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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 43

 – Revenge (1992 Polygram)

The first three-year gap between Kiss albums.  The first Kiss record produced by Bob Ezrin since 1981.  The first shared Simmons/Stanley lead vocal in ages.  The first lineup change since 1984.  And saddest of all, Kiss’ first album without Eric Carr since 1980.  Revenge was a shakeup for fans and band alike.

The pendulum of rock had swung back to “heavy”, with Metallica scorching the charts and grunge pummelling everyone else with new sounds.  It was obvious that Kiss had to go heavier, too.  In 1992, most rock bands had to sink or swim.  In order to swim, bands tended to heavy things up.  A lot of the time they called it “going back to the roots”.

Kiss began making tentative steps back that way.  Hot in the Shade (1989) toned down a lot of the keyboards and 80s trappings.  On tour, they played more old material like “Dr. Love”, “God of Thunder”, and “I Was Made for Loving You”.  Then, as an experiment, they got back together with Bob Ezrin for a song from a movie soundtrack.  Everyone was writing, even the sick Eric Carr.  The initial plan was to have Eric play on half the new album, so he could have time to recover from his cancer surgery.  The drummer from Paul Stanley’s solo tour, Eric Singer, was available to play on the other half.  Singer was on tour with Alice Cooper during the summer of 1991, but would be home soon enough.  Then, on November 24, Eric Carr passed.

The most obvious choice to replace Carr was Eric Singer.  He was already working with the band, he knew the songs, and he was a fan.  Bruce Kulick found him inspiring to have around, as Singer loved his guitar work.  In fact the only thing about Eric Singer that didn’t fit was his hair colour!

The energetic new drummer was a godsend.  With albums to his name by Black Sabbath and Badlands, Kiss couldn’t have asked for a more technically adept player.  He could hit hard (though Eric Carr takes the belt in that regard) and he could authentically do any era of Kiss.  Be it the early, slippery Peter Criss material or the heavy metal of Eric Carr, Singer had it all covered.  And he could sing!  Though we wouldn’t get there quite yet.

It was the heavy metal side that was most immediately apparent.  The first track and first video from Revenge was “Unholy”, something very unlike anything Kiss had done before.  And it came about in a most peculiar way.  Enter:  Vinnie Vincent.

Those who say “Vinnie saved Kiss” will point to “Unholy” as one such song that saved Kiss.  After years of estrangement (and preceding even more), Vinnie came out to write with Gene and Paul.  “Unholy” was one of three songs he contributed.

With a fury unlike any before, Gene Simmons and company swirl in rage on “Unholy”.  The closest they got to this kind of heavy before would be Creatures, but there’s something just pissed off about it that wasn’t there before.  With a concrete riff and angry slabs of drum tribalism, Kiss announced their return loudly.  Not to be outdone, soloist Bruce Kulick laid down his noisiest guitar assault yet.  There isn’t an ounce of fluff to “Unholy”.

Thanks to Bob Ezrin, Revenge is Kiss’ best sounding album since Lick It Up or Creatures.  It’s no Destroyer, and it’s no Elder.  This time they cut the extras down to the bone, leaving the four Kiss guys to rock it themselves.  Err, mostly themselves.  That’s Kevin Valentine on drums for the second song, “Take It Off”.  Strange that Kiss continued to have ghost musicians on albums when they clearly didn’t need to.  An ode to strippers, “Take It Off” is lyrically juvenile, but gleams like stainless steel.  Paul Stanley wrote it with Ezrin and ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts, and it could have been used as a single had Revenge needed another.  A dirty, dirty single.

Paul, Bruce and Ezrin composed “Tough Love” with a slower, chunky riff.  Kulick’s solo is remarkable, but it’s also just nice hearing Paul do a sex song that has some balls.  There is no “X” in this sex, although there’s a little BDSM for the 50 Shades crowd.  Then, teaming up with Gene, they do their first co-write and co-lead vocals together in the first time in a dog’s age.  “Spit” is old school fun with a modern heavy edge.  Bruce pays homage to Jimi Hendrix in his complex guitar solo, a composition all to itself.  Eric Singer gets to throw down tricky beats and fills, making “Spit” one of the most deceptively clever songs Kiss has done.

“God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” was released as a single the year before.  It was the experiment with Ezrin that kicked off Revenge in the first place.  It was the only song that Eric Carr was alive for, and you can clearly hear him on backing vocals.  Singer handled the drums, though Carr did it in the music video.  The album mix is different from the single or soundtrack, in order to better suit the sonics of Revenge as its sole anthem.

Gene tells a story about a girl who “kisses like the kiss of death” to end side one.  “Domino” hearkens back to early Kiss, with a sparse arrangement and Gene playing rhythm guitar instead of Paul.  This greasy rocker just screams “Kiss”.  There is nobody else with songs like “Domino”.  It was the third single from Revenge, sporting a nifty video with Gene cruising around in a convertible while Kiss plays as a trio!  Paul Stanley: bass guitar.

“Heart of Chrome”, the second Vinnie Vincent collaboration, rocks with attitude.  Once again, anger seems to be the emotion of the day.  The 90s-look Kiss could deliver anger in spades.  Then Gene takes the mantle on “Thou Shalt Not”.

He said “kindly reconsider the sins of your past,”
I said “Mister you can kindly kiss my ass.”

These are not songs for the Kiss hits mix tape you’re making for your roadtrip.  These are songs to be experienced in context of the album, where they deliver mighty riffs and enough hooks for the long-player.  “Thou Shalt Not” has another one of those Kulick solos that could be a study in string manipulation, and Singer just keeps it kicking the whole way through.

You could choose from two schools of thought regarding “Every Time I Look at You”.  As the album’s only true ballad, some see it as a mistake on a record as heavy as Revenge.  Others see it as a reprieve from a fairly relentless onslaught.  Indeed, it does sound as if from another album.  With a string section, Ezrin on piano, and Dick Wagner on ghost guitar, one could even argue that it’s an album highlight.  A little re-sequencing though, and you probably wouldn’t even miss it.

Gene makes it heavy again on “Paralyzed”, not an outstanding track but a little funkier than usual.  “I Just Wanna” is far more entertaining, though it is a shameless and obvious rip-off from “Summertime Blues”.  It was chosen as the second single, and lo and behold, it’s the third Vinnie Vincent song too.  “I Just Wanna” is immediately catchy and memorable for days.  Probably because you already knew it as “Summertime Blues”.

As a touching surprise, Revenge ends on an instrumental called “Carr Jam 1981”.  Bob Ezrin dug up an old demo from The Elder with a hot riff and a complete drum solo.  It had been bootlegged before, notably on Demos 1981-1983, but not with very good sound.  Ace Frehley even recorded it as “Breakout” on his second solo album.  Ezrin cleaned up the original demo for Revenge, edited it for length, and overdubbed Bruce on lead guitar.  “Carr Jam” has become Eric’s signature drum solo.  Placing it here at the end of Revenge was not only poignant but also just great sequencing.

Album in hand, now it was time to tour.  Kiss would start with a short run in the clubs.  More on that next time.

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/10

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Intermission: Mail Call!

The mailman has been busy this last week or so.  Just look at the goodies!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” Record Store Day single

DEF LEPPARD – Live at Abbey Road Studios 12″ Record Store Day EP

RAINBOW – Memories in Rock II Japanese CD – 2 bonus tracks

STRYPER – God Damn Evil Japanese CD – bonus track

STEPH HONDE – Covering the Monsters 

DALE SHERMAN – Mel Brooks FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Outrageous Genius of Comedy books – one for me, one for my dad’s 80th birthday!  SHHH don’t tell.  He doesn’t read this!

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Dale Sherman – The KISS FAQ

I’ve had numerous requests for some rock book reviews.  So let’s start with a new release:  Dale Sherman’s The KISS FAQ!

DALE SHERMAN – The KISS FAQ – All that’s left to know about the hottest band in the land (2012 Backbeat Books)

Dale Sherman’s written two of the best unofficial Kiss books:  Black Diamond, and Black Diamond 2.  Both are noted for their almost OCD level accuracy, objectivity, attention to detail, and ample Eric Carr content.  Sherman was lucky enough to get some really excellent Eric Carr interviews, and his perspective is one that isn’t often reflected in Kiss written works today.

A new book from Sherman was very welcome to this fan.  According to the author, this book is about “the various topics that fans discuss at the hotel bar after a Kiss expo,” and that about covers it!  The minutaie.  The tall tales, myths and truths.  The who-played-what-when.  Lists, lists, and lists.  The albums, the personalities, and the personas.

There are also some nice black and white pictures of memorabilia and artifacts from the author’s collection.  The author seems to have a large collection, so there are plenty of pictures to leaf through.  Colour would have been nice, but then I wouldn’t be paying $22.99 for the book, would I?

Don’t expect writing with a lot of flare, but do expect encyclopedic knowledge.  My one beef is this.  I’ve already read Black Diamond and Black Diamond 2 numerous times, and there’s quite a bit of overlap between those and The KISS FAQ.  It’s not the same text, but the subject matter overlaps.  The compensation for this is that The KISS FAQ is up to date, where Black Diamond and Black Diamond 2 were both circa the reunion era.

As a Kiss fan who likes to pretend I already know it all, I enjoyed this book.  It was like a refresher course in Kiss.  There’s lots of obscure facts I’d forgotten about.  It was a helpful reference when I did my recent series of Kiss album reviews.  Recommended.

3.9/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)

Redemption! Part 30 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

I still love this video.

KISS – Revenge (1992)

The death of Eric Carr at age 41 was a terrible tragedy.  A guy who lived a healthy lifestyle, struck down by cancer, at the peak of his talents.

The initial concept of having Eric Carr play on half of Revenge and Eric Singer the other half was shelved.  Carr was simply too sick, something he had a hard time accepting, according to Dale Sherman in his excellent Carr-centric book Black Diamond.  When Eric Carr passed, bringing Singer into the fold was a natural step.  Singer had already worked with Paul Stanley on his 1989 solo tour.

Eric Carr did manage to record background vocals to the preview single, “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II”, before passing in November 1991.

Kiss felt like they had something to prove on Revenge.  After a series of poppy albums and lacklustre tours, they found their roots again.  In addition producer Pop Ezrin challenged Bruce Kulick to better himself and make his soloing more aggressive. As a hard-fought result, Kulick’s guitar had never sounded better. It is mean, aggressive, like blood splattering on the railroad tracks. Wah-wah pedals and effects came to the forefront and it completely suited the music that Kiss had written.

“Unholy”, the first song and first single, was also the first Gene Simmons lead vocal in a Kiss single since “I Love It Loud”. It sounds like the demonic half-brother to “War Machine” from Creatures Of The Night. Indeed, if Revenge would be compared to any previous Kiss album it should probably be Creatures.

“I Just Wanna” was the second single, a Paul song. Sadly it is quite a transparent rewrite of “Summertime Blues”. It also has a silly chorus: “I just wanna fuh-, I just wanna fuh-, I just wanna forget you.” Despite this it’s also one of the catchiest tunes on the album, and quite irrestible despite its flaws.

Third single, “Domino”, was another Gene track, this one the most vintage-KISS of them all. It is a basic stripped down groovy rock track with Gene singing about a girl named Domino who “got me by the balls”. The video was quite unique in that it featured Kiss playing as a trio, Paul on bass, while Gene was out cruising in his car. Bruce’s soloing here is really good.

Fourth and final single from the album was “Every Time I Look At You” featuring Bob Ezrin on piano. It’s another power ballad, along the lines of “Forever” or the later “I Finally Found My Way”. Sadly in the era of grunge it was quickly forgotten, but aside from a very nice version with strings from MTV Unplugged it is largely forgettable anyway.  Inferior to “Forever” despite the superior production values.

The rest of the tracks include “Take It Off”, Paul’s tribute to strippers everywhere, and very similar in style and tone to “I Just Wanna”. Paul’s “Tough Love” channels S&M, a bit and is a very cool heavier rock track with some great Bruce solos. “Spit” is quite possibly the album’s best song, and the most fun.  Paul even quotes Spinal Tap:  “The bigger the cushion, the better the pushin'”. Its vocals are split between Gene and Paul, a rarity in later Kiss. Bruce’s solo here is awesome. His technique is stunning, the solo is both amusing and jaw-dropping.

“Side 1” of the album ended with a remix of “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II”, previously released on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.  Not really an outstanding song, it’s a semi-cover of an old Argent song and again features Gene and Paul splitting the lead vocals.

“Side 2” kicks off with the Vinnie Vincent-penned “Heart of Chrome”, one of Paul’s coolest titles and another outstanding track, somewhat similar to “Tough Love”. Gene’s “Thou Shalt Not” covers similar lyrical territory as “Cadillac Dreams” from the last album, but is a much better song.  It is very catchy and has some cool licks on guitar. “Paralyzed” is another Gene track, only this time the verses are cooler than the chorus. There’s also a nifty spoken word bit in the middle as only Gene can do, kind of funky.

The album ends with “Carr Jam 1981”, an Eric song which had circulated in collector’s circles for a long time, except with Ace Frehley on lead guitar. It was recorded by Ezrin during The Elder sessions which yielded a ton of unused song ideas. Ace Frehley decided to use it himself in 1987 as “Breakout”, on the Frehley’s Comet album. This version however replaces Ace’s guitar with Bruce Kulick’s.  Eric Carr plays the only drum solo he ever recorded in the studio.  It is a very fitting tribute to the man who helped Kiss get through some very tough times, and didn’t live long enough to play drums on this fantastic album.

Some fans heard the heavier sound on this CD and accused Kiss of selling out to grunge. Not so; the album was released in early 1992 and was written before grunge took hold. Music was naturally moving in a heavier direction at the time, and Kiss were part of that.  Kiss’ recent evolution had shown that Revenge was the only possible next step.

Well, other than a reunion.  And Revenge would prove to be the last studio album released (though not recorded!) before the long-awaited return of the original Kiss.

4.5/5 stars