michael bolton

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

REVIEW: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20161003BLACKJACK – Worlds Apart (1980 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

Blackjack (Bruce Kulick, Jimmy Haslip, Sandy Gennero and some unknown guy named Michael Bolton) made a grand total of two albums before splitting.  Michael went on to a fairly successful solo career (two Grammy awards), and a few years later Bruce joined Kiss.  Neither guy is really sweating the fact that Blackjack had no impact.  The albums are long out of print, except in Japan.

Their second album, unfortunately, lacks the memorable hooks of the first one.  Starting off with a cover is rarely a good sign.  The Supremes’ “My World is Empty Without You” is as ham-fisted as you can imagine, with heavy handed bass forced into what is usually a fine soul song.  Bolton oversings.  It’s a misstep from the get-go, and it’s not a good sign that this is one of the better tracks on the album which is otherwise mostly written by Bolton and Kulick.

“Love is Hard to Find” works well as an early-80’s Bon Jovi blueprint.  The ballad “Stay” certainly sounds like Michael Bolton, or more accurately, it sounds like Michael covering an over-dramatic Rod Stewart ballad.  “Airwaves” passes as a rock song, but it certainly is a weak one even compared to similar bands from the era such as Journey.  Ironically what it needs is Michael to let loose with those pipes, the way he does on the ballads.  Even a title like “Maybe It’s the Power of Love” lacks the kind of vocal power you want (though Bruce does get a tasty little solo with a dual harmony part).

The hardest rocker of the album is the side two opener, “Welcome to the World”, which bizarrely opens with an actual recorded baby birth.  That aside, it’s a pretty solid rocker with more of those Kulick harmony licks.  Strangely, Kulick had nothing to do with its writing.  This works into the very 80’s sounding “Breakaway” with its programmed keyboards and soft-rockisms, and among the worst tracks on the album.  “Really Wanna Know” is almost as bad, so cheesy you can smell it coming by the opening synths.  “Sooner or Later” works better, again perhaps a precursor to early Bon Jovi.  Good track, and Michael lets the voice rip like you want to hear it.  And then the album craps its own pants with the closer, “She Wants You Back”, lighter than light rock.  There’s a lick that borrows from Steve Miller’s “Swingtown”, but the Miller song is better.

The second Blackjack album has no surprises, no progression and little impact  Even though the second LP is a soundalike to the first, it’s weak.  And so they split.  Bruce Kulick’s brief foray into “moustache rock” ended and he was on to other things.  Blackjack and Worlds Apart are interesting mostly to Kiss fans and collectors.  As for Bolton fans, I know he still has many, but I think only these two fellas would buy Worlds Apart (they celebrate the guy’s entire catalogue).

2/5 stars

scan_20161003-2

REVIEW: Blackjack – Blackjack (1979)

It’s Bruce Kulick week here at mikeladano.com! Check in for some cool releases featuring the extremely talented former KISS guitarist.

scan_20161002BLACKJACK – Blackjack (1979 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

The Kiss family tree is a fascinating tangle of disparate roots and branches.  One of the most intriguing branches is that of Bruce Kulick (Kiss guitarist 1984-1996) who has played with a number of fantastic artists over the years.  After completing a tour with Meat Loaf, Bruce was invited to form a new band with a hot young rock singer out of New Haven, Connecticut. This singer was a powerhouse with a Seger-like rasp, mixing soul and rock in equal measure, and able to write songs too. In fact today, this singer has sold 75 million albums with his name on them. Or at least the shortened version of his name. Back in 1979, his last name was spelled “Bolotin”. Today, he’s known as Michael Bolton.

Today, Bolton is probably best known for covers (“When a Man Loves a Woman”), but in 1979 he co-wrote every song on Blackjack’s debut. Both Kulick brothers (Bruce and Bob) have credits on a number of songs. And shockingly, they are generally pretty good! Fair warning though, this isn’t hard rock or heavy metal. Look at Bruce’s moustache. This is 1979 moustache music. It actually sounds bang-on in tune with the 1978 Kiss solo albums.

Bolton’s blue-eyed soul had a remarkable youthful energy. Check out the powerhouse chorus on the lead track “Love Me Tonight”. It’s hard to recognize the chops of Kulick, who was just beginning his evolution. The focus is undoubtedly on the singer, who impresses on every song. Second in line is “Heart of Stone”, a dusky soul-funk-rock number with some unbelievable singing. Unfortunately the ballads are less interesting then the rockers. “The Night has Me Calling for You” lacks the focus of the prior two songs. Following it with “Southern Ballad” makes it seem like we’re listening to a Peter Criss solo album at times. The side resumes to rocking with “Fallin'”, a great little tune that again sounds like it could have fit on one of the Kiss solo albums.


They even made a music video!

Although this is a remastered Japanese HM-CD, the second side of the original LP would have commenced on “Without Your Love”, a catchy and hit-worthy rock song a-la Journey (the members of whom helped out Bolton on his hit 1987 album The Hunger). Although “Countin’ On You” counts as a ballad, it’s better than the two on side one. It bears a strong chorus with urgency, and some cool finger picking by Bruce. The chorus of “I’m Aware of Your Love” is awkward but also catchy. I mean, who says “I’m aware of your love”? Is that a thing people say? If it works for you, sing along with Michael!

For soul ballads, “For You” is quite good, and Kulick complements it well. Finally the album ends with energy courtesy of “Heart of Mine” another strong soul-rocker with some powerful Bolton pipes. This is good stuff, horribly dated but if you like the cheesier side of late 70’s rock, then dig in. Who knew that Michael Bolton could rock? Kiss fans, that’s who. Because of Kulick, fans have been aware for years that Michael Bolton did rock at one time. Now with both Blackjack albums re-released in Japan on super high quality CDs with LP style packaging, you can get in on the fun too.

3.5/5 stars

Part 108: Building the Store, Part 2

RECORD STORE TALES PART 108: Building the Store, Part 2

Last time, Statham posted something about a dream he had, of us putting together our own record store. I wish I could have had the experience of opening a store without doing work!  The reality of it varied.  On the couple of times I helped set up a store, it was hardly glamorous.

The first time was when we opened up the first store that I managed.  It was the biggest one so far, lots of stock, all crap. Junk. Shite.  Basically what we did was, maybe starting six months in advance,  just buy lots and lots and lots of stock.  Before long we had, I dunno, maybe 5000 discs, all garbage.  Dozens of Jann Arden, Spin Doctors, Michael Bolton…I had so much Michael Bolton that he took up three fucking rows!  I even had rare Michael Bolton.  Nobody had rare Michael Bolton!  Nobody wanted rare Michael Bolton!  Then you’d go to the Metallica section, nothing.  Kiss, a couple copies of Kiss My Ass.  And we had soooo much country.  We had buckets of country.  And rap artists that you nor I have ever heard of. 

Waltz back over to the rock section and browse the classics.  Did we have any Floyd?  Nothing.  Led Zeppelin?  Just the tribute album, Encomium.  Meat Loaf?  Bat 2, but not Bat.  We had a couple of Rush discs, like Counterparts, but nothing from the 70’s.  No Maiden.  No Miles.  No Dylan.  No Hendrix.

We had no standardized pricing scheme back then.  So, if I was pricing Eric Clapton’s Unplugged at $9.99, the guy next to me might have priced it at $11.99 because maybe he liked it more.  It was very subjective.  Sometimes you knew what a CD was worth brand new and based it on that, sometimes it was so common that it didn’t matter, and sometimes nobody had a fucking clue.  We’d try to fix the pricing it as we went, but it was slow.  After we opened, a customer would come up with three copies of the same album.  “This one is $8.99, this one $9.99, and this one $11.99.  Is that because one is more scratched?”  Logical question!  But no, we just cocked up.

It took weeks to manually input and price all those discs.  Shelving them took a couple more days. Making the header cards, setting things up, all told we were at it for maybe a month.  Then the big day came and we did our opening.  We were only half-equipped:  there was no second computer yet, and only half of our CD players for listening station had been bought.  Signs were still arriving to be put up.

I’ll never forget our sign that showed up that said, “WE PAY CSAH FOR YOUR USED CDS!” 

Regardless of how crappy the stock was, it sold!  I couldn’t believe it!  There were only a few decent albums and I figured once they were gone, that was it.  That wasn’t the case at all.  People kept buying the old rap and country discs.  Tanya Tucker?  Check!  We had lots!  And people were buying it!

Then, used stuff started coming in at a rapid pace.  Crazy stuff too.  I remember this one huge Tangerine Dream box set coming in, on the Thursday of the first week.

After we opened and good stuff started coming in by the box full, all the hard work seemed like it was paying off.  But the setting up was long and tedious, and I couldn’t stand Todd, who was also on setup duty.  But who gives a crap?  I spent weeks doing nothing but data entry while listening to music (our own music, which we brought in – of course).  I rocked a lot of Deep Purple those weeks.  It was awesome.

I remember that I had just found two Purple albums that I wanted:  Concerto For Group and Orchestra, and King Biscuit Flower Hour.  I also rocked Purpendicular, which had just come out, as much as I could.   Todd didn’t understand the music at all.  All he was interested in listening to was Floyd, nothing else.  He played Bush once or twice, but otherwise it was all Floyd.  He really, really liked P.U.L.S.E.  And he just murdered Floyd for me, for a long time.

When I listen to albums like Concerto and Purpendicular, it brings me right back to doing data entry in that store.  Not a bad soundtrack to work to.