Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Life In The Kiss Cult, Part C, Section 4

Before I finish the countdown, a little housecleaning first:

—A belated Happy Blogiversary to me, as Da Comet turned three on Sunday.  Hope it’s been as fun for you to read as it’s been for me to write.  Muchos gracias to all my faithful followers and readers.  Unlike other bloggers, I have no intention of cutting back on this activity or dropping it altogether—it’ll take a lot more than Facebook to kill this blog!

—I forgot to mention in the Revenge review in Section 3 that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley decided to let bygones be bygones and throw Vinnie Vincent a bone or two (since his solo career didn’t pan out quite so well) by collaborating on a few tunes for the album, including “Unholy” and “I Just Wanna”.  Alas, being the megalomaniac that young Vincenzo is, he took the words to “War Machine” to heart (“Gonna bite the hand that feeds me”)and sued the other two again for this, that and the other.  Ol’ Ankh Head is a VERY talented songwriter, but he’s stepped on his own dick (while wearing spiked golf shoes) more than anyone in Rock history this side of maybe Axl Rose.

Creatures Of The Night was noteworthy for being the first Kiss album to include printed lyrics to all the songs contained within.  Destroyer did indeed have the lyrics to “Detroit Rock City” in it, but I guess they figured we were on own for deciphering the rest of the album’s words.  Now I remember why I bought all the Kiss sheet music books back in the day (never mind that I can’t read sheet music to save my soul)—they had all the lyrics in them!  COTN was also the final Kiss album released under the Casablanca imprint, as the once-mighty Casablanca Record & Filmworks empire was on its last legs by 1982, and put to bed for good with the untimely passing of founder and president Neil Bogart, who sadly died of cancer that year.  Here’s lookin’ at you, Neil…

—Here’s a little countdown within a countdown:

10) Kiss
9) Hot In The Shade
8) Alive!
7) All four solo albums
6) Dressed To Kill
5) Hotter Than Hell

4) Creatures Of The Night (original cool make-up cover)
3) Love Gun
2) Rock And Roll Over
1) Destroyer

5) Creatures Of The Night (unnecessary bogus non-make-up cover w/Bruce Kulick on it)
4) Animalize
3) Revenge
2) Asylum
1) Dynasty

Alright, enough B.S.—I now give you the Final Four:

4) Rock And Roll Over (1976)  A review I read at the time (in Creem I want to say) said something to the effect of “This album can cut it without the make-up, which is something I’m sure they’re just itching to try!”  That’s a pretty accurate statement, too, as RARO was one of the most consistent and hardest-rocking Kiss albums ever.  With producer Eddie Kramer back at the helm, Kiss hired out the Nanuet Star Theater in downstate New York—a theater-in-the-round type place—instead of a proper recording studio in an effort to re-create their live sound without a live audience, and it worked, for the most part.  If only those first three albums had been recorded in this manner, but that’s another story.  All ten tracks are quite good here, although for whatever reason, none of them were penned by one Paul Daniel Frehley* for the second straight album.  No matter, this one cooks from start-to-finish.  Rock was Paul Stanley’s finest hour, to date, with his classic “I Want You” kicking off the proceedings.  Track two, the vastly underrated “Take Me”, was even better, as was the album’s closer, “Makin’ Love”.  Only problem is those songs never came off well live because of the high backing vocals on “Take Me” and the echo effect on “Makin’ Love”, so in a way, Kiss got a little too cute here, but we’ll take it anyway.  G. Simmons brought another strong batch of tunes with him this time, especially “Ladies Room”, “See You In Your Dreams” and the hit single, “Calling Dr. Love”, which remains firmly ensconced in the Kiss live set to this day.  And for the first time since Hotter Than Hell, Peter Criss gets two lead vocals on a Kiss record, having earned his stripes, so to speak, with the unprecedented success of “Beth” earlier in the year.  Pete does his best Rod Stewart impression on Stanley’s “Hard Luck Woman” and his best Joe Tex impression on his own composition “Baby Driver”.  “Mr. Speed” and “Love ‘Em And Leave ‘Em” didn’t suck, either.  Rock And Roll Over was a very solid effort that came along while Kiss was still on the upswing at the end of the Bicentennial, and it’s a classic.  Second-coolest album cover in Kisstory, too—I recall many’s the hour I spent in Junior High tracing that cover in pencil, then coloring it in and affixing it to my various school books.

*=I’ve also seen Ace’s middle name listed as David in some sources, but haven’t confirmed which one is correct yet.

3) Ace Frehley (1978)  This album would’ve done Gomer Pyle proud:  “Surprahz! Surprahz! Surprahz!”  Seemingly everyone—including his own bandmates—were convinced that Brother Frehley’s solo album would be a pile of steaming yak excrement, but boy, did Planet Jendell’s favorite son prove them wrong!  Unquestionably the best of the four solo albums—this dude had been holding out on us all that time leading up to it, because we finally got to see what the Space Ace was capable of when properly motivated and/or allowed free reign.  Great songs, sizzling solos, crunchy riffs and even some fairly decent vocals (Ace’s weakest link) all added up to an excellent record.  Lots of good stuff to chew on here, like “Rip It Out”, “Speedin’ Back To My Baby”, “Ozone” and “What’s On Your Mind?”.  Ace picks up where he left off in “Cold Gin” about his preoccupation with getting fucked-up on tunes like “Wiped-Out” and “Snow Blind” (not to be confused with the Styx song of the same name) and closes the album with “Fractured Mirror”, the first of a series of “Fractured” instrumentals featured on his future solo efforts.  Ironically, what was probably the weakest track on the ’78 album, Ace’s remake of Russ Ballard’s “New York Groove”, wound up charting the highest of all singles from the solo albums (reaching #14 in Billboard).  So much for all of Gene’s delusions of grandeur in having all those hit singles, hmmm?  Gold Star for Mr. Frehley this time.  Pity he hasn’t come close to equaling this album since…

2) Destroyer (1976)  It’s amazing to think back now how Kiss’ supreme recorded achievement (in the studio) faced a very severe backlash upon its release in the spring of ’76 from both critics and fans alike.  I loved it from the get-go, but many fans were initially repulsed by the slick sound and special effects found on Destroyer, not to mention not one, but TWO ballads!  And then there was the scathing review by critic Robert Duncan in Circus magazine, where he pretty much ripped the album to shreds, then suffered some backlash himself from those Kiss fans who'd seen the light and realized what a gem of an album we had on our hands.  Duncan later praised the band no-end in the biography book he penned and reaped profits from about a year later—douche-bag!  In case you haven't noticed, I loathe music critics in general, but I digress.  Producer Bob Ezrin certainly took this band by the balls and showed them how to really make a record, to the point of alienating Ace Frehley (already an alien anyway).  I have to admit that even I recoiled a bit when I first heard “Beth”, but that one didn’t throw me half as much as hearing my new idol at the time, the great Demon himself, singing a wimpy ballad like “Great Expectations”, which made me do the Tim Allen caveman “HUH?!?” thing upon first listen.  I warmed up to “GE” over the years, and it was a mere blip on the radar in comparison to the rest of the album, which was absolutely stellar.  “Detroit Rock City” is far and away my favorite lead-off track on ANY album, and my favorite Kiss song, period.  I just love the way it shoots out of the gate and keeps you glued to your seat throughout even though the lyric invites its listeners to leave their seats.  "DRC" also includes one of my all-time favorite guitar solos.  I always assumed it was Gene Simmons doing his Kent Brockman/Tom Tucker impersonation delivering the evening news in the bit leading up to the intro, but I later read that it was Mr. Ezrin doing the honors.  A bitchin’ car crash ensues at the end and Ace’s long sustained note leads right into the sequel, “King Of The Nighttime World”, another classic.  Most people (me included) assumed that Gene Simmons wrote “God of Thunder”, being’s how he sang it and how it makes him sound all high and mighty, but Mr. Stanley Harvey Eisen authored this one, and was kinda peeved at first when Ezrin gave it to Simmons, but the Starchild realized eventually that it was the right move.  Paul sounded so much better anyway on Side 2’s opening track, the majestic-sounding “Flaming Youth”, which is an underrated Kiss classic, even though it has a calliope in it.  Gene’s “Sweet Pain”—also quite underrated—is another fave of mine, as he sounds eerily close to Cheech & Chong’s Alice Bowie character in places.  And then comes my #3 favorite Kiss song of all-time (“Deuce” is—fittingly—#2), “Shout It Out Loud”.  Featuring some Spector-esque Wall of Sound sound, "SIOL" is 2:45 of pure bliss, complete with excellent call-and-response vocals (a technique I really like), and I’ve always thought “Shout” was a far superior anthem to “Rock And Roll All Nite”.  Stanley closes this qualified masterpiece with “Do You Love Me?”, a song that gets better and better as the years go on.  What I’ve never understood is why Ezrin chose to lop off the nifty coda to the song that you hear in live concert versions of "DYLM" in favor of that lame coda loop of Paul exclaiming “…looks like we got ourselves a Rock ‘N’ Roll party!” ad nauseam.  Still, there’s no question that this was Kiss’ finest hour in the studio—I’d put Destroyer up against Zeppelin's or Aerosmith's best any day!

1) Alive! (1975)  Well, what other album were you expecting to land here?  I spent practically the entire summer of ’76 listening to this behemoth front and back.  Since I’ve already praised it profusely on this blog, I hereby direct you to my Best Live Albums post from earlier this year—Alive! finished # 1 there too.  Yes, I know it’s not all live, but it ain’t like Kiss is the only band who’s doctored up their live records—Cheap Trick, W.A.S.P., et al, atten-SHUN!  No one seems to have a problem when a woman wears hair extensions and has breast implants and a facelift—none of that stops you from looking at her, right?—therefore, even though I know Alive! has been tweaked here and there, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying it today.  It’s one of my top three albums of all-time, period, along with Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and The Who’s Who’s Next.

Coming soon to a blog near you: My all-time favorite Who album countdown—even though I think I just gave away what #1 is!


Dan said...

Well I am glad you are not cutting back or dropping your blog anytime soon, it's one of the few I read and enjoy. I like Randy Raley's also.

As for the last 4 KISS albums (ranking) - I thought for sure you'd place destroyer at number 1!


That's exactly where I'd place "Alive!" and in fact, if I were to rank their albums, man, I think these 4 would be at the top of the list.....although here's how I'd rank 'em....

4. Destroyer
3. Rock & Roll Over
2. Ace Frehley
1. Alive!

They are all 5 star albums....

Cool reading, Brian.

dr sardonicus said...

Finally getting a chance to add my $.02. Thanks for an excellent overview.

Your top choices are pretty much as I see them as well. Alive! earns its #1 ranking with me as well; it features the best recordings of the band's early work. (Like you, I wonder what might have been had their debut LP received decent production.) And although Destroyer is the consensus pick as Kiss' best studio effort, I'm almost tempted to elevate Rock And Roll Over ahead of it. Destroyer hasn't worn well with me. It starts with two killer cuts, then slowly runs out of gas. I understand that it's supposed to be some sort of concept album, but the desire to be treated as "serious" artists turned out to be Kiss' Achilles heel, as it did with so many hard rock bands.

Despite my prejudices, I'll grant that Kiss' career peak compares favorably with Aerosmith's. Neither band aged gracefully, that's for sure. But Led Zeppelin? They could match LZ beat-for beat on the stompers, but what is the Kiss equivalent to "Stairway To Heaven", "Over The Hills And Far Away", or "Kashmir"? The tongue of the demon is no match for the hammer of the gods.

In the end, Kiss was a good-to-great hard rock band that got bogged down trying to create Art. They should have stuck to three-minute singles, and should have treated Ace Frehley better.

Brian Holland said...

Well Doc, as great as 'Led Zeppelin IV' is, when it comes down to a choice of which album I'd rather listen to--it or 'Destroyer'--guess which one's gonna win. I actually find stuff like "Kashmir" rather boring and I've heard "Stairway" more times than I care to. But, hey, it's apples and oranges, all in all...