whole album should have gone in. It has a sound similar to that of the genre defying debut, but in a harder rocking vein. You can tell already that Kix wanted to toughen up their sound, though the shiny production doesn’t help that point across.

Next up is the outside penned “Body Talk” which used talk box three years before Bon Jovi, and also has one of the absolute worst music videos of all time. What the hell was the director thinking? Kix playing at what looks like a high school gym with only girls working out doing weird-ass synchronized exercise dances? Yeah, they really dropped the ball with this one. I find it strange that with this promotion Atlantic was confused about why the band weren’t doing well commercially. Luckily for them, Kix were still obscure enough that hardly anyone has ever seen that video. As for the song, it’s an uncharacteristic new wave workout, and a co-lead vocal between Steve Whiteman and drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfont. It’s a catchy pop tune, but it couldn’t be further from the Kix sound. Atlantic definitely missed the mark by making them record this one.

And if you didn’t think they could fall further into Flock of Seagulls territory, we get “Loco-Emotion”, penned by bass player Donnie Purnell. Steve Whiteman gets to play saxophone on this song, and for the verses it’s easily the weirdest Kix song ever. While the chorus contains a get up and go kick in the pants, the verses are just off-putting. Their first album used Devo primarily for what little new wave influence they had, but now they were courting the sound of several shittier new wave bands. Fortunately, from here on out everything was penned by the band, and there is nothing as jarring as this song.

However, a lot of these songs penned by Purnell are strange, and not up to his usual standards. “Mighty Mouth” is a powerful rock tune that gets bogged down by a very awkward and annoying chorus with Whiteman screaming the title. It seems a bit too cheeky for its own good, but is nothing compared to the campy “Nice on Ice” and the absolutely awful “Get Your Monkeys Out”. These songs lean hard on the bubblegum pop equation that was blended so successfully on albums before and after this with hard rock. Here, thanks to the shiny production, they sound cheesy and downright embarrassing. Thankfully, the album is redeemed with the two closing tunes.

Kix break the general rock standard of having the penultimate song be the worst on the album, by having the penultimate song be the best on the album. “For Shame” is an acoustic ballad years before “When the Children Cry”, or “Patience”, or “More than Words”. Beginning to see a trailblazing pattern? Yes, this is a heartfelt ballad that relies more on a nostalgic feeling than a sappy one. It uses the emotion of regret as the basis of the tune, which is an effective emotional connector. Whereas other love ballads seem derivative, this one seems genuine. The lyrics are very simple, but powerful. They detail summertime love that is lost with the passing of the seasons, with the two lovers unable to find each other afterwards Grease style. Thankfully, this song is stripped of the excess production that plagues most of the rest of the album, which keeps it sounding real, unlike other synthetic love tunes of the era. “For Shame” is a fantastic ballad, one that Kix would only surpass with a #11 hit on the Billboard charts (more on that when we get there).

They round the album out with the spiritual brother of “Love Pollution”. The other hard rocking song on the album, it features a writing credit from everyone in the band. It’s a speedy number the glides by ending the album on a high note. “Restless Blood” is an energetic kick in the pants to conclude the record with grace. Cool Kids is arguably the least essential Kixrecord, as it’s sound is the result of the label pressure. For the most part, it doesn’t represent the Kix sound, and a lot of the songs that do represent that sound, don’t get the equation as balanced as on the debut or any of their later albums. Thankfully, Kix would not let us down again. Atlantic finally realized that they had their hands on a hard rock band after this record tanked as bad as the first one. Our heroes would resurface again stronger than ever in 1985 with possibly the greatest album of their career. If this was the stepping stone that made Midnight Dynamite possible, so be it.

2.5/5 stars

 

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Kix (1981)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

KIX – Kix (1981 Atlantic)

Kix: one of the most beloved and influential rock bands of the time that only made it big after years of great albums, legendary live performances, and a work ethic that never failed them. Unfortunately, they only seemed to stay there for the album/tour cycle of their classic Blow My Fuse. While over the years they’ve returned to being more of a cult act than a mainstream rock group, the effect the left on rock culture shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s common knowledge that Bret Michaels liked the group enough that he decided to “borrow” some moves from singer Steve Whiteman. Anthony Corder from Tora Tora called Kix a huge influence on the development of their second album Wild America. Despite all their influence, the band never seemed to secure a position as one of the most popular acts of the day. Bad management, label indifference, and being a little ahead of their time prevented them from becoming the multi-platinum success they deserved to be on every one of their albums.

As far as being ahead of their time, this eponymous debut was released on a major label in 1981, when even Mötley Crüe were still grinding it out on Leathür Records. Kix were one of the first hard rock acts signed from the decade, but were hardly acknowledged for it. This debut album sold very poorly, and original prints are tough finds out in the wild today. 1981 may have been just too early for a release like this to find widespread success. It’s also possible that Atlantic didn’t know how to market the band, as their debut album is an interesting and masterful blend of hard rock, new wave, and bubblegum melodies that sound like they could have come from the 1950s.

Produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard), the album is given a very punchy and dynamic sound. The drums sound big and chunky, and everyone is audible in the mix. Anyone familiar with the Kix of the later ‘80s may find this release a bit jarring at first. There’s a certain quirkiness to the songs that isn’t as prevalent later on in their career. This would be the new wave sensibilities. Not all the guitars are overdriven in a way that you’d expect from a hard rock record. There are a number of songs that glide by with clean guitars, and still manage to rock with a ton of energy thanks to the contributions of drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfont, and the contagious exuberance of singer Steve Whiteman. Of course, not all the record is this style, there are songs where the guitars have plenty of distortion, and they’re power loaded with midnight dynamite force.

The album opens with the scorcher and fan favorite “Atomic Bombs”. Starting with air raid sirens and some tasteful drum fills, the suspense of the song builds as a riff that Poison probably ripped off for “Look What the Cat Dragged In” tethers the song, and keeps it from completely going out of control. The first Kix song about blowing things up (a favorite topic of these Maryland hicks), it sets the tone for the album. It’s a relentless hard rock number with dynamics, and a nice solo that manages to create a feeling of the impending chaos of fallout. Opening with a rocker was a good choice; it gets people’s attention so that they’ll be more open-minded about what’s to come.

“Love at First Sight” is the first of the quirky Kix tunes. It’s a bouncy new wave influenced song, without any keyboards. If the thought of new wave scares you, it really shouldn’t because it’s so skillfully blended with these songs. It’s more Devo than it is Flock of Seagulls, and it shouldn’t turn off anyone even if they don’t enjoy new wave. The song gets a kick in the ass from guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe, as the distortion kicks in and the guitar solo gives the song the kick it needs to succeed. They were never the flashiest or greatest players of the ‘80s, but they were melodically wise, and knew what fit the song.

At this point in the record we get yet another change of pace, the ‘50s heart throb tune “Heartache”. With a bubblegum melody bound to get stuck in your head, that goddamn Kix band gives another change of pace. Rarely do audiences get this much diversity from a record of any genre. Kix would never release another album as eclectic as this one. Bass player Donnie Purnell locks in perfectly with the guitars and drums to give this tune an infectious energy that seems to fuel this entire album. The song builds with the addition of more guitars. The band has mastered dynamics, and knows just how to play them for the benefit of the song. The album is filled with tunes that blend each of these styles, some in which they are blended so seamlessly it’s impossible to pick what style is dominant. Take “The Itch”, the riff and song structure sounds similar to the underrated AC/DC tune “What’s Next to the Moon”. They’ve somehow taken that song structure and turned it on its head. Giving it breezy rock verses that build in intensity until the chorus which delivers another catchy melody complete with claps and gang backing vocals. The blend of styles shown on this album is seriously impressive for such a young group.

In case that wasn’t impressive enough, Kix closes the album with concert favorite “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” (not an Alice Cooper cover). It’s a hard rock tune that lasts seven minutes, featuring the infamous rant from Steve Whiteman, complete with crowd noise. Steve is upset because the woman he’s been seducing has puked all over his floor. That’s a big mistake. Don’t puke on Steve Whiteman’s floor. Go outside and do that. The subject matter is juvenile, but this is rock and roll. It closes the album on a fast tempo upbeat note. Every song on here could be considered upbeat, no ballads, the energy never lets up.

As the album finishes a look at the liner notes reveals that this is the only Kix album in which they weren’t pressured to work with outside writers (at least of the ones on Atlantic). It can be concluded that this album is the purest distillation of the Kix sound. While I like some of their more hard rocking albums later down the line better, this album is interesting because of the fact that it and its much lesser follow up Cool Kids (the only Kix album I’m not overly fond of), contain a new wave style that the band would never return to. It’s interesting hearing the young Kix and what their original vision is. Some people consider this the best Kix album. Not me, but it’s still pretty damn good.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dokken – Return to the East Live (2018 Japanese CD/DVD set)

DOKKEN – Return to the East Live (2018 Frontiers Japan CD/region 2 – DVD set)

Even the most devout Dokken fan must acknowledge that Don is not the be-all and end-all of singers.  A good singer, yes, but never in the top tier.  Now that age has taken its toll (as it always does), Don relies on the backup singing of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and George Lynch to hit those high notes.  The classic Dokken lineup reunited for some shows in Japan, and even recorded a new song to go with it.  Fortunately Dokken were up to the challenge, even with the shortcomings that age creates.

Some of the audience looks too young to have known Dokken when they first rocked Japan back in the 80s, but most are die-hards.  Don himself looks cool as a cucumber, with George and Jeff on either side holding down the fort.  Most importantly it seems they had a good time.  Lynch is simply compelling to watch, as he plays impossible licks while making it look so easy.

There’s no messing around with this setlist.  All classic Dokken, all 80s, no filler.  They focused on what the fans wanted and they delivered.  The band sounded great.  Pilson’s all-important bass is given enough room in the mix to be effective.  Songs like “It’s Not Love”, “The Hunter” and especially “Alone Again” buzz with electricity.  Vocally, with great backup singers like Jeff, the band were able to pull it off.  It’s a high energy reunion show.  It’s just too bad so many people in the audience spent it on their phones.

The DVD and CD tracklists are, strangely, not in the same order.  You can hear some obvious vocal overdubs in places, most notably “Kiss of Death”.  There are some sloppy edits on the video.  Don’s lips don’t always match the words, and there are annoying graphic overlays, but it’s a good show with plenty of closeups.  Jeff Pilson is a dynamo on stage, but Wild Mick has lost nothing over the years either.  He hammers on his kit as if he’s still 25 years old!  There is little interaction between the members on stage, except for Jeff who is all over the place, including the keyboards.  Don grins like a Cheshire cat when George lays down those familiar solos.  He picks up the guitar himself for oldies like “Breakin’ the Chains”.

Both the CD and DVD portion have unique bonus content.  After the main feature, you will find 45 minutes of behind the scenes footage, directed by Don.  Shaky camera work aside, this is fascinating fly-on-the-wall stuff.  Chatterbox Don is full of energy, even when losing his fedora hat. Eagle-eyed Trailer Park Boys fans will recognise road manager Tom Mayhue, their nemesis in the Out of the Park series.  As the band pick apart the set and put it back together again, you get a real sense that they just wanted to get it right but not at the expense of fun.

You will find two exclusive bonus acoustic songs on the CD.  “Heaven Sent” (with congas) and the obscure “Will the Sun Rise” are studio re-recordings, giving both songs a fresh, mellow gleam.  That’s not the main feature, however.  For obvious reasons, the brand new song “It’s Another Day” is the centrepiece, and as such it is presented as the very first track on the disc.  While the live set is undoubtedly a very significant memento for fans, nothing really excites them like a brand new song — their first together as the classic lineup two decades.  And it’s a solid B+.  Grooving with a head of steam, “It’s Another Day” is very reminiscent of the excellent and underrated Dysfunctional album from 1995.

The Japanese bonus track this time is the early Dokken classic “Paris is Burning” live, which is also on the DVD but not the standard CD or download versions. Don’t you hate when a track is missing that is only on the DVD? Sure you do.

Jeff Pilson says that he wanted Dokken to end (if this is the end) on an up note.  “Just a really positive  exclamation point to a great career.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

4/5 stars