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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)


 – Revenge (1992 Polygram)

The first three-year gap between Kiss albums.  The first Kiss record produced by Bob Ezrin since 1981.  The first shared Simmons/Stanley lead vocal in ages.  The first lineup change since 1984.  And saddest of all, Kiss’ first album without Eric Carr since 1980.  Revenge was a shakeup for fans and band alike.

The pendulum of rock had swung back to “heavy”, with Metallica scorching the charts and grunge pummelling everyone else with new sounds.  It was obvious that Kiss had to go heavier, too.  In 1992, most rock bands had to sink or swim.  In order to swim, bands tended to heavy things up.  A lot of the time they called it “going back to the roots”.

Kiss began making tentative steps back that way.  Hot in the Shade (1989) toned down a lot of the keyboards and 80s trappings.  On tour, they played more old material like “Dr. Love”, “God of Thunder”, and “I Was Made for Loving You”.  Then, as an experiment, they got back together with Bob Ezrin for a song from a movie soundtrack.  Everyone was writing, even the sick Eric Carr.  The initial plan was to have Eric play on half the new album, so he could have time to recover from his cancer surgery.  The drummer from Paul Stanley’s solo tour, Eric Singer, was available to play on the other half.  Singer was on tour with Alice Cooper during the summer of 1991, but would be home soon enough.  Then, on November 24, Eric Carr passed.

The most obvious choice to replace Carr was Eric Singer.  He was already working with the band, he knew the songs, and he was a fan.  Bruce Kulick found him inspiring to have around, as Singer loved his guitar work.  In fact the only thing about Eric Singer that didn’t fit was his hair colour!

The energetic new drummer was a godsend.  With albums to his name by Black Sabbath and Badlands, Kiss couldn’t have asked for a more technically adept player.  He could hit hard (though Eric Carr takes the belt in that regard) and he could authentically do any era of Kiss.  Be it the early, slippery Peter Criss material or the heavy metal of Eric Carr, Singer had it all covered.  And he could sing!  Though we wouldn’t get there quite yet.

It was the heavy metal side that was most immediately apparent.  The first track and first video from Revenge was “Unholy”, something very unlike anything Kiss had done before.  And it came about in a most peculiar way.  Enter:  Vinnie Vincent.

Those who say “Vinnie saved Kiss” will point to “Unholy” as one such song that saved Kiss.  After years of estrangement (and preceding even more), Vinnie came out to write with Gene and Paul.  “Unholy” was one of three songs he contributed.

With a fury unlike any before, Gene Simmons and company swirl in rage on “Unholy”.  The closest they got to this kind of heavy before would be Creatures, but there’s something just pissed off about it that wasn’t there before.  With a concrete riff and angry slabs of drum tribalism, Kiss announced their return loudly.  Not to be outdone, soloist Bruce Kulick laid down his noisiest guitar assault yet.  There isn’t an ounce of fluff to “Unholy”.

Thanks to Bob Ezrin, Revenge is Kiss’ best sounding album since Lick It Up or Creatures.  It’s no Destroyer, and it’s no Elder.  This time they cut the extras down to the bone, leaving the four Kiss guys to rock it themselves.  Err, mostly themselves.  That’s Kevin Valentine on drums for the second song, “Take It Off”.  Strange that Kiss continued to have ghost musicians on albums when they clearly didn’t need to.  An ode to strippers, “Take It Off” is lyrically juvenile, but gleams like stainless steel.  Paul Stanley wrote it with Ezrin and ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts, and it could have been used as a single had Revenge needed another.  A dirty, dirty single.

Paul, Bruce and Ezrin composed “Tough Love” with a slower, chunky riff.  Kulick’s solo is remarkable, but it’s also just nice hearing Paul do a sex song that has some balls.  There is no “X” in this sex, although there’s a little BDSM for the 50 Shades crowd.  Then, teaming up with Gene, they do their first co-write and co-lead vocals together in the first time in a dog’s age.  “Spit” is old school fun with a modern heavy edge.  Bruce pays homage to Jimi Hendrix in his complex guitar solo, a composition all to itself.  Eric Singer gets to throw down tricky beats and fills, making “Spit” one of the most deceptively clever songs Kiss has done.

“God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” was released as a single the year before.  It was the experiment with Ezrin that kicked off Revenge in the first place.  It was the only song that Eric Carr was alive for, and you can clearly hear him on backing vocals.  Singer handled the drums, though Carr did it in the music video.  The album mix is different from the single or soundtrack, in order to better suit the sonics of Revenge as its sole anthem.

Gene tells a story about a girl who “kisses like the kiss of death” to end side one.  “Domino” hearkens back to early Kiss, with a sparse arrangement and Gene playing rhythm guitar instead of Paul.  This greasy rocker just screams “Kiss”.  There is nobody else with songs like “Domino”.  It was the third single from Revenge, sporting a nifty video with Gene cruising around in a convertible while Kiss plays as a trio!  Paul Stanley: bass guitar.

“Heart of Chrome”, the second Vinnie Vincent collaboration, rocks with attitude.  Once again, anger seems to be the emotion of the day.  The 90s-look Kiss could deliver anger in spades.  Then Gene takes the mantle on “Thou Shalt Not”.

He said “kindly reconsider the sins of your past,”
I said “Mister you can kindly kiss my ass.”

These are not songs for the Kiss hits mix tape you’re making for your roadtrip.  These are songs to be experienced in context of the album, where they deliver mighty riffs and enough hooks for the long-player.  “Thou Shalt Not” has another one of those Kulick solos that could be a study in string manipulation, and Singer just keeps it kicking the whole way through.

You could choose from two schools of thought regarding “Every Time I Look at You”.  As the album’s only true ballad, some see it as a mistake on a record as heavy as Revenge.  Others see it as a reprieve from a fairly relentless onslaught.  Indeed, it does sound as if from another album.  With a string section, Ezrin on piano, and Dick Wagner on ghost guitar, one could even argue that it’s an album highlight.  A little re-sequencing though, and you probably wouldn’t even miss it.

Gene makes it heavy again on “Paralyzed”, not an outstanding track but a little funkier than usual.  “I Just Wanna” is far more entertaining, though it is a shameless and obvious rip-off from “Summertime Blues”.  It was chosen as the second single, and lo and behold, it’s the third Vinnie Vincent song too.  “I Just Wanna” is immediately catchy and memorable for days.  Probably because you already knew it as “Summertime Blues”.

As a touching surprise, Revenge ends on an instrumental called “Carr Jam 1981”.  Bob Ezrin dug up an old demo from The Elder with a hot riff and a complete drum solo.  It had been bootlegged before, notably on Demos 1981-1983, but not with very good sound.  Ace Frehley even recorded it as “Breakout” on his second solo album.  Ezrin cleaned up the original demo for Revenge, edited it for length, and overdubbed Bruce on lead guitar.  “Carr Jam” has become Eric’s signature drum solo.  Placing it here at the end of Revenge was not only poignant but also just great sequencing.

Album in hand, now it was time to tour.  Kiss would start with a short run in the clubs.  More on that next time.

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars

Original review:  2012/08/10

REVIEW: Cinderella – Gold (2006)

CINDERELLA – Gold (2006 Universal)

When a band like Cinderella, who only have four studio albums, get a double CD “best of” compilation, it had better be good.  Fortunately Cinderella’s edition of the Gold series offers value for the money and unreleased live tracks to boot.

All the Cinderella albums are represented, including the criminally underrated Still Climbing album from 1994.  Cinderella did not “go grunge” as so many others did.  As “Bad Attitude Shuffle” indicates, they simply doubled down on their own brand of bluesy hard rock with bite.  From the same album, “Free Wheelin'” and “Talk is Cheap” both show fearless commitment to the genre.  Then the ballad “Through the Rain” also from Still Climbing provides the balance.  Cinderella have successfully employed ballads since day one, because they happen to be quite good at them.

Among their greatest ballads: “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”, “Heartbreak Station”, “Coming Home”, “Wind of Change”, and “Nobody’s Fool”.  Each one of these tracks is worthy to be on this compilation.  Some of their slower material either bordered on blues, or were just flat-out blues songs.  Some are here:  “Long Cold Winter”, “Dead Man’s Road”, and “Sick For the Cure”.  Then there is the soulful “Shelter Me” that is harder to categorize.  But of course Cinderella are best known as a hard rock band, and most of the material falls into that vast category.  Many of these tunes are truly awesome.  “Shake Me” was first to gain attention, with some noting similarities to AC/DC.  “Hot and Bothered”, originally from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, combines the blues and rock in a tasty confection.  “Second Wind” from Long Cold Winter kicks ass, and “Gypsy Road” is here too, albeit in live form.

The live tracks are all credited to a Japanese promo CD called Last Train to Heartbreak Station, which appears to be a completely different thing from their Japanese EP called Live Train to Heartbreak Station.  Rarities are always welcome on a compilation, but one has to wish that the great single “Gypsy Road” was also included in its studio version.  It’s a good enough tune that it wouldn’t be a crime to have two versions on the same CD.

Because of their feminine name and some really bad wardrobe choices, Cinderella was written off by many people without hearing any of their rocking material.  While that is a real shame, Cinderella hasn’t made a new album in 23 years so this would be a good one-stop-shop to get much of their best material.  Augment this baby with a copy of their classic Long Cold Winter CD and you will have enough Cinderella to have a good representation of their best stuff.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Psycho Circus (1998, Japanese and Australian versions)

Part 38 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster


PSYCHOKISS – Psycho Circus (1998)

I have a really hard time rating Psycho-Circus.  I played it every day when it came out, but I like it a lot less now than I did in 1998. Once I got over the novelty of “finally, a new album by the original Kiss,” I stopped listening to it.  I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Gene and Paul are essentially the only members of the original Kiss on most of it.  That’s the biggest problem.

On all but one song, drums are by Kevin Valentine (ex-Cinderella), a good studio drummer.  Guitars are handled by Tommy Thayer (who fits into the story later) on all but two songs.

The other problem is it’s way too overproduced and I lay that blame at the feet of Bruce Fairbairn, rest his soul.

Fairbairn was a great producer for Bon Jovi and especially Aerosmith in the 80’s, but he was the wrong guy to produce Kiss. I think he wanted to make a dense, lush album as if it were 1998’s version of Destroyer, and he failed miserably. Paul wanted Bob Ezrin to produce…oh, the album that might have been.  Paul and Fairbairn clashed in the studio regularly over the direction of the album.

The title track, though is amazing!   Vintage, anthemic Paul Stanley. The solo is great, also very vintage…but it’s Tommy. I don’t mind Fairbairn’s production here, the circus noises suit the song, however the drums sound way too plastic.  This is the case with almost the entire album.  The drums sound like samples throughout.

Gene’s “Within” follows, which I believe was a Carnival Of Souls outtake. (Two other COS/Psycho-Circus outtakes, “Sweet & Dirty Love” and “Carnival Of Souls” itself ended up on Gene’s solo album.) “Within” is a slow dirgey ditty.  It’s a good song with lots of atmosphere, but it has nothing to do sound-wise with the rest of this album.  It would have been more suited to Creatures or Carnival, but not so much this album.

The cumbersome Paul title, “I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock & Roll” is next. I hate this song. It’s a fast one, nothing special, a little stock, and to me is nothing but pure filler.

Then there’s finally a real Kiss song with all four members playing: Ace’s “Into the Void”. It is definitely one of the best songs on the album, with a riff that only Ace could play and the drums sound a lot better here.  It’s quintessential Kiss.  When I think of Kiss, I thik of songs that sound like “Into the Void”.

“We Are One” is a Gene song, and it sounds a lot like his 1978 solo album. It’s a nice song, I think it’s a tad slow, but it’s got that late 70’s vibe.  Maybe like a “Great Expectations” too.

The second side of the album starts with “You Wanted The Best” which was clearly written by Gene as a Kiss “comeback” song. It’s neat in that all four members sing lead for the first time ever, but really that’s its only selling point. Fairbairn overproduced once again, and the guitars sound a lot more processed than they should. The solo is definitely Ace, though. I think “You Wanted The Best” is another one of those Gene songs that had been presented to the band and rejected from previous albums like “Within” was.

Paul Stanley takes the next track with “Raise Your Glasses”, which is yet again overproduced and also a bit too pop sounding. It sounds like something from Hot In the Shade or that general era.  Paul sings some nice harmonies with himself in the middle, but the demo version of this is better (from the “Psycho Circus” CD single pictured below).

Since Peter Criss’ material was allegedly deemed too poor for this album, Paul and Ezrin wrote I “Finally Found My Way” for him to sing. It was meant to be the next “Beth” but I don’t need to tell you what happened there (nothing). It’s a piano ballad (that’s Ezrin on Fender Rhodes) and it’s a nice song, maybe it is was for Neil Diamond to sing. It’s just too darn soft, and Peter’s voice lacks the rasp.  The rasp would have given it some edge like Kiss ballads of yore.  He sounds great harmonizing with Paul on the bridge though.

Paul and Bruce Kulick wrote the next song, “Dreamin'”, which was ripped off of “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper. It is basically the same song, and I believe Alice beat them in court too.

The most interesting song was saved for last, Gene Simmons’ epic “Journey Of 1,000 Years”. I don’t know what this could be compared to.  Although it wasn’t popular with the Kiss fans I know, I think it’s the best song here. Overproducing worked on this song. It is loaded with strings and who-knows-what, and Gene’s chorus is just mindblowing. “Can you hear me calling, can you hear the sound? Can you hear me calling, or is the voice of the crowd?” If this song was on The Elder, it would have fit in better.  It’s majestic and I think a good example of what Gene is capable of when he sets his mind to it.

Japan got a bonus track written by Gene called “In Your Face”. He wrote it for Ace to sing, so it has become a little bit of special song, a lost Kiss gem. The production is a little more sparse and though it is not a great Kiss song, Ace’s vocal sets it apart a bit. Worth having.

I have a couple versions of this album.  I bought the Japanese version first, for the bonus track, and it was not cheap!  The packaging here is cumbersome, but superior to the fragile lenticular jewel case that North America got. It is a digipack whose front cover opens like doors to reveal the Psycho Circus “clown” inside in 3D. Typical gradiose Kiss and I love it.

Australia got a 1999 reissue with a 6 song bonus disc called Kiss Live.  It contains 3 classics and 3 newbies.  So, in other words, you can get versions of these songs played by the original lineup.  This is worth having.  Track list:  “Psycho Circus”, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”, “Into the Void” (with guitar solo), “Within” (with drum solo), “100,000 Years”, and “Black Diamond”.

When you hear Psycho Circus, you can’t help but think that Kiss blew a monumental opportunity to create history. In the end, it’s “just another Kiss album”, and not a particularly great one. It certainly inferior to the first 7 studio albums at best.  It has a leg up on some of the 80’s records, but it just doesn’t rock hard enough!  The right producer could have made this sound like Kiss, not Aerojovi.

3/5 stars