mark st. john

BOOK REVIEW: KISS Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review

 Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988 Melody Line)

In the 1980s, there were generally no Kiss books on the market.  If you found one, you bought it.  The only widely known Kiss book back then was 1978’s paperback Kiss by Robert Duncan.  I was lucky to find Kiss Still On Fire in Stratford Ontario on December 27, 1990 in a great little store called The Book Vault.  Still On Fire is very very unofficial, but it was unequalled in its time:  130 magazine sized pages, mostly in full colour, loaded with pictures, facts and a few errors.

Peppered with old interviews and article snippets, Still On Fire takes a balanced look at the band and isn’t afraid to get critical when it’s warranted.  It also attempts to take a crack at who played what on some of those tracks where it wasn’t quite clear.  For example, Ace Frehley is pictured on the front cover of Killers, but didn’t play on any of the new songs.  Still On Fire quotes a Paul Stanley interview.  Was it Bob Kulick playing lead on these tracks?  “Bob did come out, yes, but he didn’t play.  When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave us a little help.”  The book states this friend was Robbin Crosby of Ratt, a claim that is not backed up in other sources.  Did Crosby play on Killers?  Who knows, but according to this book, he did.  Other books such as Julian Gill’s Kiss Album Focus claim Bob Kulick did play some on Killers.  In other words, if you read something interesting in this book that contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere, take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a bit of content here about what Gene was doing in the 1980s outside of Kiss:  producing bands such as Black & Blue and EZO.  Gene was responsible for EZO’s fantastic single “Flashback Heart Attack”, co-written by James Christian of Simmons Record act House of Lords.  Gene was also working on movies but was having trouble finding the time.  Apparently Sergio Leone really wanted Gene Simmons for Once Upon a Time in America in the role of Max, ultimately played by James Woods.  Can you imagine?

Besides the ample photos, the most impressive feature of Still On Fire is the discography.  Though incomplete, Still On Fire attempts to document myriad Kiss bootleg recordings, including cover art.  There are also interesting promo and foreign releases, such as the Special Kiss Tour Album and Kiss – The Singles.  Side projects and solo albums are included, from major (Frehley’s Comet) to obscure (Bruce Kulick’s band The Good Rats).  A variety of singles, picture discs and videos are on display, fully illustrated.  All of this was completely new to me then.  Not to mention the titles of unreleased songs!  What the heck were “Don’t Run” and “The Unknown Force”?  (The Elder demos.)  This is also where you’ll find the most typos and spelling errors.  (I really want to hear this song called “Pick It Up”.)

Still On Fire isn’t definitive nor is it definitely 100% accurate, but it should still prove to be a valuable resource for your Kiss library.

3.5/5 stars

 

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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

RE-REVIEW: KISS – eXposed (1987 video)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 31

 – eXposed (1987 VHS/2002 Mercury DVD)

“Hello.  The show we are about to see is a rousing docu-drama.  It will disgust some, and titillate others.  But whether it disgusts you, or titillates you, it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but…the truth.”

Kiss were on to something here.  The concept of a home video release that was more than just a compilation of clips was fairly new.  Kiss took the bull by the horns and put together a video that was all at once extremely sexist and innovative, offensive and invaluable.  Only fans need apply; anyone who is sick of Gene Simmons’ schtick will bore quickly of his oafish humour.  But when Kiss play it “straight” in certain interview segments, light shines through.  The old memories and the old friendships are fresh and vivid.

Interviewer Mark Blankfield strolls up to the “Kiss Mansion” where all four members live Monkee-like together in one house with dozens upon dozens of beautiful women. The doorbell plays “Rock N’ Roll All Nite”, and Paul Stanley is confused. He thought the interview was scheduled for…not noon, but 12 midnight! Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.

The KISS Mansion

Some of the scripted bits are actually funnier than you’d expect. Paul and Gene are natural clowns, and playing the role of disinterested rock stars tickles the funnybone.  Blankfield keeps chasing them around, trying to get them to do some interviews.  All the while, he encounters scantily clad babes in various states of undress, and a butler intent on keeping him away from them.  Subjects of discussion in the scripted bits include nutrition and fitness.  Learn about Joseph Kiss Sr., who came up with the vision of Kiss in 1773.  Check out Paul Stanley’s workout video!  Meet his best friend, a monkey named Sonny Crockett. Cut to a music video!

The music videos are something. In a scripted bit, Paul is surprised that they have access to the uncensored version of “Who Wants to Be Lonely”, which neither MTV nor MuchMusic were willing to play. Censors were offended by images of women in bikinis spraying themselves with hoses, even though I’m sure George Michael did something similar a couple years later. Every music video that Kiss filmed from “I Love It Loud” (1982) to the Asylum album (1985) is included, except “Thrills in the Night”.*  All videos from eras prior to this are live and unreleased!

“Deuce” in San Fransisco

Live in Rio, from Kiss’ very last concert in makeup, it’s “I Love It Loud” with Vinnie Vincent!  This is good quality video and audio from a TV broadcast.  From the now famous bootleg Kissin’ Time in San Francisco (1975), it’s a nuclear version of “Deuce” in black and white.  It’s the first appearance of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in this feature, and the rawness of the old band is a delightful contrast to the new.  Then it’s “Strutter” at Cobo Hall in ’76, an Ace guitar solo from 1980, and “Beth” in 1977 with Peter Criss (and a pretty bad final note).  Gene’s got a bass solo/blood spitting clip to show off, but the most interesting clip of the batch could be “Detroit Rock City” in Australia, 1980.  Paul did the verse melody with a slightly different twist.  “Rock and Roll all Nite” is included from the same show, which had Eric Carr on drums.  “I Stole Your Love” and “Ladies Room” have the original lineup from the Love Gun tour; Kiss at their bombastic best.

Of the best of the “straight” interview clips is the question, “How did you two get together?”  Paul and Gene start busking to “I’ll Be Back” by the Beatles, and suddenly you can imagine what they sounded like in 1972.  They even sing bits of Gene’s more…obscure early material.  “I love Eskimos…”  “My mother is beauuuutiful…”  (Hopefully we will hear these songs on Gene’s upcoming 150 track box set, Vault?)  Another good question, to Gene, is “Have you gone Hollywood?” which he answers with candor.

Incredible special features

The very large issue with this DVD is the absence of Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr.  They only appear in brief cameos, and get a couple lines a piece.  That’s very unfortunate.  And then there is the excessive objectification of women.  It’s done as an obvious satire of the rock star stereotype, but not particularly well.  Too bad.  This isn’t Spinal Tap.

Some of the diehards would have preferred a home video with more music and less gags.  Fortunately Kiss got the message when they eventually  got around to a sequel.

3/5 stars

* It appears  that “Thrills in the Night” must have been intended for inclusion at one point, because it’s in the songwriting credits at the end of the video.

 

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/03

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Animalize

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 25

 – Animalize (1984 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Animalize:  a huge hit not proportional to the quality of the songs inside.  It went platinum on the strength of lead single “Heaven’s On Fire”, but going deeper into the record, Kiss did not have the goods this time.

New guitarist Mark St. John (formerly Mark Norton) replaced the fired Vinnie Vincent, and in doing so, continued Kiss’ quest for shreddery dominance.  In the 80s you had to have an Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen to get noticed, or so it seemed, and that was what Kiss went for.  In the meantime, Gene Simmons was off in Hollywood leaving Paul Stanley to do handle Kiss, something Paul eventually came to resent.

Paul Stanley re-teamed with his songwriting buddy Desmond Child.  Their last collaboration was 1979’s disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” from Dynasty.  The partnership struck gold a second time with “Heaven’s On Fire”, a simple song perfectly suited for the Kiss of the 80s and beyond.  Paul Stanley’s “Woo-ooo-ooo-ooo-OOOOO-ooo” intro is legendary and truthfully a song like “Heaven’s On Fire” isn’t too far removed from classic Kiss.  Paul’s sassy delivery is enviable.

Desmond Child also co-wrote the opening number “I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)”.  As the 80s began, Kiss seemed determined to write fast songs for their albums.  Very fast songs.  “I’ve Had Enough” is one of those, and it’s a good one too, though it was rarely played in concert.  You’d never guess Desmond was involved without reading the credits, but you’d also not imagine it was Kiss if it wasn’t Paul singing.

Another fine Paul song called “Get All You Can Take” is a co-write with Mitch Weissman whose name has repeatedly popped up on Kiss credits over the years.  This slow paced sleazy rocker has one of the few Kiss f-bombs in the chorus:  “What fucking difference does it make?”   Mark St. John’s solo is a blazing showcase of different tricks and techniques, but it suits the song rather awkwardly like an ill fitting tux.  Such was the problem with a jazz-influenced shredder in Kiss.

Another fast number is “Under the Gun” written by Paul, Desmond and drummer Eric Carr.  This one was played frequently on the Animalize tour though there are better songs.  Fluttery guitars sound like laser beams zipping back and forth.  Carr kicks ass, but it’s not a great track.  Paul gets in a cute double entendre though:  “There’s no speed limit where I’m coming from…let’s hit the highway doing 69!”

The final Paul song is probably the best one, although he has since criticized it as not good enough.  “Thrills in the Night”, co-written with Jean Beauvoir, deserves praise.  Sometimes the artist is their own worst critic, but “Thrills in the Night” is awesome, dramatic Kiss rock.  The chorus goes on for weeks and the soloing fits.

If Animalize was a Paul Stanley solo EP, there would be enough good songs to give it a passing grade.  However…we have the Gene Simmons songs.

Animalize shall forever be cursed as the album with the lyric, “I wanna put my log in your fireplace.”  Yes, the man who once wrote a song with Bob Dylan also wrote a ditty called “Burn Bitch Burn”.  The riff is awesome.  It has its moments.  It’s also undeniably one of Gene’s worst lyrics, and that is saying something.  The song also sounds unfinished, as if he said, “OK good enough, onto the next song.”  Fortunately Mark St. John’s solo playing is awesome, though not especially accessible.  And that’s Gene’s best song on the album.

Gene’s other songs are “Lonely is the Hunter”, “While the City Sleeps” and “Murder in High Heels”.  Of these, “Lonely is the Hunter” is by far the best.  A slow sleazy groove is more up Kiss’ alley than these fast speed rockers.  All three of these songs have one quality in common with “Burn Bitch Burn”, and that is that they sound like rough ideas gone unfinished.  Animalize was produced by Paul (with a co-producer credit for Gene).  A Kiss producer like Bob Ezrin likely would have told Gene to go back and come up with better material.  The most interesting thing about “Lonely is the Hunter” and “Murder in High Heels” is the solo work.  It’s stellar.  It’s not overdone.  It’s melodic and memorable.  And it’s…familiar.  Future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick stepped in to play ghost guitar on these songs.

The trend of Kiss using uncredited outside musicians was growing.  Allan Schwartzberg (who also played on The Elder) did drum overdubs.  Jean Beauvoir played bass on “Under the Gun”.  Gene played the rhythm guitars on his own songs.  That’s why the credits on Kiss albums always simply state:  KISS – and the names of the members.

Gene cut his hair short for a movie called Runaway.  He starred as the villain (of course) Dr. Luther, opposite Tom Selleck.  Kirstie Alley was in it, and it was written and directed by Michael Crichton.  Considering the year and the names involved, this was a fairly high profile role.  Gene went for it, and has since admitted his brain wasn’t in Kiss at the time.  The wig he wore on stage with the band made him look silly, and new fans considered Paul the singer and Gene a secondary guy.  Gene’s songs weren’t singles anymore.  They weren’t being played live.  “Burn Bitch Burn” was only ever played once!  These were all clues as to what was going on behind the scenes.  Paul was sailing the ship now.  He had no choice.  Animalize suffers for it.  Gene is to blame for his own downfall during the period and has since gracefully accepted that.

The Animalize tour was the biggest Kiss had done since the glory years, but troubles began early.  Mark St. John couldn’t play.  He was diagnosed with an arthritic condition called Reiter’s Syndrome.  His hands swelled up and he simply could not do the gig.  Mark passed away in 2007, but suggested that the arthritis may have been triggered by stress.  The aforementioned Bruce Kulick stepped in to take his place, and did so with professionalism and respect.  He got along with everyone. He was willing to learn.  He was a great fit.  The first great fit in many years.

The Animalize period put Kiss on MTV and on back the radio again, but its success was vastly disproportional to its quality.

Today’s rating:

2/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  There really isn’t much to say here. “Heaven’s on Fire” is a good song that I still enjoy hearing. Everything else is OK at best and non-essential. “Burn Bitch Burn” might have some of the worst lyrics of all time.

Favorite Tracks:  “Heaven’s on Fire”

Forgettable Tracks: take your pick


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/31

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 – 40 (2015 single CD Japan Commemorative edition)

 

NEW RELEASE

KISS 40 2015_0001KISS – 40 (2015 Universal Japan single CD Commemorative edition)

Wait a minute, I’m confused — did I just buy Kiss 40, again?

Wait a minute, it’s 2015 now — shouldn’t this be Kiss 41, or something??

Wait a minute, what the hell is “Kiss vs. Momoiro Clover Z”???

Eager to buy anything new from Gene and Co., I got this new single CD version of Kiss 40 without really knowing what it was about.

Now that the CD has arrived at the door, I discovered that Momoiro Clover Z is a Japanese all-girl pop group with similar intentions as Kiss themselves.  They dreamed big dreams for themselves and aimed to entertain and bring a spectacle to the people.  They have colour coordinated members and characters, so perhaps a Kiss collaboration seemed like the next step for them.  I don’t know how the collaboration came to be, but the result was a brand new Kiss song written by Paul Stanley and producer Greg Collins.

This edition of Kiss 40 commences with a Kiss-heavy mix of the new collaboration, “Samurai Son”. There are other versions available on two singles and on iTunes, but reviews for those will wait until they arrive at LeBrain HQ.  The good news is that the “U.S.” mix of “Samurai Son” has no problem hanging out on a Kiss greatest hits CD.  Musically, it’s not too much of a departure of the direction from Kiss’ last album, Monster.  It’s just more produced, polished and embellished.  The girls from Momoiro Clover Z come in during the chorus, but it’s not the first time Kiss have had female backing vocals on their albums.  It’s the first time since 1989, but remember old classic tunes like “Tomorrow and Tonight” from Love Gun, and “Sweet Pain” from Destroyer?  Female backing vocals.  The new twists this time are the lines in Japanese, and the very slight J-pop slant.  It’s not too far of a departure.

Collector's card included inside Kiss 40

Collector’s card included inside Kiss 40

It may not be to your taste, but I love “Samurai Son”.  The lyrics address Kiss’ experience of hitting Japan for the first time back in 1976:

“I took a flight into Tokyo,
Into the Land of the Rising Son,
I heard my song on the radio,
Blowin’ my mind like a shot from a gun.”

Paul then proceeds to tear it up all over town, “Livin’ life with no regrets.”  The words suit one of those fast paced Kiss rockers that they’ve been doing of late — think “Hell or Hallelujah”.  There are some cool Thayer licks and you can tell that Gene Simmons showed up for the sessions, because you can hear him singing on the choruses.  The overall impression is that “Samurai Son” is one of those solid Kiss catalogue rockers.  It’s like the new material on side four of Kiss Alive II: pretty good but living in the shadow of the Kiss greats.

KISS 40 2015_0006From this point on, Kiss 40 (the 2015 abridged version) continues with the “best” hits from the full length 2 CD version…but not quite.  There have been some major tweaks to the tracklist, perhaps to maximize the listening pleasure of consumers who just need one CD of Kiss in their lives.  The classic live version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” has been replaced with the studio version from Dressed to Kill.  Same for “Shout it Out Loud” and “Detroit Rock City”, here in their original full Destroyer guises instead of live. I like the way the car crash ending of “Detroit” merges into “Calling Dr. Love”.  “Dr. Love” and “Love Gun” were thrown into the pile here, even though they weren’t on the original Kiss 40 in any form.  A little further down, a different song was plucked from Kiss Killers:  The superior “I’m a Legend Tonight” replaces “Down on Your Knees”.

Moving on from the makeup years to the non-makeup 1980’s, the original version of “Crazy Crazy Nights” replaces that unreleased live version from the double Kiss 40.  That sums up the song substitutions; the album still continues chronologically to the current era.  I’m pleased that even though early songs from the first two Kiss albums were axed, songs from the last two Kiss albums were not.  I think Sonic Boom and Monster are Kiss albums the band should be proud of, so you get “Modern Day Delilah” and “Hell or Hallelujah”, as it should be.  Other albums excluded from this compilation are The Elder, (surprisingly) Creatures of the Night, Hot in the Shade, the live records and the solo albums.

With all these tweaks and alterations, the overall listening experience is enhanced albeit at the cost of some deeper tracks. It’s a give and take, so the overall score for the new Kiss 40 remains:

4/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: KISS – 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection (2004)

KISS – 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection (2004 Universal)

These 20th Century Masters DVDs were a fun way to pick up key music videos from major bands at a cheap price.  Today this role is largely filled by sites such as YouTube.  The Kiss edition features five of their biggest from the 1980’s:  One with makeup, four without.  One each from Creatures, Lick It Up, Animalize, Asylum, and Crazy Nights.

“I Love It Loud”, of course, features the band in full makeup and costumes, including Ace Frehley, even though he did not play on Creatures of the Night.  This brilliant video spoofed the popular “rock and roll is brainwashing our kids” fears of the 80’s.  In this video, Kiss use their incredible brain powers to do that very thing.  Gene can even melt objects with his fire breathing, through a fucking television set.

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Let me set the stage for you in the clip for “Lick It Up”:  It is the Future.  Nuclear war has seemlingly reduced America to a wasteland, the population are dressed in rags.  The only human beings left alive are women…and of course the four guys from Kiss (now including Vinnie Vincent on guitar).  Only they can bring salvation (and music) to the surviving ladies.

“Heaven’s On Fire is a pretty standard 80’s video.  The band frolic with babes, Gene wags his tongue, Eric shakes his hair.  This video is however notable as the one and only appearance of guitarist Mark St. John (who replaced Vinnie Vincent) on lead guitar.

The clip for “Tears Are Falling” isn’t the best.  It’s a better song than a video, but there’s a cool part where Bruce plays a guitar solo in the rain.  It’s too bad that Kiss chose the Asylum period for a garish set of sequined covered bathrobes, a popular 1985-86 trend.

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“Crazy Crazy Nights” boasts some pretty big production values and the debut of the “new” late-80’s KISS sign.  I hated the softening of the musical and visual direction of Kiss in this video.  This is the beginning of Paul Stanley merely dancing with his guitar in videos, rather than playing it.  Watch the video.  At no point is Paul doing anything more than wearing or dancing with his guitar!

Eric Carr was the drummer on all tracks, rest his soul.

3/5 stars

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#330: A Journey of Journaling (RSTs MkII: Getting More Tale)

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RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale

#330: A Journey of Journaling 

Just because I left my old job at the Record Store didn’t mean I stopped journaling. It did slow down, but it’s interesting to review them today, having just completed the Record Store Tales. It’s fascinating to me how positive they are (in general) compared to the ones only 18 months prior. It’s also interesting how even over a year after leaving that place, certain people continued to terrify me. Even though the person I’ll call “the office bully” had no power over me anymore, I was still in the grips in fear at the mere thought. I’m seeing journal entries about this person haunting my thoughts over a year after my last encounter, and I’m reading words like “terror”. I didn’t realize how I’d been affected by the whole thing.  I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  It took years for me to really put it all together, and I’m still doing that.

My journals after the store are pretty bland by comparison to the ones before. There are still some pretty funny ones, such as a review of the movie Transformers (2007) that is so stupidly positive that there is no way I will post it here, not even for comedic value! I would simply lose all credibility, so forget it.  I remember dragging Jen out to see that stupid thing.

Of the journals I’ve re-discovered, one in particular jumped out at me as a great one to post first.

I won’t share the whole thing in its entirety as it includes a private email, but the first paragraph is pretty cool.  I had made a video on Youtube back then regarding the passing of Mark St. John.  I don’t have the video anymore, but it was pretty heartfelt and apparently others must have got that out of the video as well.  This journal preserved an email that I received from a cousin of Mark:

Date: 2007/04/07 05:17

I just got the most amazing email in regards to my youtube video (below) [now gone] about Mark St. John of Kiss:

“Thank you so much for your tribute to Mark. He was my cousin. Mom called to tell me the bad news. She said Aunt Terry said to look him up online to see all the posts etc. on different sites. It was really cool of you to make your RIP video. [content edited] Thanks again for what you said….he will be greatly missed.”

Stuff like that video, I just threw it together. It was a first take with no edits. But apparently it really touched Mark’s cousin.  This was yet another stepping stone in my realization that I should be online, talking about music.  I think that was a good decision.

REVIEW: Mark St. John – Magic Bullet Theory (2003)

MARK ST. JOHN – Magic Bullet Theory (2003 Loch Ness Monster Records)

Mark St. John (1956-2007) is best remembered as the lead guitarist on Kiss’ 1984 Animalize album.  He was however much more than just a Kiss guitarist.  His exotic shredding was the basis of an instrumental solo album, Magic Bullet Theory.  Thanks Lemon Kurri for hooking me up with this CD.

“AWOL” blasts the doors open wide: high-octane tempo, high-speed shred, high-tech tricks.  There are Yngwie-like moments, Van Halen harmonics but also enough melody and song structure to keep it interesting.  Mark’s solos feature a number of different sounds and styles.  Intricate flamenco and electric guitars open the title track “Magic Bullet Theory”.  Then it turns into a melodic instrumental with lead guitar center stage.  Next, out of left-field comes the jazz workout of “Bourbon Street”.  This delicate number features non-stop jazz guitar shredding, full speed ahead, which some will find to be just too much to absorb.  “Too many notes,” some might say.  I am not one who would say that.

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It’s back to instrumental heavy metal with “Slave Driver”, which reminds me of Yngwie’s “Leviathan”.  “Utopian Trip” is more laid back, and I can hear mandolin on this one.  Mark lays a blistering lead guitar line over the largely acoustic track.  “Communicator” offers plenty more shred, perhaps resembling the high pitched screech of some 60’s sci-fi communication device.  “Baghdad” has guitars that sound like air raid sirens, certainly appropriate given the title. But the song itself is Arabic is style, with a lot of very complicated acoustic guitars.

“Wait No More” is more melodic instrumental hard rock, but with complex rhythms and tricks aplenty.  “Between the Lines” is ballad-like, with layers of shimmering guitars,until the song gives way to a nice rock riff.   This is of course accentuated by plenty of lead and melody guitars.  Finally “The Lone Gunman” closes the album on a heavy note.  (Notice how this title ties in with “Magic Bullet Theory”.)  The is a riffy track, which frankly the album could have used more of.  It’s also the longest song on the album, and probably the most epic emotionally.

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Although Magic Bullet Theory is not as song-oriented as I prefer instrumental albums to be, it has plenty of memorable moments and tracks.  It certainly shows off the talent that Mark had, that the world doesn’t know enough about.  Magic Bullet Theory comes recommended to all dyed-in-the-wool Kiss fans, and those who enjoy intelligent shreddery.

3/5 stars

…But wait, it’s not over!  After a five minute silence is an unlisted classical guitar rough recording, melodically lovely and astonishingly fast!  A nice coda.

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REVIEW: KISS – 40 (Japanese import with bonus track)

NEW RELEASE

KISS – 40 (2014 Universal Japan)

Alright people. I got a question for everybody here (and I didn’t forget about you people upstairs neither, woah yeah!).  How many of you people believe in rock and roll?

If you believe in rock and roll, like you say you believe in rock-and-ro-oh-oll, then you know that 2014 is the 40th anniversary of the very first Kiss album.  Gene Simmons believes in rock and roll.  So does Universal music.  They believe in rock and roll’s ability to fill their pockets again and again.   As fans, we have learned to accept this.  You don’t have to buy every re-package and reissue that comes out; we all choose which releases to buy based on our wants and budgets.

Unreleased music is a top priority for me, so seeing Kiss 40 coming out with a number of unreleased tracks, I was excited about this release.  I bought the Japanese edition from the folks over at CD Japan, for the Japanese exclusive bonus track.  I’ll talk about that track in a bit, for now I want to express how happy I am with Kiss 40, as a compilation aimed at fans both new and old.

Sets like this are tricky.  You have to include familiar versions of familiar hits for the people buying their first Kiss CD.  You have to include value to the cantankerous old fan, and present the old songs in novel ways.  What Kiss and Universal chose to do was include one song from every Kiss album, including every live album.  Sprinkled into that are the unreleased songs.

High points:

I love that they used the Paul Stanley version of “God of Thunder”, the fast one.  Marko Fox has been using that as his theme song on his show for a while, and I’ve really grown to love this version.  All four solo albums have a song included.  (I would have preferred a harder song from Paul’s album, but “Hold Me, Touch Me” was the single after all.)  Killers is represented, via “Down on Your Knees”.  Not a bad song.  I’m glad to have the radio edit of “Jungle”, finally.  I never had that before, and “Jungle” probably wouldn’t be on the album if it wasn’t edited down from its full seven minutes.  (Although not stated, “Psycho-Circus” is also edited to remove the “circus” intro.)

Low points:

The goal of including Kiss songs from every album also means that you have to hear “Let’s Put the X in Sex”.  Although this would have been a great place to use a rarer remixed version, it’s just the same one from Smashes, Thrashes & Hits.  Another total miss that is here is the dreadful “Nothing Can Keep Me From You”, from the Detroit Rock City soundtrack.  Whyyyyy.

Nitty gritty details:

The first rarity is a 1977 Gene Simmons demo called “Reputation”.  You can hear that aspects of this song later made it into other Gene Simmons compositions such as “Radioactive”.  This is one of those song titles I’d read about for years, but have never heard until now.  Cool.  While the song is definitely a demo, and not quite as good as most finished Kiss songs, it does boast a cool dual guitar solo and rocking piano a-la “Christine Sixteen”.

KISS 40On the second CD are the rare live tracks.  In addition to live songs sampled from You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!!, Alive IV: Kiss Symphony and The Millenium Concert, there are rare ones here from Instant Live CDs.  Instant Live CDs are live albums you buy at the concert, immediately after the concert — a souvenir of the show you just saw.  Extras are then sold online.  I have a handful myself, but nobody has all of them (at least, nobody I know of!).  “Deuce”, “Cold Gin”, and “Crazy Crazy Nights” are all from these Instant Live albums.  “Crazy Crazy Nights” is the one I was most interested in.  Live performances of that song are scarce in my collection.  It is from the Sonic Boom tour, and it’s pretty solid.  The song is played in a lower key to accommodate Paul, who does pretty good anyway.  Eric and Tommy help him out on the chorus.  Thayer simplifies the original Kulick solo, adapting it to his style and keeping the key hooks intact.  The result is a tasty guitar solo which is a cross of both players.

Finally, those lucky lucky fans in Japan got a brand new live song:  “Hell or Hallelujah” recorded at Budokan.  Although the song itself smokes, Paul’s voice is really sore on this one.  (Both the intro and outro, which could have been neatly edited out, are really harsh.) The song includes the line, “No lies, no fakin’,” and that is totally appropriate, because this sounds 100% live and untouched.  Gotta give ’em credit for not trying to fix Paul’s voice in the mix.

Notable omissions:

“Love Gun”, “Creatures of the Night”, “Hotter than Hell”, “I Stole Your Love”, “Rocket Ride”, “Sure Know Something”, “Hide Your Heart”, “Domino”.

The verdict:

Buy this CD.  The concept of “one track per album” creates some interesting listening results.  The ratio of rarities to hits keeps it fresh all the way through.  And if you’re a Kiss fan absolutely get the Japanese version.  Just go to CD Japan and order it.

4/5 stars

Disc One

  1. ‘Nothin To Lose’
  2. ‘Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll’
  3. ‘C’mon and Love Me’
  4. ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ (Live)
  5. ‘God Of Thunder’ (Demo)
  6. ‘Beth’
  7. ‘Hard Luck Woman’
  8. ‘Reputation’ (Demo) – Previously Unreleased
  9. ‘Christine Sixteen’
  10. ‘Shout It Out Loud’ (Live)
  11. ‘Strutter ‘78′
  12. ‘You Matter To Me’ (Peter Criss)
  13. ‘Radioactive’ (Gene Simmons)
  14. ‘New York Groove’ (Ace Frehley)
  15. ‘Hold Me, Touch Me’ (Paul Stanley)
  16. ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ (Single Edit)
  17. ‘Shandi’
  18. ‘A World Without Heroes’
  19. ‘I Love It Loud’
  20. ‘Down On Your Knees’
  21. ‘Lick It Up’
  22. ‘Heaven’s On Fire’

 

Disc Two

  1. ‘Tears Are Falling’
  2. ‘Reason To Live’
  3. ‘Let’s Put The X In Sex’
  4. ‘Forever’ (Remix)
  5. ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II’
  6. ‘Unholy’ (Live)
  7. ‘Do You Love Me?’ (MTV Unplugged)
  8. ‘Room Service’ (Live)
  9. ‘Jungle’ (Radio Edit)
  10. ‘Psycho Circus’
  11. ‘Nothing Can Keep Me From You’ (Detroit Rock City soundtrack)
  12. ‘Detroit Rock City’ (Live)
  13. ‘Deuce’ (Live 2004) – Unreleased commercially
  14. ‘Firehouse’ (Live – 1999/2000)
  15. ‘Modern Day Delilah’
  16. ‘Cold Gin’ (Live 2009) – Unreleased commercially
  17. ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ (Live 2010) – Unreleased commercially
  18. ‘Hell or Hallelujah’
  19. ‘Hell or Hallelujah’ (Live in Japan 2013) – Japanese bonus track