hot in the shade

REVIEW: Eric Carr – Unfinished Business (2011)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 42:  Eric Carr solo #2.

EC_Unfinished_Business_2011ERIC CARR – Unfinished Business (2011 Auto Rock Records)

Even though 2000’s Rockology compilation released a treasure trove of unheard goodies for the fans, there is always more to sell.  For the 20th anniversary of Eric’s passing, another batch of tracks were unearthed.  Some are mere filler, some are pretty decent.  Fans of the beloved  drummer will have to sift through the bad to get to the good.

There are a couple Kiss songs here for the diehard fans.  “No One’s Messin’ With You” is yet another demo of what would become “Little Caesar” from Hot in the Shade.  A third called “Ain’t That Peculiar” was released on the 2001 Kiss Box Set.  This is an almost completely different set of lyrics, although it does have the “Hey Little Caesar” chorus.  In chronological terms, this version probably falls between the other two, with lyrics still a work in progress and a different verse melody.  Then there’s “Shandi”, from Eric’s Kiss audition tape, with brand new acoustic backing music.  Unfortunately, Eric’s shaky voice (or a warbly tape) makes this totally unlistenable.

One of Rockology‘s highlights was “Just Can’t Wait” which was crying out for a lead vocal to finish it off.  This was completed by Ted Poley of Danger Danger.  Though the backing track lacks the fidelity of a proper Kiss recording, the song has taken shape as the shoulda-coulda-been hit that it is.  Eric would have been proud and very happy to hear it as a finished song.

The unfinished “Troubles Inside You” is a demo with regular Kiss collaborator and Beatlemania member Mitch Weissman.  It was recorded at Gene Simmons’ house, but the old cassette must have deteriorated pretty badly.  The music is barely audible, though hints of a good song shine through.  Two more Kiss outtakes include the legendary “Dial L For Love” and “Elephant Man”.  These were written for Crazy Nights and Revenge, respectively.  Neither were finished by Carr.  “Dial L For Love” has the bones of a good song with a unique riff.  Eric only managed to finish the lyrics for “Elephant Man”, but here it is given music and life by a group of musicians including the late A.J. Pero of Twisted Sister, and ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello.  Singer Bob Gilmartin did a great job of it, turning “Elephant Man” into a cross between ballad and rocker, and something Kiss totally could have done on Revenge.  “Midnight Stranger” is another unfinished riff.  Ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John was slated to overdub brand new solos for this instrumental, but he too passed before he could finish.  This is the original cassette demo.  The riff sounds like a brother to “Carr Jam”.  They are definitely related.

“Carr Jam 1981” is, unfortunately, not the original unaltered Elder demo.  It is a cover by drummer Joey Cassata, and a very authentic one at that.  Same with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”.  Just a cover, not a demo, by Cassata’s band Z02. Pretty good stuff, at least.  New backing music was recorded for “Eyes of Love”, a song previously released on Rockology.  The Rockology version with Bruce Kulick on guitar is superior.

Finally, some real serious archival treasures:  an Eric Carr drum solo basement tape (same as his live Kiss solo), and a 1967 recording by Eric’s first band The Cellarmen!  That’s Eric on lead vocals too.  It definitely sounds of its time. Added filler include a few interview bits and clips, including one with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin about Eric.

If the first Eric Carr CD release was best left to hardcore fans, it’s doubly true of the second one.  This is a fans-only release, period.  It is highly unlikely anyone else would get much enjoyment from this low-fi set.

2/5 stars

Although Carr’s loss was devastating to both fans and the band, there was no question Kiss would carry on with imminent Revenge….

 

RE-REVIEW: Eric Carr – Rockology (2000)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 41Eric Carr solo #1.

It’s back and picking up right where we left off:  the death of Eric Carr.  The previous chapter of this series was posted November 8 2017, with the intention to talk about Eric Carr’s demos next, before moving on to his replacement.  When Eric died of cancer in 1991, he left behind several tapes of unreleased material that have since been issued on CD.  Likewise, the Kiss Re-Review Series was derailed by Mrs. LeBrain’s cancer diagnosis, but will carry on now that she is well.  Thank you for your patience!

ERIC CARR – Rockology (2000 EMI)

The late  drummer Eric Carr was frustrated towards the end.  He was writing good material, but it was always being rejected by Paul and Gene.  In the press, Eric would tow the company line and explain that everybody else had such good songs, that there was no room for his.  In his heart, he was hurt and felt shunned.

Eric Carr wasn’t just a drummer.  He could sing lead, and he could write.  Kiss’ single “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” was an Eric idea.  He co-wrote “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” with Bryan Adams.  Although his writing credits on Kiss albums were sparse, he had plenty of material in the can.  2000’s Rockology is a series of those demos, some in a near-finished state and some left incomplete.  Much of this material was intended for a cartoon Eric was working on called The Rockheads.  10 years later, Bruce Kulick finished recording some guitar parts and mixed it for release.  He also wrote liner notes explaining the origins and Eric’s intentions for each track.

Eric didn’t have a particularly commercial voice, falling somewhere south of a Gene Simmons growl.  There’s no reason why Gene couldn’t have sung “Eyes of Love” from 1989, which has more balls than a lot of Hot in the Shade.  This demo has Eric on drums and bass, and Bruce Kulick on guitar with a solo overdubbed in 1999.  It doesn’t sound like a finished Kiss song, but it could have been tightened up to become one.  Same with the ballad “Everybody’s Waiting”.  It sounds custom written for Paul Stanley.  But it was 1989, and nothing was going to displace “Forever” from the album, nor should it have.

Many of the demos have no words.  “Heavy Metal Baby” features Eric scatting out a loose melody.  This heavy and chunky riff would have been perfect for the later Revenge album, had Eric lived.  In a strange twist, several of the best songs are instrumentals.  The hidden gem on this CD is the unfinished “Just Can’t Wait”.  It could have given Journey and Bon Jovi a run for their money.   Eric, Bruce and Adam Mitchell wrote it for Crazy Nights, and you can almost hear a killer chorus just waiting to leap out at you.  This potential hit could have been the best song on Crazy Nights, had it been finished.

“Mad Dog” has nothing to do with the Anvil song of the same name.  The chorus is there but the verses are a work in progress.  This hard rocker from 1987 was probably too heavy for what Kiss were doing, though it would have added some much needed groove.  “You Make Me Crazy” is in a similar state of completion and boasts a tap-tastic solo by Bruce.  Apparently this demo was originally called “Van Halen” and you can hear why.  Two versions of a song called “Nightmare” exist, including a really rough one without drums.  This incomplete song could have really been something special.  It has a dramatic feel and different moods, and was probably too sophisticated for Kiss, though any number of 80s rock bands would have been lucky to have such good material.

The last batch of tracks show off the Rockheads material.  Whether Eric’s cartoon idea ever would have happened or not, the advent of bobble-heads and Pops would have made marketing easy.   The songs are virtually complete though the drums are programmed.  “Too Cool For School” is a little cartoony, which is the point, right?  For keyboard ballads, “Tiara” showed promise.  It’s not the equal of “Reason to Live” but it demonstrates a side to Eric unheard before.  Next, Bruce says that they always wanted Bryan Adams to cover “Do You Feel It”.  It would have fit Adams like a nice jean jacket.  Not that Adams really needed the help, it would have been awesome on Waking Up the Neighbors.  The set closes with “Nasty Boys”, nothing exceptional.  It sounds like a song called “Nasty Boys” would sound…or anything by 80s Kiss really.

Before you spend your hard-earned dollars, remember that these songs are definitely unfinished. They are as polished as possible given some of their rough (cassette) origins. Eric’s talent still shines, but you have to be a fan.  Especially a fan of 80s Kiss.  They will find it to be a crucial companion piece to their collections.

Long live the Fox!

Today’s rating:

3/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2014/04/24

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

#608: Hot in the Shade

GETTING MORE TALE #608: Hot in the Shade

November of 1989 was an historic moment in time.  Three events collided in one day that I distinctly remember unusually well.  Based on historical records, I almost can nail down the exact time I first heard Kiss’ then-new Hot in the Shade album that year.  I can remember being on a bus for a school trip, sitting next to a German kid, as the news of the Berlin Wall coming down became the top story of the day.  It was probably the 10th of November, a Friday.

It was huge news.  I grew up in the tail end of the Cold War, and hope was finally on the horizon.  I can remember in 1983, kids in the school yard talking about the Korean passenger liner that the Soviets shot down.  “There’s gonna be a war,” one kid said, and it sure did seem like it.  Every other year, it seemed like it.  November of 1989 was a different kind of time, when fears suddenly melted away albeit briefly.  Sitting next to that German kid on the bus, Mark, was the best place for me to absorb the greater meaning of it.

What were we doing sitting on that bus?  We were on the way to Pickering, to visit the nuclear plant.  Our names had to be submitted weeks in advance to get the clearances, but we were inside an operational nuclear facility!  It wasn’t even my first tour of a nuclear plant, though it was the first time being inside one.  When I was a youngster, the family took a tour of Bruce Nuclear’s grounds and visitor center on summer vacation one year.  I remember being really small, and asked to try and lift some depleted rods of uranium.  I couldn’t; it was far too heavy!  This demonstration indicated the density of the nuclear fuel.  “Did you have your Wheaties today?” asked the tour guide to the chuckles of the group.  But in Pickering, we got to look right inside.

The Pickering plant was impressive.  We had helmets on to go with our visitor badges.  There were checkpoints everywhere, where you had to put your hands and feet in a scanner to make sure you didn’t pick up any radioactive dust.  Once you were cleared, you could go into the next area.  We saw the big rooms where the spent fuel is kept.  Not surprisingly, everything was immaculately clean.  Every surface gleamed, and all the equipment appeared new and in top condition.  We were told that amount of radiation we were exposed to was about the same as an X-ray at the dentist.  The trip was optional, and at least one kid opted out because he didn’t want to get zapped.

There was a more intensive scan at the end of the trip before we were allowed to leave.  You had to pass a full body scan; if not they had to confiscate your clothes and send you home in paper hospital gowns.  I had a brief moment of terror when my scanner refused to give me the green light.  “Come closer” the damn machine kept saying to me.  “I’m as close as I can get!” I retorted to the infernal contraption.  A guide helped me get standing correctly and thankfully I passed the scan!  No hospital gowns for me, which is especially good because the next stop on the trip was Pickering Town Center for lunch.

I ate a sandwich for lunch that my mom packed for me.  She always made sure I had a lunch every day!  We had time to kill at the mall so Mark and I hit up a record store.  It was probably A&A Records and Tapes, though it certainly could have been an HMV.  Either way, they had two new releases that I had my eyeballs on:  Trouble Walkin’ by Ace Frehley, and Hot in the Shade by Kiss.  I only had enough money for one, and Kiss had to take priority of solo Ace.  I remember having a conversation with the guy at the counter about how Anton Fig was back playing drums for Ace.  (And that right there is a lesson about customer service.  That guy made an impression on me that lasted 28 years, just by mentioning Anton Fig on the off chance that I’d know who he was.)

So I walked out of there with Hot in the Shade in my Walkman, and I had a chance to hear the new Kiss album for the first time.  I always enjoyed a first listen.  I’d look at the song titles and try to guess which were Paul’s and which were Gene’s.  I really liked the acoustic slide guitar that opened “Rise to It”.  Bruce Kulick was proving his awesomeness, though I didn’t enjoy his tone on Hot in the Shade.  It was only later that I learned Hot in the Shade was essentially a set of demos that were polished and finished for album release.  That might explain why I felt the tone was so…flat.

Mark also encouraged me to listen to one of his tapes, a group called Trooper.  “I bet you haven’t heard of Trooper,” he said, and I hadn’t, which was odd because they were Canadian.  Trooper didn’t make any lasting impressions other than remembering that Mark was rabid for them.  One thing I remember about Mark:  he hated long songs.  He liked songs in the three to four minute range, and that’s pretty much all of Trooper’s hits.

Our final stop was Lakeview Station, a huge and now defunct coal fire plant in Mississauga.  “Don’t touch anything,” the teacher warned us before going in.  “This place is covered in black coal dust.  If you touch any, you’re going to get it all over the next thing you touch which will probably be your clothes.”  And he was right.  Every surface had coal dust on it.  The tour was noisier and far grimier than the nuclear tour.  This was intended to make an unsubtle point about the differences between the two.

We were all glad to get out of Lakeview and back on the highway home.  I flipped sides on my Kiss tape and tried to get into the album.  I was struggling with it.  Some songs were really good, like the ballad “Forever” which was immediately discernible from the pack.  Others made it seem like putting out an album with 15 new songs might have been a better idea on paper.

I listened to the album on my boombox when I got back home.  I listened intently and tried to figure out what sounded “off”, and the only thing I could figure was the guitarist.  “I don’t think Bruce Kulick’s tone is right,” I said with a twinge in my gut.  Of this, I’m glad he proved me wrong by the next album Revenge.

What a memorable day that was.  I’m just glad I didn’t come home radioactive and hot in the shade!

Check out the album review tomorrow as part of the  KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES.

REVIEW: Eric Carr – Rockology (2000)

ERIC CARR – Rockology (2000 EMI)

Eric Carr, who should by all rights be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his bandmates, is such a tragic loss.  He earned himself a legion of fans after just 10 years in Kiss.  Knowing that Marko Fox is one such fan, I asked him what the other Fox meant to him:

“Being both a Fox and a drummer, I can positively say that Eric Carr’s work on Creatures of the Night remains one of the coolest achievements in rock…If only I could figure out how to master his makeup design…”

All true.  But Eric Carr wasn’t just a drummer. He could play enough guitar and bass to write songs, and he could sing. His voice wasn’t super commercial, but neither is Gene Simmons’.  One reason his loss is painful is because Eric was a virtually untapped well of creativity.  I think every Kiss fan knows that Eric Carr was unhappy that he had so few lead vocals and writing credits on his Kiss albums.

Rockology is a series of demos, some in a near-finished state and some left incomplete. Recorded in the late 80’s, before Eric knew he was sick, these were to be used for cartoons and other miscellaneous projects. Bruce Kulick finished recording some guitar parts and mixed it 10 years later.  He also wrote liner notes explaining origins and intentions for each track.

While there is nothing here that screams “hit single” today, in the late 80’s it would be easy to imagine “Somebody’s Waiting” on the radio with Paul Stanley singing. It would fit right into that Kiss Hot In The Shade or Crazy Nights era. Other songs here are more heavy and riff based, such as the Gene-esque opener “Eyes of Love”. When Eric sings the heavier songs, his voice falls into a Gene-like monster growl. On the ballads, his falsetto echoes Paul Stanley. Most songs here would have made excellent Kiss album tracks. Most are better than the filler that Kiss was padding their albums with in the late 80’s. It is a shame none of these songs were finished by Kiss themselves, as the full band would have made them more special.

Best track: the unfinished “Just Can’t Wait”.  This instrumental has a really catchy guitar part, and I just know if it had been finished with verses and a chorus, it would have been classic.  It was written for Crazy Nights by Eric, Bruce and Adam Mitchell.

Special mention must of course go to Bruce Kulick.  He overdubbed guitar solos for a few of the songs, and I am sure each one came from the heart.  Bruce is a very intelligent musician, but he’s also more passionate than he often gets credit for.  I’m sure for Bruce it was passion rather than money that inspired him here.

Buyer beware, however: These songs are definitely unfinished. They are as polished as possible given some of their rough origins, but in some cases there are no drums, just drum machines. In other cases, there are no lyrics, just scratch vocals. Eric’s talent still shines on every song. His is a life that Kiss fans will continue to mourn.

The Kiss army, especially the lovers of the 80’s, need this as a crucial companion piece to their collections. Everybody else will have a tough time justifying owning it.

Long live the Fox!

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Trouble Walkin’ (1989)

Part 4 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Second Sighting?  Click here!

TROUBLE WALKIN_0001

ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)

Gone was the Frehley’s Comet moniker, and gone was multi-instrumentalist and talented singer Tod Howarth.  I believe he toured with Cheap Trick after the Comet, on backing instruments and vocals.  In his stead came Richie Scarlet, certainly no slouch, and an alumnus from an earlier version of the band.  Not only did Scarlet write some of Ace’s best stuff, but takes a lead vocal on the album Trouble Walkin’.  Also back was drummer Anton Fig!

On top of all that, producer Eddie Kramer was back working with Ace again, and they have great chemistry together.  Certainly all the elements were in place for a great solo album.  The critics and fans were pretty much unanimous in their praise of Ace’s latest.  Little did they know it would be his last solo album for 20 whole years!

Trouble Walkin’ was Ace’s heaviest solo album to date.  Take “Shot Full Of Rock”, the opener.  It is scorching from start to finish, but especially on the ripping guitar solo.  It has a great chorus to boot, and a fine lead vocal from the Ace.

Frehley has a knack for selecting great covers, and his take on The Move’s “Do Ya” is superior to the original in some respects.  As he has with other covers, Ace makes it his own.  I think Ace does very well when rocking up poppier, melodic material and “Do Ya” is no exception.  I always hoped it would be a bigger hit, but it wasn’t really.

“Five Card Stud” is co-written by Marc Ferrari of Keel.  It’s not an exceptional song, but it does boast a suitably heavy riff, and plenty of tasty Ace licks and solos.  It might not be the best song, but the guitar work makes it worthwhile.

This is followed by the weirdest song of all:  “Hide Your Heart”, a song written by Paul Stanley, Holly Knight and Desmond Child.  It had been demoed years before for Crazy Nights, but not used. Bonnie Tyler was first to record the song, then Robin Beck and then Molly Hatchet!   When Kiss recorded it for Hot In The Shade, they released it as a single mere weeks before Ace’s album came out.  By the time Kiss’ album came out (the week after Trouble Walkin’) the song had been released by no less than five different artists.  The common thread to some of those versions seems to be Desmond Child.  Obviously, Ace knew people would compare his version with Kiss’.  Gene Simmons spoke to him on the phone to warn him that Kiss were releasing it as their lead single.  Ace’s version, while harder, just is not as good.  That’s not to say it’s bad, because Kiss’ version is awesome.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0006“Lost In Limbo”, a Richie Scarlet co-write, closed side one on a pedestrian note.  Side two began with a better song, the title track.  This would be a good time to mention that Peter Criss sings backing vocals!  You can’t hear him, but he showed up.  That’s Richie Scarlet saying “Take it, Ace!” and singing the bridge.  This one’s a solid Ace rocker, guitar and cowbell heavy!

My favourite song is “2 Young 2 Die”.  It’s just so heavy!  I used to think Peter Criss was singing the lead vocal, because it’s so raspy.  It is in fact Richie Scarlet, though Peter is on backing vocals again.   This is an outstanding song, rhythmic and bass-driven.  Anton’s drums are tribal and dramatic.  The guitar solos are all over the place, but all of them are ear candy.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0003“Back To School” is a a fun song, and you can’t mistake who’s singing (screaming) with Ace on the chorus:  one of the biggest Frehley fans on the planet, Sebastian Bach himself!  He’s joined by Peter Criss, and Dave “Snake” Sabo and Rachel Bolan, also of Skid Row.  This one is more hard rock than anything else, but damn catchy.

I’m not sure if “Remember Me” is really live, but it’s mixed to sound that way.  A crowd is mixed in, and Ace says good evening to “Club Remulac, in France!”  It is important to remember that “Remulak” is home planet of the Saturday Night Live characters, the Coneheads.  Appropriate since this song is sung from the perspective of a space traveler, advising Earthlings to get some world peace happenin’.  Good song, though, kind of lazy and light.

The album closes with “Fractured III”, and much like its predecessors, it’s an instrumental.  The thing about the Fractured series is that they do sound all interconnected.  They all sound related at the hip, or the heart, and that’s cool.  I like all of them for different reasons.  “Fractured III” might be the hardest, most electric of them to this point.

After this, Ace seemed to lay dormant for a number of years.  In 1990 there was a rumour that Kiss were working on a reunion with Ace, Paul, Gene and Eric Carr which of course never happened.  A few years later Ace turned up on his Just 4 Fun tour, playing a Kiss-heavy set of classics.  Later came the Bad Boys of Kiss tour with Peter Criss, and finally the inevitable original Kiss reunion.  During the reunion, there were some interesting Ace Frehley releases, and we’ll be talking about those things next.

As for Trouble Walkin’?  Solid.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Gene Simmons – Family Jewels Season One (with bonus CD)

Purchased in February 2013, at the same store in which Uncle Meat used to work.  I paid $9.99, used.

GENE SIMMONS FAMILY JEWELS – The Complete Season One (2004 A&E with bonus CD)

Since my primary interest in adding this to my collection is the music rather than the TV show, I’ll discuss the CD first.  The bonus CD is apparently an Amazon.com (not .ca) exclusive, currently selling for about $13 plus shipping.  The CD comprises just two songs:  ”Rain Keeps Falling” (sounds like a possible Crazy Nights/Hot in the Shade outtake) and “You’re My Reason For Living” (sounds much more recent).  These are from the “forthcoming” Gene Simmons box set called Monster.  (I’m guessing he won’t be using that title now eh?)  Considering that Amazon.com still advertises the Gene Simmons Monster box set as “coming in 2007”, I wonder how much longer it’ll be!

With demos of this nature it’s fairly usual for Gene to play all instruments himself and have a drum machine behind him, and that’s how “Rain Keeps Falling” comes across.  The guitar work is basic but it gets the idea across, but I do hate the sound of a drum machine!  It’s a pretty decent song.  The verses could use some work  but I think the choruses are pretty good!

SAM_2299“You’re My Reason For Living” is a ballad, and sounds like it could have been demoed for the Asshole album.  It’s too bad it’s not on there, as it would have been the classiest song on the album.  It was actually written long ago, pre-Kiss, but it’s obvious that this is a much more recent rendition.  This is a very basic soul song, as interpreted by Gene.  Although his voice is pretty limited, the intentions behind it sounds sincere.  It wouldn’t be a hit unless Gene gave it away to a more appropriate artist, but as a bonus track on a box set it’s a bit of alright!

[Note:  In my post-review proof reading and fact verifying, I discovered that “You’re My Reason For Living” was in fact included on Asshole…the Japanese version.  Along with another unreleased track called “Everybody Knows”.]

As for the DVDs:  when this show first started I was skeptical.  Ozzy had made a bit of a clown of himself on The Osbournes, and count on Gene Simmons to see an opportunity to promote himself.  So the formula’s basically the same, a rock star family in humourous situations, a funny dad, etc.  I preferred season one of Gene Simmons Family Jewels to Ozzy’s show, and although I didn’t keep up with the show regularly afterwards, I still think this set is pretty entertaining.

I like that, compared to The Osbournes, there’s hardly any cussing. Very rarely do you hear the “beeps” (and yes, it’s all beeps, no actual cussing).  I also found the family/”characters” to be more likeable. Nick Simmons is a bright, funny young guy, and who doesn’t love Shannon Tweed?  (Loved you back in the 80’s version of The Liar’s Club, Shannon!). Third, you can understand what Gene is saying, unlike the Ozzman (although that is certainly part of Ozzy’s charm).

I think my favourite episode was “Fan…tastic”, during which an awkward Gene Simmons spent his day with a mega mega mega FAN.  And Shannon loves every second.  She invited the mega-fan home to have dinner with Gene and the fam.  And isn’t Gene just thrilled.  Another episode, the “unaired pilot”, depicts Gene grilling the boy who is about to take young Sophie Simmons out to the dance. Just a priceless moment. I felt very sorry for that poor young man who had to sit across a very large desk from Mr. Simmons, and be grilled about dating his young daughter.

For Kiss fans and probably non-Kiss fans as well, I think this season is:

4/5 stars

Part 91: Pull the Trigger

There were some discs that we were never short of.  We always had them.  Cheap.  Add your staff discount to that, and you could get a lot of stuff dirt cheap.  But the discs themselves were so common, they were always in stock.  Therefore they never were a priority for me at the time.  Soundtracks and compilations were a great example of this.  Last Action Hero, Super Mario Bros, these could be had for super cheap, any time, and they all contained exclusive music by cool bands like Megadeth, Anthrax, Extreme, and so on.

One disc that I never picked up before was the soundtrack to a bad horror movie called Shocker, by Wes Craven.  The soundtrack had numerous stars on it – members of Kiss, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, Whitesnake, Van Halen, and more.  The title song was a Paul Stanley rocker performed by Paul and Desmond Child in an all-star band called The Dudes of Wrath, and it wasn’t a bad song.  There was also another Paul tune on here called “Sword and Stone”, recorded by a band called Bonfire.

(Now, here’s the interesting thing about “Shocker”, the song.  Desmond Child wrote the guitar lick, a very Platinum Blonde-esque part that is almost identical to the one in a Kiss song released at the same time, called “King of Hearts”.  And who wrote that?  Paul and Desmond Child.  It’s the same freakin’ thing.)

Anyway, long story short:  I never pulled the trigger while I was at the store.  I’m still today in the process of replacing my cassettes on CD, and this is one.  The CD was just too common, it was always in stock and I always had better things to spend my money on.  I could have got it for $4 at any point over the years.  I should have.

Look at this one, that I paid $12 for from Amazon Marketplaces.  The spine is cut as a promo.  The front is scuffed.  The CD has some scratches on it.  This is all stuff that wouldn’t have happened in my store.  Even if it was a cut promo, every case was replaced if not already like new.  Not to mention I had complete control to be picky about quality before I bought.  Not to mention that in the past, I had numerous chances to get Shocker uncut. Now, unfortunately, the disc is less common.

I wished I’d pulled the trigger back then!

REVIEW: KISS – Hot In The Shade (1989)

Part 27 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster

KISS – Hot In the Shade (1989)

When we last met, I was bitching about Kiss going pop and losing sight of its roots.  Hot In the Shade represents the first tentative steps back in the right direction.  It wasn’t a home run, but it did at least get a runner on base.

By this time, two important events had occurred:

  1. Paul Stanley confronted Gene Simmons about his lack of participation in Kiss.  Gene agreed with Paul’s diagnosis and was back on board creatively.
  2. Paul Stanley had completed a small solo club tour with Eric Singer, playing a lot of Kiss’ old music.

Kiss knew they had to get back to rock and roll, so Hot In the Shade represents a scattershot approach:  try anything, and see what works.  You’ll hear things as diverse as horn sections (“Cadillac Dreams”), female backing vocals (“Silver Spoon”), acoustic slide guitar (“Rise To It”) and speed metal (“Boomerang”).  All things rooted in rock, but not necessarily from the roots of Kiss.

It was with baited breath that I awaited the debut of the forthcoming new Kiss video on MuchMusic.  Would they finally get back to rock, and drop the keyboards and the dancing?

“Hide Your Heart”, the first single, had a more serious video with a storyline, and Paul was playing a vintage guitar again! He wasn’t posing with it, he was playing it!  The song was more rock, no keyboards in sight, and had that irresitable “Ahh ahh ahh, hey hey hey, do do do” chorus. It was a step in the right direction. I couldn’t wait for the album.  (Ace Frehley also released his own version of “Hide Your Heart” on his solo album Trouble Walkin’, almost simultaneously.)

I remember buying the cassette tape on a school field trip in grade 12, and listening to it on a Walkman in the bus. The first sounds I heard were Paul Stanley’s* bluesy slide licks as the intro to “Rise To It”. A positive start.

Then, the band kicked in, and “Rise To It” really impressed me. The drums courtesy of Eric Carr were loud and clear, the song a little heavier than previous Kiss tunes, and Bruce was wailing. I opened up the J-card and read the liner notes.

I was surprised to see that Vini Poncia, the producer who did the Kiss disco albums, was back as a songwriting partner with Gene and Paul. I also saw that Tommy Thayer of Black N Blue co-wrote two songs with Gene (“Betrayed” and “The Street Giveth”). This was only Tommy’s first writing credit with Kiss.  There would be many more.

I also saw a song written by Paul and Michael Bolton called “Forever”…uh oh, that couldn’t be a good thing.

But it wasn’t bad. “Forever” was an acoustic ballad at least, with only minor texture keyboards in the background.  Bruce nailed an absolutely perfect acoustic guitar solo, the kind you can hum the melody to.  I still relish Eric Carr’s drumming on it, which is unusually hard hitting for a ballad.

Moving along, I finally I got to the song that Eric co-wrote, called “Little Caesar” which struck me as an odd title. It took a few seconds, but I realized that Eric was singing it too! Finally, a proper original Eric Carr lead vocal. I always felt that Kiss needed to incorporate Eric Carr more in lead vocals, and his version of “Beth” from the previous album was a crappy way to give him his first .

“Boomerang” was and probably still is the fastest song that Kiss has ever done.  It’s obvious Kiss were trying to emulate speed metal, which was starting to happen at the time. It wasn’t a great song, but I was impressed that Kiss really were shedding the pop that we all hated so much.

In hindsight, Hot In the Shade breaks down to three good-to-great songs: the singles “Hide Your Heart”, “Forever”, and “Rise To It”. “Little Caesar” is also pretty good, but not up to the standards of the singles. Other songs such as “King of Hearts” have interesting parts or catchy bits, but by and large are filler.  Others, like “You Love Me to Hate You” and “The Street Giveth, the Street Taketh Away” are undeniably filler.

Hot In the Shade was bulked out at 15 songs, but probably could have been fine with just 9, like a classic Kiss LP from the 70’s.  As it stands, it’s pretty hard to make it through the whole thing in one sitting.Kiss get an “A” for effort most certainly.  The ship had been drifting for a little while and this album was turning the ship back around. They gave extra value with the length of the album, like it or lump it, and tried many different directions, which were at least rock-based.

Kiss also self-produced this time, and ended up using polished demos for much of the album.  As such it seems to have a flat sound, and Bruce Kulick’s guitar sound lacks warmth.  It would have been nice if they spent more time on the sound.

Sadly, Eric Carr would not live long enough to see the good ship Kiss right itself on Revenge. He passed away from cancer in November 1991.

2.5/5 stars

Incidentally, Kiss put off touring behind this album until 1990, as they were reportedly trying to work on a reunion with Ace Frehley!  No deals were reached and all that happened was a Paul-and-Gene-in-makeup cameo in the “Rise To It” vid.

 

*Confirmed by Bruce Kulick, that’s Paul Stanley on the slide.