eric singer

RE-REVIEW: KISS – “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” (1991 single)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 40:

 – “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” (1991 Interscope single)

Kiss’ Hot in the Shade tour wasn’t a sellout, but it was well received by fans who appreciated that a bunch of older songs were back in the set.  The tour was unfortunately highlighted by the June 15, 1990 date in Toronto, igniting a feud with Whitesnake.  Kiss were third on a four-band bill, with David Coverdale, Steve Vai and company in the headlining slot.  Paul Stanley used his stage raps to complain that Whitesnake wouldn’t let them use their full setup, including a giant sphinx.  When Whitesnake hit the stage, it was to a chorus of boos.  Steve Vai later stated that it was the first time he had ever been booed.  Vai once even walked onstage to the sound of people chanting “Yngwie! Yngwie! Yngwie!”, but he had never been booed until the incident with Kiss in Toronto.

When the tour wrapped up in November, Kiss took a few months off before gearing up again in the new year.  It was to be another album, another tour, but suddenly real life interfered.

Eric Carr hadn’t been feeling well.  Flu-like symptoms turned out to be heart cancer.  Simultaneously, Kiss received an offer to record a song for the sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Carr underwent surgery in April, with chemotherapy following.  Having little choice, Kiss recorded without him.  Eric Singer, who had performed so well on Paul Stanley’s solo tour, filled in on drums.  Eric Carr, in a wig, was able to play for the music video taping.  He gave his all, and did a full day’s shoot, with excellent (pun intended) results.

Unfortunately a rift was developing, with Eric Carr feeling shunned and excluded from Kiss.  He was afraid he was going to be replaced, permanently, and his relationship with the band was strained.  Although everybody hoped Eric would make a full recovery, he passed away from a brain haemorrhage on November 21, 1991.  Eric Carr was 41.

On the same date, Freddie Mercury of Queen succumbed to AIDS.  Carr’s death was barely mentioned in the news, including Rolling Stone magazine who missed it completely, prompting a harsh reply from Kiss:

If anything positive came from Eric Carr’s death, it was that Kiss were going to put all that anger and frustration back into the music.  The music was to be their Revenge.

It started with “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II”, a re-imagining of an old Argent song for the Bill & Ted movie.  Eric Carr may not have been well enough to play drums, but that didn’t stop him from singing.  His vocals on “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” were his last.  The song wouldn’t be the same without Carr, as he can be heard sweetly harmonising with Paul Stanley.   Eric Singer wasn’t credited on the single, or the final soundtrack for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.  It simply says “performed by Kiss”.

“God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” was important for two more reasons.  First, and very significantly, it was produced by Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin was responsible for the two albums that some consider Kiss’ best, and Kiss’ worst.  It had been 10 years.  A Kiss-Ezrin reunion was very big news for fans.  It indicated that Kiss meant business this time.  Secondly, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” was the first Paul Stanley/Gene Simmons (with Bob Ezrin and Russ Ballard) co-writing credit since 1985, and their first shared vocals in ages upon ages.

Although it didn’t make waves in 1991, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” has become enough of a favourite to make it onto 2015’s Kiss 40 compilation, and continue to be played live.  It shows off what Kiss can really do.  Yes, they can sing!  Yes, they can play!   This lineup could do it particularly well.  It’s appropriate that Eric Carr went out on a good Kiss track.  And Eric Singer was the right guy to continue.

There are three released versions of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II”:  The single edit (3:57), the soundtrack version (5:23) and the final 1992 version that was later released on the next Kiss album (5:19).  The single edit cuts out too much of the grand, pompous arrangement, including the epic opening.

In an ironic twist, the version of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” that is in the movie has a guitar intro solo by Steve Vai.  The same guy whose band got booed in Toronto thanks to Kiss.

The CD single is rounded out by two more songs from the Bill & Ted soundtrack, by Slaughter and King’s X.  The King’s X track, “Junior’s Gone Wild” (previously reviewed in our mega King’s X series) has never been one of their better tunes, but as a non-album rarity, a nice one to have.  Just don’t judge King’s X by this one track.  Slaughter turned in something better, a fun party tune called “Shout It Out”, also a non-album recording.  Slaughter, of course, were one of Kiss’ well-received opening acts on the Hot in the Shade tour.  And what was their Kiss connection?  Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum were in a band with Kiss’ old guitar player, called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion!

As work proceeded on the next LP, the world suddenly changed.  Hard rock was out, and grunge took over MTV.  This single bought Kiss a little bit of time, but it was going to be the longest gap between Kiss albums yet — three years.  Revenge had to wait a little longer.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/08

 

 

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REVIEW: KISS – “Forever” (4 track single, 1990)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 39: bonus single review

 – “Forever” (1990 Polygram EP)

Kiss took the unusual step of waiting six months before going out on tour to support Hot in the Shade.  Bands were having trouble selling out arenas.  In the meantime they released singles and videos.  “Hide Your Heart” came first in October of 1989.  It did alright; for fans the best part of “Hide Your Heart” was seeing Paul Stanley playing guitar again in the music video.  The CD single was nothing special; just the Paul Stanley A-side, backed by two Gene Simmons B-sides, as had become the norm.  “Betrayed” and “Boomerang” were among the better Simmons tracks to chose from Hot in the Shade.

In January of the new year, they dropped what they hoped to be the big single, “Forever”.  The excellent music video was an MTV hit, going to #1, while the single went to #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.  One reason the video was so well received is that it was a rare back-to-basics look at the band.  It was just four guys playing together in a room.  No girls, no gimmicks, no dancing.  Featuring exceptional performances by Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick, “Forever” was one of those rare ballads with integrity.  Having Bruce’s old Blackjack buddy, Michael Bolton, in the writing credits didn’t hurt.

Ace Frehley wasn’t impressed though.  In the July 1990 issue of Guitar for the Practising Musician, he dismissed it as pop.  He wasn’t wrong, but that doesn’t make “Forever” bad.

The single for “Forever” received a wider release on all three major formats (CD, vinyl and tape), and was expanded to EP length with four tracks.  It also received something very rare for Kiss:  a single exclusive remix, by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero.  It has some difference in levels and echo.  However, every CD copy of this single has a flaw, a skip at 1:40 that shouldn’t be there.  It’s not even a damaged CD; if you look at the track times, the single version is encoded few seconds shorter.  In other words a faulty master was used on every CD single.  You won’t find one without the skip.  Vinyl and cassette don’t have the flaw.

Fortunately this oversight was fixed when Kiss released their box set a decade later.  The correct remixed single version without flaw was remastered and included in the set.

The included B-sides are an interesting mix.  From the Hot in the Shade album, there’s the Gene Simmons throwaway “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away”.  The other two are, strangely, two of Paul’s “new” tracks from Kiss Killers.  The logic here was the Kiss Killers was (and still is) unreleased in North America.  At least this gave us an easy way to get the amazing “Nowhere to Run” on CD.

Too bad about that flaw on the CD version.  Otherwise this isn’t a bad little single.

4/5 stars (cassette and vinyl versions)

0/5 stars (CD)

To be continued…

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Hot in the Shade (1989)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 38: 

 – Hot in the Shade (1989 Polygram)

Step one:  Get Gene Simmons’ demon head back into the game.

Step two:  Record a rock album, not a Bon-keyboard-Jovi-Kiss hybrid.

Throw in the kitchen sink while you’re at it.  It’s Kiss, so what’s wrong with excess?  Why not a new album with 15 tracks?  Why not work with Vini Poncia, Desmond Child, Holly Knight, and Michael Bolotin Bolton?  How about bringing in Tommy Thayer from Black ‘n Blue to co-write some tunes?

Why not indeed.  The results yielded were interesting to say the least, and certainly more rock and roll than anything else Kiss did in the 1980s.  It is also overall one of the hardest Kiss albums to listen to front to back.  A for effort, D for songs.  Its bloated and unfinished track list seemed like Kiss was trying really hard on one end, but gave up on the other.

Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons self-produced Hot in the Shade, after the negative experience with outsider Ron Nevison.  This meant that there was no-one to push them to do better, as Bob Ezrin and Eddie Kramer would.  No-one to say “no” to using demo tapes on the finished albums.  No-one to say “no” to 15 tracks, to drum machines, and to sub-par songs.

Issues aside, Hot in the Shade is not all bad.  At least you can say that Kiss went for it.

Opener “Rise to It” begins with something new:  acoustic slide guitar (from Paul Stanley)!  In a time when rock bands were re-discovering the blues, this old-timey touch was a welcome sound.  The slide gives way to one of Paul’s most incendiary tracks of the decade.  Written with expert songsmith Bob Halligan Jr., “Rise to It” hits all the right spots.

“Rise to It” was eventually chosen as a third single to promote Kiss’ upcoming 1990 tour.  The music video opened a door that fans refused to allow them to close:  Kiss in makeup again.  Instead of the slide guitar intro, the video takes us to a theoretical 1975.  Gene and Paul sit in the dressing room, applying their legendary whitepaint.  The conversation was one that Gene and Paul may have had many times in the old days:  musing on a life without makeup.

“I saw that review today.  Some of those people don’t think this is gonna last.  They think it’s a joke,” says Paul.  Gene reassures them that it doesn’t matter as long as they believe in themselves.

“I bet you we could take the makeup off and it wouldn’t make any difference,” Paul retorts.  Gene calls him nuts.

“Gene, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

“Still say you’re nuts.”

At the end of the video, there they were: Paul and Gene, Starchild and Demon, in makeup for the first time in seven years.  What did it mean?  Was it just hype?  Of course it was.  It would be seven more years before they’d do a tour in makeup again.

But it was cool, and it made many fans smile ear to ear.

Like all the previous Kiss albums from the non-makeup era, all three single/videos were Paul songs.  Though “Rise to It” is the most noteworthy video, “Hide Your Heart” was first.  This Stanley/Child/Knight outtake from Crazy Nights was actually first recorded by Bonnie Tyler in 1988.   At the same time that Kiss were recording it for Hot in the Shade, Ace Frehley also did his own version for 1989’s Trouble Walkin’.  Confusing?  Kiss were the only band to have a semi-hit with it (#22 US).

As a nice change of pace from putting X’s in sex, the lyrics were a story about star-crossed lovers in gangland.  “Tito looked for Johnny with a vengeance and a gun, Johnny better run better run,” sings Paul.   In fact, “Hide Your Heart” does not get enough credit in fan circles for being lyrically different.  At least it is recognised as a great tune from a poor album.

Kiss weren’t worried about competition from Ace and did indeed record the best version of “Hide Your Heart”.

The most notable single was the ballad “Forever” (and we will take a closer look at the CD single in the next instalment of this series). Michael Bolton was an old bandmate of Bruce Kulick’s from the Blackjack days.  Before he was a superstar crooner, he was a rocker.  Together he and Paul wrote “Forever”, which became the big hit (#8 Billboard hot 100).

As an acoustic ballad, “Forever” is far more palatable than the keyboardy “Reason to Live” from ’87.  What gives it balls are the two unsung Kiss members:  Kulick and Eric Carr.  Eric’s heavy drumming on “Forever” really kicks it up a notch.  Listen to that hammering 1-2-3-4 bit at the 1:05 mark.  “When you’re strong you can stand on your own…” ONE TWO THREE FOUR on the snares.  Heavy as fuck on a ballad!  Then there’s Bruce’s acoustic solo, another first for Kiss.  The temptation would be to record a ripping electric solo like everyone else.  Bruce wrote and recorded a hook-laden acoustic solo that is as much a part of the song as the chorus.

Those are your three standouts from Hot in the Shade, leaving 12 more that don’t hit the same bar.

Of the remaining 12 tracks, Eric Carr’s lead vocal “Little Caesar” is significant.  Making him sing “Beth” on Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was unfair and a cheat.  “Little Caesar” is his “real” lead vocal debut.  Originally written as “Ain’t That Peculiar” (later released on a Kiss box set), the words changed to reflect one of Eric’s nicknames.  He was, after all, a little Italian guy!  The funky “Little Ceasar” was performed entirely by Eric and Bruce Kulick.

US picture CD

Gene’s “Boomerang” (written for Crazy Nights with Bruce) may be noteworthy as the closest Kiss have ever gotten to thrash metal.  Another Gene tune, “Cadillac Dreams” has a horn section and electric slide guitars.  Paul’s “Silver Spoon” is augmented by soulful female backing vocals.  You have to give them credit for stretching out and trying new things, but keeping it rock and roll.

Then there is a slew of filler, stuff that would never be played live nor remembered fondly.  Gene has a number of generic sounding songs, heavy but uninteresting:  “Betrayed”, “Prisoner of Love”, “Love’s a Slap in the Face”, “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away”, and “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell”.  Paul is also guilty of providing filler material.  “Read My Body” isn’t bad, but sounds like his attempt to re-write “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.  “King of Hearts” and “You Love Me to Hate You” both have good parts here and there, but not quite enough.

As unfocused as Hot in the Shade is, at least it was a step.  Sure, adding horns and slides smacked of Aerosmith.  Going almost-thrash was following, not leading.  Musically, Kiss have never been leaders, but what they do is create their own confections from the ingredients of their best influences.  Hot in the Shade represented a better mixture of  ingredients, just without the discipline to mould them into 10 (just 10, not 15!) good songs.

Today’s rating:

1.5/5 stars

The story of the next three years in Kiss will be explored in a series of reviews on CD singles, live bootlegs, and solo releases.  Don’t miss them!

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/07

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 36: 

 – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988 Mercury)

Though hard to believe, in 1988 Kiss needed the money.  According to CK Lendt in his book KISS and Sell, they were in trouble financially.  Some bad investments and too many expenses, plus the underperformance of Crazy Nights, had the band in a bind.  The traditional easy solution is to throw together a “greatest hits” set.

Gene announced this album to Canadian audiences on a trip to the Great White North promoting his record label, Simmons Records.  House of Lords were the band he primed to be big, and their debut album is held in high esteem by rock connoisseurs worldwide.  It seemed to fans that Simmons was transitioning from Hollywood to businessman.  Surely, it was hard to believe him when he claimed Kiss was still his priority.

Greatest hits albums need something new to sell them.  This was left to Paul Stanley, who produced two new songs co-written with Desmond Child (and Diane Warren on one).   It seems unlikely that Gene cared much at this point.  In the music video for one of the new songs, “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, he can be clearly seen miming the wrong words.

Speaking of music videos, “Let’s Put the X in Sex” was something new for the band (and it wasn’t the lawsuit from the people who owned the building in the video).  Suddenly, Kiss were a three-piece backing band with a guitar-less frontman.  At least in the videos for Crazy Nights, Paul Stanley wore and danced with a guitar.  In “Let’s Put the X in Sex”, he is front and center, without instrument:  the frontman.  Gene’s just the bass player in these videos, looking completely lost.  Paul was doing all the work behind the scenes, therefore he was going to take the spotlight.  And why not?

Getting two new Kiss songs on a greatest hits was good in theory.  Even back then, we sensed they were more the “Paul Stanley Project” than Kiss.  For Kiss, they are too light and glossy.  “Let’s Put the X in Sex” has horns (or is it synth?) making it sound vaguely like an Aerosmith outtake from Permanent Vacation.  At least Steven Tyler injects a little cleverness into his innuendo.  Both Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr rise to the occasion with worthy work, but the tune is a dud.

Likewise with “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, which passed for a rocker at the time.  Neither of the new tracks are as good as the four on Kiss Killers.  Paul must have just been out of gas.  He states these songs were the best he could do at the time without his partner in crime.  “Rock Hard” is just Kiss by numbers.

First two tracks aside, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits contains 13 of the greatest.  Most are remixed (ill-advisedly) to bring all the tracks to a standard sonic backdrop.  The remixes are from a variety of names in a number of studios:  Dave Wittman, David Thoener, Jay Messina for example.  Some played it a little more loose with the tracks, others didn’t meddle much.  “Love Gun” is an example of a remix that changes things up, but still works.  Ace’s solo is given more emphasis by mixing out the vocals.  It’s a cool alternate arrangement.  Excess echo is added on the drums…you can’t win ’em all.  Many of the remixes suffer from drum related issues.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits takes a scattershot approach to running order.  It’s very telling that no tracks from Crazy Nights were included, except in the UK where “Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Reason to Live” were hits.  No tracks with an Ace Frehley writing credit were included, and only one from Peter Criss.  That’s another gripe that fans have with this album.

“Beth” is included, a throwback to one of Kiss’ biggest hits, which they tended to shun since Peter’s 1980 departure from Kiss.  It’s considered a slap in the face to Peter that Eric Carr was called in to re-record the lead vocal.  The backing track is identical.  Carr never felt comfortable in this role, but had never been featured on an album lead vocal before.  It was a hell of a dilemma for the drummer.  He’d been in the band for six years and six albums, and never got a lead vocal.  He did the best he could.  The re-recorded “Beth” didn’t replace the original, and it remains an oddity in the Kiss canon.

One afternoon in the summer of 1990, Bob and I were hanging out with these two girls at his trailer that we were going out with.  We were listening to songs, but Bob and I didn’t seem to get much say in what songs.  One of the girls said, “I have some Kiss!” and put on Beth.  As soon as she did, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the original.  Simultaneously, Both and I both said, “Oh no, it’s Eric!”  The girls had no idea what we were talking about or why it was a big deal.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was the first compilation to reconcile the makeup and non-makeup eras of Kiss.  The majority are from the makeup years, as it should be, with only three from non-makeup albums.  You could argue for this song and that song, but the running order is jarring.  “Heaven’s On Fire” into “Dr. Love” is not even as bizarre as “Beth” into “Tears are Falling”.  The less familiar remixes don’t help the situation.  Incidentally, the only songs untouched by remixers’ hands are “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”, “Tears are Falling” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.

There was no tour for Smashes, Thrashes and Hits.  Gene had his label stuff, including a new Canadian band called Gypsy Rose to think about.  (Remember “Poisoned By Love” on Simmons Records?)  Paul Stanley didn’t want to sit idle, and so did a 1989 solo tour.  Kiss family member Bob Kulick returned to his side on guitar.  Kiss keyboardist Gary Corbett was there with bassist Dennis St. James and ex-Black Sabbath drummer Eric Singer.  The setlist featured a number of old Kiss classics that hadn’t been played live in 10 years, such as “I Want You”.  Eric Carr was unhappy about the solo tour, worrying about what it meant.  Like most Kiss fans, he wondered if it was the beginning of the end.  He also worried that Paul didn’t ask him to be his solo drummer.  Paul said it was because two Kiss members wouldn’t be right for a solo tour.  Ominously, Eric Carr said about Singer:  “That’s the guy who’s going to replace me.”

Fans were confused and some were unhappy.  Like they had once before, Kiss were drifting further and further into pop music.  This time, it was without Ace Frehley to keep them anchored.  Paul Stanley now seemed to be a Bon Jovi-like dancing frontman.  These new songs were not easy to stomach, and the Eric Carr vocal felt all wrong.  Had Kiss lost all credibility?  Smashes, Thrashes and Hits wasn’t winning any back.

Today’s rating:

2/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/06

REVIEW: KISS – Monster (Japan Tour Edition bonus CD)

This review is for reader Juan, from Spain — thank you for reading!

KISS – Monster (Japan Tour Edition, 2013 Universal Japan)

In my 32 years of collecting music, I have learned a number of immutable laws of the hobby.  The Three Laws of Collecting are:

The First Law:  Japan shall always get the best stuff.
The Second Law:  Anything worth releasing is worth re-releasing.
The Third Law:  Kiss fans shall buy anything, often more than once.

The Three Laws of Collecting are why I now have purchased my fifth copy of Kiss Monster.  The album came out in 2012, meaning I have bought more than one copy per year since its release:  Original CD, vinyl, iTunes, Japanese CD, and now this 2 CD Japan Tour Edition, which has all the tracks from all the versions, and then some.

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This is not a review of Monster; we have reviewed that album twice now (once by Mike Ladano and once by Tommy Morais).  Rather this is a review of the Tour Edition’s second disc, which is a pretty cool “best of” collection covering a very nice chunk of Kisstory.  What can another greatest hits possibly offer?  Believe it or not, the Monster Tour Edition has a slightly different slant that might be interesting to die-hards.

This is the first time “Psycho Circus” has opened a Kiss compilation.  It was their tour opener in 1998-99 and so naturally fits this slot.  It was one of the stronger tracks from Psycho-Circus itself, which was otherwise a pretty disappointing reunion album.  Mainly because Peter and Ace barely played on it.  Indeed, on this track you will get Kevin Valentine on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar, uncredited.  That said, the track still kicks ass and has proven to be the only song from that album that still gets played now and then.

I’m always happy to hear oldies like “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll” on a hits CD.  The same goes for “Black Diamond”, one of the more epic Kiss tracks.  These old album cuts might not be as well known to casual fans and might surprise even Kiss haters.  However, no casual fan or Kiss hater is going to be hearing the Monster Tour Edition.  So the die-hards again will be hearing “Shout it Out Loud”, “Rock and Roll all Nite”, “Detroit Rock City”, “God of Thunder”, “Love Gun” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” for the umpteenth time.  Mixed in among these are some of the second-tier hits from the 80’s:  “I Love it Loud”, “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”.  The exact mixture of ingredients is different, but these songs have been on best-of CDs by Kiss before.

The one unique inclusion is “Say Yeah” from 2009’s Sonic Boom, its first appearance on a hits disc.  Its place here is deserved.  Sonic Boom represented a strong return to the studio for Kiss after a decade long absence.  “Say Yeah” was one of three songs played live in concert, and sounds the most like a timeless Kiss anthem.  (Sonic Boom was represented on the last greatest hits compilation, Kiss 40, by “Modern Day Delilah”.)

Finally there is the riffy “Right Here Right Now” which was previously the iTunes bonus track for Monster.  A physical copy is always better, and a Japanese high quality HMCD is even better than that.  And don’t worry — the original Japanese bonus track, a live version of “King of the Night Time World” from the Rock the Nation tour, is still intact on disc one.  (More on that in the video below.)

This version of Monster is finally the definitive one with all the tracks in one place.  The bonus hits disc is some pretty awesome icing.  When you have as many hits discs as Kiss do, you may just wonder “what’s the difference”?  Each one is different in its own often minor ways, and fans who appreciate this stuff will enjoy hearing a couple unique tunes for a change.

The only flaw with this HMCD reissue is that it lacks the original 3D lenticular cover. That is a bummer. I simply kept my original cover (it is a separate piece you can take out) from a prior version of Monster which I later gifted to a friend.  In fact that friend reviewed the single disc Japanese Monster!

I must add another law to my Three Laws of Collecting:

The Zeroth Law*:  You shall always have some buyer’s regret.

It is true.  I had all these songs before.  The only one I didn’t have physically was the iTunes download “Right Here Right Now”.  But I “had” to have it.  I could question that.  “You could have put that money towards some new tires”.  The CD could have paid for a week of lunches at Harvey’s.    A fool and their money?

I’m fine with that.

$/5 stars

*I didn’t make that word up.  Isaac Asimov added the Zeroth Law of Robotics to his Three Laws in 1985.  

REVIEW: KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import)

Two reviews for the price of none! For Deke’s review of Kiss Rocks Vegas, click here!

NEW RELEASE

KISS – Kiss Rocks Vegas (3 CD/1 Blu-ray Japanese import, 2016 Eagle Rock)

Kiss put on a hell of a show for their nine gig run in Las Vegas.  You could argue that spectacle is 50% of the Kiss experience.  That said, the audio has to hold up, and it does.  I gave it two spins before review: one at home and one in the car, and only after that did I put on the Blu-ray.  As expected, Paul Stanley’s voice is the chink in the armour.  But it is the only one.  This is one of the most musically capable versions of Kiss ever, and vocally they can’t be touched.  When Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, and Gene Simmons start to harmonize together, it becomes a far stronger beast.  This is how Kiss have adapted to Paul’s current vocal shortcomings, and on a whole it works.  Check out “Tears Are Falling” for a version of a song that gets a serious boost thanks to these guys singing backup.  Now get ready to rock for the next 80 minutes.  Of note, some of Paul’s stage raps are trimmed for time on the CD version, as is Gene’s “bass solo”/blood spitting/flying.  The video has the whole enchilada.

The audio is clear; Gene’s bass nicely audible and in the pocket.  With the 5.1 surround sound cranked, let’s dive into the Kiss Blu-ray, a fine shining example of hi-def rock video.  You can try to count the sparkles on Paul’s guitar, when they open with “Detroit Rock City”.  Their stage looks like a cross between the Creatures-era tank stage and a Dalek.  Giant screens ensure everybody gets a good view, which is a good thing since there is so much going on.  From “Detroit” into “Creatures” itself,  and then “Psycho Circus”, Kiss started the show with three of their classic openers from three different eras!  On screen it’s clear Paul Stanley is still in excellent physical shape.  He doesn’t look like someone who’s had a double hip replacement.   He hops around a bit, plays guitar between his legs, and dances up a storm as always.

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Kudos must be given to Tommy Thayer, who takes many of the flashier solos from 80’s Kiss and adapts them to the style of the 70’s that Kiss tend to ply most.  Tommy’s re-imagining of guitar solos and giving them a Frehley-like vibe is one reason to check out new live versions of these Kiss classics.  Never to be underrated is Eric Singer, a talent to be reckoned with in this band.  His beats are always perfect, but so is his voice.  As usual, he sings “Black Diamond” towards the end of the show, with respect and class.

Other setlist highlights:

Gene’s “War Machine” from Creatures (Gene blows fire at the end).  Paul’s “Tears are Falling” from Asylum (“Some of you weren’t born in 1985!” says Paul, accurately observing his audience).   “Lick It Up”, featuring Kiss’ sometimes-segue into “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.  “Hell or Hallelujah”, from Monster.  “God of Thunder” with its flying Gene, and playing way up high on a tiny little platform.  Paul running out to sing on a catwalk suspended over the crowd on “Love Gun”.  All of this is served up with lights, lasers, explosions, levitating platforms and larger-than-life sparkle.  Kiss still deliver it.

Admittedly, when there is so much great live Kiss from the past out there, it’s hard to get excited about a new one.  (Why watch a 2016 live version of “War Machine” when you can watch one from 1983, 1984, 1988 or 2004?)  The added bonus that makes the whole thing hard to say no to is a seven song acoustic set.  This is a makeup-free event in a packed conference room.  A few more rarities are served up here, such as “Love Her All I Can”.  The loose atmosphere is refreshing.  They goof around a bit on “Christine Sixteen” (in harmony!) and Paul helps with some forgotten words on “Goin’ Blind”.  Just don’t go and compare these with the acoustic ones on MTV Unplugged.  That was 20 years ago.  Controversially, Eric sings “Beth”.  The mitigating factor is that this is a small event for fans and not part of the main Vegas concert.  It’s worthwhile to get a version of this release that contains the acoustic portion on the bonus CD.

The Japanese release is an interesting one.  Instead of one CD, the Vegas concert is split over two.  This is probably because the concert is close to the 80 minimum maximum that a CD can hold, and the Japanese usually adhere to a higher manufacturing standard.  They also included a nice T-shirt in a shiny, embossed box.

As usual, any time Kiss release new product, fans will bitch that they’re over the hill.  They’ll complain that there are only two original members left, and that Paul’s voice is but a shadow of what it once was.  While these things are indeed true, Kiss have found a way to continue on with two talented members helping Paul out with the vocal burden.  If you don’t like it, fair play.  But let the rest of us continue to enjoy Kiss without your negativity.

3.5/5 stars

CD 1
1. “Detroit Rock City”
2. “Creatures of the Night”
3. “Psycho Circus”
4. “Parasite”
5. “War Machine”
6. “Tears are Falling”
7. “Deuce”
8. “Lick it Up”
9. “I Love it Loud”

CD 2
1. “Hell or Hallelujah”
2. Tommy guitar solo
3. “God of Thunder”
4. “Do You Love Me?”
5. “Love Gun”
6. “Black Diamond”
7. “Shout it Out Loud”
8. “Rock and Roll All Night”

CD 3 – Kiss Acoustic
1. “Comin’ Home”
2. “Plaster Caster”
3. “Hard Luck Woman”
4. “Christine Sixteen”
5. “Goin’ Blind”
6. “Love Her All I Can”
7. “Beth”

 

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

 

 

REVIEW: Bruce Kulick – BK3 (2010)

Scan_20160527BRUCE KULICK – BK3 (2010 Rocket Science)

There is so much more to Kiss than just the original members.  Sure, you may think Ace Frehley rules, and that his solo albums are awesome.  You’d be right — I’ve reviewed every single Ace Frehley album.  But let’s not forget about Bruce Kulick, who humbly held down the fort from 1984-1996.  Today, Kulick’s rocking the house with Grand Funk, and doing a fine job of it.  But just as there is more to Kiss than just the original members, there is more to Bruce than just Kiss or Grand Funk.  Bruce has always treated Kiss with respect, and his solo music shows the same care and love put into it.  BK3 is my favourite of his solo albums, including Audio Dog and Transformer.

Surely one of the draws to this Kulick record has to be the big name guest appearances.  The best of these is the late Doug Fieger (The Knack) on “Dirty Girl”, an incredibly catchy radio rocker.  So good is it, Classic Rock magazine listed it as the 29th best tune of 2010.  Hey, that’s a proud moment!  If I didn’t know it was Fieger singing, I wouldn’t have guessed.  I figured it was some young unknown with a great voice.  As great as this song is, and how hit-worthy it could have been, I don’t think it would have suited Kiss.  It’s too pop for Kiss, I think, but it’s not sell-out in any way, because Kulick makes sure the guitars are sweet, crunchy and loud.  Other guest shots include Steve Lukather, dueling with Bruce on the only instrumental “Between the Lines”.  Tobias Sammet shows up to sing the grinding “I’m an Animal”, and on drums is Kiss drummer Eric Singer.  As if that’s not enough, there are not one but two Simmons on this album.  The old man sings “Ain’t Gonna Die”, a heavy Kiss-like armor plated beast.  Then the Son of Simmons, young Nicholas, sings on the even better “Hand of the King”.  Almost a dead ringer for his old man, Nick lends the song a demon-like aura.

There is one more cool guest shot that needs to be highlighted.  There are 3/4 of Bruce’s old late-90’s band Union, on a great tune called “No Friend of Mine”.  John Corabi lends his unmistable gravel to this melancholy rocker.  With shades of acoustics and ripping lead vocals, this as good as anything in the original Union catalogue.  I still think their debut album was incredible.  Canuck Brent Fitz is on drums, also from the Union days but probably on a break from Slash.  Only bassist Jamie Hunting is missing, but it’s safe to say that this song could easily fall under the Union umbrella.  Kulick’s shredding on this one is insane, used sparingly but effectively.

BK3 is also diverse.  Bruce sings the rest of the material, but the most interesting is the closing ballad “Life”.  It sounds like a King’s X track circa Faith Hope Love, augmented with violins and the flute!  This is truly is an outstanding ballad.  Bruce would be the first one to say “I’m not a singer”, so it takes courage to do the lead vocal on a track like this.  Bruce’s voice has his personality in it:  it sounds like the Bruce Kulick we know and love.  It’s a very human sound, and he does a great job.  His voice is similar to Steve Vai’s, another artist who is not afraid to sing lead.

If you appreciate great rock music, meticulously and lovingly assembled, then give BK3 a shot.  There are so many great songs on here.  If you’re a fan of Kiss, The Knack, Motley Crue, or any of the other guests, then this purchase is somewhat of a no-brainer!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Greatest Live Hits (2015)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20151212 (2)KISS – Greatest Live Hits (2015 Concert Live limited edition)

“What’s this?”, you ask with scorn.  “Just another Kiss hits/live thing, is it?”

Yes and no.

Concert Live is a great company that records and releases “instant live” albums from major artists like Kiss and Alice Cooper among many.  You can buy them immediately after the concert, or online as I have.  Kiss have a lot of Concert Live releases.  I have three, all from the Sonic Boom tour:  Montreal, Saskatoon, and Atlanta.  They are live, not overdubbed, raw and real.  And expensive!  So when Concert Live announced they were releasing a Greatest Live Hits CD from these concerts, I clicked the “add to cart” button immediately.  The original order claimed there were only 200 copies available, but you can now get it from Concert Live as a part of a multi-album box set.

This 2 disc collection has all the classic hits (nothing more recent than ’83) from a variety shows from different nations.  There are three tracks of Kiss from the Download Festival, in 2008.  Paul’s voice is surprisingly strong, and the reason why is because they are from seven years ago.  There is no booklet with details, so only the location of the recordings is obvious from the packaging.  It is true that Eric Singer covers for Paul when his voice cracks or he cannot hit the note anymore.  Concert Live seemed to focus on the best versions they could find of these particular tracks, so you get a high ratio of good-to-bad Paul performances.

Below are the recording details, courtesy of rock journalist Mitch Lafon.  He suggests re-ordering the tunes to create an actual Kiss setlist.

702906_10153597285184193_861533072_n

At this stage, with so many Kiss live packages on the market, there’s no point in discussing specifics.  The recordings sound as you have come to expect from Concert Live.  Warts and all, but with sonic care and clarity, these are true live albums.  When Gene has to suddenly sing in a lower key in “Rock and Roll all Night”, that’s in there.  This is the kind of thing that drives casual music fans up the wall.  I actually know people who can’t stand live music because of such realities.  I find it hard to understand because that is a real moment captured in time, and it’s just a moment.  The song does not derail and Gene soon returns to the original key.

Random observations:

1. When “Strutter” begins, the first second sounds uncannily like “Hide Your Heart” and it always takes me by surprise!

2. It’s nice to get “Rock and Roll all Night” out of the way early, but “I Love It Loud” as a closer?  That’s a weird way to end an album: on a sluggish, way overplayed note!

3. On “Let Me Go Rock and Roll”, Eric Singer tries to do his version of Peter Criss’s shtick, talking to the crowd in the cool-cat voice.  Unfortunately I find this to sound contrived and awkward for the new Cat Man, Eric.

4. Tommy Thayer haters can suck it.  He’s playing the style Paul and Gene want him to play, and he does his job perfectly.  This is the Kiss sound they have gone for, a classic Frehley guitar sound, and Tommy Thayer’s the man for that job so long as the Ace Man isn’t.

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of this disc.  A few more concert details would have been nice, and some of the edits between tracks aren’t so great, but this is a worthwhile buy for any fan of the present day Kiss!

 

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – “Don’t Touch My Ascot” (2015)

Thanks kissnews.de for posting!


KISS – “Don’t Touch My Ascot” (2015 Warner, from the movie Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery)

The lovely Mrs. LeBrain got me a surprise gift a few weeks ago for our anniversary.  This is a blu-ray movie called Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery.  I haven’t watched it yet…I will some day…but it was a thoughtful gift idea because I’m a collector.  It features the voices of Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy, and hey…that counts for something, right?

According to the back cover, the story takes place at KISS-World.  Sharp minded fans will remember that in 1979, Gene Simmons wanted to do a travelling amusement part/rock concert called Kiss World.  Then there’s something about a witch and alternate dimensions and something called The Destroyer.  I think the bonus feature, a Kiss blooper reel, will probably be better than the feature, but we shall see.

The main thing I’m interested is the new original Kiss song “Don’t Touch My Ascot”, a reference to Fred’s neckware.  Kiss’s producer Greg Collins co-wrote this for the movie, and all four Kiss members sing on it.  “Don’t Touch My Ascot” is a cute, old-tyme acoustic number with barbershop-like vocals.  Paul Stanley goes first, but his voice is a mere whisper.  Gene Simmons’ lines are next, and he sings in an exaggerated nasal voice.  Cute, because he doesn’t normally sing like that on record.  Please note though, the guy can actually sing!  Take off the nasal intonation and that would be a pretty impressive bit of singing!  Eric Singer goes next with the bridge and another verse, in that rasp he does so well.  Here he reminds me of David Lee Roth!  (Think: “Big Bad Bill”.)  After a brief acoustic solo, Tommy Thayer goes last.  He has the blandest voice of the four, but since everybody is harmonizing behind him, it all works out OK.

There are two catches.  1) The song is only 1:13 long.  2) You can’t buy it anywhere.  It’s only in the movie (and on youtube).  There’s the rub.  You can make an mp3 file from the youtube video, but the fidelity is pretty iffy.

A rating for a track like this is pretty meaningless, especially without the context of the movie, but whatever.  It’s Kiss and I love Kiss.

4/5 stars