eddie kramer

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Alive III (1993)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 44

 – Alive III (1993 Polygram)

A brief club tour warmed ’em up.  The full arena tour put Kiss back on the big stage, this time with a huge statue of liberty in addition to the Kiss sign.  As the show went on, the statue crumbled to reveal a skulled figure…giving the finger.  Not everybody got that.  The tour suffered from very poor attendance in the United States, partly blamed on grunge, and partly blamed on a late start (October).

Regardless, it was clearly time for Kiss Alive III.  There was early talk of Alive III back in 1986, set to follow the next studio album.  That never materialised, and some would argue rightfully so.  Kids of the 80s generation already had their own Alive III:  It was called Animalize Live Uncensored, and with the benefit of hindsight, it easily could and should have been the official Alive III.

The real Kiss Alive III was issued in 1993, produced once again by Eddie Kramer, and in the sacred tradition of all Kiss Alives….was heavily overdubbed in the studio.  It is the only Kiss Alive from the non-makeup era, and therefore the only Alive with the lineup of Stanely, Simmons, Kulick and Singer…and Derek Sherinian on ghost keyboards.  He followed Eric Singer over from the Alice Cooper group.

Although there is some overlap with Kiss Alive and Alive II, the third instalment is largely made of newer material, like opener “Creatures of the Night”.  Some fans were upset that “Detroit Rock City” was moved to the end of the set, but a shakeup on a Kiss setlist is usually a good thing.  Opening with “Creatures” was fresh and set the scene firmly back to the heavy sound of 1982, which really seemed to be what Kiss were trying to re-create.

Gene takes over on “Deuce” (1st repeat – Kiss Alive) and for the first time in years it seemed like Gene didn’t look and act goofy on stage.  Give credit to the beard.  It finally gave Gene an image he could work with.  Meanwhile on stage right, Kulick nails a vintage Kiss guitar sound, but without losing his technical advantages.  Another first:  Kulick finally sounded at home playing Ace Frehley guitar solos.  His revamped greasy rock solos fit love a glove.

But wow, does that crowd noise ever sound fake, and fans say that Paul’s stage raps were recorded later, because they’re not from Detroit, Cleveland or Indianapolis where the album was recorded.  “I Just Wanna” is the first Revenge track, but it sounds sterile like a studio version with glistening backing vocals.  It’s also too early in the album to stop the song for a singalong (and a bad singalong at that).  That’s followed by a fairly flat “Unholy” which, Kiss were discovering, didn’t work as well on stage.  Paul’s “Woo-woo” intro to “Heaven’s On Fire” sounds very dubbed, but the track smokes hotter than it did on prior tours.  You can hear Eric Singer clearly on backing vocals, adding a bit of sweetener to the mix.

“Watchin’ You” came as a surprise, an oldie from Hotter Than Hell (and 2nd repeat – Kiss Alive).  With Eric Singer on drums, they captured the jazzy Peter Criss drum vibe once again, but this time with more power and precision.  This is as close as it ever got to original Kiss.  Some would say it’s even better than original Kiss, but that would just be stating a preference.

Back to Revenge, “Domino” is the first song to really click live.  That’s probably because it was always close to that vintage Kiss vibe.  Another surprise is rolled out:  “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” from 1979’s Dynasty, but Wikipedia says this version was recorded at soundcheck.  Whatever the case may be, it’s not as purely heavy as the one on bootleg Unholy Kisses but it’s still good to have it on an Alive.  A set highlight is “I Still Love You” from Creatures, a real chance for Paul to sing.  In 1992 and 1993, Paul was arguably at his vocal peak strength.

They chose an interesting slot for “Rock and Roll all Nite”:  the first track on side two (original cassette version, side three for LP)!  Again, some fans loudly stated a preference for “Rock and Roll all Nite” (3rd repeat – Kiss Alive) as a closer, but it’s stale no matter where it sits.  It’s followed by 80s classic “Lick It Up”, a good song but always a little sparse in the live setting.  Don’t forget the overplayed “I Love It Loud” which was chosen as the only Alive III single.

“Forever” is a little surprising by its inclusion in the setlist that.  A good ballad, yes:  but was a ballad necessary?  It must have been because according to Paul “Every time we play this one, the place lights up like a damn Christmas tree.”  Also true:  Paul’s stage raps are not at all memorable this time out.  A great example is “Detroit Rock City”, although that may also just be that “Detroit” doesn’t belong near the end of an album (4th repeat – Kiss Alive II).

There was a Japanese/vinyl bonus track, finally available on wider release within the Alive! 1975–2000 box set:  “Take It Off”.  This is the one where the strippers came up on stage; yes indeed, a calculated move to shed Kiss’ kiddie image in the 1990s.  As a live song, it’s way better than  “I Just Wanna”.

Kiss closed the show with the complex anthem “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” followed by an actual anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” as a Bruce Kulick guitar showcase.  This works surprisingly well to wrap up a Kiss Alive that is very different from the other Alives.  Turn it up and hear the bombs bursting in air!

Where does Kiss Alive III sit today among the Alives?  It’s not the worst Alive, but we’ll get there.  Think of it like a movie.  Superman was amazing, and nobody expected Superman II to be as good as Superman.  But it was good enough to make a Superman III which wasn’t as good as I or II.  In reality, Superman III was a total bed-shit, but Alive III is not.  For its flaws, it is a pretty good live album.  There were a lot of live albums out in 1993 for Kiss to compete with:  Iron Maiden (two singles), Ozzy (a double), Van Halen (a double) and Metallica (a triple CD and triple VHS monstrosity).  Alive III is better than most of them (you figure out which).  Kiss were only modestly asking you to part with a single CD’s worth of money, and if you bought it at certain stores you’d get an Alive III poster while supplies lasted.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

Alive III finally behind them, Kiss were still not ready to record their next studio album.  For better or for worse, the post-Alive III era was a complicated, scattershot period with a few interesting releases to cover.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/11

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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Ace Frehley (1978 solo album)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 14:  

 Ace Frehley (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Of the four members of Kiss, Ace Frehley felt he had the most to prove on his solo album.  He’d only had two lead vocals with Kiss, and usually only contributed a couple songs to each album.  Could he write and sing an entire solo album?  Some in the Kiss camp had their doubts.

Ace regrouped with his favourite Kiss producer, Eddie Kramer, and crucially got a newcomer named Anton Fig to play drums.  Anton, from South Africa, has a long and fruitful career but a huge chunk of it was with Ace, and it started right here.  Ace Frehley played almost everything else himself.  Will Lee (Anton’s future bandmate on the Late Night with David Letterman show) played bass on three tracks.  Ace also wrote the majority of the songs by himself, proving he wasn’t reliant on Gene and Paul.

“Rip It Out” is one of the great Ace album openers.  He used it to open his Frehley’s Comet shows in the 1980s, and on album, it really sets the right scene.  Ace was singing great, but more importantly, he had a chance to really let his guitars shine.   Listen to the main riff — you can clearly hear an acoustic guitar mixed in with the electrics.  In Kiss, Ace’s job was to solo and complement the rhythm guitars.  Now Ace could play with multi-layered guitars and effects.  “Rip It Out” really sounds like a statement of intent.  Listen very carefully to the number of guitar parts happening in the mix, from slides and squeals to solos.

Ace has a knack for a pop melody, and “Speeding Back to My Baby” has that side to it.  It’s pop rock complete with female backing vocals, but with serious crunch.  Frehley is the master of guitar crunch, so even when we call a song “pop”, it really rocks.  Check out Frehley’s partly backwards stoppy-starty guitar solo too.

The heavy side of Ace is explored on “Snow Blind”, a mean rocker with a nasty riff.  The solo section is to die for.  “Ozone” too is heavy, and possibly better known as a cover by the Foo Fighters.  There weren’t any questions about the subject matter:  “I’m the kind of guy who likes feelin’ high,” sings Ace in the opening line.  Gene would not have approved, but note the combined use of electrics and acoustics once again.

Ace ended the first side with another triumphant pop rocker:  “What’s On Your Mind”.  It is tracks like this that helped Ace’s solo album become a clear fan favourite.  The guitar riff has punch, but when doubled with acoustics, it rings like a bell.  From brilliant guitar licks to the unforgettable melody, Ace nailed it with “What’s On Your Mind”. It also bookends the first side very well with “Rip It Out”.

The big hit, still getting radio play today, was the Russ Ballard cover “New York Groove”.  Ballard originally gave his demo to the band Hello, but it was Ace that made it an important song.  Ace took the words (written by an Englishman!) and adapted his persona to them.  His lovable rough and tumble New York personality fit the song to a “T”.  It’s a bit cheesy, but Ace can take cheesy and make it cool.  The stompy beat was created using studio experimentation, Eddie Kramer the mad genius who would record anything and everything to get just the right sound.

A pair of rock tracks, “I’m In Need of Love” and “Wiped Out”, fill the middle of side two.  Ace’s echoey guitar slides on “I’m In Need of Love” deliver the prime hooks.  It’s an excellent example of what Ace can do with an electric guitar.  Meanwhile, “Wiped Out” is like a sequel to the surf rock classic “Wipe Out”, and not Ace’s last foray into surf rock either.  His intricate picking here would cause a lesser player’s fingers to fall off.  Check out that wacka-ja-wacka stuff too, funky and cool.

Ace saved the most impressive track for the last, and the first in his so-called Fractured Quadrilogy:  “Fractured Mirror”.  This instrumental features shimmering six and twelve strings working in tandem.  Ace and producer Eddie Kramer went to great lengths to get the guitar sounds on this song.  One technique included playing the figure on a doubleneck guitar, but only using the pickups on the open-tuned second neck.  The pickups to the neck that Ace was actually playing on were turned off.  Once overdubbed, this gave the guitars a bell-like chime, and fans spent years trying to figure out just how Ace did it.  Now you know.

This album was a turning point for Ace.  It gave him confidence.  It ushered in a slew of Ace Frehley lead vocals in Kiss.  And eventually, it set him up for his departure, as nothing he did in Kiss was as artistically freeing as his first solo album.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/19

 

 

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Double Platinum (1978)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 12:  

kiss-logoDouble Platinum (1978 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

As 1977 turned into 1978, Kiss were buying mansions, and buying time.

Their next big project was a rock and roll first.  Four solo albums, all under the Kiss banner, simultaneously.  It had never been done before.  As each of the four members toiled separately on their albums, Casablanca Records and Sean Delaney put together the next Kiss package:  Double Platinum was intended to keep the band on the charts in the meantime.

The first Kiss “greatest hits” album is the most legendary.  Sparing no expense, the two records were housed in a brilliant gatefold sleeve, embossed in shiny silver foil.  Kiss made their hits package really look like one, and the 20 included songs meant fans would get a cross section of hit material from all six Kiss studio albums.

Therein lay the challenge.  Kiss studio albums were, at best, uneven sounding.  Their early work was marred by studio inadequacies.  Producer Delaney chose to remix (with Mike Stone) a number of the old Kiss tracks, in an attempt to bring everything up to the level of DestroyerDestroyer was considered the benchmark, the best sounding Kiss album.  Using it as the high water mark, Delaney and Stone attempted to bring the rest of the material to that level.  Remixed were “Firehouse”, “Deuce”, “100,000 Years”, “Detroit Rock City”, “She”, “C’mon And Love Me”, “Hard Luck Woman”, “Calling Dr. Love”, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll” and “Black Diamond.”

Most casual buyers don’t want remixes when they buy a hits package, but many won’t even be able to tell the difference.  Some are more obvious.  “Hard Luck Woman” has a longer acoustic section.  “She” now has the “Rock Bottom” intro.  “Black Diamond” is rearranged so that it ends where it begins and repeats to fade.  By and large, these remixes are not obtrusive.  They enable a great song flow.

And what songs!  “Detroit”, “Beth”, “Deuce”, “Hotter Than Hell”, “Cold Gin”, “Firehouse”, “Makin’ Love” and more, with very few important exclusions.  The only track that earns scorn from many is “Strutter ‘78”, a re-recording done especially for Double Platinum.  It was done up with a late-70s production featuring compression and shakers.  The “disco era” was on the horizon.  Today, Gene Simmons questions why the re-recording was made.  To sell records, is the answer.

Double Platinum is the album to buy instead of Alive! if you would like to start your Kiss collection with a broad sampling of studio classics.  It’s still an enjoyable front to back listen for anyone.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/14
Review of foil embossed CD reissue:  2012/11/22

Official apology to Robert V Conte

In my November 2012 review I called the CD liner notes by Conte “shitty” and then added a snarky “Who?”  I knew who he was (I own lots of books with his name inside) and I didn’t need to be bitchy.  His liner notes to the 1997 remastered editions are what they are, and what he was paid to do.  Robert, I hope you accept this apology for what was a dumb comment on my part.

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Alive II (1977)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 10:  

kiss-logoAlive II (1977 Casablanca, 2006 remastered edition from Alive! 1975-2000)

Kiss in 1977 were a band of four different personalities, and those personalities were beginning to drift apart. There was talk of allowing members some time to do solo albums and blow off some steam. There was a Kiss movie happening (Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park), not to mention Love Gun and its accompanying tour.  Kiss Alive! was the album that made them a household name, so why not try to buy some time with another live release?  The band had amassed three more studio albums in the interim.

Eddie Kramer was hired once again to recapture the magic.  Shows (and soundchecks) in L.A. were recorded, and older tapes from a pre-Love Gun Japanese tour were dusted off.  They had lots of material to work with, and so it was decided that Alive II would have no crossover with tracks from Alive!, a value-conscious move that  fans appreciated.  They were still short enough songs to make a full double live, so studio time was booked at Electric Lady to record new songs too.  As with the previous Alive, much fixing and re-recording was done to the live tracks.  Some of the soundchecks were used with audience noise overdubbed.  Two songs (“Hard Luck Woman” and “Tomorrow and Tonight”) were actually re-recorded completely.  Knowing now what we didn’t know then, this certainly explains why Alive II sounds more sterile than the first, and why you can hear Paul Stanley singing backup vocals to his own lead vocals.

Alive II has always been viewed as sort of a poorer cousin to Alive!  It’s hard to blame the studio tampering, because Alive! was done the same.  For whatever reasons, it’s a lot more noticeable on Alive II, although not to the point of distraction.  Alive II simply does not have the same oomph, the same fire bleeding through.  Even with tracks like “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”, it’s hard to compete with Alive! for sheer ferocity.

As is their penchant, some songs like “God of Thunder” are much faster live.  “God of Thunder” could be the heaviest version of that track on tape.  “Ladies Room” and “Dr. Love” are also faster and harder.  “Makin’ Love” blows away the album version, and “I Want You” comes close.  Ace Frehley’s vocal slot on “Shock Me” is a welcome treat and obvious highlight, featuring Ace’s big solo spot.  As for Peter Criss, “Hard Luck Woman” is a nice electric version, but “Beth” underwhelms.  Singing “Beth” to backing tapes is a “who cares” moment anyway, but Peter doesn’t nail it either.

The real point of interest on Alive II is side four, the studio side, for two reasons.  One is that it’s a surprisingly strong side even though only one of these songs has gone on to be a classic today.  Paul Stanley has dismissed these tracks as schlock, but fans don’t always agree.  The second is that Kiss’ internal problems had come to a head, and once again members were secretly replaced on recordings by outsiders.

Ace Frehley wasn’t around, except to record his own song (“Rocket Ride”), which has become a second-tier Kiss classic.  Maybe to spite Kiss, he played all the bass and guitars on it.  Ace’s track is immediate, Kiss-like and perfect for his persona.  With Peter Criss in the pocket, Ace lays down some seriously wild effects-laden six-string magic.  But that was it.  Ace was focussed on his forthcoming solo album.  The wheels were already in motion and songs were being written.   To keep things from falling apart and maintain a facade of unity, Kiss decided that all four of them would release solo albums, unified, under the Kiss banner.

Meanwhile, Paul and Gene came up with a few tracks for side four.   Replacing Ace Frehley on lead guitar was the man who he nudged out of the job in the first place — Bob Kulick.  Paul and Bob had maintained a friendship in New York ever since his 1973 Kiss audition.  Bob was asked to come in on the sly and record uncredited.  His task was to play like Ace would have done it, a difficult task.  “Ace wouldn’t play that note”, someone would say from the control booth as Bob struggled to come up with the enigmatic “right” vibe.  But he did it, and now that we know the truth, fans hold Bob’s work in high esteem.

Paul Stanley’s “All American Man” (Stanley/Sean Delaney) has the goods:  a signature guitar hook, a memorable chorus and a killer solo that we only know now was actually Bob.  “All American Man” is a natural extension of where Kiss were headed with Love Gun.  Gene had the next two tracks, “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.” and “Larger Than Life”.  “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.” sounds like Gene writing his own “Ballad of John and Yoko”, but a hard rock version.  As for “Larger Than Life”, you can guess what body part Gene’s talking about.  “Larger Than Life” works because of the combination of Gene’s “monster plod” riff with Bob’s sweet guitar lightning.  Finally a cover of the Dave Clark Five hit “Any Way You Want It” closes Alive II, quick and catchy.  Kiss have a way of adapting their blocky rock style to covers and making it work.  Suddenly the Dave Clark Five sound like Kiss, rather than vice-versa.

Alive II arrived in stores on October 14 1977, exactly two weeks ahead of the much-hyped movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.  There are some who would consider this the end of the beginning.  But Kiss weren’t done releasing albums before the big solo projects came to fruition.  We know today that making Alive II was a financial move rather than an artistic one, but the reality is it was conceived as a product.  At least it was a quality product.  As usual, Kiss and Casablanca rewarded fans with goodies inside the original LP.  It had a gatefold cover, a booklet entitled “The Evolution of Kiss”, and temporary tattoos.  Good luck finding those intact.  Our recommended edition:  The four disc 2006 box set Alive! 1975-2000.  The set contains four volumes of Kiss Alive, deliciously remastered, with each album fit onto a single CD without losing any songs.  There’s even a bonus track:  the single edit of “Rock and Roll all Nite”, from the original Kiss Alive!  This 3:23 version is from the 7″ single, edited down from the 3:59 Alive! album version.  It was the first CD release of that version.

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Alive II is an album that for me, gets kinda lost in the shuffle amidst the Kiss discography.  Not because it’s not a good live album, but more that it’s very much Alive-lite.  There are definite highlights on this record of course, but it doesn’t pack the consistent hit-parade punch as the first “live” record.  I also have never really understood why side four was all studio tracks.   Kiss did get a minor hit out of “Rocket Ride” though, a pretty good Ace tune here, and a sign of things to come with an Ace song on the charts.  The other studio tracks feature some good guitar work, but not memorable overall.  If Kiss has played any of these songs live at all I would be surprised, but I’m sure LeBrain will have some Turkish B-side thingy that will prove me wrong.  [I don’t. – LeBrain]

I was wond’ring aloud (purposeful and cheap Tull shout-out there) earlier about the whereabouts of a good “God of Thunder” cover in an earlier review, but perhaps that cover is right here.  Kiss plays it live here in double time and I like the feel of it.  “Shock Me” shines on this album.  So do a few other Kiss classics.  I just see a few unnecessary garnishes on this plate.

Favorite Tracks:  “Shock Me”, “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “God of Thunder”, “I Stole Your Love”

 Forgettable Tracks:    Side four


 

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/12

 

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Love Gun (1977)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 9:  

LOVE GUN DELUXE_0002kiss-logo – Love Gun (1977 Casablanca, 2014 Universal reissue)

By the late 1970s, Kiss had achieved more than most bands do in an entire career.  In 1977, Marvel comics released the first ever Kiss comic.  Famously, as a publicity stunt, each Kiss member had a vial of blood drawn, and poured into the red ink.  “Printed in real KISS blood”  proclaimed the front cover.  Can you imagine such a thing in 2017?  In 1978, the toy company Mego marketed the first set of Kiss action figures.  The phenomenon of Kiss was almost eclipsing the music.  Perhaps it would have completely, if Kiss didn’t continue to release excellent albums on a biannual basis.  Their first album of 1977 was the legendary Love Gun.  Even the Ken Kelly cover art depicts Kiss as demi-gods of some kind.  Inside, the merchandising spilled over to the album.  Kiss were determined to give their fans a little extra, and so the album was packed with little cardboard “love guns” that you could assemble yourself…accompanied by a Kiss merch mail-away form.

 

The music brightly outshone all the flash and trimmings.  Again with Eddie Kramer in the producer’s chair, Kiss sought to make a focused heavy rock record.  Their material had rarely been stronger.  Paul Stanley was becoming handy at writing opening tracks that defined what an album was going to sound like.  “I Stole Your Love” cranked it fast with one of Paul’s most thunderous riffs.  The tribal sounding drums by Peter Criss are an apt example of what made him great at the time.  Criss was not a technical drummer, but he had the right feel and a knack for the perfect fill.  Ace Frehley soars in and dive bombs with an unforgettable lightning solo.  Gene Simmons is there in the back, adding the thump.  “I Stole Your Love” in a mere three minutes encapsulates everything about Love Gun that makes it great.

Gene Simmons’ demon character had another side; that of the “creepy old man”.  “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age, but when I saw you coming out of school that day, that day I knew…I knew!…I’ve got to have you, I’ve got to have you!”  Probably from the perspective of a highschool senior, but still, it came from Gene’s mouth.  The less said about the words the better, for “Christine Sixteen” is one of Gene’s most perfect musical moments.  Eddie Kramer provides the piano for a vintage rock and roll sound.  A Kiss classic it is, and Peter once again has the perfect fills for the song.

 

Moving on to “Got Love For Sale”, the lecherous Simmons now “has love, will travel”.  Uptempo sleeze is perfect for Kiss’ friendly demon, but Frehley is the real star here.  Speaking of whom, the Space Ace finally worked up the courage to sing his first lead vocal on his trademark Kiss song “Shock Me”.  On the prior tour, Ace nearly electrocuted himself on stage when he touched a railing that wasn’t grounded properly.  “Shock Me” is a humorous reference to this.  Any Frehley track has a unique flavour.  He attacks his Gibson and assembles chords and riffs in a style all his own.  “Shock Me” showed he could sing too, finally adding a fourth voice to a Kiss album.  For the first time, Love Gun has all four Kiss members singing lead.  The first side was bookended by another Paul Stanley track, the killer “Tomorrow and Tonight”.  Piano and Motown-style female backing vocals give the track a classic feel, and Paul once again came up with a sweet candy-coated chorus.  Echoing a previous hit, Paul sings “We can rock all day, we can roll all night.”

The most well known track from Love Gun is the title track itself.  It has been in the set regularly since 1977 and is generally considered one of Paul Stanley’s best songs (if not his very best).  All the ingredients click perfectly.  “Love Gun” kills and cannot be improved upon.  Even if, when you think about it, “Love Gun” is a metaphor for “penis”, and the lyrics amount to singing, “You pull the trigger of my…penis, penis, penis”.  Substitute “penis” every time Paul sings “Love Gun” and see.  Paul Stanley is an absolute genius, because he has gotten stadiums full of thousands of people to sing an ode to his cock, and that’s cool.


“See Ronnie? His dick is the gun!”

Peter Criss only had one track on Love Gun, a Stan Penridge co-write called “Hooligan”.  It was good enough to get some live performances, though it and Gene’s “Almost Human” occupy the lower rungs of the Love Gun album.  The best thing about both “Hooligan” and “Almost Human” is that both perfectly fit the personas that sing them.  Peter has always emphasized his tough street upbringing, but as the lovable cat character, and that’s “Hooligan”.  “Almost Human” is 100% the sex-crazed demon, almost a theme song.  The bass thumps, but there is some interesting percussion stuff happening too.  Simmons continues looking for love in “Plaster Caster”, his encounter with the legendary Cynthia Plaster Caster.   One can assume that Gene Simmons’ wang is among those on her display.  “A token of my love for her collection.”  “Plaster Caster” rocks hard (pun intended) and has balls (also intended).

Love Gun surprisingly closes on a Phil Spector classic, “And Then She Kissed Me” (gender reversed) by the Crystals.  Paul Stanley helms it, a romantic number perfect for Kiss content at weddings.  The Kiss-ified version is almost comically guitar heavy, but Kiss have managed a number of unusual covers over the years.  Adapting it to their sound, Paul owns “And Then She Kissed Me”, especially when topped by an awesome and appropriate solo.

The Love Gun tour that followed this album is one of Kiss’ most legendary: the dual staircases, levitating cat drums,  and of course the big Kiss logo in behind.  Kiss were huge.  A gallup poll put Kiss as the most popular band in America, over Zeppelin, Aerosmith and the Stones.  When bank accounts inflate, so do egos.  With success comes cost.  Though the Love Gun period is all but universally lauded, it was also the last unified album before some members became liabilities.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

See Ronnie?  His dick is the gun!


Uncle Meat’s rating:

3.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  This was Peter Criss’ last album with Kiss for a long time.  Love Gun is a hit and miss record in Meat’s opinion.  Or maybe better put…hit and somewhat miss.  I think there are simply too many forgettable songs on this album.    “Then She Kissed Me”, “Hooligan”, “Got Love For Sale”, “Tomorrow and Tonight” and “Almost Human” are all average at best.  That’s half the album right there.  There are also standout songs. Obviously the title track is a Rock and Roll classic now, the album’s opener “I Stole Your Love” is a hot tamale, and I have always loved the catchy “Christine Sixteen”, especially that chorus.

However, Love Gun is a very significant Kiss album simply because of one song.  I don’t know a Kiss fan that doesn’t love “Shock Me”.  The debut of Ace Frehley as a “singer-songwriter” so to speak, made many wish he would have sung a few more before things all fell apart.  Some of the songs coming up in the next few albums, including his solo album, are some of Kiss’ best material in my opinion. 

Maybe they just ran out of ideas.  Should have been half an album of Ace songs instead.

Favorite Tracks:  “Shock Me”, “Love Gun”,  “I Stole Your Love”, “Christine Sixteen”

Forgettable Tracks:  Look above


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/011
Deluxe Edition review:  2014/11/09

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Rock and Roll Over (1976)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 8:  

scan_20170302kiss-logo Rock and Roll Over (1976 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

Kiss were at a crossroads.  What to do next?  Destroyer, produced by maestro Bob Ezrin, introduced a new Kiss to the world:  glossy, indulgent, polished and augmented with plenty of highbrow non-rock instruments.  Would they explore that road and see where it lead?  If they had, an entire alternate KISStory would exist today.  Instead they chose to get back to basics.

Producer Eddie Kramer, who made Kiss Alive! so unforgettably thunderous, was called up again.  Kramer and Kiss departed for the Star Theater in Nanuet, New York to record.  The idea this time, as opposed to Destroyer, was to go for a live Kiss sound, but on a studio album.  The theater setting was intended to help capture that.  Peter Criss’ drums were recorded in a bathroom for the perfect ambience.  Rock and Roll Over followed Destroyer by a mere seven months, maintaining Kiss’ record of two albums per year.  As promised, it was a return to the core Kiss sound:  loud guitars and hard rock.  They had learned a trick or two from the Destroyer experience.  Rock and Roll Over was tighter and sharper than the first three Kiss albums.

The acoustic intro to Paul’s “I Want You” lulls you into a false sense of calm.  Then it completely explodes with one of Paul’s most passionate tunes.  In three minutes, Kiss laid waste once again.  A second Paul scorcher, “Take Me” was written with Kiss road manager and coach Sean Delaney.  The words are simple and c-c-c-catchy: “Go baby, you make me feel ah, ah, ah, ah yeah!  Oh, baby, you make me feel ah, ah, ah, ah yeah!”  Elsewhere, Paul asks “Put your hand in my pocket, grab on to my rocket,” just so there is no confusion.

Gene Simmons’ “Calling Dr. Love” (based off a demo called “Bad Bad Lovin”) was a single and a perennial concert classic.  You either like Gene or you don’t.  “Calling Dr. Love” won’t change any minds, but it will satisfy those who can’t enough of the sex-crazed demon.  It does boast a fiery Ace Frehley guitar solo, one of his most memorable.  Gene’s second track “Ladies Room” is just rock and roll, a lesser-known Kiss classic, but catchy as sin.  The LP’s first side was closed with a Peter Criss song, co-written with his Chelsea bandmate Stan Penridge.  “Baby Driver” is not listed among Kiss’ best tracks, but there isn’t much wrong with it.  It’s basic, it slams, and Peter screams his throat out.  Not a standout but worth a spin or two.

Gene’s “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” is the lovely kind of sentiment that many Kiss songs were built on.  This ode to groupies and hotel sex was not the first and not the last, but it had a memorable bop and catchy chorus.  “Mr. Speed” (Stanley/Delaney) is a standout with the kind of rock and roll guitar riff that Paul specializes in.  This killer track could and perhaps should have been a timeless concert classic, probably ahead of other tracks.  (It was also used on the soundtrack to Keanu Reeves’ 1994 action movie Speed.)  Simmons’ “See You In Your Dreams” was less timeless and memorable, so later on Gene took a shot at re-recording it.  The Rock and Roll Over version makes for the kind of song that is good for filling the spaces between better songs.

Speaking of better songs, Paul’s “Hard Luck Woman” is undeniably one of his best.  The lush acoustic six and twelve string guitars ring pure and clean.  Paul wanted to give the song to Rod Stewart to sing, as it has a light “Maggie May” aura.  Wiser minds prevailed and the song was kept for Kiss, and given to Peter Criss to sing as a followup to “Beth”.  Peter of course nailed it and “Hard Luck Woman” reigns as one of the best tracks Peter was given to sing, if not the best.  It might not have been as big as “Beth” but that means little; it is the far superior song.

Closing the record, Paul Stanley’s “Makin’ Love” ends Rock and Roll Over on the same kind of fast and furious riffing that it began with.  “I Want You” and “Makin’ Love” are bookends, starting and finishing Rock and Roll Over with hard guitars and good times.  Sean Delaney co-wrote “Makin’ Love” and his contributions to KISStory have too often been swept under the carpet.  Delaney had three co-writes on Rock and Roll Over.  Peter Criss had one, and Ace Frehley didn’t have any at all.

Rock and Roll Over gave Kiss another platinum album to hang on the wall.  Their success, and their sound, had solidified.  There was nowhere to go but up.

Today’s rating:  4.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:  5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:   This time let’s start with the negative, as small and nitpicky as that is in the case of this album.  I’m not a big fan of “See You in Your Dreams”.  Not awful, but just kinda bland in comparison to the rest.  “Baby Driver” could also be lumped in with that for the same reason. 

The other thing I could say about this album is that since Kiss were the “Kings of the Night Time World” at this point, this is where the lyrics started to get their most misogynistic or what have you.  Songs like “Ladies Room” and “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” are tunes I really like, however I can see that these were the gateway drug to some of the ridiculous lyrics in Kiss songs in the 80s and 90s. 

I love everything else about this album.  Rock and Roll Over was my favorite Kiss studio album as a kid, and it’s just a shade under Dressed to Kill now on my Kiss albums list. This seems to make sense now, since both albums were created in similar fashion:  Kiss under the gun and needing to write and record an album fast.   Good Rock and Roll instincts there.

My favorite ever Kiss ballad is on this record too.  “Hard Luck Woman” is an extremely catchy song, and could be my favorite song on the album.  I recall that somewhere around 2002, I was very drunk in a bar and ended up singing “Hard Luck Woman” on karaoke, and probably had not heard the song in many many years.  I sang the first 2/3rds, however well a pissed me could muster.  The end of the song surprised me and I had no idea what to sing and left in the middle of the track.  Not long after a girl came up to me and said, “I have never heard anybody sing that Garth Brooks song on karaoke before”.  She seemed so taken aback at my insistence that “Hard Luck Woman” was a Kiss song.  Maybe it was because I started freaking out on this poor girl.  “Hard Luck Woman” indeed.


Reproduction of the karaoke performance

Favorite Tracks: “Hard Luck Woman”, “I Want You”, “Makin Love”, “Calling Dr. Love”, “Mr. Speed”

Forgettabe Tracks:  I’m done nitpicking on this one.


 

To be continued…

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Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/09

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Alive! (1975)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 6:  

img_20170228_171256kiss-logoAlive! (1975 Casablanca, 2006 remastered edition from Alive! 1975-2000)

Music fans consider it one of the greatest live albums of all time.  Its name is spoken in the same breath as Frampton Comes Alive, Cheap Trick At Budokan, and Deep Purple Made in Japan.  It spawned thousands of young new guitar players (particularly of the grunge era), eager to emulate the six string heroism of Ace Frehley.  There is really only one miniscule issue:  Kiss Alive! is not really live.

Oh sure, Kiss and producer Eddie Kramer did record live shows.  When they listened back to the tapes, there were no performances that satisfied them.  Kiss were too rambunctious live.  They were busy jumping around, entertaining the crowd, not paying attention to each and every note.  For the live album, they weren’t looking for perfection, just performances without glaring mistakes or noise.  They realized they didn’t capture that with the shows they recorded.   So they did what most bands do:  went back into the studio and try to fix it.  Lead singer and guitarist Paul Stanley explained it in his book: “Yes, we enhanced it – not to hide anything, not to fool anyone.  But who wanted to hear a mistake repeated endlessly? Who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar? For what? Authenticity?”

Authenticity is an important part of great rock music, but not the only important part.  If you can’t tell the difference, then does it matter?  Fans listened to Kiss Alive! for decades, blindly enjoying every detail, from Ace Frehley’s extended “Rock and Roll all Nite” guitar solo, to Paul Stanley’s unforgettable stage raps.  Few suspected anything was out of the ordinary, unless they heard original bootleg recordings of the same Kiss gigs.  Eddie Kramer and the band re-recorded approximately 70% of the album.  The only thing they didn’t have to touch were Peter Criss’ drums, which were already pretty solid.  Bass, vocals, and even lead guitar was touched up and fixed, all but seamlessly.

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The reason Kiss Alive! was and is considered great is that you can’t tell the difference.  Unlike a double live Poison album (or even Kiss Alive II), you cannot hear obvious fixes and overdubs.  Kiss Alive! might not be authentic, but certainly sounds it.

With 16 scorching tracks all sourced from the first three Kiss albums, Alive! is all killer and no filler.  Even the typical “slow” moments, such as a long Paul Stanley rap backed by a Peter Criss drum solo (“100,000 Years”) is an unforgettable highlight.  Importantly, the new live version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” became the definitive one.  Today, it’s not the studio original version that still gets ready airplay.  It’s the Kiss Alive! version.  Many of these tracks usurp the originals as the superior versions:  “Firehouse”, “Cold Gin”, “Watchin’ You”, “Nothin’ to Lose”, and just about everything from Hotter Than Hell.  For the first time, all the warmth and energy are captured on Kiss vinyl.  If any of their studio material sounded sleepy, then this was a shot of caffeine.  Any sonic issues with the first Kiss studio albums are quickly forgotten by these volcanic recordings, finally capturing Kiss’ full power…in a roundabout way.

Kiss Alive! saved the band, and saved their record label Casablanca records.  Casablanca were on the verge of bankruptcy, and manager Bill Aucoin had to put the band on the road using his American Express card for currency.  Alive! put everybody back in the black.  It also put Kiss on the map as a rock and roll band to be reckoned with.  The two LP set was decked out with a gatefold sleeve, photos, a booklet, and even written notes from the band members.  For the first time, it felt like Kiss had released an album that lived up not only to their show, but their larger than life image.

Whether you decide to pick up Kiss Alive! on CD or LP, you will be in for a “rock and roll party” as per Paul Stanley.  Our recommended edition:  The four disc 2006 box set Alive! 1975-2000.  The set contains four volumes of Kiss Alive, deliciously remastered, with each album fit onto a single CD without losing any songs.  Fire away.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:   I would approximate that it was probably somewhere around 1978 when I first heard this record at a friend’s place.  I sat there and stared at the inner booklet and the album artwork, and I just wanted to be there.  I actually did get there many years later, but since I was like nine years old at this time and had not seen any sort of concert, it was all I knew of what a rock show was.  The picture on the back of the album taken at Detroit’s Cobo Hall is an unforgettable one, and makes you almost feel like you are there.  You get the scope of what it’s like to be on the floor for an arena show.  Tracks like “She”, “100,000 Years” and “Cold Gin” shine on this record specifically because of the banter of Paul Stanley.  I think it’s what truly makes the album special.  It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Bruce Dickinson may have learned a thing or two from the Starchild on how to connect with an audience.  Alive! is the most important album of Kiss’ career, and is especially significant for those who were lucky to be a Kiss fan at a young age, while their unstoppable takeover of the Earth was building and building.

Following the release of Kiss Alive! in September of 1975, the second half of the 70s became known as the “Live Album Era” of Rock and Roll. Not only were a lot of bands doing it, but they were having massive successes with them (At BudokanFrampton Comes Alive...Unleashed in the EastIf You Want Blood etc).  This pioneering album was able to make the listener feel like they were actually at a rock concert, better than almost any live record has since.  Kiss Alive! was truly the birth of what is now known as The Kiss Army.

However with all this good comes some bad.  It was revealed years ago what everyone had already suspected: Most of the record is overdubbed and even most of the crowd noise is dubbed in.  For this reason and this reason alone I didn’t give this album 5 steaks.  But I refuse to go lower than 4 ½ .

Favorite Tracks:   All of it.

Forgettable Tracks:  None


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/03

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Wicked Lester & Eddie Kramer demos (1972 & 1973)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 1:  

For once, it did not all start with a kiss-logo.

scan_20170220-4Wicked Lester (1972 unreleased album) & the Eddie Kramer demos (1973) (CD bootleg “promo” with “Epic” logo)

Stanley Eisen and Chaim Witz were two young New York musicians who didn’t particularly care for one another.  They met via guitarist Stephen Coronel, a mutual friend and bandmate of Witz.  Chaim, who came to the United States from Israel at the age of eight, changed his name to Gene Klein.  Stephen Coronel told Gene that young Stanley wrote songs too.  Unimpressed, Gene commanded, “Oh yeah?  Play one.”  Stanley played a prototype called “Sunday Driver”, but the encounter left a foul taste in his mouth.

Coronel eventually succeeded in bringing his two friends together, when Stanley Eisen joined their band Rainbow.  In was 1971, and Ritchie Blackmore had yet to form the most famous Rainbow of them all, but even so they needed a more unique name.  They already knew of one other band using the name Rainbow.  Both Paul and Gene had their sights set on bigger things than just New York City.  They wanted something original, and settled upon Wicked Lester.  They’d also drop their “ethnic sounding” real names in favour of the handles “Paul Stanley” and “Gene Simmons”.  They collected together some material they’d written and focused on their originals.  The lineup consisted of Stanley and Coronel on guitars, Simmons on bass, Brooke Ostrander (RIP, FYC) on piano and horns, and Tony Zarella on drums.

Wicked Lester performed only two gigs before an opportunity was offered by Ron Johnsen, a resident sound engineer at Electric Lady studios.  He saw something in the band, and put up the funds for some demo recordings.  Eventually, Epic had their curiosity piqued enough to buy the demos and agree to do make an album.  They had only one condition:  Get rid of Stephen Coronel.  Thus, the man that brought Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley together was fired from the band he shared with them.

Coronel was replaced by a player named Ron Leejack, and recording of the album commenced.  The majority of tracks were Simmons/Stanley (and sometimes Coronel) originals, with a handful of covers.  To cut a long story short, upon completion, Epic shelved the album and deemed it not good enough to release.

They were right to do so.

Only three tracks have ever been released officially, on the 2001 Kiss Box Set:  “Keep Me Waiting”, “She”, and “Love Her All I Can”.  The rest are only available on very poor sounding bootleg discs.  Even without the full fidelity of a proper release, one can tell from the available bootlegs that the album Wicked Lester was best left in the shadows.  When Kiss seemed to emerge fully-formed in 1974, nobody had witnessed their growing pains.

The running order of various bootlegs differ.  The red-packaged “Epic promo CD” (surely not) begins with the familiar “Love Her All I Can”, best known as one of Kiss’ early classics from 1975’s Dressed To Kill.  The unfocused Wicked Lester original sounds like a hippie commune on speed. Simmons today describes their sound as “like a cross between Three Dog Night and the Doobie Brothers.”  Throw in a healthy dose of acid.  Who knows where that came from, Simmons being so proudly anti-drug.

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An obscure cover “Sweet Ophelia” (Barry Mann/Gerry Goffin) really demonstrates how far out in left field everybody was.  It’s mildly disconcerting how well Paul Stanley fits the hippie vibe, far removed from his future Starchild persona.  A Stanley original “Keep Me Waiting” bears little resemblance to the style his is known for.  Though one could imagine the guitar solo section as part of a Kiss song, “Keep Me Waiting” is a delirious concoction of congas and horns.  Simmons’ “Simple Type” is more straightforward.  No annoying extra accoutrements.  No hooks either, or any balls, but it’s one of the earliest examples of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sharing lead vocals on a song.  Even at this early stage, it was clear that Paul Stanley possessed a mighty throat.

“Simple Type” merges with the flutes and tambourines of “She”.  Flutes and tambourines, on “She”?!  Yes, this future Kiss grinder is set to the sultry sounds of more hippie instrumentation, to go with the organ and shakers.  As the song fades out, you can just hear the potential it had.  This potential is nowhere to be found on “Too Many Mondays” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil), light and flaky.  “What Happens in the Darkness” (Tamy Lester Smith) is all but indescribable.  Deep Purple Mk I gone terribly wrong,  but with Paul Stanley leading the choir instead of Rod Evans going it alone.  Tougher and better is “When the Bell Rings” (Austin Roberts/Christopher Welch) which again features Paul and Gene singing together.  This time, Gene utilizes his early high rasp, also heard on Kiss tracks like “Goin’ Blind” and “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Sounding a bit more like our beloved demon, “When the Bell Rings” is actually listenable.  Paul Stanley’s dainty “Molly” brings the flutes back into the picture, and the sooner it’s over the better.  A cover of The Hollies’ “(We Want To) Shout it Out Loud” is not bad.  And it lent its title to something much better later on.

The “Epic promo” CD has terrible tape bleed-through.  It’s clearly a copy of a copy, generations down.  The cheap paper cover belies its actual bootleg manufacture.  It’s also missing a song called “Long, Long Road”, a soft country track that was recorded but perhaps cut from the intended album. That’s right — soft country.

Epic passed on the Wicked Lester album, which was mixed and even had cover art selected.  The boy was their mascot, “Wicked Lester”.  The cover art was originally intended for another band called Laughing Dogs.  Now that the album was shelved (and since Simmons and Stanley were the clear leaders of the group) the fates of the others were pre-determined.  Paul and Gene began looking for new members, and experimenting with makeup.  They wanted a strong, singular image, not five guys who looked like the line at the local soup kitchen.  They also wanted a focused direction, and that was to be hard rock a-la The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin.

An experienced drummer (his band Lips had an album) named Peter Criscoula was first to heed the call.  The new Wicked Lester was a power trio consisting of Peter, Gene and Paul, who rehearsed in a loft located at 10 East 23rd Street in Manhattan.  The sound was incomplete:  a lead guitarist was needed.  Auditions were held at the same loft.  Legend has it that Bob Kulick (who features into the story much later) was about to get the gig, when they were rudely interrupted.  A spaced out guy with one red and one orange sneaker had plugged in and started wailing away.  Paul Frehley snatched the gig at the last minute, and Kiss was born.

The loft where Kiss was born.   10 East 23rd Street, photos by Mike Lukas.

The new focus became apparent when the re-named band entered Electric Lady one more time, in March of 1973, with legendary producer Eddie Kramer.  The band cut five new originals:  “Deuce” (Simmons), “Strutter” (Stanley/Simmons), “Cold Gin” (Frehley), “Watching You” (Simmons), “Black Diamond” (Stanley).  Each of these songs later made it onto Kiss albums in 1974.  They had the goods.

The Kramer demos sound better on this CD than the Wicked Lester tracks.  A different, younger tape generation would be the probable source.  Only two of these demos (“Strutter” and “Deuce”) have been released officially, on the Kiss Box Set.  These ferocious tracks are almost completely faithful to the final album arrangements.  A few extended solos here, and some longer bits there.  Tracks such as “Deuce” are faster than they were later recorded, and more akin to what Kiss sounded like live.  Playing to their strengths, keeping things simple, and with Eddie goddamn Kramer at the boards, the band laid down one hell of a demo.  This is something that bands today would release officially as their first EP, to build buzz for an album.  That wasn’t the strategy in 1973, so the band instead stuck to a regular regimen of songwriting, rehearsals and unforgettable club gigs.

Nine months after their debut gig as Kiss at the Coventry, they signed with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records.  They had built up a repertoire of roughly 18 originals, including some holdovers from the shelved Wicked Lester: “She”, “Simple Type”, “Keep Me Waiting”, and “Love Her All I Can”.  These four songs were whittled out again in the process of coming up with the tracks to record for their first LP.

The Eddie Kramer demos and Wicked Lester album alike are important historical documents.  They are pieces of the puzzle coming together, and by the time they got with Kramer, the outline was in place.  The only way to go was up.

Today’s rating:

Wicked Lester 1/5 stars
Eddie Kramer demos – 3.25/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com Wicked Lester review:  2012/08/14

 

REVIEW: KISS – Love Gun (2014 Deluxe Edition)

NEW RELEASE

KISS – Love Gun (2014 Universal Deluxe edition, originally 1977 Casablanca)

Mrs. LeBrain picked this CD up for me on Friday November 7 at the local HMV store, an adventure in itself that we will tell in a future Getting More Tale installment.  Love Gun is the first ever Kiss Universal “Deluxe Edition” to be released, hopefully the first of many.  You can understand why it would have been chosen first.  In 2012 they already released the newly remixed Destroyer (Resurrected), and the second most beloved studio album in Kisstory may well be Love Gun.

Like other Universal deluxes, Love Gun is a 2 CD digipack, with liner notes, rare photos, a fresh remastering and bonus tracks.  One of these bonus tracks is previously released.  The demo “Reputation” was only released a few short months ago on the commemorative Kiss 40 compilation.

First, let’s talk about disc one, the remastered Love Gun.  This sounds about as definitive as it gets.  The cymbals sound nice and crisp to me, not fizzling out in the distance.  I am very pleased with the sound.  You can see that it is not overdriven.  You can hear plenty of nuance in the instruments.  I hope this is about as close as you can get to the sound of listening to Love Gun in the studio control room.

GOT LOVE FOR SALE

2014 remaster of “Got Love For Sale”

For a more detailed review of the original Love Gun album, you can check out my original from my 2012 Kiss review series.  I rated it 5/5 stars.  From that review, “The classics here are among Kiss’ all time best. ‘Shock Me’, ‘I Stole Your Love’, and ‘Love Gun’ are still played in Kiss’ set circa 2012…’Tomorrow And Tonight’ and ‘Christine Sixteen’ were on Alive II.”  On the other hand I also said, “there’s a little bit of filler on here. I’m not a big fan of ‘Almost Human’ even though Gene is, and some people dislike ‘Hooligan’ although I love it. I could also take or leave ‘Got Love For Sale’.”  Since writing that, I’ve changed my tune on “Got Love For Sale” which I like a lot more today.

And yes, I did have “And Then She Kissed Me” played at my wedding.  I’m very proud of that fact.

The rarities here include some goodies that I have never heard before.  “Much Too Soon” is a slower Beatles-esque rock ballad.  Although I think it’s a pretty cool Gene Simmons experiment, it was clearly not suited to the heavier material on Love Gun.  If Gene had released it on his 1978 solo album, it would have been one of the stronger tracks.  The aforementioned “Reputation” is another decent tune from the Love Gun sessions.  In my review for Kiss 40, I said, “You can hear that aspects of this song later made it into other Gene Simmons compositions such as ‘Radioactive’.  This is one of those song titles I’d read about for years, but have never heard until now.  Cool.  While the song is definitely a demo, and not quite as good as most finished Kiss songs, it does boast a cool dual guitar solo and rocking piano a-la ‘Christine Sixteen’.”  The third and final unreleased song is called “I Know Who You Are”, which is actually a demo version of “Living In Sin” from Gene’s solo album, with a different chorus.  The verses are the same, and I think I might prefer it to the overly funky “Living In Sin”.

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Other unreleased goodies on the deluxe are 1977 demos of familiar songs.  “Plaster Caster” is pretty tight in terms of how the final version went.  Paul’s “teaching demo” of “Love Gun” is interesting.  He’s naming and recording the chords from the song as he goes, presumably to show the other members how to play it.  It’s in inessential track, interesting only to fans, but cool nonetheless.  This leads directly into an unreleased band demo of the song.  You get to hear the evolution in motion.  This band demo is all but identical to the final version, right down to the shimmering Frehley chord effects.  Then there’s a great instrumental demo for “Tomorrow and Tonight”.   Of the demo tracks, this is probably the greatest treasure.  I love hearing the bare guitars and drums of the four classic Kiss guys just playing together as only they can.  Ace Frehley’s solo is a work in progress but some of the key hooks are already in place.

Three 1977 live unreleased tracks are also quite the treat.  These are from December 20 1977, in Landover Maryland.  This was the second of a two night stand there.  If you ever wished the Alive II album wasn’t as polished sounding as it is, then you will be happy with these three tracks.  Yes, you get “Love Gun” four times, but who freakin’ cares?  It’s “Love Gun”.  You also get “Christine Sixteen” and Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me” complete with guitar solo.  So suck on that.

LOVE GUN DELUXE_0006The final audio bonus is a 7-minute Gene Simmons interview from 1977, from a radio station in Montreal Quebec.  It’s an interesting interview, but I’d be happier if more demos were on the CD rather than an interview.  However, let’s be honest — reasonable Kiss fans know that the Simmons/Van Halen demo of “Christine Sixteen” was not going to be on here.  Like Eddie and Alex want that to happen.

The packaging is great, with commentary from the musicians and writers involves, and artist Ken Kelly.  (These comments are re-printed from other sources.)  Also included is Ken Kelly’s original concept for the cover art, which was rejected for not being as grand and large as Kiss felt they were.   Finally there’s a two page essay by Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, who says he’s seen them play “Love Gun” live over 40 times, so I’d say he’s qualified.  Elliott waxes nostalgic about the days when bands used to release two albums a year.

A final note:  The Love Gun deluxe edition is supposed to come with a fridge magnet, but many have been opened and found to be missing the magnet.  I have already contacted Universal about a replacement.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jimi Hendrix – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (2010)

MERRY CHRISTMAS_0001JIMI HENDRIX – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (2010 Sony EP)

I couldn’t resist picking this single up on CD when I found it at my local Sunrise, although I wish I had also picked up vinyl. It wasn’t a huge expense, and if you’re an old-school music fan like me, you won’t mind paying to have an actual physical format with full colour cover art and liner notes.   A quick browse on Discogs reveals average prices today for all formats:  About $5 for CD, $7-10 for two-track 7″, and about $14 for the 10″ single.

The Band of Gypsys’ 1969 instrumental take of “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne” sounds largely improvised and spontaneous.  It is, in my humble opinion, a brilliant interpretation and serves to remind us that no matter what he did, nobody sounds like Jimi Hendrix. It’s incredible to me that today, 40 years after his death, there is still nobody that sounds like Jimi Hendrix.

“Three Little Bears” is the same version as on War Heroes so you may have this version already. Then the third track is an extended version of the first, which actually is pretty cool since it’s still over way too soon.

Inside the package are the aformentioned liner notes, as well as an alternate shot from a 1967 “Jimi dressed as Santa” photo shoot, holding copies of Axis: Bold as Love. Liner notes are detailed for a single, revealing the whens and wherefores of the recording sessions.

Recommended for all Hendrix fans, perfect for downing some ‘nog by the fire this winter.

4/5 stars