Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES
Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review
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.
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 36:
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.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/08/06
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 31:
“Hello. The show we are about to see is a rousing docu-drama. It will disgust some, and titillate others. But whether it disgusts you, or titillates you, it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but…the truth.”
Kiss were on to something here. The concept of a home video release that was more than just a compilation of clips was fairly new. Kiss took the bull by the horns and put together a video that was all at once extremely sexist and innovative, offensive and invaluable. Only fans need apply; anyone who is sick of Gene Simmons’ schtick will bore quickly of his oafish humour. But when Kiss play it “straight” in certain interview segments, light shines through. The old memories and the old friendships are fresh and vivid.
Interviewer Mark Blankfield strolls up to the “Kiss Mansion” where all four members live Monkee-like together in one house with dozens upon dozens of beautiful women. The doorbell plays “Rock N’ Roll All Nite”, and Paul Stanley is confused. He thought the interview was scheduled for…not noon, but 12 midnight! Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.
Some of the scripted bits are actually funnier than you’d expect. Paul and Gene are natural clowns, and playing the role of disinterested rock stars tickles the funnybone. Blankfield keeps chasing them around, trying to get them to do some interviews. All the while, he encounters scantily clad babes in various states of undress, and a butler intent on keeping him away from them. Subjects of discussion in the scripted bits include nutrition and fitness. Learn about Joseph Kiss Sr., who came up with the vision of Kiss in 1773. Check out Paul Stanley’s workout video! Meet his best friend, a monkey named Sonny Crockett. Cut to a music video!
The music videos are something. In a scripted bit, Paul is surprised that they have access to the uncensored version of “Who Wants to Be Lonely”, which neither MTV nor MuchMusic were willing to play. Censors were offended by images of women in bikinis spraying themselves with hoses, even though I’m sure George Michael did something similar a couple years later. Every music video that Kiss filmed from “I Love It Loud” (1982) to the Asylum album (1985) is included, except “Thrills in the Night”.* All videos from eras prior to this are live and unreleased!
Live in Rio, from Kiss’ very last concert in makeup, it’s “I Love It Loud” with Vinnie Vincent! This is good quality video and audio from a TV broadcast. From the now famous bootleg Kissin’ Time in San Francisco (1975), it’s a nuclear version of “Deuce” in black and white. It’s the first appearance of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in this feature, and the rawness of the old band is a delightful contrast to the new. Then it’s “Strutter” at Cobo Hall in ’76, an Ace guitar solo from 1980, and “Beth” in 1977 with Peter Criss (and a pretty bad final note). Gene’s got a bass solo/blood spitting clip to show off, but the most interesting clip of the batch could be “Detroit Rock City” in Australia, 1980. Paul did the verse melody with a slightly different twist. “Rock and Roll all Nite” is included from the same show, which had Eric Carr on drums. “I Stole Your Love” and “Ladies Room” have the original lineup from the Love Gun tour; Kiss at their bombastic best.
Of the best of the “straight” interview clips is the question, “How did you two get together?” Paul and Gene start busking to “I’ll Be Back” by the Beatles, and suddenly you can imagine what they sounded like in 1972. They even sing bits of Gene’s more…obscure early material. “I love Eskimos…” “My mother is beauuuutiful…” (Hopefully we will hear these songs on Gene’s upcoming 150 track box set, Vault?) Another good question, to Gene, is “Have you gone Hollywood?” which he answers with candor.
The very large issue with this DVD is the absence of Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr. They only appear in brief cameos, and get a couple lines a piece. That’s very unfortunate. And then there is the excessive objectification of women. It’s done as an obvious satire of the rock star stereotype, but not particularly well. Too bad. This isn’t Spinal Tap.
Some of the diehards would have preferred a home video with more music and less gags. Fortunately Kiss got the message when they eventually got around to a sequel.
* It appears that “Thrills in the Night” must have been intended for inclusion at one point, because it’s in the songwriting credits at the end of the video.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/08/03
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Supplemental: Peter Criss solo #2.
Life after wasn’t easy for the cat known as Peter Criss. His first post-Kiss album was met with indifference, and the superior second LP suffered the same fate. This marked an 11 year gap before the Catman released anything else. Let Me Rock You, Peter’s third solo album in total remains his best to date. It has a number of Kiss konnections, including a song written for Kiss by Gene Simmons. Looking further down the credits and you’ll find Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, Paul Stanley’s co-writer Adam Mitchell, and a young upstart named Vincent Cusano, who features into the main story very soon.
Let Me Rock You is the better of the Criss albums for a number of reasons. One is that is has superior songs, often pulled from outside sources. Another is that returning producer Vini Poncia gave it a harder rocking sound. It’s still nowhere near a Kiss LP, but the adult contemporary leanings are severely curtailed. Opener “Let It Go” has a little bit of the familiar R&B beat that Criss likes, but is otherwise a steady rocker. “Tears” (Cusano/Mitchell) is a pop rocker that missed the mark just enough that John Waite was able to make it a hit a mere two years later. Peter’s version is less overblown, and daresay more likeable.
Most of the songs have a vague pop rock vibe circa 1982: “Move on Over”, “Destiny”, and “Bad Boys” sound like rock hits from the period. Bon Jovi’s early excursions are not too far from this. A Russ Ballard song called “Some Kinda’ Hurricane” fits the same mold, but a second Ballard tune (the better of the two) is completely different. “Let Me Rock You” is doo-wop right out of the 1950s. If “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is OK, then so is “Let Me Rock You”. In fact it’s the most fun track on the album.
The unfortunate cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” adds nothing to the party except a reminder that Peter Criss will never be as good as the artists he so admires. The worst track is Stevens’ ballad “First Day in the Rain”, which might have been a better song performed by…anyone else. Peter sleeps right through this one and some listeners will have a hard time finishing. Keep going though; Stevens plays a sweltering guitar solo. Elsewhere on the album, Steve Lukather contributes six string.
By far the most historically interesting track is the Simmons-penned “Feel Like Heaven”. A snip of the original Simmons demo, for consideration during the Music From the Elder sessions, can be found on the previously reviewed Kiss – Deadly Demos CD. It’s too funky and danceable for Kiss, but Peter sounds more at home. It is a shame that the (very vulgar!) Simmons original has yet to be released. Until then, feast on the Peter Criss version, which is good enough for now.
Although Let Me Rock You was the first album to feature Peter’s unmasked face, it failed to sell and Peter entered a long period of obscurity. A short-lived band called Balls of Fire was followed by a project with another ex-Kiss member called Mark St. John (who joins the main story in 1984). He wrote with Buffalo’s own Phil Naro of Talas, and did a guest shot on Ace Frehley’s 1989 solo album Trouble Walkin’. His biggest humiliation had to be when a homeless imposter claimed to be him with little difficulty since nobody had seen Peter Criss in so long. It didn’t seem too unbelievable…even if there was no resemblance at all.
(l) Criss (r) imposter
At least Peter has one decent solo album, and that album is Let Me Rock You.
To be continued…
Brief explanation: After the #200wordchallenge, I was inspired to come up with an even more daunting task. Could I do a review in 0 words — without using any words at all? I invite you to the #0wordchallenge! Mine is below, but use your imagination and come up with something uniquely you! This review is a part of…
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 19:
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/09/03
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Supplemental: Peter Criss solo.
The ex- kitty-cat landed on his feet rather swiftly. A few short months after his departure was announced, Criss released the first solo album ever by an ex-Kiss member. Unfortunately for the Catman, fans were already scared off by his 1978 album. Anyone who was flabbergasted or confuddled by Peter’s penchant for light rock steered far clear of Out of Control. They were correct to do so. Out of Control is a virtual carbon copy of the 1978 album.
At least Peter didn’t mislead anyone into thinking this was a rock album. The very opening, “By Myself”, is one of the softest songs Peter’s ever recorded. Not a bad one, mind you, but not a song with mass appeal. Peter Criss wasn’t about to become the next Rod Stewart. His control over notes is not as strong…they are “out of control” so to speak, and his voice wavers.
“In Trouble Again” is far better. Peter played all the drums on this album, and there’s some cool stuff happening on “In Trouble Again”. It’s the most rocking tune on the album. It’s back to ballad town on “Where Will They Run?”. It’s dominated by the synthesizer, and it has a cool and light breezy rock vibe. It even has a sax solo by George Young (not the one that’s Angus’ brother). By track four, Peter is eager to tell us “I’ve Found Love”. You’re in for a fun and upbeat number…but Peter just can’t hold onto a note! He returns to rock and roll on “There’s Nothing Better”, which sounds like an old R&B classic even though it’s a Criss/Penridge original. Well done on that one.
There’s a very corny title track here, which has a pseudo-disco beat: “Out of Control” is cheesy and fun all at once. It’s the string cheese of danceable rock. Is that such a bad thing? Not unless you’re lactose intolerant, or allergic to cats in general. Sadly, “Words” is pretty horrid. Peter also turned in a pretty lacklustre cover of The Young Rascals’ “You Better Run”, also famously covered by Pat Benatar and some guy named Robert Plant. That’s tough competition. “You Better Run”? More like “Don’t Even Bother”.
The closing track “Feel Like Letting Go” is one of the best tracks. It feels like a followup to Peter’s album closing epic “I Can’t Stop the Rain”. The strings and piano make them spiritual brothers. Did the lyrics have anything to do with Kiss? “I feel like letting go…but my heart keeps saying no.” Maybe, maybe not. Peter seemed to be trying to separate himself from his former band, in order to establish himself. The artwork and songs don’t offer clues as to Peter’s previous job. Paul, Gene and Ace are thanked in the fine print.
In fact there is only one real wink to Kiss fans, and it was on a hidden track right after “Feel Like Letting Go”. Paraphrasing a line from “As Time Goes By” (1931), he sings quietly “You must remember this…a Kiss is still a Kiss…”
The fans didn’t see it that way.
To be continued…
bThe KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 18: It’s a KISS three-fer! LeBrain and Uncle Meat discuss KISS Unmasked below. Meanwhile Deke at Stick it in Your Ear has an accompanying piece called Peter Criss: Tossed and Turning!
“I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album. It’s wimpy” – Paul Stanley, KISS Behind the Mask
Here we are at Unmasked, the very album that inspired the Kiss Re-Review series in the first place. It’s a polarizing platter. The band often trash it and shun it in concert. Meanwhile, some fans have grown to appreciate it, particularly in Europe and Australia. There is even a tribute CD on a German label with covers of the entire album. Indeed, Unmasked is not without strengths. Ace Frehley contributed another three songs of his own, continuing the growth he demonstrated on his solo album and Dynasty.
On the other side of the ledger, there were factors that fans see as a diluting of the Kiss sound. Co-writers were now the norm. Returning producer Vini Poncia had eight co-writes. They used a track by songwriter Gerard McMahon. Even ghost guitarist Bob Kulick had a co-write on Gene’s “Naked City”. Most importantly, but publicly unknown at the time, was that Kiss had effectively become a trio. Peter Criss’ substance issues had come to a head and he was not involved with the album at all. He was on the cover, and in the credits, but all Peter did was mime some drums for the “Shandi” music video. When that shoot was done, Peter was gone. Anton Fig (Dynasty, Ace Frehley) returned again to fill the gap behind the scenes.
The album demonstrated a slick turn towards pop rock. Not disco so much, although the compression on the drums and guitars gives it a disco sound. The keyboards and slick production sweetened the album to the point that the thunder of Alive! or Love Gun was completely absent. Kiss were becoming caricatures in pursuit of megahits.
The Gerard McMahon song “Is That You?” was selected to open Unmasked. This sexy grind is one of the best tracks, with Paul in peak voice showing off what he can do. The slow and dirty pop rock number gets the job done, with minimal loss of integrity. That’s Paul on lead guitar too, one of several songs on which he solos, though it is hard to tell. In fact Unmasked is one of those Kiss albums on which you can’t be sure who played what.
Only one Kiss member appears on the big single, “Shandi”, and that’s Paul Stanley. On bass was Tom Harper, and Holly Knight on keyboards. There is little doubt that “Shandi” is a fantastic song, and it worked particularly well live in the acoustic setting. While Unmasked blurred the lines between rock and pop, “Shandi” is pure pop joy — almost adult contemporary!
Frehley’s first track was a favourite called “Talk to Me”, a song many Kiss fans easily embraced. These first three songs were performed on the Unmasked tour, which demonstrates their worth. “Talk to Me” has a cool guitar riff and one of Ace’s most infectious choruses – an instant classic. Ace had really grown as a singer by this point.
The waters get murkier after the first three tracks. Gene’s “Naked City” is a grower. It possesses hooks and great verses, but the main guitar riff doesn’t hit the spot. Gene’s falsetto voice is employed to great effect. It takes a few spins, but “Naked City” has a cool darkness to it and a strange kind of class. That is followed by the very pop “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a keyboard-heavy Paul Stanley tune. It sounds very little like Kiss, but Paul’s performance (guitar solo included) is stellar. Falsetto must have been very popular at the time. Bee Gees, anyone?
Paul’s side two opener “Tomorrow” is just as pop as “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”. These would be great songs for somebody else’s album. Perhaps Rick Astley. Fortunately the side is quickly redeemed by Ace’s excellent “Two Sides of the Coin”. Notably, this song inspired the title of Michael Brandvold’s Kiss podcast, “Three Sides of the Coin“. Ace’s track is a fan favourite, upbeat and melodic with just enough guitar bite. If the production was meatier, as on Ace’s solo album, it would be an absolute killer.
Gene continues chasing the ladies on “She’s So European”, a filler track with familiar themes. “She makes love on a brass bed, because her parents are still awake.” Not Gene’s finest moment. “Easy As It Seems” is a Paul track, and also not one of his finest, but the bouncy bass (by Paul) is quite great. But is that a bloody keyboard solo that I detect?
One of the most interesting tracks, and most instrumentally impressive, is Ace’s surf rock classic “Torpedo Girl”. This is just a fun summertime track with infectious ooh-ahh vocal hooks. His role within Kiss resulted in some of their more unique songs, and “Torpedo Girl” is unorthodox. Ace’s picking is enviable, and the lyrics are just pure fun. “Come on, get your feet wet.”
Album closer “You’re All That I Want” is one of Gene’s tunes, but Paul’s vocals on the outro sell it. It’s a little on the light side, as is much of Unmasked, but it remains a good song.
On a personal note, I have one very strong memory of Unmasked. I first heard it by taping it off a friend, my late neighbor George. George dropped the needle on the record, hit record on my tape, and then got out his bass and played bass along to every song. Unbeknownst to him, his bass playing bled onto the tape. From that point until I finally got a store-bought cassette copy, I always heard George’s bass on the fade-outs of every song. I can still hear it in my head. I suppose that’s one way that George is still alive, in my memory.
Unmasked was released on May 20, 1980, with a bright cartoony cover including Peter Criss. Meanwhile the band were already preparing for their first of many lineup changes, something that was kept quiet until the right moment.
In July, Kiss were ready to unveil the new member. Paul Caravello, from Brooklyn, impressed Kiss with his audition and humble personality. The story that everybody remembers is that Caravello asked the guys for their autographs in case he never saw them again. No worries there; the job was destined to be his. But Kiss couldn’t have another guy named Paul, and his last name was too “ethnic” (obviously Italian), so his name was changed to Eric Carr. (Fortunately, Gene’s suggestion of “Rusty Blades” was discarded.) The newly dubbed Eric was an energetic mighty-mite of rock, and the band quickly grew to love him. Everything was new to him.
A new makeup design was required. This was a big deal — a new challenge. A hawk concept was tried, but in the costume Carr looked more like Big Bird than a rock star. He drew up an inspired fox design which immediately clicked. The new character was born!
Carr’s first appearance with the band was at their only US date on this tour: New York on July 25 1980. The rest of the tour took place in Europe and Australia where “Shandi” became a hit. There were only 41 shows in total. Despite their best efforts, Kiss’ fortunes were shifting. Opening acts on the tour included Iron Maiden, which must have been quite the mismatch. Given Maiden’s reputation for blowing away headliners (much like Kiss when they started out), you must wonder how this went down. Girl, featuring future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis, also opened a handful of gigs.
Unfortunately for fans, especially in North America, this was the last tour for a long time. It was also the only tour featuring this lineup. While Kiss had endured their first lineup change, that was only just the beginning of the problems to solve.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Unmasked was released in May of 1980. A couple of months later I had heard that Kiss was going to introduce their new drummer on a show called Kids Are People Too. Seeing Kiss in the Phantom movie on TV was one thing. But knowing they were being interviewed, and introducing their newest member…Eric “The Fox” Carr. I watch it today on YouTube, and it’s so…umm…not what I remember. But it was monumental at the time for me. At this point, I had heard Unmasked once at a friend’s place and was underwhelmed. But I loved the album cover and still think it is probably their best. My take on Unmasked is much different now, and was how LeBrain’s Re-Reviews started in the first place. First of all I will address this. Mike referred in the beginning of this series to the two “Disco” era Kiss albums of Dynasty and Unmasked. Dynasty has one Disco song. Unmasked does not have anything close to a Disco song. Some would say “Shandi”, but that is Kiss capitalizing on the Soft Rock success of the day. Unmasked may not be a typical Kiss album, but thanks to Vini Poncia it’s a great album of Rock tunes and one of my favorite Kiss albums.
The drumming on this album is a major high point. Anton Fig shines all over this disc. Ace also continues his consistent roll with great rock songs like “Talk To Me”. He has such a great Rock and Roll voice. The background vocals are great too. “Two Sides of the Coin” is another song with incredible drumming, and a single writing credit. Both this song and “Talk To Me” are the only two songs on the album that don’t have an outside writing credit. Subsequently these songs sound more like classic Kiss than the rest of the album. However “Torpedo Girl” is another story. This might be the shining moment of Ace’s career in Meat’s opinion. Unbelievable guitar riff and funky drum beat. I have had it in my head for days now.
It seems that the addition of Vini Poncia to the Kiss machine inspired Gene Simmons as well. Unlike Dynasty where his songs were mostly forgettable, a couple of his songs on this album shine here. “She’s So European” is “completely ridiculous” but a “great fucking tune” (according to my longtime Kiss-mate Scott) . That about says it all. “Naked City” sees the falsetto of Gene Simmons on display here in another catchy song. There are great hooks within this song, which is indicative of the whole album really. However the album closer, “You’re All That I Want” might be the weakest track on the album. I do though love the ending, which you hear Stanley screaming in his typical live-show style.
Paul Stanley’s contributions on this album are good as well, with a few curveballs thrown in. “Shandi” was a massive Australian hit, and even though the song is about as limp as it can be, I still love the song. Reminds me of the Little River Band and Ambrosia songs of the Soft Rock era that I still dig. “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” is a solid song, with some of the greatest solo guitar playing Paul Stanley has put to record. “Tomorrow” sounds a lot like .38 Special to me and is just OK. “Easy As it Seems” is a solid song that incorporates keyboards in an interesting way, and might be the best Stanley song on Unmasked.
Overall Unmasked is a misunderstood, understated classic. I am curious to see if time has changed LeBrain’s take on this album. All I can say is…this may be Kiss’s last truly great album. From here on in, the “Meat’s Slice” section will start to get a lot shorter, with a couple exceptions.
Favorite Tracks: “Torpedo Girl”, “Shandi”, “Is That You”, “Talk To Me”, “She’s so European”
Forgettable Tracks: “You’re All That I Want”, “Tomorrow” (both borderline)
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/25
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 17:
“The Return of Kiss”. It sounds quaint today, that after a two year absence they called it “The Return of Kiss”. Two years today means nothing. But for Kiss, who were doing two releases a year, it did actually mean something. Their last project was their series of four solo albums, one for each member, and unified by cover art. This project only reinforced the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The truth is, the original Kiss were already over. Peter Criss returned from his solo album and a car accident as a changed man, and not in a good way. Upon walking in the door he insisted upon seeing sheet music for the new tunes. That was a first. It was quickly apparent that Peter was not in a condition to perform. The band had even hired his solo album producer, Vini Poncia, to helm the new Kiss. Poncia deemed Criss’ current abilities inadequate and he was replaced for the album by Anton Fig. Anton was Ace’s solo drummer, and more than capable of filling in. Previously, when Bob Kulick was hired to replace Ace on side four of Alive II, he was instructed to “play like Ace”. Anton Fig was given no such instruction and was free to drum as he pleased. Some Kiss fans were able to pick up on that. Ultimately Peter Criss played drums on only one song, his own called “Dirty Livin’”. And that would be Peter’s final appearance on a Kiss studio album until 1998’s Psycho-Circus, on which he also played drums on only one track. Kiss was indeed broken, but few on the outside knew it. Peter would never play on a whole Kiss album again.
A lot had changed. Kiss’ massive marketing campaigns paid off, but was that a good thing? Little kids were now coming to Kiss concerts. Paul Stanley was actively seeking hits. Together with new songwriting friend Desmond Child, Paul wanted to write a dance single. Inspired by the clubs of New York, the pair produced “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, the song that gave Kiss the “disco” tag. The single sold a million copies. Needless to say, it was not the last Kiss single written with Desmond Child.
The album went platinum and became the hit it was designed to be. Inside the sleeve, the music was streamlined and more commercial than before. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” led the way, demolishing the walls between dance and rock. Frehley had a hot solo in the mix, and the bouncy bass was performed by Paul Stanley. The song had all the right ingredients and though thin sounding by today’s standards, it’s still a great little dance rock number.
The real revelation about Dynasty wasn’t the turn towards slicker, highly compressed recordings. It was Ace Frehley coming out of his shell. Newly confident after his hit solo experience, Frehley had three songs to sing on Dynasty. Ace covered the Stones on “2000 Man”, a version that may be more beloved than the original. It certainly sounds at home. Ace rocks it up significantly. Ace also had lead vocals on “Hard Times”, a track about growing up as an aimless youth in New York. “We’d go to school, then we’d cut out, go to the park, and space our heads out.” “Hard Times” is not an exceptional song, but it’s interesting since it’s so autobiographical. Ace’s last song was the more aggressive “Save Your Love”. This track closes Dynasty with the kind of rock that people often forget is on the album. Ace’s tracks are the only ones that can be classified purely as “rock”. He has more guitar riffage on “Save Your Love” than the other songs combined. Without the Space Ace, Dynasty would have been a much weaker album.
The increase in Ace’s participation was balanced by a decrease in that of Gene Simmons. Gene only had two songs on the album, neither of which were singles. “X-Ray Eyes” and “Charisma” inhabit the same kind of compressed audio landscape as the rest. “Charisma” is the best, due to its unusual echoey vocals, fitting for the demon persona. Gene’s prime interest was still the opposite sex, and both songs have the demon’s stamp. The main hooks on both are delivered by the backing vocals during the choruses.
The dominant force on Dynasty — and as it turns out, for the coming decade – was Paul Stanley. Not only was “I Was Made for Loving You” a massive hit, but the second single “Sure Know Something” was also one of his. Paul wrote this dancey ballad with producer Vini Poncia. It’s not all simply dance floor moves though, as the chorus has the power chords and lung power that Kiss fans expected. Stanley also wrote “Magic Touch”, a lesser known album classic. “Magic Touch” burns slow, but hot. Paul’s falsetto was a sign of the times, but the power chords explode on the chorus.
And that leaves poor Peter. “Dirty Livin’” was written with Stan Penridge and Vini Poncia, and it was written as something more R&B in direction. It was Kiss-afied and included on the album as Peter’s only appearance. You can hear that it’s not the same drummer and that it’s a very different vibe.
For all outside appearances, Kiss maintained an image of solidarity. There was no mention of a session drummer, and Peter was there on tour for all 82 shows. However there were some cracks visible. Several shows had to be cancelled for poor ticket sales, in areas such as New York City and Pontiac Michigan. With the toys, comics and merchandise, Kiss were beginning to be seen as a kids’ band. Dynasty was the hit it needed to be, but the situation was not sustainable.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: The first of the two supposed “Disco Era” Kiss records LeBrain referred to in the introduction of this series, Dynasty really just is a pretty solid rock and roll record other than the mega-hit, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”. There really is not another song on the record that could be classified as Disco. But more on that when I talk about Unmasked.
This album sees the beginning of a couple new eras in Kisstory. The first being the band’s writing collaboration with Desmond Child. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” was the first hit of many for Desmond Child. He has “songwriter” credits (and yes I am using that term loosely) on such deplorable pap as “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, “She Bangs”, and upcoming Kiss dung like “Let’s Put the X in Sex” and “Uh! All Night”. Basically when a band gets shittier, they go to Desmond Child. When Ratt got shittier, in came Desmond. When the Scorpions got shittier, he pops up again. When Aerosmith started becoming a glossy joke, here comes Desmond Child and “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”. Yes, as good as this album is, Kiss was starting to get shittier.
As George Costanza would say, worlds collide for me on this album. For years I had no idea Peter Criss only played drums on his own song on Dynasty. His phantom replacement turned out to be Mr. Anton Fig, who played drums in one of my favorite bands ever, Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band. Even Anton’s dry humor on the show was a high point in Late Night with David Letterman for me. I am a true Letterman head and always will be. Anton Fig went on to be Ace’s drummer in Frehley’s Comet, so maybe Fig’s presence somehow inspired the Space man, since he is a high point of Dynasty. The Rolling Stones cover “2000 Man” is a fucking great tune. “Hard Times” is just as good and a personal favorite of many Kiss fans.
There are a few weaker-ish songs on the album but nothing egregious here. Very good rock album with ONE disco song. Thank you Desmond Child for injecting Kiss with your “Bad Medicine”. (Yes, he wrote that too. As well as writing songs for such wonderful artists like Hanson, The Jonas Brothers, Lindsay Lohan and Clay Aiken.) Hey Desmond…in the words of Ricky…you are truly a FuckGoof.
Favorite Tracks: “Sure Know Something”, “Hard Times”, “2000 Man”, “Save Your Love”, “Magic Touch”
Forgettable Tracks: “Dirty Livin'”
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/24
The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 13:
Peter Criss’ dreams of superstardom died with his first solo album.
To assuage egos and blow off steam, all four Kiss members agreed to record and release solo albums simultaneously. This was done under the Kiss banner to unify them, but each member had complete creative freedom on their own.
A project like this had never been attempted before by anybody, and Casablanca records gambled on all four being equally huge. They gambled wrong. Peter Criss’ album was the biggest casualty. It sold the poorest and charted at a lowly #43 (Billboard). He assumed he was the star of the band due to “Beth” being their biggest single. He set out to make an album like that, but Kiss fans were not likely to buy an R&B ballad album.
Criss hired Ringo Starr producer Vini Poncia (his first of a few Kiss collaborations), and wrote part of the album with his old Chelsea partner Stan Penridge. He had a band of studio musicians, but was unable to play drums on the whole album due to injury. For those tracks he used Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene Simmons’ solo LP.
There was a clear R&B direction, the stuff that Peter loved and couldn’t play in Kiss. There are horns a’plenty and cool non-rock grooves. Opening track “I’m Gonna Love You” pointed the way: mid-tempo, loads of soulful backing vocals, easy beats and raspy singing. His drums fit the sound perfectly. “You Matter to Me” brought 70s synth into the mixture. Easy listening light rock ballads go down smooth but don’t leave you feeling satisfied.
“Tossin’ and Turnin’”, the old 1961 R&B hit, was the only tune played live by Kiss on the 1979 tour. Peter’s version of course does not sound like Kiss, but it’s a lively version suited to his style. Another ballad, “Don’t You Let Me Down”, is a tender song but lighter than light. Absolutely too soft for Kiss, but one of the stronger Penridge/Criss compositions that might have worked well covered by an easy listening artist. Unlike “That’s the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes”, which is not a good song at all.
Criss played all the drums on side one. Schwartzberg was on most of side two, opening with the quiet yet epic ballad “Easy Thing”. It has a slow build into something big and orchestrated, and for this album it works. Sean Delaney’s “Rock Me, Baby” brings things back to rock and roll, but with a mediocre track that wouldn’t be good enough for Kiss. “Kiss the Girl Goodbye” was another soft and light ballad, pleasant enough but far from outstanding. Penridge’s guitar is a delight, but the only delight. “Hooked on Rock and Roll” on the other hand is a standout akin to “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, a little bit of an autobiographical track about the Catman. “Every morning at the break of dawn, you could see him dragging home his drums.”
The final track, and one of the most polarizing, is Sean Delaney’s “I Can’t Stop the Rain”. Some love it, some hate it, but one thing for sure: it’s one of most bombastic ballads Peter’s ever recorded. Piano, orchestration and stellar guitar by Elliot Randall (Steely Dan) make for a huge ballad. Love it or hate it, “I Can’t Stop the Rain” is schlocky and bittersweet.
When Peter’s album failed to sell, Casablanca rushed out two singles. The other Kiss members only got one each. Neither “Don’t You Let Me Down” nor “You Matter to Me” made any impact. The fallout from this album was that Peter Criss was perceived as out of touch by his band and his fans. He was hoping to become a blue-eyed soul star, but his image never recovered. From this point on, Peter’s dedication to rock was always under scrutiny, and his time in Kiss truly began to tick away.
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/17