Personally, it all began with Iron Tom Sharpe and Joe Big Nose Perry. By 1999, everyone was well aware that the big Kiss reunion album, Psycho Circus, was a diluted compromise of the album they should have made. “The Hellacopters made the real new Kiss album, man.” Come on, Tom, quit yanking my chain. “You’ll love it. This is the album Kiss should have made. No man, seriously, they even have a song called ‘Paul Stanley’.” Joe stepped in by offering to pick me up a vinyl copy, which had a bonus track, at the Orange Monkey. I gladly took him up on his offer and hoped to hear what Iron Tom was talking about. Grande Rock was the Hellacopter’s third LP, but LeBrain’s first Hellacopters.
What’s this about Kiss then? As “Action De Grâce” easily demonstrates, The Hellacopters can groove like the original foursome don’t even dare anymore. This is Kiss circa 1976, but if they had taken a road other than Destroyer. This is something like what they could have done if they wanted to take Kiss Alive! to the next step, and maybe taking some punk inspiration instead of disco. “Move Right Out of Here” slams like Dressed to Kill on jet fuel. “Alright Already Now” adds some harmonica, fuzz bass, and wah-wah. The Hellacopters are not slavish like Klassik’78, they’re not trying to duplicate anything. They’re going their own way with it, and it just so happens to be a lot better than Psycho Circus. A lot of the vocals actually are closer to Steven Tyler circa Draw the Line.
A slower and darker vibe hits on “Welcome to Hell”, with some electric piano mixed in with Frehley-like solos and a little “Sympathy for the Devil”. The punk rock builds on “The Electric Index Eel”, with stabbing guitar licks in under two minutes of length. Clearly far beyond Kiss. But then as if to get my attention back, there it is: “Paul Stanley”, the song! The riff must be inspired by Paul’s solo song “Tonight You Belong to Me”. Wasn’t I telling you recently that Paul is one of rock’s most underrated riff writers?
The vinyl bonus track is right at the end of side one: “Angel Dust”, which really sounds more like a top speed Appetite for Destruction outtake. There’s a lot of Guns N’ Roses on this record too, particularly when there is a wah-wah solo or a blast of speed.
“The Devil Stole the Beat From the Lord” continues the rock and roll party on side two. It’s pedal to the metal right through to “Dogday Morning”. There’s a real gem in the middle of side two called “Venus in Force”, a big and grand riff with a song to go with it. A more Kiss-like tempo in “5 Vs. 7” maintains a sense of variety. Enjoy the flurry of guitars in the extended fade-out. “Lonely” is a nice shorty by contrast, like a Gene Simmons love lament written in a hotel bathroom. Closing position goes to “Renvoyer”, a killer outro jam.
Here is an interesting observation for you. I used to think that Grande Rock had a great side one, but not much happening on side two. However, I hadn’t actually listened to the vinyl for years. I was listening to an mp3 rip of the 13 track album. This time, I played the record and my perspective changed. You have to get up and flip the record, and I happened to do something else for a few minutes before I dropped it back on side two. That intentional break right there is everything. There’s some sort of reset that happens, and you’re good to go for round two.
Grande Rock is damn near perfect for anyone craving a dose of the classic 1970s with a toe in punk rock too. Vinyl is the way to go. Don’t even bother with the CD, which taunts you with the fact that you bought the wrong version on the back cover by telling you that you’re not getting “Angel Dust”! Awesome.