Paul Stanley

#690: Unholy Kisses

GETTING MORE TALE #690: Unholy Kisses

Kiss’ Revenge album (last discussed in Part 43 of the Kiss Re-Review Series) was an album that I had been waiting for a long time.  Not just in terms of the three year gap between it and Hot in the Shade.  I loved Kiss, but it had been a long time since they put out an album quite as solid as Revenge.  I wore my Kiss shirt with pride.

I can still remember the day I got my Revenge shirt, in Kincardine Ontario of all places.  My parents bought it for me at a local now-defunct clothing store.  As we browsed my dad asked, “Did you find a shirt, son?”

“Yep,” I answered.  “This one is cool, because it has the new Kiss member on it.”

“Yeah,” my dad said with a disapproving smirk.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that bearded guy before…”

But the new guy wasn’t Gene Simmons, silly dad.  It was the blonde Eric Singer, the first guy to break the Kiss hair colour code.  Yeah, I was proud to rock that shirt.

The parents were good to us.  Any time there was a record show (or record faire) within an hour’s driving distance, they would take us.  You usually had to drive to either Guelph or London.  Sometimes they’d even help us out with a little cash.  No matter how much you budget for a record show, you’ll never bring enough cash.  The treasures are far too numerous and tempting.

One has to learn to categorise and quantify things in order to successfully navigate a record show on a limited budget.  I have really distinct memories of one in Guelph; the one where I found the indispensable Kiss Unholy Kisses bootleg.

I knew going in that I wanted to buy a bootleg on CD.  I had a few on cassette, but never a CD before.  Record shows always had a table or two with guys selling CD bootlegs.  They were never cheap and you could typically expect to pay $40 for a single CD.  That’s how I budgeted it out.

I did plan to buy a little more than that, so I brought extra cash.  My first buy was a 7″ single for “From Out of Nowhere” by Faith No More, a UK import.  It had two live tracks on the B-side (“Woodpecker From Mars” and “Epic” recorded by the BBC).  I was trying to get a decent Faith No More collection so I picked that one early.

Meanwhile my sister found Bryan Adam’s first single, “Let Me Take You Dancing”.  Bryan started as a Disco artist, and his voice was sped up in the mixing in order to make it higher.  He has since disowned the song, and a CD release in any official capacity is highly unlikely.  She definitely found something of value to her.  As an added bonus, the record came with a story.

“I tried to get Bryan Adams to sign it,” said the vendor.  “I handed it to him and he refused.”  So my sister owns a record that Bryan Adams actually refused to sign and we both think that is pretty hilarious.

One thing about record shows that you need to be aware of:  there are always some vendors who are assholes.  It’s just part of the scenery of a record show.  As my sister and I looked around, one of them shouted out at her.

“People will think you stole that,” he said pointing to her Bryan Adams record.  “It’s not in a bag.”

We explained that she bought the record from another vendor.

“You need a bag.  Buy something from me and I give you a bag.  People will think you steal.”

“Here, put it in my bag,” I said to my sister.  “No thanks,” I added to the vendor, as we made sure not to buy anything from him.  He didn’t have anything we wanted anyway.

But what about bootlegs?  That decision had to be weighed.  There was so much to choose from.  The Black Crowes?  Black Sabbath?  They had a CD of early Def Leppard tracks with Frank Noon on drums.  That one was sorely tempting.  Leppard were another band I was trying to collect.  What I really hoped to find though, was Kiss.

There it was:  Unholy Kisses.  Recorded live in San Francisco April 23, 1992.  Revenge wasn’t even out yet when it was taped.  Although other Kiss bootlegs were present, I chose Unholy Kisses for a number of reasons.

  1. My first live versions of “Unholy” and “Take It Off”.
  2. My first live Kiss with Eric Singer.
  3. My first live version of “I Was Made for Loving You”, the old Kiss Disco classic.
  4. A host of other Kiss oldies they hadn’t played live in ages.

I chose wisely.  Unholy Kisses is a great fucking bootleg.

The club setting provides for a very loud concert recording.  It only amplifies the raw heavy new sound of Kiss.  Bruce Kulick nailed a greasy toned and Eric Singer?  Holy shit, did the oldies ever sound amazing with him behind them!  Yes indeed, the new Kiss lineup was excitement personified.  God bless Eric Carr, who will forever have a place in every fan’s heart.  With Eric Singer, Kiss found a credible way to carry on.  Any new member brings their own style and influence to Kiss.  When a drummer is a talented and versatile as Eric Singer, it enables a band to really play.

And strangely enough, during the Singer/Kulick era, one could make serious arguments for Kiss becoming a player’s kind of rock band.  Kulick, for certain, is one of the most talented guys to ever play guitar in Kiss, up there against Vinnie Vincent.  Kulick can play absolutely anything and strove to do new things on every Kiss album.  Whatever Bruce wrote, Singer could play.  This would spill onto the next studio album.

The Kiss Re-Review Series does not require another Unholy Kisses review.  It is bang-on.  For your convenience, you will find the full review below.

If you are even just a casual Kiss fan, pick up Unholy Kisses if you find it in the wild.  There are few official live Kiss albums as good as this.


KISS – Unholy Kisses (Audience recorded bootleg, 1992 Flashback)

“You know who we are, let’s kick some ass!”

That’s how Paul Stanley introduced the legendary Kiss on their stripped-down 1992 club tour, April 23 1992 in San Francisco.  The Revenge album was a “reboot” of sorts, out of necessity.  New drummer, new attitude, and a return to the producer (Bob Ezrin) who helped make them huge.  A return to the clubs without the lights, stage show, and costumes helped Kiss transition into the 90’s.  If this one bootleg CD is any indication, then the club tour was a huge success.

Eschewing their normal opening routine, the band entered to the sound of “Love Gun”, but heavier than ever.  Many fans consider the Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer lineup to be among their best, and this live bootleg proves why.  In fantastic voice, Paul leads this devastating lineup to demolish the clubs in their wake.  Full of adrenaline, “Love Gun” is faster than its studio counterpart, and Bruce Kulick creates his own individual guitar solo that fits the track.

Gene’s next on “Deuce”, the new lineup infusing it with menace.  The CD, though obviously a bootleg, sounds great.  Even though the drums are a bit distant you can hear that Eric Singer has come into the band paying homage to the drum parts he inherited.  Then Paul takes a moment to tell the audience that they’ve been so fired up about the way Kiss have been sounding, that they just got to come down to San Fransisco and play.  A rough opening to “Heaven’s On Fire” is a mere hiccup after they get going on the hit single.  For the first time you can clearly hear new guy Eric Singer singing background vocals.

“You ready to hear something old? One of those Kiss klassics?  Bruce – let ’em have a taste.”  Then the shocked audience picked up their jaws as Kiss slammed through “Parasite” for the first time since 1976.  Returning to songs like this was critical for a band who spent the 80’s largely ignoring the deep cuts.

One thing I love about bootleg CDs is the chance to overhear some audience chatter.  “Shout it Out Loud” however is marred by one nearby fan who keeps singing “You got to have a party,” even when that’s not the current part of the song!  Minor beef, as “Shout it Out Loud” rocks and is another song that was tragically ignored during most of the 80’s.

“How many of you people have Kiss Alive?  Gene must know this one.  Gene’s got Kiss Alive.  Goes like this!”  There begins “Strutter” (also from the first Kiss album) and the crowd goes nuts.  “Dr. Love” follows, with Eric Singer showing off some fancy footwork on the double bass drums.

Fans who were shocked by these old tunes must really have lost their minds when “I Was Made For Loving You”, heavy as hell, tore through the club.  “I Was Made For Loving You” was re-imagined as a chugging metal track and in the club environment, it’s only more raw and aggressive.  Then Paul lets another bomb drop when he introduces “100,000 years” from the first album.  “Oh my God!  I don’t fucking believe it! I do not fucking believe it!” says one nearby fan, obviously excited by this rarity.  It’s incredible how well Bruce and Eric adapted to the sound of old raunchy Kiss.

But what of new Kiss?  The band weren’t ready to start unveiling all the new songs, as Revenge hadn’t even come out yet.  They did roll out two: the first single “Unholy”, and album cut “Take it Off”.

“We got a new album about to come out,” begins Paul.  “And I’ll tell you something, this album is the shit.  I’ll tell you, this album is our fuckin’ Revenge and when you hear the album you’ll know what I’m talking about.”  Indeed, as promised the new songs kick ass, though “Unholy” is kind of awkward in the live setting.  “Take it Off” is more like Kiss.

It’s all oldies from here.   Aside from the new Revenge songs, the most recent track that Kiss played here was “Heaven’s On Fire” from 1984!  (Note: this CD is not the full concert and 1985’s “Tears are Falling” was also played that night.)  I think it’s safe to say that Paul and Gene understand some of the errors in direction they made over the last 10 years, and successfully steered the ship back on track.  “Firehouse” and “Cold Gin” from the first album are present. “I Stole Your Love”, “Detroit Rock City”, and “I Want You” close the CD.  “I Stole Your Love” with the backing vocals of Eric Singer is top-notch!

The songs played that night that aren’t on this CD are “God of Thunder”, “Lick It Up”, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” (its live debut), “Rock and Roll all Nite” and the aforementioned “Tears Are Falling”.  Too bad this is only a single CD bootleg, but bootlegs were so expensive that a double would have cost at least $60-80.  If it was a double, I never would have bought it and heard what I have of this awesome show!

4.5/5 stars

UNHOLY KISSES_0003

CD KISStitics

Songs:

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 43

 – Revenge (1992 Polygram)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/10

Sunday Chuckle: Not Kiss!

A good buddy of mine has three kids.  He will often play them music via Youtube, and they have been enjoying classic Kiss lately.  In fact about a year ago, I myself was trying to teach them the correct words to “Shout it Out Loud”, for which they were singing their own variation.

My buddy tells me that the other day, Youtube shuffled to the “Lick It Up” video and he pointed out, “Look kids, Kiss.”  His infant daughter looked up, saw four guys with no makeup on, and yelled, “NOT KISS!”

Smart kid.  Just a child and already knows “new” Kiss from “old” Kiss.

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

#608: Hot in the Shade

GETTING MORE TALE #608: Hot in the Shade

November of 1989 was an historic moment in time.  Three events collided in one day that I distinctly remember unusually well.  Based on historical records, I almost can nail down the exact time I first heard Kiss’ then-new Hot in the Shade album that year.  I can remember being on a bus for a school trip, sitting next to a German kid, as the news of the Berlin Wall coming down became the top story of the day.  It was probably the 10th of November, a Friday.

It was huge news.  I grew up in the tail end of the Cold War, and hope was finally on the horizon.  I can remember in 1983, kids in the school yard talking about the Korean passenger liner that the Soviets shot down.  “There’s gonna be a war,” one kid said, and it sure did seem like it.  Every other year, it seemed like it.  November of 1989 was a different kind of time, when fears suddenly melted away albeit briefly.  Sitting next to that German kid on the bus, Mark, was the best place for me to absorb the greater meaning of it.

What were we doing sitting on that bus?  We were on the way to Pickering, to visit the nuclear plant.  Our names had to be submitted weeks in advance to get the clearances, but we were inside an operational nuclear facility!  It wasn’t even my first tour of a nuclear plant, though it was the first time being inside one.  When I was a youngster, the family took a tour of Bruce Nuclear’s grounds and visitor center on summer vacation one year.  I remember being really small, and asked to try and lift some depleted rods of uranium.  I couldn’t; it was far too heavy!  This demonstration indicated the density of the nuclear fuel.  “Did you have your Wheaties today?” asked the tour guide to the chuckles of the group.  But in Pickering, we got to look right inside.

The Pickering plant was impressive.  We had helmets on to go with our visitor badges.  There were checkpoints everywhere, where you had to put your hands and feet in a scanner to make sure you didn’t pick up any radioactive dust.  Once you were cleared, you could go into the next area.  We saw the big rooms where the spent fuel is kept.  Not surprisingly, everything was immaculately clean.  Every surface gleamed, and all the equipment appeared new and in top condition.  We were told that amount of radiation we were exposed to was about the same as an X-ray at the dentist.  The trip was optional, and at least one kid opted out because he didn’t want to get zapped.

There was a more intensive scan at the end of the trip before we were allowed to leave.  You had to pass a full body scan; if not they had to confiscate your clothes and send you home in paper hospital gowns.  I had a brief moment of terror when my scanner refused to give me the green light.  “Come closer” the damn machine kept saying to me.  “I’m as close as I can get!” I retorted to the infernal contraption.  A guide helped me get standing correctly and thankfully I passed the scan!  No hospital gowns for me, which is especially good because the next stop on the trip was Pickering Town Center for lunch.

I ate a sandwich for lunch that my mom packed for me.  She always made sure I had a lunch every day!  We had time to kill at the mall so Mark and I hit up a record store.  It was probably A&A Records and Tapes, though it certainly could have been an HMV.  Either way, they had two new releases that I had my eyeballs on:  Trouble Walkin’ by Ace Frehley, and Hot in the Shade by Kiss.  I only had enough money for one, and Kiss had to take priority of solo Ace.  I remember having a conversation with the guy at the counter about how Anton Fig was back playing drums for Ace.  (And that right there is a lesson about customer service.  That guy made an impression on me that lasted 28 years, just by mentioning Anton Fig on the off chance that I’d know who he was.)

So I walked out of there with Hot in the Shade in my Walkman, and I had a chance to hear the new Kiss album for the first time.  I always enjoyed a first listen.  I’d look at the song titles and try to guess which were Paul’s and which were Gene’s.  I really liked the acoustic slide guitar that opened “Rise to It”.  Bruce Kulick was proving his awesomeness, though I didn’t enjoy his tone on Hot in the Shade.  It was only later that I learned Hot in the Shade was essentially a set of demos that were polished and finished for album release.  That might explain why I felt the tone was so…flat.

Mark also encouraged me to listen to one of his tapes, a group called Trooper.  “I bet you haven’t heard of Trooper,” he said, and I hadn’t, which was odd because they were Canadian.  Trooper didn’t make any lasting impressions other than remembering that Mark was rabid for them.  One thing I remember about Mark:  he hated long songs.  He liked songs in the three to four minute range, and that’s pretty much all of Trooper’s hits.

Our final stop was Lakeview Station, a huge and now defunct coal fire plant in Mississauga.  “Don’t touch anything,” the teacher warned us before going in.  “This place is covered in black coal dust.  If you touch any, you’re going to get it all over the next thing you touch which will probably be your clothes.”  And he was right.  Every surface had coal dust on it.  The tour was noisier and far grimier than the nuclear tour.  This was intended to make an unsubtle point about the differences between the two.

We were all glad to get out of Lakeview and back on the highway home.  I flipped sides on my Kiss tape and tried to get into the album.  I was struggling with it.  Some songs were really good, like the ballad “Forever” which was immediately discernible from the pack.  Others made it seem like putting out an album with 15 new songs might have been a better idea on paper.

I listened to the album on my boombox when I got back home.  I listened intently and tried to figure out what sounded “off”, and the only thing I could figure was the guitarist.  “I don’t think Bruce Kulick’s tone is right,” I said with a twinge in my gut.  Of this, I’m glad he proved me wrong by the next album Revenge.

What a memorable day that was.  I’m just glad I didn’t come home radioactive and hot in the shade!

Check out the album review tomorrow as part of the  KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES.

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

Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES, just a re-post from Record Store Tales!  Happy Halloween kiddoes!

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, our mall 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!

VIDEO REVIEW: KISS playing cards

Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES 

 

2.5/5 stars

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

 

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