Vini Poncia

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

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

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!

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

“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.

“The Hawk”

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.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4.5/5 steaks 

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

 

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Dynasty (1979)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 17:  

 

  Dynasty (1979 Casablanca, 1997 Polygram Japan remaster)

“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.

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4/5 steaks 

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

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Peter Criss (1978 solo album)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 13:  

 Peter Criss (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)

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.

Today’s rating

1.5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/17

 

REVIEW: DC Drive – DC Drive (1992)

DC Drive – DC Drive (1992 EMI of Canada)

I saw DC Drive (from Detroit, get it?) open for Harem Scarem back in spring 1992. They were good live: the first single “You Need Love” rocked well enough, and lead singer Joey Bowen did “the worm” across the stage. He was a good frontman for a band like this. Their gimmick was that they mixed “rock and soul” and had a full time sax player. However, there is nothing overly special here, nothing that Little Caesar didn’t do, and perhaps better. I recall in a M.E.A.T Magazine interview that DC Drive boasted that they had more genuine soul than The Black Crowes; I would take issue with that.

Notably, DC Drive was produced by Vini Poncia, probably best known to rock fans as producer of the Kiss disco-era albums*.  Poncia has several co-writing credits here as well.  It’s a pleasant CD, fairly keyboard-heavy, with a couple good songs, but quite a bit of filler. It’s funky, but in that radio-friendly way that you remember from a couple decades ago.

The lead single “You Need Love” was good; “Streetgirl Named Desire” likewise. I also enjoyed the ballad “Fool In Love” sung by bassist Doug Kahan.  I like the shameless pop of “All I Want”.  If Bryan Adams recorded it, it would have been a hit. But the biggest problem with this album is how dated it sounds.  A “rock and soul” band shouldn’t sound pigeonholed to eras past like this.  It sounds like backing music to a 1991 buddy cop comedy.  Joey Bowen has the goods when it comes to putting feeling into his singing, and guitarist Michael Romeo has a sweet tone.  Unfortunately what the album really lacks is memorable songs.

DC Drive came out of the ashes of a previous Detroit band, Adrenalin.  One odd thing about DC Drive:  Even though they were from Michigan and were signed to a big label (Capitol), they were only signed to a Canadian record deal.  The album wasn’t released in the US for another year, with a different track order, and minus one song (“Get Up and Dance”).  The Canadian release enabled the band to at least get a footing in right next door to home, but it wouldn’t help in the long run.

Basically, the only reason I own this CD is because I saw the band live and it’s sort of a souvenir. Plus I found it for under 2 bucks. Otherwise this is pretty limp and bland, despite the sax (which isn’t always audible) and soulful Detroit roots.

For 90’s hard rock completists or anybody who remembers the song “You Need Love”. Otherwise don’t bother.

2/5 stars

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* Poncia was brought into the Kiss family by drummer Peter Criss.  Peter was probably inspired to work with Poncia due to his prior resume with Ringo Starr.