The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 45:
When reports surfaced that Kiss were in the studio working on a song with country star Garth Brooks, some assumed this was to be a bonus track for the forthcoming Kiss Alive III. Little did we realize that Kiss were actually working on their own tribute album.
In the early 1990s, tribute albums were all the rage. Common Thread: the Songs of the Eagles. Stone Free: a Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Out of the Blue and Borrowed Tunes: tributes to Neil Young. There were many more, and Kiss were not on the trailing edge of this trend. They beat Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the market.
Kiss My Ass was the clever title, but it was not the first. 1990’s Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation featured soon-to-be-famous bands like Melvins and Nirvana. The ever-enterprising Kiss decided to corner the market with their own official tribute to themselves.
To toot their own horn, Kiss included a list of not only the musicians who appeared on Kiss My Ass, but even the ones that didn’t. Nirvana is on the list. According to the Melvins though, the truth is that they only dropped Kurt’s name as a guest on their track, because Gene didn’t seem too interested otherwise. Nine Inch Nails were going to do “Love Gun”. Both Ugly Kid Joe and Megadeth wanted to tackle “Detroit Rock City”. It’s hard to imagine what songs Run D.M.C. and Bell Biv Devoe were supposed to record, or Tears for Fears for that matter. Take this list with a grain of salt!
Kiss My Ass (or A** if you bought it from Walmart) is a weird album. It’s scattershot and not immediately likeable. It collected 11 (12 if you include the bonus track) covers by a diverse assortment of 90s artists. The cover art sucks and lacks the Kiss logo and Ace’s real makeup (which Kiss did not have the rights to in 1994). The only cool gimmick the cover had was the background flag was unique to the country of release. A Kiss album with a Canadian flag is neat to own.
The album hits the ground running with some 70s cred, as Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder do “Deuce”. Lenny funks it up while Stevie brings the harmonica. This is an example of a simply terrific cover. The artists put their own spin on it, changing its style but not its drive.
“Hard Luck Woman” was already up Garth Brooks’ alley. His version doesn’t stray from the Kiss original, and even features Kiss (uncredited) as his backing band! That makes it an official Kiss recording, just with a guest singer of sorts. Arguably the biggest country singer of all time, and a closet Kiss fan. The Garth Brooks track threw a lot of people for a loop, though it’s an easy song to digest.
Kiss only participated in two songs: the Garth track, and Anthrax’s “She”. Anthrax insisted that Paul and Gene produce it, and they did a great job of it. Anthrax are brilliant at doing covers anyway. John Bush-era Anthrax was truly something special, and “She” slams hard. Heavy Kiss songs made heavier are such a delight.
The Gin Blossoms turned in a very mainstream, very mid-90s version of “Christine Sixteen”. It kicks about as hard as the original, but something about it is very tame. After all, singer Robin Wilson is not Gene Simmons (which is probably a good thing), and guitarist Scotty Johnson is not Ace Frehley. Far worse through is Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soggy “Rock and Roll all Nite”, a buzzkilling country fart. “Calling Dr. Love” by Shandi’s Addiction (a collection of assorted big names) is also a hard pill to swallow. This quartet consists of (are you ready for it?): Maynard James Keenan – lead vocals. Tom Morello & Brad Wilk – guitar and drums. Billy Gould – bass. So, it’s Rage Against the Machine with the singer from Tool and a bass rumble right out of Faith No More. And the track is just as schizophrenic as you’d expect. It’s both brilliant and annoying as fuck.
J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. used his unique vision on “Goin’ Blind”, turning Gene’s murky song into something even darker. Then bright shimmers of a string section break through the clouds, shadowing everything dramatically. It’s a brilliant track. Much like Kravitz, J. Mascis took the song and changed the style but not direction. You could say the same for Extreme who do a brilliant spin on “Strutter”. Though by 1994 Extreme were well over in the public eye, they continued to push their own boundaries. “Strutter” became something slower and funkier, with Nuno Bettencourt slipping all over the fretboard and Gary Cherone pouring it all on. This is primo Punchline-era Extreme (Paul Geary still on drums). And listen for a segue into “Shout it Out Loud”!
The Lemonheads chose “Plaster Caster” from Love Gun, a sloppy garage rock version, and score a passing grade. It’s an admirable effort, but they are quickly overshadowed by their fellow Bostonians, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The Bosstones had the balls to open their track with a phone message from Gene Simmons advising them to pick another song. “Dicky, about Detroit Rock City…” Ugly Kid Joe had dibs. Any other song would be fine…and then WHAM! The opening chords to “Detroit Rock City”. Gene was gracious enough to appear in the video. Their disciplined ska-punk horn ensemble lays waste to the town. Dicky Barrett’s gravelly throat is like a sniper taking out anyone left standing. The Bosstones win the whole CD, hands down. There is little doubt that Dicky Barrett would have shaken unfortunate Kiss fans unfamiliar with the Bosstones. Today it’s clear that they stole the show with their mighty, mighty cover.
The closest match to the Bosstones in terms of excellence, is a polar opposite. It’s Yoshiki (from X-Japan) and his orchestra version of “Black Diamond”. This is performed instrumentally with piano in the starring role. In this form, “Black Diamond” would make a brilliant movie theme. Yoshiki closes the album in style, unless you choose to go further and get the LP. Proceed with caution.
The vinyl bonus track by Die Ärzte is the only non-makeup Kiss track included: “Unholy”. This is a garbage version (in German no less) that you don’t need to spend your money finding. It’s only interesting when it briefly transitions into “I Was Made For Loving You”. Want a good version of “Unholy”? Check out the 2013 tribute A World With Heroes.
By 1994, Kiss needed a boost. Grunge was omnipresent and Kiss looked silly and outdated, even with their beards and scruffier appearance. Kiss My Ass was clearly a transparent attempt to try and latch onto some fans of the newer breed. Maybe some Lenny Kravitz fans would like it. If a few Garth Brooks followers bought a copy too, then bonus! But Garth Brooks fans didn’t buy the album, turned off by the cover art and tracklist. Likewise, fans of Lenny Kravitz, Tool and Rage Against the Machine didn’t run out en-masse either.
Fortunately Kiss had plenty of cards left in their deck. There was a Kiss My Ass spinoff video, a tour, and a coffee table book all in the works. This seemed to distract from the oft-rumoured next Kiss studio album. More next time.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/08/13