Paul Stanley

#951: Set Your VCR, It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

Special thanks to Jennifer Ladano for telling me to write this story down!

RECORD STORE TALES #951: Set Your VCR!
It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

When thinking back about my earliest rock and roll discoveries, it’s important to recall the order in which I got the albums, or first heard the tunes.  It seems like I had always known “Rock N’ Roll all Nite”, but since my first Kiss albums were Alive! and Hotter Than Hell, those were the songs I knew best.  And I barely knew them!  I got my first Kiss in September of ’85.  But I was learning slowly.  Eventually I’d get Asylum, and gradually tape Kiss albums from my neighbour George.

Something else happened that exposed me to Kiss in a new way, that I sometimes forget about.  It was the first time I saw Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

Everybody knew about Kiss Meets the Phantom, but few of us were old enough to have seen it.  When it showed up in the TV guide one week, on some Buffalo station, it seemed like every kid with access to a VCR set it to record.  It was being shown at something like 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday.

Upon waking, I got my sister up early and we raced downstairs to watch.  We did not have time to watch the whole thing that morning.  It was winter, possibly the tail end of Christmas holidays, and we were off to the lake for one day.  We watched some, went to the lake, had lunch at the Embassy, and came home to finish the movie.

I noticed there were far more ads to fast forward through on late night TV than during the day!


Actual ads from the actual tape of the actual night.

My sister recalls liking Kiss Meets the Phantom; my memories are quite different.  I was bored to tears any time Kiss wasn’t on screen, and you had to wait through, like, an hour (with ads) for Kiss to arrive at the bloody park!  I didn’t know who this Anthony Zerbe fellow was, but at age 13 I considered him possibly the worst actor I had ever seen.

It was my first time seeing Peter Criss on video and not just still photos, and I was surprised at his voice.  I told everyone, “Peter Criss sounds like Aquaman.”  I had the show right, but the character wrong.  Michael Bell did the voice of Peter Criss in Kiss Meets the Phantom, and Wonder Twin Zan in the cartoon Superfriends.  Legend has it that this was because Peter didn’t show up to loop his lines in post-production.  Whatever the case, it led to a different urban legends:  that Peter Criss had given up rock and roll, and taken up a lucrative career as a cartoon voice actor!

I thought Gene’s distorted voice was tiresome after a while, and Paul seemed the coolest.  My sister liked that Kiss were like superheroes with powers.  On the other hand, I didn’t like that.  If Paul Stanley couldn’t shoot a laser beam out of his eye in real life, I didn’t understand why he would in this movie.  They were still Kiss, still playing the same Kiss songs, but also super-powered.  My rigid brain couldn’t reconcile the two.

As for the music, the movie contains several songs that I heard for the very first time that day.  “Beth” (acoustic, no less), “Shout It Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”.  (“Rip and Destroy” doesn’t count.)  Now, because I didn’t know these songs, and there were no captions, I had to guess at the titles.  “Shout It Out Loud” was the easy one.  But these were the live versions taken from Alive II, fast and reckless.  Not to mention we were hearing it on a TV with mono speaker; state of the art for the time, but not for proper music listening.  So that’s why, for that day at least, I thought “God of Thunder” was “Not a Doctor”, and “I Stole Your Love” was something that sounded like “I Ho-Jo-Ho”.

The process of discovering Kiss was so memorable because it’s so fun.  The superhero character aspect appealed to my sister and there’s no denying that it had something to do with why I loved Kiss too.  But hearing the songs and albums for the first time can only happen once.  And I can clearly remember a tinge of sadness when I finally acquired Rock and Roll Over, the last original Kiss album I needed to finish my collection.  I was starkly aware that I was having this experience for the last time:  hearing a classic Kiss album, guessing who was singing the songs by the title alone, and discovering hidden favourites.  As I learned when Crazy Nights came out, hearing a new Kiss album was simply not the same as discovering the classics!

Kiss Meets the Phantom was a struggle to sit through then, but fortunately I saw it at an age when Kiss still seemed larger than life.  Objectively, it is a pretty terrible film, best enjoyed as a trainwreck.  The best parts are the concert scenes, which was the closest I got to seeing Kiss live at age 13.  It was my first exposure to some really important songs even if I wondered why Gene was singing about being “Not a Doctor”!

[Re-Post] Part 241: Halloween, KISS style!

Always nice to repost a seasonal classic.  Enjoy this Halloween tale.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 241:  Halloween, KISS style!

Our annual inventory count fell on October 31.  For five years straight, I never got to dress up, hand out candy, or do anything fun on Halloween because I was too busy counting discs and CD towers!  However in the early days, this wasn’t the case.  Halloween 1996 was actually a pretty good one.

Like most malls, ours had a few Halloween contests.  T-Rev entered the store in the Pumpkin Carving category.  He and I came up with the plan to do a Kiss pumpkin.  T-Rev, the store owner’s brother, and myself gathered in my mom’s workshop in the basement. My mom had plenty of paint, and I was good at drawing the Kiss makeup designs.  T-Rev had the idea to make the pumpkin Gene Simmons, and figured out how to make a pumpkin tongue stick out.  I must say he did an amazing job.

The first step was to spray paint the pumpkin white.  One of the guys did the cutting.  Then, I drew the Demon design with a black magic marker.  We thought the nose needed to be more three-dimensional, so I cut it out a bit.  Together, we began colouring in Gene’s makeup.  We needed something to define the eyes of Gene, and T-Rev thought of using pumpkin seeds.  We added a wig, and voila!

T-Rev propped Gene up on the magazine stand outside the store.  Immediately we started getting compliments, and the response was pretty unanimous:  We had done the best job in the entire mall.

Unfortunately, the judges didn’t base their ratings on who had done the best job.  They were only marking the results, whether the store employees did the pumpkins themselves or not!  A store that hired a professional carver won first place.  We came in second.  There was no prize for second.  T-Rev and I considered that to be cheating.  Cheatie-cheatertons.

The contest was over, and not too soon:  the pumpkin had begun to rot, as pumpkins do.  That didn’t stop a customer from coming in on November 1st and offering him $10 for it.  T-Rev accepted his gracious offer, even though the thing would be turning horrific in a day or two.  A fool and his money, right T-Rev?

By 1997, the store had moved out of the mall.  This was our last pumpkin carving contest, but at least we had the satisfaction of winning the popular vote.  As far as I’m concerned, we went out on top.  My personal consolation prize was later on, Halloween 2006.  By this time I had moved on to United Rentals.  They took Halloween very, very seriously at United Rentals!  I dressed up as Paul Stanley, and this time, I finally won first prize!

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Tokyo 2001 (2021)

 – Off the Soundboard – Tokyo 2001 (Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan, March 13, 2001 – 2021 Universal)

Hell yeah, Kiss have started releasing official bootlegs.  Proving that they “get” the concept, the first in what we hope will be a long series, is a lineup never before heard on any official Kiss release.  After the lengthy reunion and Psycho Circus tours, Kiss embarked on a “Farewell Tour” that really wasn’t.  It was just the farewell to the original lineup, and specifically Peter Criss.  Ace Frehley stayed on board for the time being and Eric Singer was brought in as the new Catman.  This lineup lasted until Frehley left and Criss came back for the Kiss Symphony, but was never documented in any official capacity.

Confusing?  Just know three things:

  1. This is really valuable to fans.
  2. ACE FREHLEY, LEAD GUITAR!
  3. Paul Stanley was still in great voice back in 2001.

Alright, Tokyo.  You wanted the best, you got the best.  Let’s have a listen.

An electrifying “Detroit Rock City” opens, and immediately you can hear the pitter-patter of the new Catman making itself evident.  Stanley is in fine form, high energy.  And the sound is damn decent.  Sure, you could wish the vocals were mixed louder and the bass a little lower, but the “official bootleg” is a more honest experience than a polished-up Alive album.  And Paul really nails it.

“Deuce” has plenty of those Frehley solos and fills that we miss so much today.  Gene is fully engaged and frankly, you don’t miss Peter.  Paul says a quick hello in Japanese, and teases the crowd in expert frontman fashion.  Then it’s “Shout It Out Loud”, a pretty standard version.  Frehley’s “Talk To Me” from Unmasked is the real treat.  It is not the first live version released (there was an earlier live take on The Box Set with Eric Carr) but it is rarely heard.

Paul always asks the crowd “How we doin’ so far,” and the pace is slowed down for “I Love It Loud”.  This version has particularly good backing vocals in comparison with others.  Then Paul needs to know if the crowd is having a good time, just before he pulls off some impressive soulful bellowing.  It’s time to call the “Firehouse”, another solid version.  Eric Singer’s drumming is noticeably more regimented but the fills are big and bold.  It’s just great to have Ace on lead guitar.

Kiss setlists are often safe, and a steady stream of Kiss standbys roll out:  “Do You Love Me”, “Dr. Love”, “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  It’s a Kiss concert; none of these songs vary much from night to night.  None of them suck; Kiss were sounding good and Eric Singer helps beef up the vocals.  The extended intro to “Heaven’s On Fire” really highlights what a truly exceptional singer Paul Stanley was.  Gene on the other hand is pretty ragged on “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”, not being able to decide what voice he’s singing in.  Great to hear Ace take a long solo on it though, all the while Eric Singer filling the backdrop with snares n’ toms.

Frehley takes the spotlight once more on “Shock Me” with his feature solo.  Gimme a Frehley version of “Shock Me” any day over a Tommy version.  Ace does a weird “Shock Me-ee-ee” thing on the chorus.  After telling the crowd that “Tokyo rocks,” he blasts through the fanfare of “Also sprach Zarathustra” on his Gibson.  It was indeed the year 2001!  Frehley’s solo (almost 10 minutes of it) is a CD highlight for those who miss the Spaceman.

Ending the first disc, “Psycho Circus” was the only track from the most recent Kiss album left in the set.  It is always reliable, sounding like classic Kiss, even more so when Ace plays the lead solo (which he didn’t on the album).  Continuing on disc two, “Lick It Up” makes its appearance.  This is a track that that rules completely with Ace Frehley.  “Lick It Up” has always been, let’s face it, a bland song.  When you add Ace soloing on it, it’s got some flavour.  Could be that the Tokyo Dome version of “Lick It Up” is the best available take out there.

Gene’s bass break is boring without the visuals, but “God of Thunder” is pretty hot, Ace throwing in some squeals that remind you why the real thing was special.  This track also includes Eric’s drum solo.  Momentum is built on “Cold Gin”, and the monolithic “100,000 Years”.  Raw and heavy Kiss with vintage Frehley?  Again, outside of Kiss Alive itself, these are probably the best versions you will hear.  Paul’s usual sing-a-long in “100,000 Years” is part of the party.  “Do you feel alriii-iii-iight!”  Nothing is edited out, even when Paul is busy handing out T-shirts and all you have is Eric keeping the beat.  Fans appreciate that authenticity.

There’s still plenty of heavy tonnage rock left to go.  “Love Gun” can’t be left out, fireworks blasting as Paul flies out over the crowd (which is why the song has an extended intro without vocals).  Once Paul’s on his platform in the middle of the arena it’s off to the races.  No place for hiding indeed!

The surprise is “I Still Love You” from Creatures of the Night.  The only ballad, and a track that was rarely played after the reunion.  It has always been a big Paul moment, and this is performed solo without Simmons, Frehley or Singer as part of the intro to “Black Diamond”.  Speaking of which, “Black Diamond” is also an album highlight; a version with Eric Singer on lead vocals and Ace Frehley on lead guitar!

The pairing of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and “Rock and Roll all Nite” are an odd one, but that’s the closing duo that got the Tokyo crowd screaming.

Besides the couple rarely played songs, the cool thing about this Tokyo setlist is the pacing.  It starts with a bang, and it never really lets go.  Even the solo breaks are really just big intros or outros that amplify the moments around them.  Then the whole show manages to even pick up the excitement at the end with stellar performances of “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond”.  It is also encouraging that Kiss are realizing the value of past lineups, and official bootlegs.  As long as they remain willing to highlight songs and band members from nooks and crannies in the band’s history, then the Kiss Off the Soundboard series is a promising one.

4.5/5 stars

Sunday Screening: Trailer for KISS Off the Soundboard: Tokyo 2001

Just a quickie for you this Sunday.  In rather cool news, KISS announced a new series of live soundboard albums.  The first of these is Tokyo 2001, one of Ace Frehley’s last shows with the band.  The lineup is one never before represented on any official releases until now:  Stanley/Simmons/Frehley/Singer.

The vinyl can be purchased on black or “exclusive 3LP crystal clear vinyl with bone swirl”.  Or for those of us not made of money, plain ol’ CD.  Check it out.

 

1. “Detroit Rock City”
2. “Deuce”
3. “Shout It Out Loud”
4. “Talk to Me”
5. “I Love It Loud”
6. “Firehouse”
7. “Do You Love Me”
8. “Calling Dr. Love”
9. “Heaven’s On Fire”
10. “Let Me Go Rock & Roll”
11. “Shock Me”
12. “Psycho Circus”
13. “Lick It Up”
14. “God of Thunder”
15. “Cold Gin”
16. “100,000 Years”
17. “Love Gun”
18. “I Still Love You”
19. “Black Diamond”
20. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”
21. “Rock and Roll All Nite”

VHS Archives #103: Paul Stanley of KISS with Slaughter & Dan Gallagher (in full Gene makeup)

“In case you tuned in, we’re here with Gene Simmons right now.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Deke’s favourite video. The legendary Dan Gallagher put on some Kiss makeup to talk to Paul Stanley. It was such a party that Slaughter dropped in too! It was the infamous gig opening for Whitesnake, and you can get a sense of Paul’s anger that Kiss were not allowed to do their full stage show. David Coverdale’s ego is alluded to.

Best quotes:

“If I was gonna paint the Sistine Chapel, I’d do it with a roller. I’m not a fine artist folks!”

“Everything we did was always in addition to what the music was doing. We never did it in place of the music.”

“Whenever people put out sequels to movies, they’re usually not as good as the original.  Alive II was pretty much as good as Alive I.  When gotta make sure Alive III isn’t…Jaws 3D or something.”

“Michael [Bolton] used to have the mic in his hand and strut around…he’s a rocker!”

When Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum show up, it becomes a bit of a party.

 

NOTE:  There are a couple audio glitches here that I didn’t notice until too late.

REVIEW: Paul Stanley’s Soul Station – Now and Then (2021)

PAUL STANLEY’S SOUL STATION – Now and Then (2021 Universal)

Reviewing Paul Stanley’s new album, Now and Then featuring his new band Soul Station, is probably the most challenging task I have ahead of me this morning.  It’s difficult for several reasons, primarily three.  Full disclosure.

 

 

 

  1. Paul Stanley might be my favourite artist of all time.
  2. His voice is in decline and this is always evident.
  3. How can I review Paul’s soul covers without comparing to the originals?

The truth is I like soul just fine, but the bulk of my collection is made of different grades of rock.  I have an Etta James CD.  I’m far from qualified to review this.  But I have to, so I’ll try.

Paul’s band is 10 members (excluding himself) augmented by a horn and a string section.  18 musicians are credited total, with Paul as “lead singer”:  the first time on any of his albums where Paul plays no instruments.  Unexpectedly, Paul’s Kiss bandmate Eric Singer is Soul Station’s drummer.

There are 14 tracks:  nine covers, and five originals.  You can’t accuse Paul Stanley of taking the easy route.

Remember when Kiss were accused of going Disco in 1979?  “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” really sounds Disco, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with the flawless arrangement, from the lush strings to the punchy horns.  In fact, Paul’s diminished voice is the only noticeable weakness.  He covers for it pretty well.  He used to belt it out all time; now he usually holds back in a soft whispery falsetto.  A performer has to adapt to their limits at every age.  Good tune.  But this is a new Paul Stanley and he’s not the best singer in his band.  He’s just the lead singer.

The first original, “I Do”, sounds like the real thing.  It’s a light ballad, arranged with the strings and full band treatment to sound pretty much just like the covers.  But the really surprising original is “I, Oh, I”, a terrific upbeat dance-y number.  Not only does it sound authentic but it’s also catchy as hell.  You could imagine it in a rock arrangement, and Paul points out in the liner notes that he wrote, arranged and orchestrated all his originals.

“Ooo Baby Baby” is a Smokey Robinson cover, and like the original it’s in falsetto.  It’s one of the harder songs to listen to.  “O-O-H Child” is better, though no substitute for the original.  Paul does well on the upbeat tracks with plenty of melodic hooks.  One of his backing singers take the lead on a few lines.  And although Eric Singer does a mighty job on the drums, he is a rock drummer playing soul, and that’s evident in the fills.  The groove of the 70s just isn’t something that can be recreated easily.

You can tell by the title that “Save Me (From You)” is a Paul original.  Sounds like a leftover from the Live To Win album, jazzed up for the Soul Station.  That said, it’s a pretty good track.  It’s a nocturnal rumble that does really well standing up to the classics.  It cannot be denied that Paul Stanley has a knack for writing a melodic song.  All of his writing credits on Now and Then are solo credits.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is not bad.  It’s the falsetto again, but massaged in the studio, and backed by the Soul Station, this one makes the grade.  Nobody doubts Paul’s genuine love of this music.  In the liner notes he takes ample time explaining his roots with Detroit soul.  And it was him that was hanging out in New York Disco clubs, when he decided he could write one of those songs for Kiss.

“Whenever You’re Ready (I’ll Be Here)” is a duet with one of his backing singers; upbeat, well done.  “The Tracks of My Tears” exposes the weaknesses in Paul’s voice but there are plenty of backing singers to cover for him.  That aside, it’s another great Soul Station cover.  “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) underwhelms; I mean how can it not?  The best thing I can say is that it’s better than Michael Bolton’s version.  “La-La — Means I Love You” also kind of just sits there, threatening to send the listener off to sleepytime land.  Fortunately, Paul’s original “Lorelei” revives the album, with upbeat melodic charm.  Cool guitar solo on this one too.

Two more covers to get through — “You Are Everything” (no thanks) and “Baby I Need Your Loving”.  Fortunately the latter song closes the album, on an earnest upbeat note with Paul giving the lungs a little exercise.  Solid ending.

Observation:  I enjoyed Paul Stanley’s Soul Station more the first three or four times I played it — as background music.   When it comes to listening intently, it didn’t capture me.

Observation 2:  Peter Criss got shit all over for trying to make an album somewhat like this back in 1978.

If Paul had released a mini-album (or extra large EP) with only seven or eight tracks, I think we’d be praising his originals and taste in covers.  Unfortunately chinks in the armour appear too frequently on the bulk of the album.  Good background music, but not an outstanding set.

Paul’s originals – 4/5 stars
Covers – 1.5/5 stars
Kiss Fan Fanatic Score – 100/5 stars
Realistic Score – 2/5 stars

#890.5: Easter in the Age of Covid, 2.0

It didn’t come as a surprise when the province of Ontario went back into the “grey zone” again last week.  But sad to say, when I asked myself “How will this change my daily routine?,” I had to admit that it wouldn’t.  Easter wasn’t that different from last year.  I did some live streaming, I did some listening, I did some writing.

Actually I did a lot of listening and writing.  Andy Curran (Coney Hatch, Soho 69, Caramel) will be on the show this Friday April 9.  The guy is fount of rock knowledge so this will be quite a tour-de-force, and I have been doing my research.  I’ve been listening to Coney Hatch and solo Andy, on repeat.  I have three Rock Candy remasters here with valuable liner notes and bonus tracks.  I’ve been reading.  Deke will be in seventh heaven getting to talk to one of his heroes.  It’s going to be a lot of fun, and that’s one reason I do this.  It’s fun.

Friday afternoon I went over to my parents’ house to pick up some mail.  Mail theft became a serious issue last year so now I have my mail delivered elsewhere to be collected.  In the mail were two Star Trek movies that I haven’t seen in a long time.  Two years ago, I made the mistake of donating all my Star Trek DVDs while doing a big purge.  I said “No big deal, I’ll just buy a Blu-ray set.”  But none of the Blu-ray sets had the features I wanted from the DVDs.  I have been slowly buying them back, and this weekend I got to star Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

It has been literal years since seeing The Voyage Home, or “the one with the whales”.  Perhaps a decade.  What a perfect film, at least as perfect as any movie with time travel conundrums can be.  I smiled and chuckled the whole way through.

As for Khan, I know I streamed it somewhere fairly recently, but it has been just as many years since I watched the extended director’s cut.  It only adds up to a few minutes here and there, but it was all fresh and new to me.  The restored scenes help clarify the identity of young Peter Preston, who dies in the first attack.  “He stayed at his post, when the trainees ran!” mourned Mr. Scott.  A restored line reveals Peter Preston is Scott’s nephew.  “My sister’s youngest,” he says.  “Crazy to get to space.”  Lines such as this add value to the already perfect film.  Others do not.  Additional exposition was probably cut because it wasn’t necessary.  I did like one in which Kirk explains to Spock who David Marcus is.  “That young man is my son”, says Kirk.  The only reply necessary from Spock:  “Fascinating.”

So I had fun.  I made lots of time to play some music.  I listened to Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, and I’m trying to find a way to be objective about reviewing it.  I like it a lot.  But if anybody else with a better voice put out a similar record, would I give it the time of day?  Unlikely.  So there is a certain hypocrisy there that I must address before I attempt to review it.  But I will.  I genuinely like the album.  But I like it on the same level that I like the Peter Criss solo albums:  as a reasonable facsimile of the real article.  A forgery through the lens of somebody I already like and am familiar with.  Easier to digest.

Tonight:  Easter dinner courtesy of Golf’s Steakhouse, via the generosity of my mom who always spoiled us.  Friday night’s live stream was Easter themed, and viewers were shocked at how spoiled we were as kids.  We got great Easter gifts while other kids got a chocolate bunny.  My sister and I didn’t question it, we just went with it!

Thanks mom for dinner tonight.  I ordered a porterhouse.  It’ll be here in 10 minutes.

Happy Easter my friends.

 

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Best of Solo Albums (Japanese CD)

  Best of Solo Albums (Originally 1979, 2020 Universal Japan CD)

Third review for this Kiss compilation here, but why?  A couple reasons.  For one, it’s the first-ever official CD release of this album!  It took 41 years for them to finally put out a CD, and yet only in Japan.  More remarkably, there is one track here that I’ve never heard before in this particular version.

That song is the incredible Paul Stanley epic “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.  On Paul’s solo disc, it fades away at the end of side one at 5:35 in length.  Here, it goes to 5:48, no fade, right to the end of the track.  It’s an ending I’ve never heard before.  This song isn’t even on the more common European version of Best of Solo Albums, just the Japanese.  And apparently the CD has an unreleased version without the fade.

“Oh boy!” you exclaim.  “I have to buy this import just to get 13 seconds of music I never heard before?”

No.  You don’t have to buy it.  I did, because I wanted a copy of this album on CD.  When I discovered the longer version of the track, I was ecstatic to unexpectedly get something extra for my money.

There’s no need to review this album track by track again.  I’ve done it twice, and I’ve also reviewed all four solos albums twice each.  There’s really no need to run through all the songs again, although this tracklist is quite different.  Unlike the European version, these songs are not arranged in three-track blocks for each member.  Additionally, seven of the European tracks were substituted with others.  That’s more than half the album!

Gene Simmons:  Instead of “Mr. Make Believe” and “See You In Your Dreams”, Japan used “See You Tonite” and “Living In Sin”

Paul Stanley:  “Move On” was replaced by the unreleased version of “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.

Ace Frehley:  “Speedin’ Back to my Baby” was removed in favour of the instrumental “Fractured Mirror”

Peter Criss:  All three of the Cat’s songs – “You Matter To Me”, “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, and “Hooked on Rock and Roll” were replaced!  I guess Japan didn’t care for those as much as they did “Don’t You Let Me Down”, “Rock Me Baby” and “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.

For me, I prefer the running order that Europe used, with each member of the band getting three songs in a chunk.  However, there are plenty of songs that I prefer on the Japanese version, such as “See You Tonite”, “Take Me Away (Together As One), “I Can’t Stop the Rain” and “Don’t You Let Me Down”.

It’s interesting that the solo albums are by and large panned by the masses, but nobody can agree on the “Best Of“.  Maybe those albums weren’t so bad after all, at least when you distil them down to the essential tracks.  The Japanese CD will become my preferred listening experience for two main reasons:  it sounds better than the vinyl, and I like more of the songs.  It would sound even better if I had an MQA decoder, a new-ish hi-resolution CD format from Japan, which will unlock an even better sounding version of the album, if you have a few grand to spend on upgrading your system.  If not, enjoy the disc and stellar packaging, with not one but two different covers to display.

4/5 stars

 

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

Back for Round Three.  For the first two Unmasked reviews, click here and here.

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

This has been a weird year.  Comforting, nostalgic sounds in the age of Covid have dominated at LeBrain HQ.  There are two Kiss albums that have been absolute joys this summer for blowing the blues away.  They have been Dressed to Kill, and Unmasked.  Originally rated 2.5/5 stars, I was definitely wrong on Unmasked.  The band may have disowned it, and it might not be hard rock, but reviewing it is not as “Easy As It Seems”.  This album definitely has “Two Side of the Coin”.  It might not be “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” but this summer, I just want to say one thing to Kiss Unmasked:  “You’re All That I Want”.

One reason I may have judged Unmasked harshly before is that first impressions are strongest.  In a case of Classical Conditioning, my first impression was not good.  In fact, for the first two years of hearing Unmasked, my copy was all but unlistenable.  In the beginning, I taped my first Kiss albums from next door neighbour George.  He fancied himself a bass player.  While he was recording Unmasked for me, I sat in his bedroom while he played bass along to it.  Every song.  Unbeknownst to him, his bass bled onto my tape.  Every time I played the album, it was like a remix with George overdubbed on bass, and I had the only copy.  Sometimes he continued playing well after the fade, other times he came in prematurely.  Either way, my first two formative years with this album were awful.  Even after buying a proper copy on cassette, I couldn’t hear the album without the auditory illusion of George’s bass ringing in my skull.  Though not the only factor, that had to be one of several reasons for my dislike of the album.  A dislike which in no longer:  in 2020, it’s love.  Just a fun anecdote to colour in some history, nothing more.

“Is That You?” asks Paul Stanley on the opener, a Gerard McMahon song that boasts grinding verses and a killer chorus.  Piano tinkles quietly in the background, but the guitars are nice and rich, especially Paul’s solo.  His lead vocals absolutely rip, while a sultry Gene sings the backgrounds.

A second Paul vocal follows, and it’s the big hit “Shandi”.  Listening with 20/20 hindsight in the year 2020, it’s amusing to ponder how anybody thought this was Peter Criss on drums.  It was a secret that Anton Fig played on Unmasked and Dynasty, but it’s really obviously not Peter Criss.  That disco groove is too impeccably perfect to be the Catman.  Paul is, in fact, the only Kiss member to play on “Shandi”.  And while this song is a softie, it ain’t a baddie.  It’s clear that Kiss were not the rag-tag rock and roll beast they once were.  They had evolved.  Temporarily, at least.

If the first two tracks were light on Ace Frehley, that’s not indicative of the album.  Three lead vocals for the Spaceman this time, including the single “Talk To Me”.  Shiny and chromed-up, Frehley’s songs are among the best on Unmasked and “Talk To Me” could be the top track.

I always had problems with “Naked City”, but part of that might be that I can still hear George come in early on the bass.  Gene Simmons makes his album vocal debut here, and while the chorus and riff are still not top-notch, the verses are excellent.  Songs like this also demonstrate that Gene is an underrated singer.  He’s more versatile than people realize.

Paul strikes a cool riff on “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”.  He often talks about how the album had good songs, but they should have sounded different.  This one sounds like it could have turned out more like the first three albums.  You can imagine how the riff would have been more prominent.  As it is though, it’s one of the most unabashedly catchy songs Paul’s ever written, and his guitar solo is simply delicious.  You can slag Paul for doing something so pop, but can you slag him for doing it so well?

Side B’s opener is “Tomorrow”, with Paul’s vocals cleanly produced as per the pop trends of the day, with slapback delay and airy EQ.  But like “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, this is pop rock done really well.  The keyboards are too prominent, but at least Ace gets a tasty solo here.  As Kiss songs got catchier, so did the Spaceman’s solos.  Frehley’s next lead vocal follows on “Two Sides of the Coin”, the song title which inspired a podcast (“Three Sides of the Coin“).  Y’see, Ace just can’t pick a girl!  But he has to.  “Two sides of the coin to choose from, I’m getting weary.  Which one should I choose?  I need time.”  He insists that the girls don’t mind, but I question that assertion.  But he has to pick a mate because he’s “tired of all those dates”!  Silly words aside, Ace has knocked out two top-notch songs on Unmasked so far.

Gene’s back on “She’s So European”, a song about a girl with a French accent who drinks pink champagne.  I’ve softed my stance on this one too.  You can certainly hear the rock n’ roll riffiness that it could have been.  That’s been replaced by keyboards and slick beats, and it’s fine.  “Easy As It Seems”, a Paul song, really sneaks up on you.  It disappears into the fabric of the album until one day you just can’t get it out of your heard.  Paul lays down another fine solo, and weaves a plaintive tapestry with his incredible voice.  What range he had.

An album highlight is the third and final Frehley concoction — a weird little number called “Torpedo Girl”.  Surf rock meets the Space Ace.  The guitar lick is a tricky little off-beat riff, but with Anton Fig behind on drums, Kiss could do complex stuff like this.  Especially since that’s Ace playing the bouncy bass part too.  It’s also one of Frehley’s most entertaining lyrics.  A submarine with a pretty girl on the bridge has surfaced in the bay!  Better go check it out.

The final track, “You’re All That I Want” is a Gene number.  Like “Easy As It Seems”, one day it just catches you.  Especially Paul’s “answer” vocals in the outro.  One thing (among many) that made Kiss truly special is the multiple lead singers.  And unless you’re a Catman diehard, you don’t really miss Peter in that mix.  Frehley more than made up for the lack of Criss.  While four singers is better than three, remember that Kiss only had three lead singers for their first five studio albums.

I don’t want to have to three-view the entire Kiss catalogue but it is amazing how Unmasked just opened up to me this summer.  I’m enjoying more than ever, with that nostalgic glow for days gone by.  The “good old days” were not always good, but at least the music was.

4.5/5 stars

VHS Archives #81: Paul Stanley interviewed in his office by MTV (1990)

A rare example of MTV content in my video collection! The girl I liked sent me a copy of the Moscow Music Peace Festival, which MTV broadcast in 1990, and she added some videos and interviews at the end. I was thrilled to get this black & white chat with Paul Stanley.

Hot in the Shade was new and Kiss were planning a tour. Paul’s office isn’t as big as you’d think!  He talks about the forthcoming video for “Rise To It” featuring Kiss in makeup, and more.