The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 43:
The first three-year gap between Kiss albums. The first Kiss record produced by Bob Ezrin since 1981. The first shared Simmons/Stanley lead vocal in ages. The first lineup change since 1984. And saddest of all, Kiss’ first album without Eric Carr since 1980. Revenge was a shakeup for fans and band alike.
The pendulum of rock had swung back to “heavy”, with Metallica scorching the charts and grunge pummelling everyone else with new sounds. It was obvious that Kiss had to go heavier, too. In 1992, most rock bands had to sink or swim. In order to swim, bands tended to heavy things up. A lot of the time they called it “going back to the roots”.
Kiss began making tentative steps back that way. Hot in the Shade (1989) toned down a lot of the keyboards and 80s trappings. On tour, they played more old material like “Dr. Love”, “God of Thunder”, and “I Was Made for Loving You”. Then, as an experiment, they got back together with Bob Ezrin for a song from a movie soundtrack. Everyone was writing, even the sick Eric Carr. The initial plan was to have Eric play on half the new album, so he could have time to recover from his cancer surgery. The drummer from Paul Stanley’s solo tour, Eric Singer, was available to play on the other half. Singer was on tour with Alice Cooper during the summer of 1991, but would be home soon enough. Then, on November 24, Eric Carr passed.
The most obvious choice to replace Carr was Eric Singer. He was already working with the band, he knew the songs, and he was a fan. Bruce Kulick found him inspiring to have around, as Singer loved his guitar work. In fact the only thing about Eric Singer that didn’t fit was his hair colour!
The energetic new drummer was a godsend. With albums to his name by Black Sabbath and Badlands, Kiss couldn’t have asked for a more technically adept player. He could hit hard (though Eric Carr takes the belt in that regard) and he could authentically do any era of Kiss. Be it the early, slippery Peter Criss material or the heavy metal of Eric Carr, Singer had it all covered. And he could sing! Though we wouldn’t get there quite yet.
It was the heavy metal side that was most immediately apparent. The first track and first video from Revenge was “Unholy”, something very unlike anything Kiss had done before. And it came about in a most peculiar way. Enter: Vinnie Vincent.
Those who say “Vinnie saved Kiss” will point to “Unholy” as one such song that saved Kiss. After years of estrangement (and preceding even more), Vinnie came out to write with Gene and Paul. “Unholy” was one of three songs he contributed.
With a fury unlike any before, Gene Simmons and company swirl in rage on “Unholy”. The closest they got to this kind of heavy before would be Creatures, but there’s something just pissed off about it that wasn’t there before. With a concrete riff and angry slabs of drum tribalism, Kiss announced their return loudly. Not to be outdone, soloist Bruce Kulick laid down his noisiest guitar assault yet. There isn’t an ounce of fluff to “Unholy”.
Thanks to Bob Ezrin, Revenge is Kiss’ best sounding album since Lick It Up or Creatures. It’s no Destroyer, and it’s no Elder. This time they cut the extras down to the bone, leaving the four Kiss guys to rock it themselves. Err, mostly themselves. That’s Kevin Valentine on drums for the second song, “Take It Off”. Strange that Kiss continued to have ghost musicians on albums when they clearly didn’t need to. An ode to strippers, “Take It Off” is lyrically juvenile, but gleams like stainless steel. Paul Stanley wrote it with Ezrin and ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts, and it could have been used as a single had Revenge needed another. A dirty, dirty single.
Paul, Bruce and Ezrin composed “Tough Love” with a slower, chunky riff. Kulick’s solo is remarkable, but it’s also just nice hearing Paul do a sex song that has some balls. There is no “X” in this sex, although there’s a little BDSM for the 50 Shades crowd. Then, teaming up with Gene, they do their first co-write and co-lead vocals together in the first time in a dog’s age. “Spit” is old school fun with a modern heavy edge. Bruce pays homage to Jimi Hendrix in his complex guitar solo, a composition all to itself. Eric Singer gets to throw down tricky beats and fills, making “Spit” one of the most deceptively clever songs Kiss has done.
“God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” was released as a single the year before. It was the experiment with Ezrin that kicked off Revenge in the first place. It was the only song that Eric Carr was alive for, and you can clearly hear him on backing vocals. Singer handled the drums, though Carr did it in the music video. The album mix is different from the single or soundtrack, in order to better suit the sonics of Revenge as its sole anthem.
Gene tells a story about a girl who “kisses like the kiss of death” to end side one. “Domino” hearkens back to early Kiss, with a sparse arrangement and Gene playing rhythm guitar instead of Paul. This greasy rocker just screams “Kiss”. There is nobody else with songs like “Domino”. It was the third single from Revenge, sporting a nifty video with Gene cruising around in a convertible while Kiss plays as a trio! Paul Stanley: bass guitar.
“Heart of Chrome”, the second Vinnie Vincent collaboration, rocks with attitude. Once again, anger seems to be the emotion of the day. The 90s-look Kiss could deliver anger in spades. Then Gene takes the mantle on “Thou Shalt Not”.
He said “kindly reconsider the sins of your past,”
I said “Mister you can kindly kiss my ass.”
These are not songs for the Kiss hits mix tape you’re making for your roadtrip. These are songs to be experienced in context of the album, where they deliver mighty riffs and enough hooks for the long-player. “Thou Shalt Not” has another one of those Kulick solos that could be a study in string manipulation, and Singer just keeps it kicking the whole way through.
You could choose from two schools of thought regarding “Every Time I Look at You”. As the album’s only true ballad, some see it as a mistake on a record as heavy as Revenge. Others see it as a reprieve from a fairly relentless onslaught. Indeed, it does sound as if from another album. With a string section, Ezrin on piano, and Dick Wagner on ghost guitar, one could even argue that it’s an album highlight. A little re-sequencing though, and you probably wouldn’t even miss it.
Gene makes it heavy again on “Paralyzed”, not an outstanding track but a little funkier than usual. “I Just Wanna” is far more entertaining, though it is a shameless and obvious rip-off from “Summertime Blues”. It was chosen as the second single, and lo and behold, it’s the third Vinnie Vincent song too. “I Just Wanna” is immediately catchy and memorable for days. Probably because you already knew it as “Summertime Blues”.
As a touching surprise, Revenge ends on an instrumental called “Carr Jam 1981”. Bob Ezrin dug up an old demo from The Elder with a hot riff and a complete drum solo. It had been bootlegged before, notably on Demos 1981-1983, but not with very good sound. Ace Frehley even recorded it as “Breakout” on his second solo album. Ezrin cleaned up the original demo for Revenge, edited it for length, and overdubbed Bruce on lead guitar. “Carr Jam” has become Eric’s signature drum solo. Placing it here at the end of Revenge was not only poignant but also just great sequencing.
Album in hand, now it was time to tour. Kiss would start with a short run in the clubs. More on that next time.
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/08/10