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RE-REVIEW: KISS My Ass – Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 45

 My Ass – Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994 Polygram)

When reports surfaced that Kiss were in the studio working on a song with country star Garth Brooks, some assumed this was to be a bonus track for the forthcoming Kiss Alive III.  Little did we realize that Kiss were actually working on their own tribute album.

In the early 1990s, tribute albums were all the rage.  Common Thread: the Songs of the EaglesStone Free: a Tribute to Jimi HendrixOut of the Blue and Borrowed Tunes:  tributes to Neil Young.  There were many more, and Kiss were not on the trailing edge of this trend.  They beat Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the market.

Kiss My Ass was the clever title, but it was not the first.  1990’s Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation featured soon-to-be-famous bands like Melvins and Nirvana.  The ever-enterprising Kiss decided to corner the market with their own official tribute to themselves.

To toot their own horn, Kiss included a list of not only the musicians who appeared on Kiss My Ass, but even the ones that didn’t.  Nirvana is on the list.  According to the Melvins though, the truth is that they only dropped Kurt’s name as a guest on their track, because Gene didn’t seem too interested otherwise.  Nine Inch Nails were going to do “Love Gun”.  Both Ugly Kid Joe and Megadeth wanted to tackle “Detroit Rock City”.  It’s hard to imagine what songs Run D.M.C. and Bell Biv Devoe were supposed to record, or Tears for Fears for that matter.  Take this list with a grain of salt!

Kiss My Ass (or A** if you bought it from Walmart) is a weird album.  It’s scattershot and not immediately likeable.  It collected 11 (12 if you include the bonus track) covers by a diverse assortment of 90s artists.  The cover art sucks and lacks the Kiss logo and Ace’s real makeup (which Kiss did not have the rights to in 1994).  The only cool gimmick the cover had was the background flag was unique to the country of release.  A Kiss album with a Canadian flag is neat to own.

The album hits the ground running with some 70s cred, as Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder do “Deuce”.  Lenny funks it up while Stevie brings the harmonica.  This is an example of a simply terrific cover.  The artists put their own spin on it, changing its style but not its drive.

“Hard Luck Woman” was already up Garth Brooks’ alley.  His version doesn’t stray from the Kiss original, and even features Kiss (uncredited) as his backing band!  That makes it an official Kiss recording, just with a guest singer of sorts.  Arguably the biggest country singer of all time, and a closet Kiss fan.  The Garth Brooks track threw a lot of people for a loop, though it’s an easy song to digest.

Kiss only participated in two songs:  the Garth track, and Anthrax’s “She”.  Anthrax insisted that Paul and Gene produce it, and they did a great job of it.  Anthrax are brilliant at doing covers anyway.  John Bush-era Anthrax was truly something special, and “She” slams hard.  Heavy Kiss songs made heavier are such a delight.

The Gin Blossoms turned in a very mainstream, very mid-90s version of “Christine Sixteen”.  It kicks about as hard as the original, but something about it is very tame.  After all, singer Robin Wilson is not Gene Simmons (which is probably a good thing), and guitarist Scotty Johnson is not Ace Frehley.  Far worse through is Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soggy “Rock and Roll all Nite”, a buzzkilling country fart.  “Calling Dr. Love” by Shandi’s Addiction (a collection of assorted big names) is also a hard pill to swallow.  This quartet consists of (are you ready for it?):  Maynard James Keenan – lead vocals.  Tom Morello & Brad Wilk – guitar and drums.  Billy Gould – bass.  So, it’s Rage Against the Machine with the singer from Tool and a bass rumble right out of Faith No More.  And the track is just as schizophrenic as you’d expect.  It’s both brilliant and annoying as fuck.

J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. used his unique vision on “Goin’ Blind”, turning Gene’s murky song into something even darker.  Then bright shimmers of a string section break through the clouds, shadowing everything dramatically.  It’s a brilliant track.  Much like Kravitz, J. Mascis took the song and changed the style but not direction.  You could say the same for Extreme who do a brilliant spin on “Strutter”.  Though by 1994 Extreme were well over in the public eye, they continued to push their own boundaries.  “Strutter” became something slower and funkier, with Nuno Bettencourt slipping all over the fretboard and Gary Cherone pouring it all on.  This is primo Punchline-era Extreme (Paul Geary still on drums).  And listen for a segue into “Shout it Out Loud”!

The Lemonheads chose “Plaster Caster” from Love Gun, a sloppy garage rock version, and score a passing grade.  It’s an admirable effort, but they are quickly overshadowed by their fellow Bostonians, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  The Bosstones had the balls to open their track with a phone message from Gene Simmons advising them to pick another song.  “Dicky, about Detroit Rock City…”  Ugly Kid Joe had dibs.  Any other song would be fine…and then WHAM!  The opening chords to “Detroit Rock City”.  Gene was gracious enough to appear in the video.  Their disciplined ska-punk horn ensemble lays waste to the town.  Dicky Barrett’s gravelly throat is like a sniper taking out anyone left standing.  The Bosstones win the whole CD, hands down.  There is little doubt that Dicky Barrett would have shaken unfortunate Kiss fans unfamiliar with the Bosstones.  Today it’s clear that they stole the show with their mighty, mighty cover.

The closest match to the Bosstones in terms of excellence, is a polar opposite.  It’s Yoshiki (from X-Japan) and his orchestra version of “Black Diamond”.  This is performed instrumentally with piano in the starring role.  In this form, “Black Diamond” would make a brilliant movie theme.  Yoshiki closes the album in style, unless you choose to go further and get the LP.  Proceed with caution.

The vinyl bonus track by Die Ärzte is the only non-makeup Kiss track included: “Unholy”. This is a garbage version (in German no less) that you don’t need to spend your money finding. It’s only interesting when it briefly transitions into “I Was Made For Loving You”.  Want a good version of “Unholy”? Check out the 2013 tribute A World With Heroes.

By 1994, Kiss needed a boost.  Grunge was omnipresent and Kiss looked silly and outdated, even with their beards and scruffier appearance.  Kiss My Ass was clearly a transparent attempt to try and latch onto some fans of the newer breed.  Maybe some Lenny Kravitz fans would like it.   If a few Garth Brooks followers bought a copy too, then bonus!  But Garth Brooks fans didn’t buy the album, turned off by the cover art and tracklist.  Likewise, fans of Lenny Kravitz, Tool and Rage Against the Machine didn’t run out en-masse either.

Fortunately Kiss had plenty of cards left in their deck.  There was a Kiss My Ass spinoff video, a tour, and a coffee table book all in the works.  This seemed to distract from the oft-rumoured next Kiss studio album.  More next time.

Today’s rating:

3.75/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/13

 

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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

 

 

REVIEW: KISS My A** (1994)

Part 32 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

VARIOUS – Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved (Official tribute album, 1994)

Kiss My Ass (you just knew they’d use that title eventually) was released in several formats:  LP, CD, and a cool almost unrelated DVD too.  I’ll talk about it all.

In the 90’s if there wasn’t a tribute album for your band, you didn’t matter. But Kiss had one out before Zeppelin and Sabbath. Kiss put it together themselves, which isn’t a bad thing — Black Sabbath and Robert Plant participated in their own tribute albums, too. Kiss My Ass or A** (available with and without profanity) is an enjoyable, diverse listen from start to finish, leaning heavily on stars from the 90’s, but also reaching back in time to a handful of earlier legends.

Up first is a great, very different version of “Deuce” by Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder. Stevie plays some seriously honkin’ harmonica on the track.  It’s completely unlike the original but if you like Lenny Kravitz (which I do), it’s awesome.

The Garth Brooks track is probably the most interesting on the album. Not because it’s Garth — Garth could probably do “Hard Luck Woman” in his sleep, it’s right up his alley and the world knows what a huge Kiss fan he is. It’s his backing band, who appear here uncredited. You may have heard of them. A little band called Kiss.  Kiss even performed the song live with Brooks on late night TV.

Anthrax (with John Bush on vocals), who are also diehard Kiss fans and have done many Kiss covers over the years, simply pummel “She” to a pulp, and once again it’s great. Incidentally, produced by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.

By now you’ve heard three diverse tracks by three completely different bands, so you’ll be excused if you find the ride a little bumpy now.

The Gin Blossoms played it very straight on “Christine Sixteen”, but Toad The Wet Sprocket really shook it up on “Rock And Roll All Nite”. You have to admire their urge to experiment with the most famous of all Kiss tunes, but really, who spiked their water with Valium? I snooze through this one every time.  It sucks.

“Calling Dr. Love” is performed by supergroup Shandi’s Addiction: Tom and Brad from Rage Against The Machine, Billy Gould from Faith No More on funky bass, all topped by the unique vocals of Maynard James Keenan. How much more 90’s can you get? None, none more 90’s. I can’t say this track is a winner but it sure is different. You’re forced to keep listening out of sheer curiosity.  It sounds like a mash of all three bands which is pretty unimaginable.

Dinosaur Jr. turn up one of the best performances on the disc with a dour, lush “Goin’ Blind”. This mournful version is true to the spirit of the muddy original, and J. Mascis just nails it. Heh…Dinosaur Jr! Yeah, it must have been 1994.

At this point, I’m realizing that Kiss My Ass is just as much a tribute to the bands of the mid-90’s as it is to Kiss!

Extreme turned in a slowed down but groovy version of “Strutter”, complete with Nuno’s own sweet harmony vocals. Great track by a great, underrated band.

I could do without The Lemonheads’ version of “Plaster Caster”, but it is very faithful to the original song. Once again, kids today will ask “Who are the Lemonheads?”

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones really had balls to open “Detroit Rock City” the way they did. It opens with a phone call from Gene Simmons explaining that they could not perform “Detroit”, as Ugly Kid Joe and Megadeth were already fighting over who was going to do the song. Gene advises them to pick another song, right before that bone-crushing opening riff kicks in. And this is truly a great version, if you dig the Bosstones’ unique style of vocalizing.  Ironically neither Megadeth nor Ugly Kid Joe made the cut for this album.  Nor did Nine Inch Nails, who recorded “Love Gun” (still unreleased).

The final track on the domestic CD is a beautiful orchestral version of “Black Diamond” by someone called Yoshiki (X Japan). This is a great instrumental, and the ideal way to end an album such as this. The album, diverse all the way through, ends on a very different note from that which it began!

Import and LP versions have a bonus track, “Unholy” by some German industrial band. I haven’t heard it because I never opened my LP, but for those interested, it is the only non-makeup song included on the album.

I mentioned a DVD release.  It’s badass.  It’s basically a third DVD, along the lines of Exposed and X-Treme Close Up.  It’s loaded with vintage clips and has some interviews with Paul, Gene, Bruce, and Eric.  They briefly show Anthrax in the studio cutting their Kiss cover, as well as Gin Blossoms.  There’s even a preview of the cover artwork for the forthcoming Kiss album to be called Head

Lastly, I even have a rare, rare, really really rare promo Kiss My A** On the Radio CD.  I have no idea what this sucker is worth today.  It is the only audio release of some of the best live tunes from the Kiss My Ass DVD, seven of them, along with tons of Gene and Paul talking.

4/5 stars all around.

The track lists can be found within the photo gallery below: