eric carr

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Animalize Live Uncensored (2 CD broadcast)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 26

 

 – Animalize Live Uncensored (from 4 CD set Radio Waves 1974-1988) (2015 American Icons broadcast release)

The Animalize tour was the most successful that Kiss had done since the original lineup.  It was an exciting stage show including a finale with the band playing on a levitating platform over the stage.  It was logical to film the Detroit concert, returning to the Cobo Hall where much of Kiss Alive! was forged in 1975.  It had been a long time since Kiss released anything live.  The sequel album Alive II came in 1977, and then Kiss underwent radical upheaval and change, as we have documented through this series.   In the 1970s there was a pattern:  Three studio albums and then a live album.  Animalize was the sixth studio album since Alive II with no Alive III on the horizon.

Fans had their own theories as to why Alive III never materialized when due, but it likely has a lot to do with the lineup changes, shifts in direction, and fading fortunes.  These events all struck right around the time when the third live album would have been appropriate, but as Kiss replaced members and took off the makeup, they had to re-establish themselves as a valid, current entity not dependant on past glories.

The Animalize Cobo Hall concert that was filmed was released in 1985 as the home video, Animalize Live Uncensored.  For an entire generation of Kiss fans, Animalize Live Uncensored was our own Alive III.  You could break down KISStory up to this point into three distinct eras as seen in the chart below.
Kiss had a whole new generation of fans, the MTV generation, who associated the makeup with ancient history.  We didn’t have our own Kiss Alive.  Without one, we made Animalize Live Uncensored into our unofficial Alive III.

Kiss were introducing yet another guitar player to the fans, but Bruce Kulick was fitting in great.  Animalize Live Uncensored gave the fans at home a chance to check out his interpretations of new and old Kiss classics.  He gave the Mark St. John tracks a smoother soloing style with more emphasis on hooky licks.  The threw on tons of the flash that was in vogue at the time, but he didn’t showboat.  He did exactly what the bosses (Paul and Gene) wanted, and he did it well enough to win over fans and keep the gig.

The Kiss of the 80s were way, way faster than the Kiss of the 70s.  Eric Carr could play things that Peter Criss couldn’t, and speed was in fashion.  Even old songs like “Cold Gin” and “Detroit Rock City” were sped up and 80s-ized.  The fast stuff from their 80s albums, like “Fits Like a Glove” and “Young and Wasted” are done up even faster.  Lots of songs by the original band such as “Shout it Out Loud”, “Christine Sixteen”, “Firehouse”, “Strutter” and many more were dropped in favour of new ones.  “Under the Gun”, “Thrills in the Night” and “Heaven’s on Fire” were the newest, while plenty of songs from Lick it Up and Creatures were also retained.  Using the chart above for reference, only five Kiss songs from the first two eras combined were included.  The third era, never before represented in live form, gets ten tracks.  The rest of the space is taken up by solos:  Paul Stanley (guitar), Gene Simmons (bass) and Eric Carr (drums).  There is no Bruce Kulick solo.  As you have probably surmised, a Paul Stanley feature solo is as basic as they get, with Gene’s only a modicum more memorable.  Eric Carr’s is fun and flashy — more so on video.

One big highlight of Animalize Live Uncensored is Eric Carr’s lead vocal debut on a Kiss release.  The Fox was given “Young and Wasted” from Lick It Up to sing, in addition to Peter Criss’ part in “Black Diamond”.  And so Kiss fans began a long and painful wait to hear him sing something on a Kiss studio album.

For dyed in the wool Kiss fans, Animalize Live Uncensored is universally remembered for mainly one thing:  that is Paul Stanley’s epic song introductions.  “Love Gun” is the most legendary, a tale of Paul “partying” too much and having to go to the doctor to get himself checked out.  The nurse decides to “start this examination just a little bit early” and asks Paul to remove his pants…where she discovers his (wait for it) “LOVE GUN”!  There are so many great Paul intros on this video that it’s worth checking out for them alone.  Full visuals help.

But what about a CD release, for that generation of fans for whom this is their Alive III?  There are options.  None are perfect.  In fact, there isn’t even a DVD version.  There are only semi-official looking bootlegs and the old original VHS.  For CDs, you must go with a radio broadcast release, and none are perfect.  Single disc versions are obviously trimmed for time and usually have 15 tracks including a couple solos.  There is also a two disc broadcast from WLLZ in Detroit which has all 18 songs and all the solos too.  This is available on a quadruple disc set called Radio Waves 1974-1988, released in 2015.*  It even has intros and raps not included on the original Animalize Live VHS release!  “Black Diamond” has a much longer introduction and much of the talking isn’t available elsewhere.  During the encores, they mess around with the traditional “Oh Susannah”.  The other intros and raps, the classic ones, are edited or missing completely!  You just can’t win.

Only one track from this concert has been officially released on LP and CD:  “Heaven’s On Fire”, which was Kiss’ contribution to Ronnie James Dio’s Hear N’ Aid – Stars album in 1986.  Kiss completists will want to make sure they have that one.

One could meticulously paste in all of Paul Stanley’s missing and edited stage raps, and add them to your tracklist.  It would be bloody time consuming.  You’d have to listen to your compiled creation a few times to justify the time spent putting it together.  But it could be done.  It really is a shame that this broadcast CD is a few intros shy of complete.  The sound is iffy at times too, with a lot of static where there shouldn’t be.  But for the time being, it’s the best we got.

3/5 stars

To be continued…

*CD 1 is Agora Ballroom, previously reviewed in a prior superior edition.  CD 4 is Live at the Ritz 1988, but including the song “Reason to Live” often missing from the broadcast!

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/01

 

 

 

 

 

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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Animalize

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 25

 – Animalize (1984 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Animalize:  a huge hit not proportional to the quality of the songs inside.  It went platinum on the strength of lead single “Heaven’s On Fire”, but going deeper into the record, Kiss did not have the goods this time.

New guitarist Mark St. John (formerly Mark Norton) replaced the fired Vinnie Vincent, and in doing so, continued Kiss’ quest for shreddery dominance.  In the 80s you had to have an Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen to get noticed, or so it seemed, and that was what Kiss went for.  In the meantime, Gene Simmons was off in Hollywood leaving Paul Stanley to do handle Kiss, something Paul eventually came to resent.

Paul Stanley re-teamed with his songwriting buddy Desmond Child.  Their last collaboration was 1979’s disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” from Dynasty.  The partnership struck gold a second time with “Heaven’s On Fire”, a simple song perfectly suited for the Kiss of the 80s and beyond.  Paul Stanley’s “Woo-ooo-ooo-ooo-OOOOO-ooo” intro is legendary and truthfully a song like “Heaven’s On Fire” isn’t too far removed from classic Kiss.  Paul’s sassy delivery is enviable.

Desmond Child also co-wrote the opening number “I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)”.  As the 80s began, Kiss seemed determined to write fast songs for their albums.  Very fast songs.  “I’ve Had Enough” is one of those, and it’s a good one too, though it was rarely played in concert.  You’d never guess Desmond was involved without reading the credits, but you’d also not imagine it was Kiss if it wasn’t Paul singing.

Another fine Paul song called “Get All You Can Take” is a co-write with Mitch Weissman whose name has repeatedly popped up on Kiss credits over the years.  This slow paced sleazy rocker has one of the few Kiss f-bombs in the chorus:  “What fucking difference does it make?”   Mark St. John’s solo is a blazing showcase of different tricks and techniques, but it suits the song rather awkwardly like an ill fitting tux.  Such was the problem with a jazz-influenced shredder in Kiss.

Another fast number is “Under the Gun” written by Paul, Desmond and drummer Eric Carr.  This one was played frequently on the Animalize tour though there are better songs.  Fluttery guitars sound like laser beams zipping back and forth.  Carr kicks ass, but it’s not a great track.  Paul gets in a cute double entendre though:  “There’s no speed limit where I’m coming from…let’s hit the highway doing 69!”

The final Paul song is probably the best one, although he has since criticized it as not good enough.  “Thrills in the Night”, co-written with Jean Beauvoir, deserves praise.  Sometimes the artist is their own worst critic, but “Thrills in the Night” is awesome, dramatic Kiss rock.  The chorus goes on for weeks and the soloing fits.

If Animalize was a Paul Stanley solo EP, there would be enough good songs to give it a passing grade.  However…we have the Gene Simmons songs.

Animalize shall forever be cursed as the album with the lyric, “I wanna put my log in your fireplace.”  Yes, the man who once wrote a song with Bob Dylan also wrote a ditty called “Burn Bitch Burn”.  The riff is awesome.  It has its moments.  It’s also undeniably one of Gene’s worst lyrics, and that is saying something.  The song also sounds unfinished, as if he said, “OK good enough, onto the next song.”  Fortunately Mark St. John’s solo playing is awesome, though not especially accessible.  And that’s Gene’s best song on the album.

Gene’s other songs are “Lonely is the Hunter”, “While the City Sleeps” and “Murder in High Heels”.  Of these, “Lonely is the Hunter” is by far the best.  A slow sleazy groove is more up Kiss’ alley than these fast speed rockers.  All three of these songs have one quality in common with “Burn Bitch Burn”, and that is that they sound like rough ideas gone unfinished.  Animalize was produced by Paul (with a co-producer credit for Gene).  A Kiss producer like Bob Ezrin likely would have told Gene to go back and come up with better material.  The most interesting thing about “Lonely is the Hunter” and “Murder in High Heels” is the solo work.  It’s stellar.  It’s not overdone.  It’s melodic and memorable.  And it’s…familiar.  Future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick stepped in to play ghost guitar on these songs.

The trend of Kiss using uncredited outside musicians was growing.  Allan Schwartzberg (who also played on The Elder) did drum overdubs.  Jean Beauvoir played bass on “Under the Gun”.  Gene played the rhythm guitars on his own songs.  That’s why the credits on Kiss albums always simply state:  KISS – and the names of the members.

Gene cut his hair short for a movie called Runaway.  He starred as the villain (of course) Dr. Luther, opposite Tom Selleck.  Kirstie Alley was in it, and it was written and directed by Michael Crichton.  Considering the year and the names involved, this was a fairly high profile role.  Gene went for it, and has since admitted his brain wasn’t in Kiss at the time.  The wig he wore on stage with the band made him look silly, and new fans considered Paul the singer and Gene a secondary guy.  Gene’s songs weren’t singles anymore.  They weren’t being played live.  “Burn Bitch Burn” was only ever played once!  These were all clues as to what was going on behind the scenes.  Paul was sailing the ship now.  He had no choice.  Animalize suffers for it.  Gene is to blame for his own downfall during the period and has since gracefully accepted that.

The Animalize tour was the biggest Kiss had done since the glory years, but troubles began early.  Mark St. John couldn’t play.  He was diagnosed with an arthritic condition called Reiter’s Syndrome.  His hands swelled up and he simply could not do the gig.  Mark passed away in 2007, but suggested that the arthritis may have been triggered by stress.  The aforementioned Bruce Kulick stepped in to take his place, and did so with professionalism and respect.  He got along with everyone. He was willing to learn.  He was a great fit.  The first great fit in many years.

The Animalize period put Kiss on MTV and on back the radio again, but its success was vastly disproportional to its quality.

Today’s rating:

2/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  There really isn’t much to say here. “Heaven’s on Fire” is a good song that I still enjoy hearing. Everything else is OK at best and non-essential. “Burn Bitch Burn” might have some of the worst lyrics of all time.

Favorite Tracks:  “Heaven’s on Fire”

Forgettable Tracks: take your pick


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/31

REVIEW: KISS – Demos 1981-1983

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 24 New bonus review!

Demos 1981-1983  (Bootleg)

For the first time in my life, I bought a CD that sounded so shitty, I couldn’t even stand to listen to it. I knew that the bootleg CD, Kiss Demos 1981-1983 wasn’t going to sound terrific, because my neighbor George had a version of this on LP way back in the day. I didn’t know it was going to sound this horrid.

Demos 1981-1983 collects some Kiss and assorted tracks, from some very dubious sources.  It sounds like 12th generation cassettes, complete with music bleeding through.  You can actually hear “Tokyo Road” by Bon Jovi bleeding through on track 7.  Enjoy the tape drop-out and inaudible drums too.  There are some interesting bits here, and some useless ones.

You can divide this CD into three sections.  The first six tracks seem to be Vinnie Vincent demos.  They include “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which evolved into two separate songs.  The verses became “And on the 8th Day” by Kiss, from the 1983 album Lick It Up.  The choruses became “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” from Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s debut LP.  These demos reportedly feature Vinnie himself on lead vocals, and he does a fine job of it in fact.  Why did he even need a lead singer?  Another curious track is “Back on the Streets” which Ace Frehley was known to play live before his first Frehley’s Comet album.  In fact the Comet band covered it on the tribute album Return of the Comet, and Vinnie put it on the first Invasion album. Finally there is the track listed on the back as “Your Baby”.  This is actually “Baby O” also from Invasion’s debut.

Moving on from the Vincent tracks, there are a few Kiss demos supposedly from The Elder sessions.  These include titles that are probably made up:  “Heaven”, “The Unknown Force” and “Council of the Elder”.  They are accompanied by an instrumental demo of “A World Without Heroes” and the original Frehley version of “Dark Light”, called “Don’t Run”.  These are actually really cool skeletons of tracks.  The one titled “Unknown Force” is a bass-led instrumental, and it has a funky little guitar part that is insanely nifty, but it’s just one idea that needs to be fleshed out.  Then there is “Heaven” which fans today know better as “Carr Jam” (on Kiss’s Revenge) or “Breakout” (on Frehley’s Comet).  Eric Carr wrote this riff for The Elder sessions and though Kiss didn’t use it, Ace did.  “A World Without Heroes” is an instrumental on which you can barely hear guitars.  Finally there is the track called “Council of the Elder” which could be the best of the lot.  It has a Zeppelin-y beginning reminiscent of things like “Thank You”, before it blasts into a cool riff that I don’t recognize from anywhere else.  Only a small part of the song seems to have been used, in “Only You”.

The third chunk of songs focuses on Lick It Up demos, a boring bunch of inaudible crap, all but one snippet called “You”.  It’s just a few chords and a vocal melody idea that Paul and Vinnie came up with, but it’s cool to hear them harmonize.  It’s possible this track evolved into “A Million to One” as the chords are similar.

The most inexcusable inclusion on this CD is “Young & Wreckless” which claims to be a Lick It Up demo with vocals by Vinnie Vincent.  This inclusion is an error that goes all the way back to the vinyl versions of this bootleg that circulated in the 80s.  The immediately obvious issue is that it’s not Vinnie Vincent singing, it’s Brian Vollmer.  That’s because “Young & Wreckless” is a Helix song, and this track is lifted right from their 1984 album Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge!  Like the rest of the CD, it sounds like an 18th generation cassette copy.

This disc is for die-hards only.  What I’d like to see is an official release of the demo tracks from The Elder period, which are great.  Next box set, boys?

1/5 stars

To be continued…

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Lick It Up (1983)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 23:

  Lick It Up (1983 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

On September 18 1983, Kiss publicly unmasked on MTV.  They each appeared with a name tag at a desk and answered questions from the press.  Their first album with their bare faces on the cover was just released on that day:  Lick It Up.  With two non-original members now in the band, and their fortunes fading, it seemed like the best move commercially and artistically.  According to writer Robert V. Conte, the Kiss press conference was overshadowed by an MTV special on Van Halen, broadcast the same evening.

It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss Kiss’ unmasking as a mere stunt, and in many ways they would be right, but it was not a decision made lightly.  Kiss had legitimate fears about how they could carry on without the makeup and costumes.  They came to realize that they could just continue doing what they do – playing their songs live as they always have.

The new album, Lick It Up, was brilliant. It is “exhibit A” in the case of “Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?”  With eight out of ten writing credits, all of them great, it certainly appears that Vinnie gave Lick It Up a swift kick in the afterburner.

The stark white cover featured Kiss in their street clothes.  It was a minimalist cover with the only clue to their identities being Gene’s tongue.  In Japan, a full cover obi retained the band in makeup (including Vinnie) until you opened the package and saw the white cover inside.  This led to an urban legend that Japan actually had a rare makeup cover on their edition of Lick It Up.

Strangely enough, even though Lick It Up was Vinnie’s official debut as a Kiss member, He didn’t play the solo on opening salvo “Exciter”.  This was unknown to fans at the time, but “Exciter” was performed by Rick Derringer after Vinnie couldn’t nail the right vibe in the studio.  It was an ominous warning of things to come.

Otherwise, “Exciter” ushered Kiss into the 1980s with a sound that fit.  It had a chunky guitar chug, and killer melodic chorus, and left the sound of the 70s far behind.  Perhaps most importantly, it had no outside writers.  Nothing on Lick It Up required outside writers now that they had Vinnie in the band.

After the blowout opening of “Exciter”, Gene Simmons grinds it down slow with one of his heaviest tracks to date: “Not For the Innocent”.  Gene adapted his singing style to include a Demon scream, and “Not For the Innocent” features lots of it on the outro.  “Not For the Innocent” built on the heavy Kiss of Creatures of the Night and pushed it heavier.

The first single was the successful and surprisingly simple “Lick It Up”.  It’s basically a textbook guitar chug with verses and a chorus – no solo.  It was enough to go top 40 in the UK and Canada and has since become a concert staple.  In fact it’s the only Lick It Up song to remain in the set beyond the 80s, and it’s a pretty good song for what it is.

Simmons returned to the fore on the frenetic “Young and Wasted”, an example of speedy 80s Kiss keeping up with their metal compatriots.  Fortunately, Vincent provided a kicking riff.  Live, “Young and Wasted” was often given to Eric Carr to sing.  The studio version is the one to beat.  Then it was Paul Stanley’s turn in the driver’s seat with “Gimme More”, keeping things rolling in a non-descript top gear.

One of the most interesting tunes on Lick It Up is the side two opener and second single “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.”  It was begun as a Zeppelin-y riff by Eric Carr, and finished by all four members – only the second Kiss song ever credited to all four members.  It became, in Eric’s words, a “rock and roll rap song!”  That’s not quite so, though Paul’s talk-singing in the verses evokes the basics of rap.  No worries though; this is one brilliant Kiss song that really deserved more exposure.  One worth buying the album for.

The Simmons-dominated second side of Lick It Up is where most of the treasures are found, but Paul had one more kick at the can.  Paul’s “A Million to One” is an unsung classic.  A defiant Stanley tells an ex that her chances of finding a better lover are “a million to one”.  With such an awesome song backing him, Paul makes a convincing argument.  He hits a homerun with melody and angst.

A trio of Simmons tunes ends Lick It Up as one of Kiss’ heaviest album.  “Fits Like a Glove” is speedy-Kiss again, hyper-caffeinated and playing as fast as they can.  Gene’s barking out the words, chewing them up, spitting them out and taking no prisoners.  Then, he brings it back to a groove on “Dance All Over Your Face”.  It’s a song you might not know, but you should.  Kiss’ deep cuts from the 80s have some rare diamonds, and this is one of them.

The closer was an apocalyptic rocker called “And on the 8th Day” which was based on a Vinnie Vincent demo.  The verses of that demo became “And on the 8th Day”.  The choruses became a later Vinnie Vincent Invasion track called “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which we will look at later on.  The two songs share DNA but have little else in common.  The Vincent demo is the kind of speed rocker that dominated Lick It Up.  Meanwhile the Kiss song “And on the 8th Day” has the slow monster plod, a killer riff, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Although it’s never seen the light of a concert stage, it really should have.

Though Vinnie Vincent co-wrote the songs that may or may not have saved Kiss, he was a real problem.  His personality didn’t mesh, and his ego got the better of him.  He couldn’t come to an agreement with Kiss over his contract, and in fact never signed one to become an official Kiss member.  This caused him to be let go at the end of the European Lick It Up tour.

Finding a replacement for Vincent wasn’t easy, and he was re-hired for the American tour, though he still delayed signing a contract.  Issues with Vinnie grew on this tour, as he grabbed more of the spotlight from his bandmates.  Like Ace Frehley before him, Vinnie was given a five minute solo spot, but sometimes Vinnie dragged them out well into overtime.  This caused plenty of tension, especially when he once broke into an impromptu solo leaving the band on stage not sure what to do.  The issue of Vinnie’s contract became a non-issue when he was let go permanently.  The band have had very little good to say about Vinnie Vincent since then, especially when the lawsuits began.  Despite this, Lick It Up was not to be Vinnie’s final collaboration with his former band.

Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?  This argument will go on as long as there are Kiss fans to discuss it.  Vinnie certainly did provide Kiss with some grade-A songs, both here and on Creatures of the Night.  However he wasn’t the kind of guitar player they needed, who could play the old stuff authentically and also shred with the new kids.  If Vinnie hadn’t come along, another talented writer would have, and Kiss would have continued.  This doesn’t do anything to discredit Lick It Up, a damn fine “comeback” indeed.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

3.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  After my scathing review of Creatures of the Night, I wasn’t sure how to approach this Lick It Up Meat’s Slice. I guess I’ll start with March 15, 1984. My buddy Scott Hunter and I went to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Kiss on the Lick it Up tour, with supporting act Accept! This was to be my second Kiss concert, as we were also at Maple Leaf Gardens for the Creatures tour on January 14, 1983. A concert in which we didn’t know until well after that it wasn’t Ace Frehley on guitar…but none other than Vinnie Vincent. Of course Vinnie was on guitar for the Lick it Up tour as well. Great show with openers The Headpins. Before my 15th birthday, I had now seen Kiss twice. I am 47 now and haven’t seen them live since.

Kiss had taken the makeup off between these albums. Years before I remember seeing a People magazine in my grandmother’s bathroom, while taking a shit, that showed Gene Simmons with a bandana over his face just over his nose. Up until now I had not seen any Kiss member without makeup. So there they are on the Lick It Up cover and all I can think is…”Damn…wish they still had makeup at least for that really ugly dude,” (Vinnie).  The title track of the album has become a bit of a Kiss classic and is still a great song. Not a lot of this album is exceptionally great in my opinion, but there are some good gems in there. The best of which I think is “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, which I have always loved and still do. Other than those two songs? The album lies somewhere between Meh and Good for me.

Funny Vinnie story for me though. Many years ago our makeshift band at the time were playing a Christmas assembly at St. David’s High School in Waterloo here. I was standing behind the soundboard as my guitar player was on stage doing a sound check. The sound guy asked my buddy Dave to play a bit to get a starting level. As per usual, Dave went ripping into some heavy metal bullshit soloing. After a few seconds of that I could see the sound guy waving his hands in the air in front of me, and after getting Dave’s attention, says into the microphone at the board, “Okay Vinnie Vincent…Settle down there.”  Always found that kinda defined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.

Favorite Tracks: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Lick It Up”

Forgettable Tracks: I don’t know about forgettable, but the rest isn’t that memorable.


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/20

 

 

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Creatures of the Night (1982/1985)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 22:

  – Creatures of the Night (1982 Casablanca, 1985 Polygram reissue, 1997 Mercury remaster)

The internal problems with Kiss continued full-bore into their next album, the surprisingly powerful Creatures of the Night.  Ace Frehley was on the cover, and in the music video, but like Peter Criss before him, he didn’t play a note.  In the midst of recording with new producer Michael James Jackson (Red Rider), they were also auditioning new guitarists to replace the Ace.

As a result of the embarrassing failure of their concept album fiasco Music From the Elder, Kiss had little choice in what to do next.  If they had any hope of survival as a musical entity, they had to return to rock.  What may have come as a surprise given their recent history including two pop “Kissco” albums was that their new music was really, really heavy.  Kiss were unleashed and went full-bore heavy metal.

Aiding and abetting this:  drummer Eric Carr was unchained on Creatures of the Night.  His drum sound, inspired by the massive slam of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, was completely off the hook.  These are by far the biggest sounding drums on any Kiss album.  Also helping the band get heavier:  a new songwriting partner.  Vincent Cusano wrote and played on several tracks on Creatures.  His talent was evident to all.

In fact there is a school of thought today regarding Mr. Cusano, later redubbed “Vinnie Vincent”.  A large vocal group of fans proclaim today that “Vinnie Saved Kiss”.  And that theory does hold some water.

Other contributors to the LP included Canadian writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.  Adam Mitchell and Mikel Japp also wrote with Paul and Gene.  Guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Farris and Adam Mitchell lent chops and solos to the album.  One guy who Gene claims came to the studio, but did not play, was one Eddie Van Halen.  According to Gene Simmons, Eddie came down and poured his heart out complaining how miserable he was in Van Halen…and then asked to join Kiss.  Believe it…or not?

The incendiary title track “Creatures of the Night” is powerful and instantaneous enough to be used as a concert opener.  The metallic chug was new to Kiss, but not alien to them.  This anthemic Paul Stanley rocker had the goods.  Kiss were back, and in a big way.  Just listen to those opening drums!  It’s as if Kiss knew that Eric Carr still needed a more suitable introduction, and they gave it to him.

Creatures is notable for one major “first”.  It was the first of many Kiss studio albums to only feature two lead singers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  Gene’s debut on Creatures is the incredible “Saint and Sinner”, heavy but low-key and based on a killer verse melody.  “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please…you can go to hell,” sings an angry Demon.  And that’s Vinnie, absolutely smoking with a brilliantly melodic guitar solo.  What a player…but only when he can control his instincts to play too fast.

Paul turns up the sex on “Keep Me Comin’” (har-de-har har!), a sleazy Kiss rocker with a heavy Zeppelin groove.  While not quite filler material, “Keep Me Comin’” and another Paul track called “Danger” are definitely on the lower rungs of this album.  “Danger” is the prototype for a kind of speed metal Kiss rocker that Paul threw on all the albums from this point to 1985.

One of Paul’s best songs, and longest lasting in concert, was the ballad “I Still Love You”.  This is one heavy ballad, but Paul’s singing is completely over the top.  Again, it’s more like a heavy Zeppelin blues ballad.  A track like this proves why Paul is considered one of the greatest hard rock singers of all time.  Not too many can do it like Paul on “I Still Love You”…and that’s Eric Carr on bass, by the way.  Gene doesn’t play bass on most of Paul’s songs.  Jimmy Haslip (ex-Blackjack featuring Michael Bolton and future Kiss member Bruce Kulick) and Mike Porcaro took over bass duties on “Danger” and “Creatures” respectfully.

As for Gene, Creatures really sounds up his alley, with tunes like “Rock and Roll Hell”, “Killer”, and “War Machine” suiting his dark persona.  And what tunes these are, particularly “Rock and Roll Hell” which simmers with a midnight intensity.  The song rides the basic bassline with not much in the way of additional crunch, into chorus time.  The interesting thing is the song is actually a thorough re-working of an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song written by Jim Valance.  In fact, Valance claimed that Simmons only insisted on reworking the song in order to get writing royalties.  Either way, “Rock and Roll Hell” just burns like an ember.  Then in another interesting twist, the song was later covered by Ace Frehley (Origins Vol. 1)!  A Kiss cover of a Kiss song he never played on.

“Killer” reeks of Vinnie Vincent.  One of the key guitar riffs sounds quintessentially Vinnie, and kind of similar to his later solo track “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”.  It’s a brilliant track, right up Gene’s alley, with intense speed and hooks.  The female backing vocals in the outro are a surprise.  “War Machine” on the other hand sounds purely Gene, even though it’s a co-write with Valance and Bryan Adams.  Something about it personifies the “monster plod” sound that Gene specializes in. It’s apocalyptic Kiss metal for your nightmares.  It’s strong and relentless.

The single was, of course, the overplayed “I Love it Loud”, which in turn was transformed into a killer music video featuring Ace Frehley miming Vinnie Vincent’s guitar.  “I Love it Loud” is insanely catchy and unshakeable during its first several listens.  After that, it’s too simple to maintain interest too long.  It’s kind of baffling how this song has remained in set lists well past its sell-by date, especially when tracks like “Killer” and “Saint and Sinner” are not.

In 1985 this album was reissued with new non-makeup cover art.  On the cover they replaced Ace Frehley, who never played on the album, with Bruce Kulick…who never played on the album.  Three songs were remixed:  “Creatures of the Night”, “War Machine”, and “I Love it Loud”, but only “Creatures” was included on the 1985 album.  The remixed “I Love it Loud” was later issued on a compilation, and the remixed “War Machine” has yet to be released.  The remixes by Dave Wittman generally toned down the awesome drum sound, weakening the experience overall.

Vinnie Vincent joined the band officially after Creatures was recorded, and was given his own makeup design:  The “Ankh Warrior”.  A strange choice for a new character; perhaps Kiss were plain out of ideas or just didn’t care.  It’s the only Kiss makeup design to never be seen on an album cover.  Then, Kiss embarked on their first American tour in years, the 10th Anniversary Tour.  It featured a stage with a tank for a drum riser.  “Killer” indeed!

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  When Creatures of the Night was released in 1982, Kiss had been on the back burner for me for a couple years.  Obviously still loved the classics, but 12 year old Meat was starting to become a huge fan of Heavy Metal music.  Two different friends of mine and I were discovering new music together.  Albums like Ace of Spades, Maiden Japan and Saxon’s Denim and Leather were the gateway drug for me on my way to being addicted to Heavy Metal. So when Creatures came out I recall being so into it, primarily because this was a “Heavy Metal” Kiss record.  What’s not to like?  The video for “I Love it Loud” was awesome and renewed my love for the band at the time.

So I listened to Creatures from stem to stern the other day, 35 years after it was released, and my take on this album is now quite a different story.  I am expecting that many will disagree with my slice on this one, but circumstances dictate my review.  Metal music just doesn’t inspire me the way it used to.  The love is still there but the lust is gone.  Obviously there are staples that I will always love, and new exceptions pop up all time time, but the truth is I would rather put on stuff like Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Steve Earle, Drive by Truckers etc etc.

If I would have done these Meat Slices let’s say…20 years ago?…I probably would have panned Unmasked and praised this album.  But now it is the opposite.  The album’s title track, “I Still Love You” and “I Love it Loud” are still enjoyable to me, but pretty much every other song sounds very forced and downright boring to me.  This is what happens when a band, who was used to ruling the world, tries to regain said status by joining the new Heavy Metal revolution.  Trying to be something they are not.   The albums previous (with maybe the exception of the song “The Oath”) and the albums that followed were not Metal albums.  The following albums have some heavy songs, but are definitely not Heavy Metal records.  You have to fast forward a decade until they released Revenge, and even that album had some different styles within it.  It’s so strange to me that a Kiss record that sees Kiss trying SO HARD to be a heavy metal band, turns to Bryan Adams for inspiration?  What’s Metal about that?  Hello.  McFly?

Rating this album was tough for me. I had to consider how much I loved it when it came out, and that the Creatures of the Night tour was my first Toronto arena concert.  I can’t say I dislike the album, but I can say that of all the Kiss records I have revisited doing these slices, it’s this album that truly disappointed me because I went into the listen looking forward to hearing it again.

My final thoughts are this.  Would diehard Alice Cooper fans consider Flush the Fashion a classic Alice Cooper record?  It’s an album I owned on vinyl and I like the album, but it’s a blatant grab at the New Wave market and sounds nothing like the rest of his career.  Celtic Frost has done everything possible to erase the memory of the deplorable Cold Lake, since it is a very un-Celtic Frost like record for the band.  Creatures of the Night is not genuine to me.  Most of the album sounds like the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s album, Smell the Glove. Especially the song “Heavy Duty”, and not surprisingly it was released not long after this in 1984.  So, to end this slice I will refer to the immortal Derek Smalls and put it like this.  Creatures of the Night is a disingenuous collection of head banging bullshit that to me is forgettable.  It sounds square, clunky and has way too many forgettable songs on it.  I would rather listen to Bryan Adams’ 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife.   But Kiss…I still love you.

 Favorite Tracks:  “I Love it Loud”, “Creatures of the Night”, “I Still Love You”

 Forgettable Tracks:   The rest


LeBrain’s rebuttal:  You’re Wrong on Creatures

For this Kiss Re-Review series, I have purposely avoided reading Uncle Meat’s reviews, and vice-versa, until they are ready to post.  We wanted to avoid influencing each other.  Creatures is an exception.  Meat sent this to me a couple weeks ago, long before I even started my review.  And now that I have read it…I feel like crying a single solitary tear of sadness, just like the one Gene shed in the video for “A World Without Heroes”.

Uncle Meat has a point about the switch to heavy metal music seeming like an act of desperation.  I don’t doubt that if The Elder had been a hit instead of an abject nearly career-ending failure, Kiss would have continued in that direction.  But we are talking about Kiss here.  This is a band that have usually been followers, not leaders.  Were they the first to wear makeup and heels?  No.  Did they invent disco with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”?  No.  Going forward into the future, you will see Kiss continuing to chase other people’s sounds, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains.  Even Revenge, which Meat mentioned above, seemed like an effort to bring things in line with what was happening in rock and roll.

Having listened to Creatures again for what must be the 30,000th time, my love for it is still strong.  I’ve bought Creatures five times over the years.  Every time I play it, I’m a 13 year old again.  I sink into the guitar tones, which Vinnie just nailed on this album, and enjoy the booming echo of the drums.  “I Love it Loud” no longer pitches my pup tent, but mostly due to overexposure.

On this, the Meatmaster General and I will have to agree to disagree.  It’s something we often do when it comes to music, but the benefit is that it generates rich discussions, just like this one.  — LeBrain

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/28

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Killers (1982 import)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 21:  

  Killers (1982 Casablanca, German and Japanese versions)

No matter how you feel about Kiss’s concept album Music From the Elder, it was a commercial dud.  It was Kiss’ first serious flop as a band since hitting the big time in 1975 with Kiss Alive!  More significantly, it was part of a trend:  Kiss chaos.  Since the solo albums, Kiss were fragmented.  The band weren’t playing on all the songs anymore, and members were leaving.  They had strayed from their music roots and become a comic book novelty act.  The Elder was not so much an album that people didn’t “get”, but one they didn’t care to “get”.  Fans were moving on.

The European record label, Phonogram, was in damage control mode.  They drew up plans to issue an album consisting of new and old songs; a compilation to put some money back in the coffers.  They weren’t mucking around.  They wanted a batch of new rock songs, but Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Ace Frehley hadn’t left the band officially, but he was no longer involved creatively.  Filling the guitar slot again was Bob Kulick.  As he did on Kiss Alive II, Bob played lead guitar on the new songs.  A 1988 book called Kiss: Still on Fire also named Ratt’s Robbin Crosby as a guitar player on the new songs, though this is a claim not backed up in any other source.  Paul provided the new songs, written with old and new friends:  Mikel Japp, Adam Mitchell, and some Canadian guy named Bryan something.  Bryan Adams?  Cuts like a knife indeed!  Adams co-wrote the lethal “Down On Your Knees”, and it wouldn’t be his last songwriting credit with Kiss either.

The best new tune in the batch was called “Nowhere to Run”, and it was one of the rockers that Kiss were working on before they decided to do The Elder instead. The sheer quality of this Stanley-penned underdog really supports the theory that doing The Elder was a mistake.  “Nowhere to Run” was classic Stanley, as good as anything on his solo album and exactly the kind of song that Kiss should have been doing.  In an alternate universe where The Elder never came out, what could have happened to Kiss?  Unfortunately the new compilation called Kiss Killers was never released in North America.   “Nowhere to Run” could do very little to change Kiss’ fortunes without being released in their native country.

The second-finest of the new songs is a little ditty called “I’m a Legend Tonight”.  Paul has somewhat disowned these songs since, but it is really hard to understand why.  This is a hard hitting Paul rocker, as only Paul can do.  It’s all innuendo and hot guitar licks.  The riff is simple and hooky, while Kulick plays for all he’s worth.  No longer was Bob being told to “play like Ace”.  His signature scorch really makes these new songs sound like a continuation of the Paul Stanley solo album.  Then there is “Down on Your Knees”, the one with Bryan Adams’ fingerprints on it.  It’s hard to tell, although it’s not outside the Adams ballpark.  It’s a sleazy rocker, spare and sounding great.  The new tracks were produced by Michael James Jackson, who finally captured Eric Carr’s drums properly.  Bob Ezrin buried them under mud on The Elder.  Kiss Killers sounds more like the real Eric Carr debut album.  The last of the new songs, “Partners in Crime”, is the weakest of the four.  Paul takes it down to a slow sexy grind, but “Partners in Crime” lacks the charisma of the other three.

As far as the new songs could be considered a “comeback”, it’s close but no cigar.  There’s no discernable Demon.  Where is Gene Simmons?  The lack of any audible Simmons vocals makes you question whether he even played bass on the new songs.  Regardless, Kiss is about a balance between Gene and Paul, and Killers represents the first heavy skew towards Paul.

 

The hits on the record make for great listening.  Most of the key bases are covered:  “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “Love Gun”, “God of Thunder” and even “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”.  There are no Peter Criss songs, and the only Frehley is “Cold Gin”, which Gene sings.  The only ballad is “Sure Know Something”, a minor hit in Germany where this album was issued.  In a cool touch, the record closes with the “live” (quotation marks!) version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” that made them superstars.  It is the more well known, and arguably superior version.  (Some of the other tracks are edits or single versions.*)

Kiss’ very first Japanese bonus tracks were on Killers.  The Japanese version is an even better listen.  They put a bonus track in the second-to-last position on each side:  “Shandi” (massive hit in Australia) and “Escape From the Island” (previously unreleased in Japan — it wasn’t included on their version of The Elder).  “Shandi” is just a great fucking song, and “Escape From the Island” is a cool inclusion because of a) its obscurity, and b) its total Ace Frehley shreddery.  It is interesting to note, that only Japan had tracks from the two most recent Kiss albums, Unmasked and Music From the Elder.  The rest of the world did not.  Were Kiss already trying to bury those records?

Periodically, the new songs on Kiss Killers have reappeared on single B-sides, compilations and box sets.  The best way to get them is just to pick up a copy of Killers.  Choose your format, sit back and rock!

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars

* “Shout it Out Loud” is a single version with a different mix on the lead vocals and an early fade.  “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” are edited versions.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/27

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Music From the Elder (1981)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:  

  Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)

Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked.  The band’s stature was in jeopardy.  The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection.  As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr.  His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss.  The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots.  Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.

Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album.  Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction.  That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley.  Eric Carr had no say, being an employee.  Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album.  If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie.  And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?

The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley.  It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.

So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album.  Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch.  Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent.  Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin.  Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done.  There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell.  Hence the title, Music From the Elder.  Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.

A word about the running order.  When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense.  It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”.  Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier:  “The Oath”.  But the concept never made any sense.  In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order.  They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks.  The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”).  The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release.  (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.)  The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.

The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”.  “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas?  If hope is lost then so are we.  While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.”  The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”.  He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder.  “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes.  He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.

Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm.  It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band.  Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album.  The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all.  “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition.  It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals.  It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics.  Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not:  a lyric sheet.  With that in hand, you can follow the story.

In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album.  Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine.  It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.

Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album.  “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss.  It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it.  Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album.  “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment.  This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two.  Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun.  It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.

The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album.  It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works.  It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme.  Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny:  “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you?  And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?”  The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.”  In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.

According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction.  In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar.  “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons.  “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus.  But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt.  Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines.  Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig.  Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”.  In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil.  Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo.  Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.

Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”.  Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.”  These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song.  Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss.  Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs.  Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.

At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero.  This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”.  This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot.  You can still understand why they did this.  Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed.  Paul sings in falsetto again:  “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.”  The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays.  Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos.  If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.

So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.

At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.

The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.

A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”

There are two ways to listen to The Elder.  If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl.  If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release.  But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.

Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness.  It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves.  What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place.  Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home.  Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour.  The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted.  The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!

A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley.  Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998.  It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.

If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently.  We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records.  Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many.  When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be:  Some bands should not make concept albums.  Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess.  I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album.  Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record.  It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:

“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song.  I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song.  Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss.  More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record.  Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.

“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again.  Solid song.  Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel. 

“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track.  I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.

“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice.  Right producer, wrong band.   (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)

“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me.  Gregorian Monks?  Bah….

“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now.  Could have used more Lou Reed.

“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track.  Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me.  One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it.  Unmasked this album is not.

“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker.  Great drumming.  This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live.   LeBrain?  [Nope]

“Odyssey” – WTF?  Was this Paul’s tryout demo  for Phantom of the Opera?  This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.

Favorite Tracks”  “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”

Forgettable Tracks:  Take your pick….


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/26

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

bThe KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 18:  It’s a KISS three-fer!  LeBrain and Uncle Meat discuss KISS Unmasked below.  Meanwhile Deke at Stick it in Your Ear has an accompanying piece called Peter Criss:  Tossed and Turning!

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

“I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album.  It’s wimpy” – Paul Stanley, KISS Behind the Mask

Here we are at Unmasked, the very album that inspired the Kiss Re-Review series in the first place.  It’s a polarizing platter.  The band often trash it and shun it in concert.  Meanwhile, some fans have grown to appreciate it, particularly in Europe and Australia.  There is even a tribute CD on a German label with covers of the entire album.  Indeed, Unmasked is not without strengths.  Ace Frehley contributed another three songs of his own, continuing the growth he demonstrated on his solo album and Dynasty.

On the other side of the ledger, there were factors that fans see as a diluting of the Kiss sound.  Co-writers were now the norm.  Returning producer Vini Poncia had eight co-writes.  They used a track by songwriter Gerard McMahon.  Even ghost guitarist Bob Kulick had a co-write on Gene’s “Naked City”.  Most importantly, but publicly unknown at the time, was that Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Peter Criss’ substance issues had come to a head and he was not involved with the album at all.  He was on the cover, and in the credits, but all Peter did was mime some drums for the “Shandi” music video.  When that shoot was done, Peter was gone.  Anton Fig (Dynasty, Ace Frehley) returned again to fill the gap behind the scenes.

The album demonstrated a slick turn towards pop rock.  Not disco so much, although the compression on the drums and guitars gives it a disco sound.  The keyboards and slick production sweetened the album to the point that the thunder of Alive! or Love Gun was completely absent.  Kiss were becoming caricatures in pursuit of megahits.

The Gerard McMahon song “Is That You?” was selected to open Unmasked.  This sexy grind is one of the best tracks, with Paul in peak voice showing off what he can do.  The slow and dirty pop rock number gets the job done, with minimal loss of integrity.  That’s Paul on lead guitar too, one of several songs on which he solos, though it is hard to tell.  In fact Unmasked is one of those Kiss albums on which you can’t be sure who played what.

Only one Kiss member appears on the big single, “Shandi”, and that’s Paul Stanley.  On bass was Tom Harper, and Holly Knight on keyboards.  There is little doubt that “Shandi” is a fantastic song, and it worked particularly well live in the acoustic setting.  While Unmasked blurred the lines between rock and pop, “Shandi” is pure pop joy — almost adult contemporary!

Frehley’s first track was a favourite called “Talk to Me”, a song many Kiss fans easily embraced.  These first three songs were performed on the Unmasked tour, which demonstrates their worth.  “Talk to Me” has a cool guitar riff and one of Ace’s most infectious choruses – an instant classic.  Ace had really grown as a singer by this point.

The waters get murkier after the first three tracks.  Gene’s “Naked City” is a grower.  It possesses hooks and great verses, but the main guitar riff doesn’t hit the spot.  Gene’s falsetto voice is employed to great effect.  It takes a few spins, but “Naked City” has a cool darkness to it and a strange kind of class.  That is followed by the very pop “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a keyboard-heavy Paul Stanley tune.  It sounds very little like Kiss, but Paul’s performance (guitar solo included) is stellar.  Falsetto must have been very popular at the time.  Bee Gees, anyone?

Paul’s side two opener “Tomorrow” is just as pop as “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”.  These would be great songs for somebody else’s album.  Perhaps Rick Astley.  Fortunately the side is quickly redeemed by Ace’s excellent “Two Sides of the Coin”.  Notably, this song inspired the title of Michael Brandvold’s Kiss podcast, “Three Sides of the Coin“.  Ace’s track is a fan favourite, upbeat and melodic with just enough guitar bite.  If the production was meatier, as on Ace’s solo album, it would be an absolute killer.

Gene continues chasing the ladies on “She’s So European”, a filler track with familiar themes.  “She makes love on a brass bed, because her parents are still awake.”  Not Gene’s finest moment.  “Easy As It Seems” is a Paul track, and also not one of his finest, but the bouncy bass (by Paul) is quite great.  But is that a bloody keyboard solo that I detect?

One of the most interesting tracks, and most instrumentally impressive, is Ace’s surf rock classic “Torpedo Girl”.  This is just a fun summertime track with infectious ooh-ahh vocal hooks.  His role within Kiss resulted in some of their more unique songs, and “Torpedo Girl” is unorthodox.  Ace’s picking is enviable, and the lyrics are just pure fun.  “Come on, get your feet wet.”

Album closer “You’re All That I Want” is one of Gene’s tunes, but Paul’s vocals on the outro sell it.  It’s a little on the light side, as is much of Unmasked, but it remains a good song.

On a personal note, I have one very strong memory of Unmasked.  I first heard it by taping it off a friend, my late neighbor George.  George dropped the needle on the record, hit record on my tape, and then got out his bass and played bass along to every song.  Unbeknownst to him, his bass playing bled onto the tape.  From that point until I finally got a store-bought cassette copy, I always heard George’s bass on the fade-outs of every song.  I can still hear it in my head.  I suppose that’s one way that George is still alive, in my memory.

Unmasked was released on May 20, 1980, with a bright cartoony cover including Peter Criss.  Meanwhile the band were already preparing for their first of many lineup changes, something that was kept quiet until the right moment.

In July, Kiss were ready to unveil the new member.  Paul Caravello, from Brooklyn, impressed Kiss with his audition and humble personality.  The story that everybody remembers is that Caravello asked the guys for their autographs in case he never saw them again.  No worries there; the job was destined to be his.  But Kiss couldn’t have another guy named Paul, and his last name was too “ethnic” (obviously Italian), so his name was changed to Eric Carr.  (Fortunately, Gene’s suggestion of “Rusty Blades” was discarded.)  The newly dubbed Eric was an energetic mighty-mite of rock, and the band quickly grew to love him.  Everything was new to him.

“The Hawk”

A new makeup design was required.  This was a big deal — a new challenge.  A hawk concept was tried, but in the costume Carr looked more like Big Bird than a rock star.  He drew up an inspired fox design which immediately clicked.  The new character was born!

Carr’s first appearance with the band was at their only US date on this tour: New York on July 25 1980.  The rest of the tour took place in Europe and Australia where “Shandi” became a hit.  There were only 41 shows in total.  Despite their best efforts, Kiss’ fortunes were shifting.  Opening acts on the tour included Iron Maiden, which must have been quite the mismatch.  Given Maiden’s reputation for blowing away headliners (much like Kiss when they started out), you must wonder how this went down.  Girl, featuring future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis, also opened a handful of gigs.

Unfortunately for fans, especially in North America, this was the last tour for a long time.  It was also the only tour featuring this lineup.  While Kiss had endured their first lineup change, that was only just the beginning of the problems to solve.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Unmasked was released in May of 1980. A couple of months later I had heard that Kiss was going to introduce their new drummer on a show called Kids Are People Too. Seeing Kiss in the Phantom movie on TV was one thing. But knowing they were being interviewed, and introducing their newest member…Eric “The Fox” Carr. I watch it today on YouTube, and it’s so…umm…not what I remember. But it was monumental at the time for me. At this point, I had heard Unmasked once at a friend’s place and was underwhelmed. But I loved the album cover and still think it is probably their best. My take on Unmasked is much different now, and was how LeBrain’s Re-Reviews started in the first place. First of all I will address this. Mike referred in the beginning of this series to the two “Disco” era Kiss albums of Dynasty and Unmasked. Dynasty has one Disco song. Unmasked does not have anything close to a Disco song. Some would say “Shandi”, but that is Kiss capitalizing on the Soft Rock success of the day. Unmasked may not be a typical Kiss album, but thanks to Vini Poncia it’s a great album of Rock tunes and one of my favorite Kiss albums.

The drumming on this album is a major high point. Anton Fig shines all over this disc. Ace also continues his consistent roll with great rock songs like “Talk To Me”. He has such a great Rock and Roll voice. The background vocals are great too. “Two Sides of the Coin” is another song with incredible drumming, and a single writing credit. Both this song and “Talk To Me” are the only two songs on the album that don’t have an outside writing credit. Subsequently these songs sound more like classic Kiss than the rest of the album. However “Torpedo Girl” is another story. This might be the shining moment of Ace’s career in Meat’s opinion. Unbelievable guitar riff and funky drum beat. I have had it in my head for days now.

It seems that the addition of Vini Poncia to the Kiss machine inspired Gene Simmons as well. Unlike Dynasty where his songs were mostly forgettable, a couple of his songs on this album shine here. “She’s So European” is “completely ridiculous” but a “great fucking tune” (according to my longtime Kiss-mate Scott) . That about says it all. “Naked City” sees the falsetto of Gene Simmons on display here in another catchy song. There are great hooks within this song, which is indicative of the whole album really. However the album closer, “You’re All That I Want” might be the weakest track on the album. I do though love the ending, which you hear Stanley screaming in his typical live-show style.

Paul Stanley’s contributions on this album are good as well, with a few curveballs thrown in. “Shandi” was a massive Australian hit, and even though the song is about as limp as it can be, I still love the song. Reminds me of the Little River Band and Ambrosia songs of the Soft Rock era that I still dig. “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” is a solid song, with some of the greatest solo guitar playing Paul Stanley has put to record. “Tomorrow” sounds a lot like .38 Special to me and is just OK. “Easy As it Seems” is a solid song that incorporates keyboards in an interesting way, and might be the best Stanley song on Unmasked.

Overall Unmasked is a misunderstood, understated classic. I am curious to see if time has changed LeBrain’s take on this album. All I can say is…this may be Kiss’s last truly great album. From here on in, the “Meat’s Slice” section will start to get a lot shorter, with a couple exceptions.

Favorite Tracks: “Torpedo Girl”, “Shandi”, “Is That You”, “Talk To Me”, “She’s so European”

Forgettable Tracks: “You’re All That I Want”, “Tomorrow” (both borderline)


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/25

 

 

 

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Milwaukee Live ’87 (2015)

scan_20161014ACE FREHLEY’S COMET – Milwaukee Summerfest Live 1987 (2015 Echoes radio broadcast)

In 1987, Ace Frehley had just begun his comeback.  He recorded a well received debut as Frehley’s Comet, with a notable appearance by drummer par excellence Anton Fig.  Anton had been working steadily for the Letterman show since 1986 and so was not on the tour this CD was captured from.   This version of the Comet featured new drummer Billy Ward.  They were recorded live in Milwaukee at Summerfest on June 29th of that year.  It was taped for broadcast and somehow survived.  Live radio broadcast CDs are so common now that you can even find them at Walmart.  Some are worth the cash, others less so.  A Frehley’s Comet broadcast from the first tour is automatically interesting to Kiss collectors.

Unfortunately what buyers will discover is that this CD is a harsh chore to listen to.  Vocals are back in the mix, bass way up front, and there is a thin haze of staticky air over it.  Ace’s perennial opener, “Rip It Out” (from his 1978 solo album) is but a shadow of the better produced version on the Live + 1 EP.  This is through no fault of the band, featuring mainstay bassist John Regan, singer/guitarist Tod Howarth, and Ward.

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Ace sings lead on most of the material, but Tod Howarth has a couple songs from the first Comet LP.  “Something Moved” and “Breakout” (co-written by the late Eric Carr) are fast paced action, while “Calling to You” is anthemic pop rock.  Howarth was in excellent voice that night, this much is certain.  Ace sings a handful of Kiss tunes as well as solo and Comet material.  Gene Simmons originally sang “Cold Gin”, but Ace took it back for himself by singing it live.  At the same time, Kiss were also playing “Cold Gin” live (a song Ace wrote) and fans will have to decide who pulled it off best.  Ace even tackles “Deuce”, a song Gene wrote.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

It really is a shame that the audio hampers the listening experience.  It sounds like a legitimately great Ace performance.  Having a guy like Howarth in the band enabled Ace to have multiple lead singers like Kiss did.  On the Kiss covers, Howarth takes the Paul Stanley role.  Billy Ward and John Regan make the songs a little more complex rhythmically than the Kiss originals, but Ace also adds in new and extended solos.  The end results are enhanced, Ace-ified covers.  No notable tracks are missing; it is a really solid set list of Ace Frehley classics.

There are some who will happily purchase anything with Ace’s name on it (guilty!) and there are others who can live without.  Decide who you are and spend your money appropriately.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: KISS – Deadly Demos (1995 bootleg)

First of a Kiss two-fer.
Scan_20160808KISS – Deadly Demos (1995 Firehouse Records bootleg)

Some Kiss fans are willing to pay money for every burp and fart that Gene or Paul have committed to tape.  Deadly Demos (or Deadly Kisses according to the CD itself) definitely has some material that is difficult to listen to quality-wise.  It also has some decent versions of rare tracks that Kiss fans are seeking.  When it comes to collecting Kiss, the band occasionally cough up official versions of heavily bootlegged rarities.  The Kiss Box Set gave us a number of these tracks, as did Kiss 40 and the Love Gun deluxe edition.  That may sound generous, but there are so many more Kiss demos out there that the band could easily compile onto a few CDs worth of decent tracks.  Gene has always said “don’t worry, they’re coming”.  Impatient fans have had to settle for shoddy unofficial discs like Deadly Demos to get their fix.

“Nowhere to Run”, originally from Kiss Killers, is an early version of the song, but the demo is unfortunately hampered by the too-fast tape speed.  This can easily be fixed digitally, but the track suffers from high static and low clarity.  It’s too bad because the demo version sounds fiery.  “Secretly Cruel” (Asylum) is better and rocks harder than the album version.  Because these are demos, you have to expect a certain lack of clarity, but it’s cool hearing slightly different arrangements and lyrics.  “Nobody’s Perfect” is a great little song that didn’t appear officially until 2009’s Sonic Boom, heavily re-written, but the chorus was intact a long time ago.  Another Gene demo “It’s Gonna Be Alright” just has a drum machine and simple guitar part, but it would be one of Kiss’s pop rock classics if they ever decide to commit it to album.

A Paul demo (“Get All You Can Take” from Animalize) breaks up the Gene party, but it is an instrumental version.  It has a heavy Zeppelin sound without the vocals, but the sound quality is pretty poor.  When these guys were recording demos like this, it was mostly just to get the idea down onto tape so you could show the others what your idea was.  Fidelity was not considered essential, and a lot of these tapes had been copied many many times before they were finally digitized onto CD.  “Thrills in the Night” is probably from the same source.  You can hear other music leaking through too.  The sound is atrocious, but what is cool here is that it gives you an idea how Paul Stanley writes.  The music and melody are all but complete, but the lyrics are not, so Paul sings it in “doo doo doo” vocals.  It’s incredible how intact the song already was at this stage, including a guitar solo that is clearly by Mark St. John.  An earlier song, Paul’s “Deadly Weapons” from the Kiss Killers period would have been a fun hard rocking addition to that LP.  Some of the lyrics were used on Gene’s “Love’s A Deadly Weapon” from Asylum, which is the reason it has a Stanley/Simmons/Swenson/Beech writing credit.  Paul and Gene weren’t writing together for pretty much all of the 80’s, but Gene lifted some words from “Deadly Weapons”.

Populating the demos from the late 80’s, “Hide Your Heart” is outstanding, very close to the album cut, and has decent audio.  However the real holy grail is “Sword and Stone”, the track Paul wrote but was recorded by Bonfire for the Shocker soundtrack.  Having it on bootleg is not as good as having an official quality release, but this will have to do for now.  Kiss really should have put out this version on something back when it was recorded.  They shouldn’t have given it away.  As such it’s become a fan favourite over the years.  (Maybe Kiss should considering re-recording some of these old songs and releasing an album like Van Halen did.)

Other interesting tracks include “Let’s Put the X in Sex”, which isn’t even a demo.  This sounds flat out like a bad remix of the album version.  There are three “Let’s Put the X in Sex” remixes on this disc.  These are supposed to be promotional dance-y remixes done to get the song some club play.  While it’s nice to get tracks like this, the disc is called Deadly Demos, not Deadly Misc. Rarities.  Come on people.  The sound quality isn’t even a vinyl rip, so the origin of these remixes is questionable.  A much better (though still not a demo) inclusion is “Hard Luck Woman” performed on Leno by Kiss and Garth Brooks in 1994, to promote the Kiss My Ass tribute album.  From the same period, it’s Gin Blossoms and Kiss doing “Christine Sixteen”, on Letterman.  There are a few other live tracks, from unknown (broadcast) origins, but you can tell it’s Eric Singer on drums, so it must have been the 90’s.

The most infamous Kiss outtake of all time is the song “Feels Like Heaven”, which Peter Criss actually recorded himself on his second solo album, Let Me Rock You.  It’s an urban funk/soul combo but what exists on tape is just a snip of the song.  The reason it is so infamous is that Gene ends the song with a pretty crude statement that I won’t even reproduce here!  (And I’m a guy who’s written multiple articles about poop and pee!)   Oh Gene, you smooth talker you.

In order to rate a disc like this, you have to remember that it doesn’t simply boil down to numbers.  There are some valued tracks here, such as “Sword and Stone” and “Deadly Weapons”.  There is also a lot of material that will strain you just to listen to it.  As always, spend your money appropriately.

2/5 stars