The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 38:
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.
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.
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