house of lords

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

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REVIEW: House of Lords – Sahara (1990)

 

By request of reader WARDY!

scan_20161010HOUSE OF LORDS – Sahara (1990 BMG)

House of Lords put out an impressive debut but didn’t sell a lot of copies.  When the second album rolled out in 1990, their guitarist Lanny Cordola was gone and in was new guy Michael Guy.  Although Guy is credited on guitar, in reality the album was recorded with Doug Aldrich and a number of guests.  Weirdly, thanked in the credits for “additional inspiration” is Nick Simmons, who was one year old at the time.  Sahara was of course on Simmons Records.

It’s a different sounding House, less regal but with more hooks per acre.  The opening number “Shoot” draws liberally from the wells of both Led Zeppelin and Motley Crue.  “Chains of Love” is Coverdale-lite, with singer James Christian pouring on as much sass as possible, but without Coverdale’s sly nods and winks.  Whoever is playing the guitar solo on “Chains of Love” laid down a killer.

The acoustic cover “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith) is pretty true to the original minus the falsetto, and would have to be one of the better power ballads from a rock band in 1990.  House of Lords turn a serious corner on “Heart on the Line”, which sounds like a title for a ballad.  This however is a speed racer, a chugging riff powering a rock-corker, which turns Cheap Trick on the chorus.  Unsurprisingly, it was written by Rick Neilsen.  Brilliant playing and soloing on this one.  Then they rip off a song title from Coverdale himself, “Laydown Staydown”.  Winger-esque sleeze rock is all this is, not even touching the brilliance of the Deep Purple song that inspired the title.

A much more impressive track opens side two, “Sahara”.  This is progressive hard rock, with drummer Ken Mary layering a tribal drum effect that would have been very ahead of its time in 1990.  This too degenerates into something more Winger-like as well, but it jumps from that back into more progressive sections, keeping things balanced and interesting.  The second slot on side two is predictably another ballad, a good one called “It Ain’t Love”.  Not just the title, but the gang chorus reminds of Dokken.  Some fine soloing resides here to sink your fangs into.

The lead single was another power ballad, “Remember My Name”, which the band did not write.  As an impressionable youth in 1990, I hated this single.  “Never lead with a ballad,” was my thinking.  I had been looking forward to new House of Lords since the debut slayed me in ’88.  I didn’t want the first song to be a ballad they didn’t write.  I still don’t think it’s a very good track.  And surely a mistake to include it on the CD right before another ballad.  “American Babylon” redeems it, coming back with a strong push.  “Kiss of Fire” nails it with the knockout punch at the end, a blazing smoker with powerful keyboards that remind us of vintage Deep Purple.  Finally it seems House of Lords nailed a song that lived up to their inspirations.

Perhaps it was the rotating cast of characters on guitar, but Sahara drifts further from the sound that made House of Lords unique in 1988. The danger of grasping for hits while taking their sound deeper in the mainstream was real. Though it is still an entertaining listen, Sahara is very uneven which makes it a bumpy ride.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: House of Lords – House of Lords (1988)

HOUSE OF LORDS – House of Lords (1988 Simmons Records/BMG)

Yes you read that correctly. Simmons Records. Did they ever put out anything decent?

House of Lords actually made a hell of a debut with Simmons Records in 1988. Nobody was calling them a “supergroup”, but most of the members had been around the block more than once. House of Lords evolved out of Giuffria, a pretty good AOR rock band featuring the keyboard stylings of Greg Giuffria. In fact there are several songwriting credits by ex-Giuffria singer David Glen Isley, giving clues to the genesis of this CD.

Lanny Cordola played guitar on the prior Giuffria LP, and continued on to House of Lords. Bassist Chuck Wright had a stint in Quiet Riot (in fact he’s back with them today). Drummer Ken Mary kept time during Alice Cooper’s metal phase. All they needed was a singer, and they found a great one in James Christian, who today is the sole remaining original member of House of Lords. They signed to Gene Simmons’ imprint, and got legendary producer Andy Johns behind the mixing desk. All the ingredients were in place.

MuchMusic were promoting the shit out of these guys, and so I dutifully picked up the cassette at A&A Records and Tapes in the fall of 1988.

The self-titled debut, though classy, didn’t have enough identity. Good songs throughout, no clunkers, but also nothing that identified House of Lords as something unique. And so, this great CD has remained largely unknown over the years.

The keyboard heavy opening on “Pleasure Palace” has less to do with Bon Jovi and more to do with the progressive rock bands of the 70’s. The production is pure 80’s, with the echoey drums and the hard to hear bass. It is what it is, and Andy Johns did a better job than most producers could have done in ’88. James Christian comes across as a full-lunged, well rounded singer. He’s able to sing with a little of blue eyed soul, and he’s capable of the screams too. The feature that actually sets the song apart is the keyboards, very gothic and European sounding, but not wimpy.

“I Wanna Be Loved” was the first single/video, an easy choice being mid-tempo with a shout-along chorus. “Oh woah, oh woah, I just wanna be loved!” Sure, sounded good to 16 year old me. Heaps of backing vocals thicken up the mix, and Lanny Cordola plays a tasteful albeit standard guitar solo on top. “Edge of Your Life” serves as a keyboard power-ballad, and a dramatic one at that. The musicianship is stellar and the arrangement is expert, but the standout performer is James Christian.

Since you need a bar room blaster for the dudes, “Lookin’ For Strange” fits the bill. Instruments aflame, and with obvious inspiration from the Van Halen shuffle of old, “Lookin’ For Strange” is nonetheless a ton ‘o fun. Ending the first side of the tape was “Love Don’t Lie”, another power ballad, this one a bit on the soft side. It was also edited down and remixed by David Thoener for a single release. This mix was used for the music video and can be found on reissues of the CD. The album version is the better of the two, since edits often sound…awkward.

Rock and roll resumes with “Slip of the Tongue”, a title that David Coverdale would use a year later. High octane, full speed ahead, this is House of Lords doing the shred. The musicianship speaks for itself and you can hear clear Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy influences. The fast pace sets up “Hearts of the World” very well via contrast. From here, the album becomes more progressive, dramatic, and bombastic. “Hearts of the World” is AOR perfection, choppy with caverns of keyboards and waterfalls of gang vocals. It all sounds so serious, but it’s hard to deny the quality of this song. “Under Blue Skies” follow this with bagpipes (!) and ELP-like keyboard horns. It’s another dramatic, melodic winner with progressive qualities. The outro has those “na na na na na” vocals that all but guarantee you’ll be singing along. “Call My Name” makes it three in a row, though it changes the forecast to sunny. Bright and positive, “Call My Name” is still a big sounding song, with the gang vocals and guitar shreddery that you’ve come to expect.

Cordola gets the chance to show a lil’ bit (a minute) of classical guitar chops as an intro to “Jealous Heart”, the last of 10 tracks. This is your typical album-ending breakup ballad: weepy hearts, melodramatic lyrics, powerhouse vocals…it’s a dead ringer for Journey! Good Journey, though. Since Journey were defunct in 1988, let’s forgive House of Lords for a little hero worship.

House of Lords is a good debut album. Is it great? I would have said so back in ’88 or ’89, but the production has caused it to age, not so well. That’s unfortunate because what House of Lords put out here was pretty remarkable hard rock.

4/5 stars

Part 211: The House of Lords Debacle

RECORD STORE TALES Part 211:  The House of Lords Debacle

Joe was on the other end of the phone.  “Mike,” he said.  “I have three CDs here by a band called House of Lords.  You want?”

I’d first heard House of Lords in ’88.  Gene Simmons was promoting them like mad.  They were signed to his new imprint, $immons Records.  A guy called Loz Netto was his first signing, but House of Lords was his first rock acquisition.  They included ex-members of Guiffria, Quiet Riot, and Alice Cooper.  I picked up their debut on the week of release, but I missed the second and third albums.

“I’ll take two!” I responded without hesitation.  “I’ll take the ones titled Sahara and Demons Down.”

Joe laughed.  “I knew you’d know who these guys were,” he said.  I saw the pictures of the hairdos on the back and I knew it.”

“Thanks man, send ’em my way.  I will buy them both for sure.”

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Yes, Tommy Aldridge was in House of Lords for a minute

Joe had the two discs sent to my store, attention to me.  But in between his store and mine, they had been intercepted.  Someone had written on the transfer slips, “Sell at $11.99 — no discount.”

No discount?  On House of Lords?  The fuck was this?

Not that $11.99 is a bad price.  That was a high but realistic sticker price for used copies of these albums.  I can get Demons Down on CD from Discogs right now for under 8 bucks.  If I had walked into another store and found them for $12, I would have bought them without hesitation.  It was the principle of the thing that bothered me.  I’ve talked before about how we didn’t get staff discounts on certain special or big ticket items.  House of Lords was hardly the kind of band that would negate a staff discount.  In fact, my boss (who had written the note) had no idea who House of Lords was.

He had obviously seen that the two discs were being sent to me, since he had written the note.  Perhaps he looked at the back and spied the Simmons Records logo.  Either way he personally nixed the the discount.  I called him up to ask what the deal was.

“Hey,” I began.  “These two House of Lords discs.  What’s up with the price?  No discount on these?”

“Nope,” he answered simply.

“Why?” I asked.  “Nobody knows who they are.”

“That’s just what we’ve decided they’re worth,” he replied.

“Alright, well I’m going to pass on them then.  I’m sending them back to Joe’s store.”  I was disappointed.  This kind of penny-ante crap had picked up in recent years.  It was petty.  It seemed arbitrary.

A few years later, more copies came in.  I snagged those, discount intact.  Much like most of the world, the powers that be had simply forgotten who House of Lords were.  And I wasn’t about to say, “Hey, by the way, in case you forgot, staff aren’t supposed to get a discount on House of Lords.”

I’m listening to House of Lords right now.  The funny thing is, for such “special” items, neither is really as good as their debut!

Next time on Record Store Tales…

Crushes!

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Good to Be Bad (2 CD & Japanese versions)

Here’s my second review from the The Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale! It was Japanese import Heaven!

For the last installment of this series, click here.

WHITESNAKE  – Good to Be Bad (2008 Warner/SPV)

Whitesnake disbanded in 1990.  Coverdale did his album with Jimmy Page, but that didn’t prove to last either.  Although they’d started writing for a second album, the affair ended and David Coverdale assembled a new Whitesnake for a Greatest Hits tour in 1994.  This reformation eventually led to an album in 1997 called Restless Heart (billed as “David Coverdale and Whitesnake”.  This R&B flavoured album, a personal favourite, did not resonate with some fans of 80’s ‘Snake.

After another hiatus, and a solo album (2000’s Into the Light), David once again formed a new group of ‘Snakes, a mixture of old and new members.  After several years of touring (and lineup changes), the long awaited new Whitesnake album, Good to Be Bad, hit the shelves in 2008.  Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich and Winger’s Reb Beach had been a formidable guitar duo since 2002.

GOOD TO BE BAD_0003

Similarly to his partnership with Adrian Vandenberg, David has retained his writing style of co-writing with just one co-writer; in this case, Aldrich. It seems to be evident that the guys have gone for a John Sykes guitar sound and style.  You can certainly hear a lot of trademark sounds and tricks that Sykes used to do, that gave the 1987 album such a cool sound.  This isn’t to say that they don’t play plenty of their own style too, but the retro stuff is frequent.

So similar is the direction of this album to 1987, that you can play “name that tune” with all the new songs:
“Can You Hear The Wind Blow” for example directly references moments on 1987, right down to those flares that Sykes used to do.  “All I Want, All I Need” equals “Is This Love” Part Deux.  Basically, every song on Good To Be Bad is a mash-up of songs from Coverdale Page1987 and Slip Of The Tongue, and you can hear the references quite distinctly. “A Fool in Love” is “Crying in the Rain”.  “Lay Down Your Love” is “Shake My Tree”, without Jimmy Page.  Throw in a little “Kashmir” during “‘Til The End Of Time” (which seems to be based off “Till The Day I Die” from Come An’ Get It) too.

Having said that, despite the lack of originality, Good To Be Bad is still a very enjoyable listen, and a very welcome return. A world without David Coverdale’s voice is like a world without crème brûlée.  That voice is in fine form, perhaps even stronger than it was on 1997’s Restless Heart. The album has a lot more life to it than Restless Heart, although it does lack that album’s subtlety and R&B moments. The band play great, kicking it on every tune, even the ballads. The melodies are strong and memorable.  It’s just…too contrived.

The bonus live disc is the the Canadian special edition is highlights from Live: In The Shadow Of The Blues. No big deal.  It’s nice to hear Whitesnake playing “Burn/Stormbringer” from David’s Deep Purple days, and cool to hear the old 70’s classics.

The real cool version to have is the Japanese release with two bonus tracks.  And a sticker!  Can’t forget the sticker.  The bonus tracks are both remixes (a “Doug solo” version of “All For Love”, and a stripped down version of the lovely “Summer Rain”).  For $20, I wasn’t complaining.

3.5/5 stars

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

Part 26 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster

SMASHES FRONT

KISS – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)

October, 1988.  Articles had been spinning through the rock magazines for months that this was the end:  Kiss was on the verge of breaking up.  Gene Simmons was still focused on his label and management company, the last album (Crazy Nights) was a disappointment, and the word on the street was that Kiss were no longer cool.

So, when Gene Simmons was to appear as co-host of the Pepsi Power Hour that day in October, they said it was for a special announcement.  I fully expected it to be an announcement of the farewell tour.

It was not.  It was to promote his new label, $immons Records, and his signing, the excellent House Of Lords.  And, to announce the forthcoming release of Smashes, Thrashes & Hits:  the new Kiss greatest hits CD with two new songs.  And a remake of “Beth”.  With Eric Carr singing.

I received the album for Christmas that year.  My feelings were quite mixed.

Both new songs were written, sung and produced by Paul Stanley, another indication that Gene was still off in la-la land.  “Let’s Put The X In Sex” is a pretty lame, pretty pop, pretty un-Kiss tune, with a somewhat redeeming horn section.  I was horrified that, in the music video, Paul wasn’t even holding a guitar anymore.  He was just dancing.  Dancing!  At least in the videos from Crazy Nights, he was holding a guitar while dancing.   Somehow I saw this as a symptom of what was wrong with Kiss in the late 80’s.  This was not the same band anymore.

The second new song, “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” (a double entendre that I missed completely), is a slightly more uptempo song which almost qualifies as a rocker.  It has an insanely catchy pre-chorus.  Which is something I’d actually like to draw your attention to.  See below, please:

Try to ignore the dancing, Paul hugging a very bouffant Gene, just skip to the 1:50 mark.  Watch Gene’s lips.

Paul sings, “You make me sweat, you turn me ’round,” but Gene can be clearly seen mouthing, “you turn me up.”  He doesn’t even know the words to the song, and that made it into the video.  He was clearly asleep at the wheel!

The rest of the album was filled with hits, none with Ace nor Peter singing.  Hence, “Beth”.  It’s always been said that Kiss have tried to erase Ace and Peter from their history and here’s a great example.  In addition, Eric’s voice is simply too sweet, it needs rasp to do this song.  It’s unfortunate that this was Eric’s first lead vocal.

You should know that many of the hits were remixed — virtually everything from the original lineup.  Some of the remixes are quite good (I love this version of “Love Gun” with the extended guitar bit), some are not.  “I Love It Loud” lacks the oomph of the drums, and the false ending.

Of note:  Not one song from Crazy Nights made the cut (except in the U.K., where “Reason To Live” was added).  I’ve always felt this was a subliminal message as to the quality of that album too.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits represents the absolute lowest point of this era of Kiss.  The dancing, the pop, the terrible videos, I was fed up.  Fortunately, Gene got his brain back and the band began to steer the ship back in the right direction.  In my opinion the first real step began with Paul Stanley’s solo tour (with Bob Kulick and Eric Singer), where he reconnected with the fans and the music.

Better things were to come, but not yet.

2/5 stars