Robert V Conte

REVIEW: Black Sabbath #1 – Rock-It Comics (1994)

BLACK SABBATH #1 – (1994 Rock-It Comics)

1979:  Ozzy Osbourne walks out on Black Sabbath, the band he has fronted for 10 years.  Things almost get physical, and then Ozzy pledges to rule the world on his own.  Tony Iommi swears to come out on top, with or without him.  Bill Ward looks down, knowing that it is truly time for a change.  Geezer Butler doesn’t want to give it up and recommends they call “that Dio-bloke”.

Malibu comics produced a highly fictionalized version of Black Sabbath’s early history in 1994, with stunningly rich artwork and co-written by one Terence “Geezer” Butler himself.  Understanding that this is a mixture of fantasy and history, “The Power of Black Sabbath” is a hugely entertaining comic.  The basic bones of the Sabbath story are there.  The gradeschool rivalry between Ozzy and Tony was real, but Tony never said “Give it up Osbourne, you sing like a girl!”  And it doesn’t matter because it makes for a good panel.  Meanwhile, a young Terry Butler is visited by a mysterious entity that allows him a brief glimpse at his own future.

As if like fate, the four members of Black Sabbath eventually merge together.  Their early history as “Earth” precedes the fame.  Dirty managers, “Blue Suede Shows”, and Jethro Tull stories are rolled out panel by panel.  “Why did I ever think about leaving Earth?” muses Tony, as a demanding Ian Anderson commands him to play a solo.  After another supernatural encounter, they finally settle on the name Black Sabbath.

Album by album their success grows, but they cannot shake their continuing and strange encounters with entities not of this world.  By the time of Never Say Die, tensions between Tony and Ozzy result in the temporary hiring of Dave Walker to replace the singer.  Ozzy eventually leaves permanently on his own “Crazy Train”.  Ending the story here, we learn that Geezer Butler has come to peace with the supernatural side of his life.

But that’s only half the book.  There’s still plenty more content of the non-illustrated variety.

An interview with Geezer Butler is about as revealing as ever.  Dig these insightful answers:

Q: Tell us about the new album.

A: It’s called Cross Purposes.  There are ten tracks on it.  We started writing it last February and finished in mid-July.  [He then runs down the band lineup.]

To its credit, Geezer claims that this comic is the most accurate portrayal of Black Sabbath to date, though it does include “poetic license”.

Next is a very cool gallery of photos that you couldn’t easily find anywhere in 1994.  These include full colour pictures of the Glenn Hughes lineup of Black Sabbath, and versions with Dio, Tony Martin, Vinnie Appice, and Bobby Rondinelli.  There are even a couple monochrome photos with Ian Gillan.  At the time these were some of the only pictures I owned of the band in these phases.

The next pages feature a discography, full colour with album art, lineups and tracklistings.  Included here is a warning not to buy Greatest Hits or Live At Last!  “You have an inferior product both in packaging and sound.  You are warned!”  Screw it, I’m buying Live At Last!  The last page is an autobiographical story by editor Robert V. Conte about buying his first Sabbath album Born Again (my favourite).  Within two weeks he had most of their records.

I’ve read a few critiques about this book complaining about the overly fictional portrayal of the band’s history.  I don’t think it particularly matters.  It’s obvious from the supernatural elements that this is not to be taken as gospel (pun intended).  The vibrant ink and colours capture the Black Sabbath members perfectly, and each panel is glorious to look at.  Not to mention it’s an oversized comic so every page has more bang for the buck.  The stylized dialogue keeps the story moving at a good pace, and though the story is but a brief overview, it’s fine for a single issue.

4.5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Lick It Up (1983)


  Lick It Up (1983 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

On September 18 1983, Kiss publicly unmasked on MTV.  They each appeared with a name tag at a desk and answered questions from the press.  Their first album with their bare faces on the cover was just released on that day:  Lick It Up.  With two non-original members now in the band, and their fortunes fading, it seemed like the best move commercially and artistically.  According to writer Robert V. Conte, the Kiss press conference was overshadowed by an MTV special on Van Halen, broadcast the same evening.

It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss Kiss’ unmasking as a mere stunt, and in many ways they would be right, but it was not a decision made lightly.  Kiss had legitimate fears about how they could carry on without the makeup and costumes.  They came to realize that they could just continue doing what they do – playing their songs live as they always have.

The new album, Lick It Up, was brilliant. It is “exhibit A” in the case of “Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?”  With eight out of ten writing credits, all of them great, it certainly appears that Vinnie gave Lick It Up a swift kick in the afterburner.

The stark white cover featured Kiss in their street clothes.  It was a minimalist cover with the only clue to their identities being Gene’s tongue.  In Japan, a full cover obi retained the band in makeup (including Vinnie) until you opened the package and saw the white cover inside.  This led to an urban legend that Japan actually had a rare makeup cover on their edition of Lick It Up.

Strangely enough, even though Lick It Up was Vinnie’s official debut as a Kiss member, He didn’t play the solo on opening salvo “Exciter”.  This was unknown to fans at the time, but “Exciter” was performed by Rick Derringer after Vinnie couldn’t nail the right vibe in the studio.  It was an ominous warning of things to come.

Otherwise, “Exciter” ushered Kiss into the 1980s with a sound that fit.  It had a chunky guitar chug, and killer melodic chorus, and left the sound of the 70s far behind.  Perhaps most importantly, it had no outside writers.  Nothing on Lick It Up required outside writers now that they had Vinnie in the band.

After the blowout opening of “Exciter”, Gene Simmons grinds it down slow with one of his heaviest tracks to date: “Not For the Innocent”.  Gene adapted his singing style to include a Demon scream, and “Not For the Innocent” features lots of it on the outro.  “Not For the Innocent” built on the heavy Kiss of Creatures of the Night and pushed it heavier.

The first single was the successful and surprisingly simple “Lick It Up”.  It’s basically a textbook guitar chug with verses and a chorus – no solo.  It was enough to go top 40 in the UK and Canada and has since become a concert staple.  In fact it’s the only Lick It Up song to remain in the set beyond the 80s, and it’s a pretty good song for what it is.

Simmons returned to the fore on the frenetic “Young and Wasted”, an example of speedy 80s Kiss keeping up with their metal compatriots.  Fortunately, Vincent provided a kicking riff.  Live, “Young and Wasted” was often given to Eric Carr to sing.  The studio version is the one to beat.  Then it was Paul Stanley’s turn in the driver’s seat with “Gimme More”, keeping things rolling in a non-descript top gear.

One of the most interesting tunes on Lick It Up is the side two opener and second single “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.”  It was begun as a Zeppelin-y riff by Eric Carr, and finished by all four members – only the second Kiss song ever credited to all four members.  It became, in Eric’s words, a “rock and roll rap song!”  That’s not quite so, though Paul’s talk-singing in the verses evokes the basics of rap.  No worries though; this is one brilliant Kiss song that really deserved more exposure.  One worth buying the album for.

The Simmons-dominated second side of Lick It Up is where most of the treasures are found, but Paul had one more kick at the can.  Paul’s “A Million to One” is an unsung classic.  A defiant Stanley tells an ex that her chances of finding a better lover are “a million to one”.  With such an awesome song backing him, Paul makes a convincing argument.  He hits a homerun with melody and angst.

A trio of Simmons tunes ends Lick It Up as one of Kiss’ heaviest album.  “Fits Like a Glove” is speedy-Kiss again, hyper-caffeinated and playing as fast as they can.  Gene’s barking out the words, chewing them up, spitting them out and taking no prisoners.  Then, he brings it back to a groove on “Dance All Over Your Face”.  It’s a song you might not know, but you should.  Kiss’ deep cuts from the 80s have some rare diamonds, and this is one of them.

The closer was an apocalyptic rocker called “And on the 8th Day” which was based on a Vinnie Vincent demo.  The verses of that demo became “And on the 8th Day”.  The choruses became a later Vinnie Vincent Invasion track called “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which we will look at later on.  The two songs share DNA but have little else in common.  The Vincent demo is the kind of speed rocker that dominated Lick It Up.  Meanwhile the Kiss song “And on the 8th Day” has the slow monster plod, a killer riff, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Although it’s never seen the light of a concert stage, it really should have.

Though Vinnie Vincent co-wrote the songs that may or may not have saved Kiss, he was a real problem.  His personality didn’t mesh, and his ego got the better of him.  He couldn’t come to an agreement with Kiss over his contract, and in fact never signed one to become an official Kiss member.  This caused him to be let go at the end of the European Lick It Up tour.

Finding a replacement for Vincent wasn’t easy, and he was re-hired for the American tour, though he still delayed signing a contract.  Issues with Vinnie grew on this tour, as he grabbed more of the spotlight from his bandmates.  Like Ace Frehley before him, Vinnie was given a five minute solo spot, but sometimes Vinnie dragged them out well into overtime.  This caused plenty of tension, especially when he once broke into an impromptu solo leaving the band on stage not sure what to do.  The issue of Vinnie’s contract became a non-issue when he was let go permanently.  The band have had very little good to say about Vinnie Vincent since then, especially when the lawsuits began.  Despite this, Lick It Up was not to be Vinnie’s final collaboration with his former band.

Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?  This argument will go on as long as there are Kiss fans to discuss it.  Vinnie certainly did provide Kiss with some grade-A songs, both here and on Creatures of the Night.  However he wasn’t the kind of guitar player they needed, who could play the old stuff authentically and also shred with the new kids.  If Vinnie hadn’t come along, another talented writer would have, and Kiss would have continued.  This doesn’t do anything to discredit Lick It Up, a damn fine “comeback” indeed.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

Uncle Meat’s rating:

3.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  After my scathing review of Creatures of the Night, I wasn’t sure how to approach this Lick It Up Meat’s Slice. I guess I’ll start with March 15, 1984. My buddy Scott Hunter and I went to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Kiss on the Lick it Up tour, with supporting act Accept! This was to be my second Kiss concert, as we were also at Maple Leaf Gardens for the Creatures tour on January 14, 1983. A concert in which we didn’t know until well after that it wasn’t Ace Frehley on guitar…but none other than Vinnie Vincent. Of course Vinnie was on guitar for the Lick it Up tour as well. Great show with openers The Headpins. Before my 15th birthday, I had now seen Kiss twice. I am 47 now and haven’t seen them live since.

Kiss had taken the makeup off between these albums. Years before I remember seeing a People magazine in my grandmother’s bathroom, while taking a shit, that showed Gene Simmons with a bandana over his face just over his nose. Up until now I had not seen any Kiss member without makeup. So there they are on the Lick It Up cover and all I can think is…”Damn…wish they still had makeup at least for that really ugly dude,” (Vinnie).  The title track of the album has become a bit of a Kiss classic and is still a great song. Not a lot of this album is exceptionally great in my opinion, but there are some good gems in there. The best of which I think is “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, which I have always loved and still do. Other than those two songs? The album lies somewhere between Meh and Good for me.

Funny Vinnie story for me though. Many years ago our makeshift band at the time were playing a Christmas assembly at St. David’s High School in Waterloo here. I was standing behind the soundboard as my guitar player was on stage doing a sound check. The sound guy asked my buddy Dave to play a bit to get a starting level. As per usual, Dave went ripping into some heavy metal bullshit soloing. After a few seconds of that I could see the sound guy waving his hands in the air in front of me, and after getting Dave’s attention, says into the microphone at the board, “Okay Vinnie Vincent…Settle down there.”  Always found that kinda defined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.

Favorite Tracks: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Lick It Up”

Forgettable Tracks: I don’t know about forgettable, but the rest isn’t that memorable.

To be continued…

Original review:  2012/07/20





REVIEW: KISS – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (1996 vinyl, Japanese import CD)

Part 35 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

KISS – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (1996, Japanese import, bonus track)

When this compilation album came out, it was the first and only time we had two Kiss albums on our store’s front rack simultaneously!  It followed hot on the heels of MTV Unplugged, only about 3 months prior.

Kiss had just announced their big reunion tour and this album was tied in to promote that. It is a milestone in a few ways. It was the first musical product released by the reunited original lineup Kiss. It was also the third (or fourth depending if you count Kiss My Ass) consecutive non-studio album release in a row by the band, which had never happened before. It would also not be the last, with Greatest Kiss and the UK-only Greatest Hits soon to follow.

It was a dark time for the Kiss army craving new music.

You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best!! (one comma and two exclamation marks: punctuation is important) was a live compilation of:

  • 8 hits from KISS Alive! and KISS Alive II
  • 5 previously unreleased live versions (including the bonus track “New York Groove”)
  • 1 interview with the entire band by Jay Leno, 17 minutes long

The previously released songs were all remastered for the first time, a sneak preview of the Kiss remasters to start coming in 1997.  New liner notes were provided by Robert V. Conte, who would later do all the liner notes for the Kiss Remasters series.  Judging by his use of certain adjectives, I’m guessing he was pretty much told what he could and could not write!

It’s hard to argue with the selection of hits. “Rock Bottom”, “Parasite”, “Firehouse”, and “Rock And Roll All Nite” (the definitive version) from the first Alive! were definitely highlights of that album, but then again you couldn’t have gone wrong with any selections from Alive!  From Alive II it’s “I Stole Your Love”, “Shout It Out Loud”, “Beth” (really? ugh), and “Calling Dr. Love”. (Interesting: no “Detroit Rock City”.) All are pretty monumental Kiss songs that the band were playing live that summer.

The unreleased material was interesting. They purport to be from the same concerts that Alive! and Alive II were taken from, but it is clear that at least the lead vocals were recorded in 1996. Since the voice changes naturally with age, you can tell it’s not Paul Stanley 1975 singing. Having said that, even though I’m bitter that Kiss tried to pass these off as vintage live songs, they are really good versions. I’ve always liked both “Room Service” and “Two Timer” as deep album songs from Dressed To Kill. I especially like “Let Me Know”, one of the earliest Kiss songs ever, and one of my personal favourites.

Exclusive to vinyl and Japanese import, is a live version of “New York Groove” from Australia 1980 and with Eric Carr on drums. This is the same version of the song as the Kissology 2 DVD. Since KISS could have gone with “Shock Me” from Alive II if they were trying to include an Ace vocal track, I choose to think of this inclusion as a little nod to Eric Carr and thanking him for keeping the band going during the 80’s. I think this version was also released in Australian markets so, I am sure this was also a nod to the fans there for patiently waiting for Kiss to come back. Kiss would of course play “New York Groove” live on the 1996 tour as well.

SAM_2212The 17 minute interview with Jay Leno is interesting and fun, though I have to be honest, its inclusion here makes this album one that I don’t listen to often. Jay’s a funny guy and there are lots of laughs here (almost all at Gene’s expense!) but don’t expect any revelations you’ve never heard before.

In addition to containing “vintage” songs that weren’t exactly that, You Wanted the Best was to include “photos from the Kiss vaults” inside according to the sticker on the front.  There’s nothing inside apart from a skimpy booklet.  The CD did have a neat-o coloured jewel case, as you can see from the photo gallery.

Essential only to the diehards. Everyone else pick up Alive! and Alive II, or even better…the 4 CD Alive box!

2/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Dynasty (1979, 1997 Japanese import)

Part 15 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!


KISS – Dynasty (1979, 1997 Japanese import)

Ahh, the disco years! Alice Cooper did it, so did the Rolling Stones. Kiss were bound to follow. Paul Stanley admitted that he used to go to disco clubs. He found the music simple but interesting enough to try to write. The result was the now-classic “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, a song which was a bit despised for a while.   Even though it was one of Kiss’ all time biggest hits, it dropped out of setlists in the glam-metal mid-80’s.

Dynasty was designed to be the biggest Kiss album yes, and indeed it did spawn their second biggest hit. Unfortunately, on the inside, the band were coming apart at the seams. In order to placate Peter Criss, his solo album’s producer Vini Poncia was chosen to helm the next album. Poncia then kicked Criss out of the proceedings, as his chops were judged to be not up to snuff anymore.  He appears on only one song, “Dirty Livin'”, a song he co-wrote.

Anton Fig, of Ace Frehley’s solo album (and David Letterman, and later Frehley’s Comet) was chosen to replace him in the studio. It would not be Fig’s last album with Kiss. This was all kept secret at the time.

On the bright side, Frehley had a bunch of lead vocals: the Stones’ “2000 Man”, “Save Your Love”, and the story of his childhood, “Hard Times”. All three are great songs, and probably better than Gene’s two on Dynasty. I find Gene’s songs to be dull and plodding: “X-Ray Eyes” and “Charisma”.

Paul, on the other hand, had nothing but great songs: the previously mentioned “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, the majestic “Magic Touch”, and the excellent, underrated single “Sure Know Something”. All three are examples of his increasingly skilled songwriting and singing.

“Dirty Livin'” would be Criss’ last songwriting credit on a Kiss album, and his last appearance on one for a long long time. It is not a great song by any stretch, and it is one of the most disco sounding tracks on the album. Still, it has a street vibe that Criss was known for, and his fans love it.

Despite the flaws, Dynasty holds together remarkably well. Even the filler fits in the groove for a seemlessly enjoyable listening experience. After all, all four Kiss members sing lead on it, which was a rare thing that only happened on only a handful of Kiss studio albums.*Ace had more vocals than ever before, and then had lots more on the next album too. The band was tighter than ever with Fig on ghost-drums, and they actually make the best of the overly compressed production sounds.

Dynasty might not be as great as the first six legendary albums, but although cracks were beginning to show, it was still a continuation of the mighty Kiss legacy. What should have happened next was the band getting back to a solid rocker of an album and restoring the faith of the fans who were secretly and openly questioning the integrity of the band. That didn’t happen, and the original Kiss as we knew it was destroyed forever, never to be the same again. The phoenix that rose from the ashes was a different, albeit still powerful, beast.

A word about the Japanese version pictured here:  When Kiss began remastering their albums in the late 90’s, the Japanese got to hear them first, packaged in mini replica record sleeves.  Unfortunately, it does not include a replica of the LP Dynasty poster.  It was the first Kiss remaster I bought simply because I found it here on import before the others came out.

Don’t pick it up Dynasty as your first, but do pick it up.

4/5 stars.

*(Love Gun, Psycho-Circus, and Sonic Boom.)