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Kiss (1974) / Hotter Than Hell (1974) / Dressed to Kill (1975) / Alive! (1975) / Destroyer (1976) / Rock and Roll Over (1976) / Love Gun (1977) / Alive II (1977) / Ace Frehley (1978) / Gene Simmons (1978) / Paul Stanley (1978) / Peter Criss (1978) / Dynasty (1979) / Unmasked (1980) / Music From "The Elder" (1981) / Creatures of the Night (1982) / Lick it Up (1983) / Animalize (1984)

Kiss (1974)

Album Score: 8

I have a lot to making up to do, don't I? When I went through Kiss' discography the first time, I mercilessly trashed them. I probably spent more time thinking of synonyms for “suck” than I did actually listening to their music. But now I'm seven years older, and I've grown cooler, follicley challenged, and far more rational. When I peruse their discography today, I've found that........... Well, Kiss do suck, don't they? I guess there's no getting around that one. However, I will no longer deny that they're fun when they want to be. And fun was a topic that Kiss had on their minds frequently.

As far as songs go, “Strutter” is pretty good. In fact, I'll go all out and say that it's pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. It has a catchy riff, catchy vocal melody, crunchy guitars, and … drumming. Peter Criss might be the worst drummer in the history of the planet and probably the universe, but such an inconvenient fact doesn't keep him from having a drum solo or two on this album. There's a right old nasty one towards the end of “100,000 Years,” which is approximately same time-frame that I would like to hear him do another one. That song also shows that Kiss hadn't quite gauged their talents yet. It's as confident a cock-rocker can be, but its riffs are entirely forgettable and so is the vocal melody. Despite it being upbeat and guitar-heavy, and me trying to meet it halfway and forgo the use of my brain, I get bored with it.

“Cold Gin” is one of the most highly thought-of songs on here, and it has the opposite problem as “100,000 Years.” It has an interesting riff and appropriately trashy lead vocals from Simmons, but it lacks *VERVE*. It needed more cowbell. It's like the riffs were too complicated for them, and the only way they could play them was in the stiffest manner possible. “Let Me Know,” on the other hand, has an appropriate amount of cowbell, but it's such a generic composition that it doesn't move me. ...However, it's pretty easy for me to just go along with it. I'm tapping my foot. Nothing else is required.

Well there's “Deuce,” which goes beyond that. It's a song that all the fans love, isn't it? So there's at least one thing I can agree with them on. It shows Kiss at its essence: dumb, catchy, and trashy. Its riffs are memorable, and they're also presented in a loose and rockin' manner. It sounds nowhere as stiff as “Cold Gin” did. ...I mean, don't expect “Smoke on the Water” or anything, but it shows that Kiss could come up with a worthwhile hard-rock song if they put their minds to it. ...One track they clearly didn't put their minds to was an instrumental called “Love Theme From Kiss.” I have no idea what they were thinking. The thing about hard-rock instrumentals is that they usually require great instrumental precision from masters to pull off... Kiss might have thought they were gods of rock, but... I won't even finish that sentence...

When it's all said and done, there's only one song on here that feels like it's killing off my brain cells, and that is “Kissin' Time.” It's pure buffalo doodie. I could try to sugar coat that assessment, but do people really want sugar coated buffalo doodie? It sounds like they wrote it as a theme song of sorts for an opening to a Saturday morning cartoon series... Good thing that never happened, because I don't think they would've want it on their conscience if they made millions of children upchuck their breakfast cereals once a week. Milk does a body good, but not when people are throwing it up all the time.

“Black Diamond” is a lame attempt at art-rock. Cut out that pointless, acoustic beginning and that two-minute power-chord stuff at the end, and we would have been left with another fun hard-rock ditty. But why surround it with all that nonsense? ...Lately I've been steering away from using the term “filler.” But without that power chord crap and that obviously thrown-together instrumental “Love Theme From Kiss,” this album would have been 30 minutes long... so put two and two together. (Do you like how I called it “filler” while also saying that I don't like to call things “filler?” Who says I can't have my cake and eat it, too?)

When it comes right down to it, this is probably one of Kiss's finer moments. And as one of Kiss' finer moments, it's a mixed bag. Their songwriting chops are better than some people give them credit for, but their instrumental abilities were atrocious. For sure, they were better than the average high school band practicing in their parents' garage, but compared to pretty much ever other hard-rock band of 1974, they were horrid. ...Keep in mind, however, that most of these songs would sound far better in their first live album. But that discussion is for another time.

Read the track reviews:

Hotter Than Hell (1974)

Album Score: 8

There were a few moments in Kiss' debut album when they tried to be artistic, but it was only too obvious that these guys weren't particularly good at it. Since doing artistic things take time, and it was something not particularly worth doing anyway, they decided to concentrate on good old cock-rock for their sophomore release. And surprisingly they were able to write a fair amount of catchy riffs, many of which are utterly dirty and perfectly trashy. ...But there was just one hitch: these guys were still pretty terrible instrumentalists. I guess they didn't have much time to take lessons in the eight months' time between the release of their debut album and this.

The pacing of these songs are just terrible. I mean, I almost can't believe how can they write a song with such a piping-hot riff as “Got to Choose” and waste it with such paralyzed instrumentation. Come on guys, give it a little bit of verve! This is big-time rock 'n' roll, not the high school prom! Whenever they do have a slow-paced song that seems about right, such as the album closer “Strange Ways” characterized by its dark and gruffy bass guitar, it's not exactly the world's most memorable song.

The lyrics are... well... hmm... Here's the lyrics to “Goin' Blind.” (“And I know how it's to be / There is nothing more for you and I / Some are young and some are free / But I think I'm goin' blind / 'Cause I think I'm goin' blind / And I know how it's to be, yeah / Little lady, can't you see / You're so young and so much different than I / I'm 93, you're sixteen / Can't you see I'm goin' blind”) I'm glad at least its lyrics amuse me, because the song itself—to use constructive criticism—is a rancid pile of crap. Come to think of it, that might make a sitcom script on an ABC Family sit-com. Such a conversation arises when an old man and his great grand-daughter argue over chores. The great-grandfather always tries to get out of his chores by trying to convince the teenager that he's going blind. ...Screw this review; I'm going to Hollywood...

...Or maybe I'll just continue to sit here in front of my computer trying to pan out a full-length Kiss review. “Parasite” is probably the coolest song of the lot; it's dark and rumbly riff is a Led Zeppelin ripoff and therefore a surefire hit among every non-nerd teenager of the '70s. And... well, I actually have a fun time listening to it even though there's nothing non-nerd about me. It's catchy rock 'n' roll, and that's the best kind of roll. ...I still take issue with the song's pacing; it's gritty, but it needs more, dammit!!! It's really no wonder Kiss had to wear goofy costumes to get noticed; there were just too many good instrumentalists on the field for them to stand out any other way.

But then again, I like Kiss. I mean, as a snob, I probably shouldn't, but I can't help it. (And no, this is not guilt from the years and years of flame letters I've gotten about my old reviews.) ...Simply put, they actually sound like they love rock 'n' roll. Maybe they weren't terribly good at it, but it's the passion that counts, right? Another band that I reviewed recently, Foreigner, had all the skill in the world, but never for a moment seemed like they really cared. Yes... That's right. I'm saying that Kiss cared about what they were trying to do... I mean, listen to them tear it up over “Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll” … That's about the only song they could tear up, because it's generic rock 'n' roll and not anything like those complicated riffs they had been concocting for their other songs.

They do borrow much of the main riff for “Hotter Than Hell” from “Layla,” but it's all in public domain, right? ...Ah, Eric Clapton had nothing to worry about; he would never be dethroned... at least not by these rodeo clowns... The melody is goofy cheese-metal at its... er... cheesiest. Ace Frehley gives a guitar solo, showing at least that he had grown a bit from the previous album, but he's still so-so at it. He's far too shy and restrained. I like Paul Stanley as a singer; trashy and snarling. ...Though somehow I don't think he'll ever get better with age.

As a whole, I would say the material on Hotter Than Hell is marginally better written than the material on Kiss. However, Kiss had one or two spots on it that positively shimmered, whereas this album seems far more hackneyed and stiff-fingered. If you listen to this album and catch the staggering amount of nice riffs on it—derivative or not—I think anyone would have to admit that they could write a cheese-metal song just as well as anyone. Unfortunately, they just didn't quite have the chops to pull off actually performing them. So, I guess I'll just have to end this review the same way as I ended the last one: Just hold onto your britches and hold out on passing hasty judgment on Kiss until you've heard their first live album in which these starved ditties will get corn-fed.

Read the track reviews:
Hotter Than Hell

Dressed to Kill (1975)

Album Score: 9

Well, hey! Here's an improvement! These songs aren't anywhere close to being as lumbering and clumsy as the ones from their previous album, which I singled out to be its main problem. Furthermore, I'm beginning to hear just a little bit of invention and energy in Ace Frehley's guitar solos, which is a fact that we can all celebrate... as long as we're willing to accept that the man would never exactly become a guitar god, or anything. Kiss even had a formidable hit in here, which I've heard play endlessly on classic rock radio; it's a number called “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Albeit, the song used to irritate the hell out of me. They overplayed it so much that I was getting ready to hunt down that radio station and blow it up with some C-4 (That is how *I* party...) until we had a CD player installed in my car. And then I pretty much just listened to Procol Harum records...

But despite my tumultuous history with “Rock and Roll All Nite,” it's easily the best song they released in their discography this far. Never before had any of their songs been that fun, that catchy, and that dumb. ...I would even go onto say that the song is well-played: The guitars are crunchy and nicely paced, Gene Simmon's lead vocals are disgusting therefore just about right for it. The entire band, I believe, takes part in that raucous, party-time chorus, which is exactly what a song like that calls for. ...And calling it “dumb” is not necessarily an insult. I think it knows perfectly well how dumb it is. It seems like “drunk” is the preferable condition to be in to enjoy such a song to its fullest extent.

The album opener, “Room Service” isn't quite as catchy as “Rock and Roll All Nite,” but it's close! The lyrics are pretty tasteless—about these guys getting lonely in their hotel room and ordering some groupies—but hey, who am I to criticize them? They have groupies. I don't have groupies. They are far more evolutionarily successful than I could ever be. (...Er, they mention a 16-year-old groupie in the lyrics, whose “offer” they consider until they're thwarted by the dad. ...Holy crap, guys...) ...More importantly, the guitars chug along in a tight manner and play a series of catchy riffs. Paul Stanley's enthusiastically screaming and yelping vocal performance is a lot of fun to hear. All the ingredients add up to another fun song.

Unfortunately, I'm less moved by everything else here. The mid-tempo rocker “Two Timer” makes an OK listen, but it just doesn't catch fire. “Rock Bottom” begins, oddly enough, with a gentle arpeggiated texture from a few acoustic guitars that play a sort of mystical chord progression reminding me of (gasp) early Genesis. ...It's unfortunate they didn't really know what to do with it; after playing that progression for two minutes (at a point when it starts to get quite boring), it suddenly ends and they awkwardly launch themselves into a totally unrelated hard-rock song. The good news is that the hard-rock song is crunchy, catchy, boisterous and one of the best of the album, but … I don't get it.

The goofy attempt at art-rock notwithstanding, “She” wins as the most complicated song of the album. The riffs are well constructed and seem like they're difficult to play... but unfortunately, it runs into a similar problem as the songs throughout Hotter Than Hell: It's so LUMBERING that it seriously inhibits my enjoyment of it. Seriously, somebody light a fire under their asses so that they'll do some work around here! Rock 'n' roll isn't only about avoiding the fathers of 16-year-old groupies, you know.

Peter Criss sings lead vocals for one song, “Getaway,” which is cute; The Beatles let Ringo sing lead vocals in one song per album, so why not Kiss let Peter? (I guess he'd been doing that for all of their albums so far, which goes shows how little I've been paying attention. But I've gotten on track with these guys—just as slowly as they've gotten on track with their instrumental abilities.) Unfortunately, that song is meh. I mean, the guitars crunch along nicely, and I sort of like listening to the bass guitar... but it's just not catchy enough. With these guys, if it's not catchy, it's not classic.

Kiss is Kiss, and that is that. If you like dumb pop-metal, then these are your boys, you'll listen to this album until your head spins. I only find that I am able to fully endorse two of these songs, however, and they are “Room Service” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.” I'm sure you've already gotten enough of the latter to last seven lifetimes. At the very least, this album shows Kiss improving from their prior release in their instrumentation abilities, even though unfortunately I'd say the riffs they're playing aren't quite as catchy. ...I'm doing my best to enjoy these Kiss albums as much as I can, but Dressed to Kill is another mixed bag for me. However, I do admit, I like the cover. I like to think they fired their tailor's ass after the photo shoot.

Read the track reviews:
Dressed to Kill

Alive! (1975)

Album Score: 11

Take the album title literally; this is where Kiss came ALIVE. Before this, you see, Kiss wrote some catchy songs that were frequently so stiff fingered and lumberingly paced that I had a difficult time getting into them. They usually had potential, but they ultimately didn't have enough umph to them to put them over the top. Here, they have all the umph they could ever require. Another huge improvement is that the live setting forced them to make their music more gritty and flashy in order to properly play off of the maxed-out reactions they were getting from their audience.

Pretty much anything I liked in their studio albums, I like even more here. “Strutter” was catchy and fun originally, but here they amp it up and make it trashier. Naturally, calling these renditions trashy isn't an insult, since that was precisely Kiss' game. Saying that you can't enjoy Kiss because they're trashy is like saying you can't enjoy Monty Python because it's silly. It's always valid to not like something, but it never invalidates other people's appreciation of it. Other excellent moments of these discs include vigorous renditions of “Deuce,” “She,” “Got to Choose,” “Hotter Than Hell,” “Let Me Go Rock and Roll” … and pretty much all 16 of these tracks make good listens.

Their song selection is fantastic. In my younger days (like six years ago), I would have criticized it as being a “Greatest Hits” live set, but my logic of that being a bad thing was heavily flawed. If anything, at a live show, we want Kiss to play only their good songs! Nobody wants to hear them sift through all that crapola. And nobody apparently knew better than Kiss that they had crapola in their discography, because they largely stayed away from it. Well... maybe they could have done without that LENGTHY-AS-HELL drum solo in “100,000 Years,” but at least they make up for that with a little bit of audience participation. I find it amusing hearing Paul Stanley asking certain portions of his audience to scream if they “believe in rock 'n' roll.” ...Who would go to a Kiss concert if they didn't believe in rock 'n' roll? Weren't Kiss one of the meccas?

As much as the audience participation is fun, I have to raise my eyebrow a bit at the end of “Rock Bottom” when Paul Stanley gauges how much his audience, who must've consisted predominantly of 15-year-olds, likes certain alcoholic beverages. (...THERE'S GOTTA BE SOMEONE OUT THERE WHO LIKES TO DRINK TEQUILA! ...I'LL TELL YA SOMEPIN: WHEN YO' DOWN IN THE DUMPS AND YOU NEED SOMEPIN TO BRING YOU UP, THERE'S ONLY ONE THING THAT'S GOING TO DO IT THE WAY YOU WANT IT! ...WHAT'S THAT?! ...I CAN'T HEAHHHH YOU!!...) And then they start playing “Cold Gin.” But... whoah... That song is a lot of fun; its simple, heavy, and catchy riff is played with some gritty verve, and Simmons' gutteral vocals are loud and youthful. The original was a bit awkward, but this one hits all the right notes.

As exciting as that was, even better is their performance of the song of the hour: “Rock and Roll All Nite,” which is my boringly default choice as the best song of the album. It was easily their most exciting and catchy song of their studio albums, so it only makes sense that it becomes one of the highlights of their stage show. Though I'd say handily the most improved song on this album, compared to the studio original, is “Black Diamond.” The original sounded like a goofy attempt at art-rock featuring three distinct and disconnected sections. Here, on the other hand, everything is melded together quite nicely. Remember that dumb power-chord stuff in the studio cut? In front of the live crowd, they were turned into sonic booms, which of course makes the crowd go NUTS. I also heartily approve of the addition of a wailing siren noise blaring at the end of “Firehouse.” Bursts of NOISE at rock concerts is never a bad thing, in my book. ...Unless you have a crappy seat right next to the speakers...

It's pretty clear that these guys loved performing for a live audience, and their audience clearly loved seeing them. Not being much of a Kiss fan, I can even report that I very much enjoyed hearing them. Surprisingly, there are not very many spots in this double album that bore me—quite the opposite. I mean, their songs were never exactly the greatest ever written in rock 'n' roll, but they were usually catchy and always entertaining. The audio quality might not be crystal clear, but grittiness certainly lends it a proper, rock 'n' roll element. If you're skeptical of Kiss (I'm very sympathetic to you), then wait one day when you're willing to let your guard down, and give this album a spin. You might be surprised by how much it cooks.

Read the track reviews:

Destroyer (1976)

Album Score: 10

Dudes, gather 'round. Let me tell you something. ...Bob Ezrin rules. People who don't agree with that have moldy sausages instead of brains. I mean, we all know that Kiss were awesome when they were thrust in the live setting for Alive!. The main reason that was such an electrifyingly shocking discovery was because their studio albums—to generalize—were rancid piles of pig poo. And now, here comes along Bob Ezrin, proven to be one of the finest producers in the biz, and it's like everybody jumps down his throat for it!! “We want our Kiss raw, man,” they'll say in between huffs of a marijuana cigarette. “Bob Ezrin is the king of OVERPRODUCTION! And overproduction doesn't grok, man.” Well? Maybe these bloodshot geeks have a point. This album is overproduced to hell. However, this is also the first Kiss studio album in the history of mankind that I've enjoyed pretty much the whole way through. It's also the first Kiss album to contain any sort of diversity.

Can't we all at least join hands with one another and agree in unison that it's fun to hear how completely overboard Ezrin went with “Great Expectations?” It's a piano ballad, but that description alone hardly does it justice; it's a fully orchestrated monstrosity with a string section, woodwinds, and a childrens choir. It has one of those “rabble rousing” choruses that seems to go on forever. With no second thought of the matter, it's a thinly veiled attempt to copy The Rolling Stones' “You Can't Always Get What You Want,” and it's not an especially good one at that. But whatever. It's no masterpiece, but at least it's novel hearing Kiss of all bands even attempt something like that.

Maybe one instance where they went too far was a stab at chamber-pop, “Beth,” a song that wouldn't be out of place on a usual Engelbert Humperdinck album. However, I also find it amusing beyond belief to hear such a sparkly and sensitive pop song with lead vocals taken on by the gross Peter Criss. It's the same thing as Ratso Rizzo trying to sing a soaring Petula Clark ballad. ...Now, the ballad itself is competently written—the twinkly piano sounds nice and so does the full string orchestra—but it's not that memorable. Petula Clark singing it might have only raised its track review rating a mere notch.

But we didn't buy this Kiss album to listen to the horrible ballads, did we? If anything, those are the reasons many people claim that this album should die. We're here for the ROCK 'N' ROLL, man! And there are a few good ones here to sink your teeth into. My favorite of the lot is “Shout it Out Loud,” which is highly energetic and raunchy. It's everything that Kiss does best. The melody is simple but catchy, and the beat is tight and toe-tapping. It's quite good! However, the most famous song of the album is “Detroit Rock City,” which I enjoy quite a lot but not as much. The riff is OK but unfortunately not one of those Kiss riffs I can ever seem to remember at the end of the day. However, the experience of listening to it is quite good. All those power chords, energetic drumming, and Ezrin's pristine production standards make it sound larger-than-life.

If it weren't for the simple rock 'n' roll pleasures of “Shout it Out Loud,” my favorite song of the album would be “Gods of Thunder.” It's the goofiest song EVER. Ezrin infests it with all sorts of rumbly Hell noises while Gene Simmons growls in the most trashiest, demonesque way that he possibly could among one of the catchiest riffs I've ever heard them come up with. It's gimmicky to its core, but hey! These guys could put on a show. I don't think they've ever wanted to do anything else.

All the other hard-rock songs are pretty good, which is a first for a Kiss studio album. (I mean, they usually have at least one song that I'm less-than-lukewarm towards.) “King of the Nighttime World,” “Flaming Youth,” “Sweet Pain” and “Do You Love Me” aren't going to blow you away, but you'd have to be some sort of a prude not to enjoy tapping your foot to them. Thus, there are nine songs on this Kiss album, and I at least mildly like each and every one of them. (I'm not counting that “hidden” track at the end, which is a minute-and-a-half worth of ghoulish Hell noise... er, it's kind of awesome actually.) And therefore, let us drop everything and celebrate Destroyer as the first wholly solid Kiss studio album that was ever released. …..............in my bungled opinion.

Read the track reviews:

Rock and Roll Over (1976)

Album Score: 11

Bob Ezrin is gone, but his influence lingers on. Producer Eddie Kramer (who was previously on board for Alive!) takes over, and his prime duty is to makes sure that Kiss kick ass like they never have before in the studio. This album kicks ass even more than the previous album, I suppose, since they'd gotten some negative feedback about those froofy ballads and that song with the children's choir in it. Thus, the prime directive of this album is for Kiss to do what they were always best at: Rocking. And to sound good doing it!

While this album rocks out completely, without getting interrupted by those uncharacteristic ballads, it's unfortunate that they weren't able to produce the same number of catchy riffs that they did in their first two albums. It's about the only thing that's gotten worse ever since Kiss turned into a polished hard-rock act. Nevertheless, this is a far more put-together album, and it certainly sounds like they'd learned a thing or two about how to actually PLAY their instruments. Surely, there's nothing about Rock and Roll Over that irritates me, even in the slightest degree. So let's count this, along with Destroyer as a major studio-career highs for them. As always, don't expect this to be a masterpiece of rock 'n' roll, or anything—this is Kiss, after all—but if on a Friday evening you feel like chugging back a few beers and rocking out to something on your stereo, you could do a lot worse than this. I mean, at least it rocks.

In short, this is a solid album where the riffs are tight, the lyrics are stupid, the melodies are generic, and the vocal performances are trashy as hell. ...Did that sound like I was slogging them off a bit? I suppose I was, but all that stuff is part of the fun, right? I mean, if we can agree that these guys are nothing but cartoonish showmen, then let's agree that they were good at it. I also think this shows that Ace Frehley was turning into a mightily good guitarist. Quite probably, he was the most naturally talented member of the band. He gets a chance to solo on all of these songs, and he always seems to play just the right things for the right amount of time. His solos are showy, for sure, but he never bites off more than he could chew. I mean, he's no Clapton or Hendrix, but he gets the job done.

You can witness an excellent production job right at the beginning with “I Want You,” which seamlessly melds together a brief ballad section with a far more typical hard-rock portion. The ballad portion is rather pretty with Paul Stanley giving us some surprisingly twee vocals. But the ballad bit only lasts a few seconds before electric guitars flare up in a glamorous way, and they begin to play riffs that aren't really catchy, but they're crunchy. Peter Criss' drumming is tight and fast-paced, which is FAR more appropriate for these sorts of songs than that lumbering way he was playing them in early Kiss albums. Even better is “Take Me,” which is glam-rock in its purest way. The guitars continue to be tight and crunchy, and Stanley's giving an exciting glamor boy vocal performance.

Let's talk about the last half... Considering pretty much every song here can be described as “hard rock,” those relatively weaker songs in the last half of the album have trouble sticking out of the crowd. However, there's one important exception to that: “Hard Luck Woman,” which is a “Maggie May” clone. Strangely enough, Paul Stanley actually wrote that for Rod Stewart to sing! That seems to me that is about the same thing as someone writing a crappy “Lady Madonna” rip-off and asking Paul McCartney to put it on his next Wings release... But anyway, I only like that song, because doesn't sound anything like the others. The one thing Destroyer has over Rock and Roll Lover is the diversity. Also, I find Peter Criss' really bad Rod Stewart impersonation hilarious.

With that, I'd wager to say that Peter Criss gets to sing lead vocals in the best song of the album, “Baby Driver.” I mean, that's a dumb piece of cock-rock as much as everything else here, but I love hearing that tight riff, which sounds a lot like a chugging locomotive. Moreover, Criss' singing starts to veer off to some raspy growl-singing, which is surprisingly appropriate for that butt-whomping, trashy riff they concocted. (Next time you listen to this album, listen to how he sings “yyyy-EAH!!!” I wish to God that I could do that.)

There's no doubt in my mind that this is Kiss' greatest studio album of the '70s. I would say “ever,” but I seem to remember one or two surprisingly formidable ones they'd managed to release in the '80s. Thus, I'll have to hold off giving out such a full-scaled, hyperbolic statement that until I get my facts straight. Nevertheless, best album or not, this is a FUN record. Just make sure you don't expect anything more or less than that.

Read the track reviews:
Rock and Roll Over

Love Gun (1977)

Album Score: 10

This sounds like Kiss finally took a step back and took a hard look at their discography and realized that their biggest hit so far was “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Armed with that knowledge, they decided to craft an album filled with crap like that. ...Now, if you remember my review of Dressed to Kill, you'll note that I liked that song; it was a catchy and fun bit of party-time pop-trash. Didn't I just get off saying in my Rock and Roll Over review that their talents were ROCKING? Didn't Kiss even read that review? (OK, I wrote the review 35 years after its release, but I like to think that my reviews transcend time and space.) What gives?

I'm not moaning, by the way, because I happen to think that Love Gun is pretty good as far as trashy pop albums go. I can't say I'm too thrilled about it, however, because I happen to know that Kiss would never abandon this sort of cheez-pop nonsense for pretty much the remainder of their career. Especially by the time the '80s rolls around. But anyway.

“Tomorrow and Tonight!” What an excellent “Rock and Roll All Nite” clone! I know that's not usually considered the best song of Love Gun by people who are actually fans of it, but I have a craploadof fun with it. It has one of the dumbest melodies I've ever heard—and it has a sort of drunken singalong type of chorus—and it's clear to me that Kiss was completely unconcerned about how corny their music sounded. They might have even been aware of it. I mean, that's a song for a Saturday morning cartoon, if there ever was one. But for some reason when I listen to it, it's like I don't want to fold my arms and scowl in dark corners at Kiss anymore. It's so silly and so energetic that I sort of want to join in with everyone.

The title track is most likely the song Kiss fans love the most. According to Wikipedia, Kiss has played that song on every tour they've ever been on ever since it was written. Now, I don't find that song as memorable as, say “Cold Gin” or “Detroit Rock City,” but that one's also a lot of fun. Kiss really perfected their showman style there; the guitars are vicious and snarling, Paul Stanley is singing his heart out in the flashiest way imaginable. I mean, if I read that the lead singer from Survivor fashioned his career on Paul Stanley's vocal performance there, then I'd believe it. (Of course a lot of people say that singer was a total wanker. So take the comparison for what it is.) “Got Love For Sale” is a mightily fun chug-rocker with some playful Muppet-vocals from Gene Simmons. I wish that they didn't replace the HEAVY guitars of their previous two albums with the bubbly pop guitars on full display on that song, but at least they're fast-paced! “Almost Human” is easily one of the best songs here with its menacing rhythm and a really teeth-scraping electric guitar solo from Ace Frehley in the final third.

Speaking of Frehley, he's probably the most musically talented member of the bunch... Except, evidently, when it comes to singing. For the first time in Kiss' history, he takes lead vocals for “Shock Me,” and he's reallllly underwhelming. I mean, he makes Peter Criss and his bad Rod Stewart impersonation sound like music. His song isn't too great, either, to be perfectly frank.

I'm also not a huge fan of “Plaster Caster,” even though I seem to be under the impression that it's a fan favorite. Truth be told, it's a decent rocker as far as Kiss rockers go, but it's kind of boring. A little bit more adrenaline would've gone a long way there! Easily the worst song of the bunch is “Christine Sixteen,” which has one of the cheesiest uses of a piano that I've ever heard. The cheesiest use of a piano I've ever heard was in that Muppet Babies segment in The Muppets Take Manhattan. I mean, that song isn't even fit for a Knack album.

But anyway, Love Gun might be a terrible album, but I enjoy listening to it. For sure, I don't like it as much as Rock and Roll Over or Destroyer, because it doesn't ROCK as much. Oh, why did Kiss ever have to favor pop-rock over hard-rock? ...As much as I like pop music, at the end of the day, I'd rather hear Kiss do a bunch of “Detroit Rock City” clones over “Rock and Roll All Nite” clones.

Read the track reviews:
Love Gun

Alive II (1977)

Album Score: 10

I'll tell you right away that Alive II can never be as shocking as Alive!. Alive! was like getting a dose of adrenaline after spending years looking at kittens. That album showed Kiss, for the first time ever, as a hard-rock band to be reckoned with—it shoved a bit of life into their decently written but shoddily performed and produced studio creations of their first three albums. Alive II, on the other hand, consists predominantly of songs from Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun, which were so well produced that there wasn't much room left for improvement. Furthermore, most of the songs from those three albums just aren't as catchy as things from their first three albums like “Cold Gin” or “Room Service” or “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

But of course, there had to be an Alive II, even if it was based purely on an economic standpoint. Alive! was such a runaway success that it stayed on the Billboard charts for an incredible 110 weeks. If Hollywood can make sequels to financially successful movies, then why shouldn't Kiss be able to make a sequel to a financially successful album? ...And I guess just to sweeten the deal, 1/4 of this contain brand new studio recordings.

Unfortunately, there's nothing much to wet your pants over regarding the new studio songs. There's really just one song that I'd go out of your way to hear, if you have only a passing interest in Kiss: “Larger Than Life.” Just there in the song title, it summarizes everything that was good about Kiss all along: their ability to come off like some sort of extra-terrestrial beings that were sent to earth to rock 'n' roll. After all, they didn't have normal faces! (The less you think of Kiss as humans, the better.)

Two of the other studio songs, “All American Man” and “Rockin' in the USA” are passable as far as generic rock 'n' roll goes, but they're so dull an indistinct that any old rock band could have come up with them. I mean, not that albums Kiss through Love Gun were major masterpieces, but at least they were distinctly Kiss. Furthermore, it's a little too obvious they were trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, beer-guzzling, Nascar-watching demographic there and halfheartedly at that. ...And these songs are so boring that I don't even think they bought it. (An example of a song like that this demographic bought later on: “Born in the USA.”) ...Clearly, these studio songs show Kiss steadily on their descent down from the heights they achieved on Rock and Roll Over. I mean, they're never going to fully recover.

But the live stuff is alright. My favorite bit is “God of Thunder,” which I think ought to be known forevermore as the quintessential Kiss song. I mean, can you think of anything more awesome than Gene Simmons singing about enslaving mortals amidst one of the catchiest and evilest riffs that Kiss ever came up with? I can't!!! “Detroit Rock City” was an appropriate choice to open the set with, and it rocks just as much here as it did in the studio version, which was pretty rocking. “Love Gun” is here, and it still sounds like it belongs on an iron-pumping Rocky montage. “Calling Dr. Love” is here (to cure us of “rock 'n' roll pneumonia” as Paul Stanley puts it), and his butt-whomping riff is completely intact. “Tomorrow and Tonight,” my favorite moment from Love Gun is here and as stupid as ever. They choose to end the live set with one of the finest Kiss bar-rockers ever written, “Shout it Out Loud.” For sure, if you're foot isn't tapping as a result from listening to that song, then you probably don't deserve that foot!

I'm amazed at some of the wild fan reaction Kiss get from performing their Rod Stewart knock-off “Hard Luck Woman” and their wussy ballad “Beth.” I mean, I sort of like those songs, but I always figured I would've been in the minority. I guess I'm not! Not that those songs are masterpieces or anything, but they are decent moments that give the heavy electric guitar a bit of a break. I'd say the most-improved song compared to the studio version is “Christine Sixteen,” and the reason for that is because they axed that cheesy piano and amped up the electric guitars. It doesn't sound like a stupid Knack song anymore.

When I started rewriting my Kiss reviews, I vowed to be positive. I could have written a negatively toned review of this album that still would have resulted in a 10-rating. ...But it's a lot more fun to just go with the flow, isn't it? For sure, the sea of teenagers I hear shrieking in the audience sound like they're having the time of their life. And if I were given the chance, I would join them in a heartbeat! Maybe, in that moment, I would even forget that I'm actually a prog fan.

Read the track reviews:
Alive II

Ace Frehley (1978)

Album Score: 12

If there's one thing that's true, it's that Ace Frehley had the most to improve out of anyone in Kiss as a singer-songwriter. His songwriting was OK, but the last few times he took lead vocals in a song ended up resulting in total disasters. (Well, people tell me that “Shock Me” is actually widely loved by Kiss fans... However, I remind you that Kiss fans also love “Beth.”) Frehley's guitar playing had been pretty good in the last three or four Kiss albums (that is, for a guy whose prime motivation for becoming a rock star was to get chicks), but even that could have used a good kick in the crotch.

Well, the gods of crotch-kicking must have given Ace Frehley a doozie the day the four members of Kiss decided to briefly split up to independently record their own solo albums. Because this album freaking rules!! However, that's not saying that Kiss' idea of releasing four simultaneous solo albums (to be released on the same day) was actually a good idea. On the contrary—it was a crap idea. I'll grant you that Kiss fans should have been well used to gimmickry at this point, but that idea was waaaay over-the-top. Many people cite the move that the one that pretty much killed them as a major commercial entity and for good reason.

However, Ace Frehley somehow managed to defy the laws of logic and reason and ended up releasing an album that eclipsed all of Kiss' classic albums in many key ways. Perhaps even every key way. As much as Kiss knew how to rock, they never rocked this hard in a studio album. Could it have been to his benefit that Frehley got to work with session musicians instead of his usual, less-skilled cohorts? Frehley also invariably realized that he would have to sing lead vocals throughout this whole thing. Being the smart guy he was, he put on Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare for inspiration... and voila! He discovered his new singing voice! And all I have to say to Frehley is: Welcome to the party, man! Now Kiss had four members who could sing like gutter vermin. (Compliment.)

In this album, the rock 'n' roll songs ROCK and the pop songs POP. One of these songs was even a Top 20 single, “New York Groove.” It's not the most widely played single ever, but I do believe I've heard it play occasionally in a movie or on the radio... And why did the people buy it? Because it has a finger-snapping funk groove and a fun-time chorus that I sort of want to sing along with. It's similar to the style as “Tomorrow and Tonight” before it, but it's more stylish and not nearly as stupid.

If “Rip it Out” doesn't get played at standard Kiss concerts, then it should be. The guitars are fast-paced, fuzzy-as-hell, and catchy, which compliments those growl-sings Ace adopted from Alice Cooper excellently. Even more Alice-Cooper-ish is “Ozone,” which has a growling riff packs an even greater punch. “Wiped-Out” starts off as a surf tribute, which makes me wonder why Kiss ever did those Phil Spector tributes when surf is clearly a more appropriate “retro” sound for them. ...I'm also amazed at the surprising amount of textures he brings out for that song. It's sometimes a bubbly funk-fest. But other times, he's washing us out with huge, evil sounding power chords. I mean, Dream Theater can't even meld textures together as seamlessly as Ace Frehley does there. And who gets the most respect? Most importantly, the energy throughout it never ceases.

And for the final act of utter confusion for those of us who thought that Kiss were nothing but talentless clowns who worked only for sex, Ace Frehley closes the album with an artsy instrumental that's actually GOOD. I mean, it has a beautiful texture to it that evolves while working through a surprisingly sophisticated chord progression. All the while, it has a dark and rather seedy undercurrent to it, which gives it added dimension. It reminds me—perhaps a little too much—of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. But how on earth would anyone have expected a member of Kiss to create something artsy?

If I could go back in time and advise Kiss, I'd tell them they would have been better off picking and choosing from their four albums and then making it a double album. Putting out a double album isn't considered excessive but a mark of achievement that would have placed them alongside the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Who. But instead, you have to buy all four ALBUMS, which means that you'll have to work a few extra shifts at the pizzeria just to be able to afford these things. ...Well, kid from 1978, save your money and only buy the Ace Frehley album. You'll find the other three in the bargain bin soon enough...

Read the track reviews:
Ace Frehley

Gene Simmons (1978)

Album Score: 9

Well. I would say the best thing about Kiss' weird experiment in 1978 to release four simultaneous solo albums was that we get a pretty darn clear picture of which member was trying to pull the group in which direction. Ace Frehley, based on his contribution, wanted Kiss to be a rip-roarin' hard rock act. Good on him for trying to pull the band in that direction! However, based on Gene Simmons' showtune-laden contribution, he wanted Kiss to be glam-superstar showmen. Of course, I don't find anything intrinsically wrong with that, since I'm the huge David Bowie and Alice Cooper fan after all. But after comparing the two albums, there's one thing that's starkly clear: Gene Simmons is not as good at being a glam-rock superstar as Ace Frehley is good at rock 'n' rollin'. Moreover, Ace Frehley's absence from this album is missed sorely. The guitar playing on here is stiff.

It's been awhile since I've listened to an album and felt like I darn near hated it before. Sure, Gene Simmons has enough good moments on it to keep it from getting a completely panned, but boy am I ever tired of this record before it reaches its end! I enjoy it well enough in the first half, but I really start to notice that a lot of the songs sound the same. ...Gene Simmons does make a stab at generating a little variety on here, but it wasn't enough. And most of his “uncharacteristic” songs are no good anyway.

The first song starts off with good footing at least; “Radioactive” begins with some evil demon laughs and dramatic, tension-building strings. He was The Demon of Kiss, after all, so it would only make sense that he would want to spend the first minute of his solo album wrecking a little bit of havoc. ...However, what do those dramatic strings build-up to? A corny, Kissian pop-rocker that's as tame as a kitten? Bah!! That's a little bit like going to Hell and hearing Satan giving a rousing rendition of The Turtles' “Happy Together.” It might be a good song, but it's a bit of a letdown. ...Now, the pop-rocker isn't half-bad—it's catchy and has a rhythm you can bob your head to.

And that sort of unfocused unevenness continues throughout this record. Ace Frehley must've been some sort of secret genius for putting together such a wonderful record, because Gene Simmons' contribution seems rushed and forced. “Burning With Fever,” “Tunnel of Love,” “True Confessions,” and “See You in Your Dreams” are all individually enjoyable, but they all sound so much alike that it was as if Simmons didn't have enough time to give each of them distinct personalities. The guitars are slick, polished (and stiff and plastic). They all have OK verses sections, but more bubbly choruses which ALWAYS feature the same female back-up singers. In general, I like those female singers—their sort of messy and showy style gives these songs the same spirit that helped propel the musical numbers in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Now, those were among the best songs this album had to offer. THE best this album had to offer was “See You Tonite,” a surprisingly catchy and breezy pop-rock number that sounds like vintage Hollies. It's bizarre hearing a song like that pop up in the middle of electric-guitar-heavy “Burning Up With Fever” and “Tunnel of Love,” but I appreciate it all the same! Another weird one is “Mr. Make Believe,” which sounds like Simmons' attempt to mimic Harry Nilsson. (Not only does the instrumentation sound like a Nilsson song, but that chord progression eerily reminds me of “Everybody's Talkin'.”) It was a noble stab at it, but the vocal melody is weak. ...And you also kind of have to have a pretty voice to really pull something like that off. And as we all know, Gene Simmons has the voice of a hoarse, old Jewish dude.

A song that I really have a difficult time tolerating is “Living in Sin.” I mean, Kiss were known for writing sleazy lyrics in their past (see “Room Service”), but those songs were always so HILARIOUS that we sort of liked them, right? However, Gene Simmons' living in sin at the Holiday Inn isn't hilarious at all. ...It's just sleazy. And even without the lyrics, it's a terrible song to boot—it's stiffly played and quite tedious for me to sit through. I gave it a C- in the track reviews. Was I being too kind?

I didn't talk about all the songs up here, but that's what the track reviews are for! I'd say this album has enough good moments on it to keep me from unceremoniously dubbing it a pile of rubbish, but there's not a whole lot of them. Simmons could write a decent tune, or two, but this album shows clearly that he was at a loss without the other four members.

Read the track reviews:
Gene Simmons

Paul Stanley (1978)

Album Score: 7

Even though Kiss' 1978 quadruple-solo-album experiment was a commercial and artistic debacle, they so far really hadn't been too bad. Ace Frehley's contribution was rockin' and ballsy. Gene Simmons' contribution was kinda lame, but at least it uniquely featured him leaping off the glitzy showtune deep-end, which I suppose was something the other members of Kiss wouldn't let him do. Paul Stanley's contribution, on the other hand, sounds a lot like a normal Kiss album. ...That is, except without the recognizable hits! In essence, if you were going to make a compilation of peak-era Kiss songs that were never featured on a Greatest Hits package, you'll have something that sounds like Paul Stanley.

The good news, I suppose, is that Paul Stanley is far from the miserable piece of drivel that I seem to remember it being when I reviewed this album previously a number of years ago. Today, I recognize it as being a sort of harmless piece; I didn't hate it, but I also have no plans to revisit it anytime in the future. “Tonight You Belong to Me” starts off the album with a brief acoustic ballad before launching into a typical, Kissian hard-rocker. Don't you remember some classic Kiss albums that have started the same way? I guess Stanley didn't feel like straying too far away from the time-tested formula! Fortunately, the riff is OK and the glitzy way Stanley comes off singing it is quite fun. However, it makes almost no impact with me, and I pretty much forget about it the moment it's turned off.

By and large my favorite song of the album is the closer, which has a nice, chuggy groove that's quite easy for me to enjoy. The melody isn't distinctive at all apart from the chorus, and even that doesn't BLOW ME AWAY. As a whole, however, it makes a perfectly nice listen. I gave it an A-, which is probably being too nice, but after sitting through all the mediocrity of the rest of the album, it was the least I could do.

Even using the term “mediocrity” to describe some of this stuff is probably being too nice. Especially when we're talking about pieces of crud like “Hold Me, Touch Me (Whenever We're Apart),” which is the wussiest ballad I've ever heard. Wasn't “Beth” wussy enough for you? Did Stanley think the Kiss discography really needed another one? Now, I have nothing particularly against wussy ballads... In fact, I probably like them more than most people reading this review. However, that one has a melody that is so bland and generic that I can hardly stomach it, and its fluffy keyboard-ridden instrumentation is so barren that it sucks the life out of the room. Ugh... That's by and large the worst song I've heard in awhile. Maybe I'll review some Barry Manilow albums soon just to prove how wussy I think that ballad is.

Another blah moment is “Wouldn't You Like to Know Me?,” a hard-rocker with one of the cheesiest melodies of all time. ...Now, if you've been reading my Kiss reviews, you'll probably note that I don't necessarily consider “cheesy” an insult. Cheesy songs like “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Tomorrow and Tonight,” you'll remember, I said had infectious party-time charm to them! “Wouldn't You Like to Know Me?,” on the other hand, is about as lively as a dead fish. Who needs it?

There are other songs here that sounds like Stanley wanted to write serious songs that might have been fit for Abbey Road, or something. Well, his attempts are not as embarrassing as you might they would be. I mean, “Ain't Quite Right” and “Take Me Away” aren't exactly tedious experiences as much as they are just... er... forgettable. ...What does a glam king like Paul Stanley think he's doing being serious anyway? For sure, Stanley would have been far better off sticking with the glam-rock that made him and his make-up'd crew famous! “Move On,” for example, is pure glam, and it also happens to be quite a nice song. With that said, it's missing that SPARK Stanley's songs used to get when he was with his band-mates, but I don't have to force myself too much to get my foot tapping to it.

To close, I don't think Paul Stanley is anything you need in your collection unless you were some sort of obsessive compulsive Kiss fan. And even huge Kiss fans, I doubt, ever have the desire to listen to this more than twice in their lifetime. If I'm wrong about that, then strike me as amazed!

Read the track reviews:
Paul Stanley

Peter Criss (1978)

Track Listing:
I'm Gonna Love You A- / You Matter To Me B / Tossin' and Turnin' B / Don't You Let Me Down C / That's the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes C+ / Easy Thing A / Rock Me Baby A- / Kiss the Girl Goodbye B+ / Hooked on Rock 'N' Roll A- / I Can't Stop the Rain B+

Of all the band members of Kiss, I would have naturally assumed Peter Criss was the least interested in participating in the Great-Gimmick-of-the-Four-Solo-Album-Released-At-Once extravaganza. I mean, the dude was a drummer. Drummers aren't really known for ambitious solo projects. I'd even say this one also tends to be the fans' least favorite of the four. However, how can the rabid Kiss fan so conveniently forget that Peter Criss captures one thing fundamental to Kiss' spirit that the other three had basically ignored? That is, LET'S HAVE A PARTY! Don't you remember a little song called “Rock 'N' Roll All Nite?” That was a Kiss song. It had the party-time spirit.

I mean, what else of a thing says PARTY better than the danceable, upbeat, sprightly sung boogie-woogie “I'm Gonna Love You?” Well, naturally, some people say boogie-woogie is a cheap 'n' easy kind of rock 'n' roll, and it's only lazy rock stars who engage in such tomfoolery. However, how can you say a song like “I'm Gonna Love You” is lazy when it has a very well arranged full brass section, wonderfully bouncy bass guitar, a commanding lead singer, excellent female back-up singers, a lively electric guitar solo, and a melody that gets stuck in your head for about three minutes and you love it there? More boogie-woogie goodies that sound almost exactly the same are “Hooked on Rock 'N' Roll” and “Rock Me Baby.” The latter song is a cover of a song by Bobby Lewis, who I've never heard of before, but he was from the early '60s and he had a hit with that song.

Where Peter Criss loses me are songs like “The Kind of Sugar Papa Likes.” It's smarmy, and it's not in the Mad-Magazine-hilarious sort of way that certain Kiss songs had been in the past. I suppose the fans especially hate things like “You Matter to Me,” which has kind of a soft-rock vibe to it. I mean, Kiss fans let them get away with “Beth,” but this Carpenters stuff was blasphemy. For sure, that high-pitched, smooth synthesizer that frequently sounds off throughout the song is like milky baby throw-up, and I'm also not a huge fan of that electric piano. However, there's a real toe-tapping groove generated there, and--once again--the melody is pretty wonderful. A soft-rock song I don't particularly like is “Don't You Let Me Down,” which is the flaccid kind of ballad that was a dime a dozen in the '50s. Except that one's worse, because it has an electric piano.

I heard through the grapevine (aka Wikipedia) that Peter Criss used to be in a band that wrote music comparable to Procol Harum and The Moody Blues. Some of the songs he wrote for that group apparently made it on this album. That would explain “Kiss the Girl Goodbye,” which is kinda hokey, but I find it to be an ultimately likable ballad. I'm more surprised than not that he was even capable of writing such a thing. (Peter Criss did actually write most of this album along with a guitarist named Stan Penridge.)

You might think I'm crazy, but I really like “Easy Thing.” It's the sort of power ballad Kiss would never dream putting on one of their proper albums, and they were worse for it. It's a heavy ballad with really dumb lyrics (that basically repeats similar lines over and over again), but it's sung so soaringly that I actually kinda buy into it. Didn't I always say I liked Peter Criss' torn voice? In that song, he sounds like Ratso Rizzo abandon in the alleyway, huddled cold in a greasy cardboard box, and singing his heart out about all the loves he'd lost. Well, don't you feel bad for Ratso Rizzo? I'm probably seeing more into that song than is actually there, but that's what music does sometimes. He sings the same sort of thing with the closing number, “I Can't Stop the Rain,” which I don't like as much, but it's nonetheless rather sweet.

I'm sure I'm going to be ostracized by Kiss fans everywhere when I give this album a 10/15, which is higher than the grade I gave both Paul Stanley's and Gene Simmons' efforts. However, considering that Kiss fans have already told me to go to Hell countless times, and I suppose that's the worst place to go, I'd might as well go there professing what I know to be true: I've enjoyed a Peter Criss solo album.

Dynasty (1979)

Track Listing:
I Was Made for Lovin' You B+ / 2,000 Man C+ / Sure Know Something B- / Dirty Livin' A / Charisma C / Magic Touch B / Hard Times A / X-Ray Eyes B+ / Save Your Love A-

Now that I've finally gotten back to Kiss' regular discography, there's one thing I ask myself: Do I miss those scatter-shot old solo albums? Certainly, at least, Kiss let those things give them excuses to hire a boatload of session musicians who--let's face it--had more technical ability than the actual members of Kiss did. (That is with the probable exception of lead guitarist Ace Frehley.) But given that their 1978 experiment was considered a major financial disaster for them, it would have been far more efficient just to release regular old albums.

Oh and people who give a crap about Kiss dub Dynasty their disco album. And these people seem to be more or less divided about it. On one hand, disco sucks. On the other hand, there are only two disco songs here, and they're not bad at all: they are as raunchy as can be and come fully equipped with dirty guitar. In other words, this is disco made in Kiss' own image (i.e., John Travolta in face paint).

The album opens with the more celebrated of them, "I Was Made for Lovin' You.” It is catchy and well-put-together, but at the same time I have trouble embracing it. Perhaps its groove isn't as infectious as it should be? It's fun to listen to, but it doesn't necessarily get my toes tapping. I will give Paul Stanley some credit for his vocal performance; it sounds like he's having a grand old time singing like some kind of Gloria Gaynor impersonator. It is the second disco anthem that I happen to like far more: "Dirty Livin'." It has an infectious groove that reminds me (amazingly!) of Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." Now, if I'm going to dance to something, it's gonna be to a groove like that. My favorite thing about the song, however, is that drugged-up electric guitar playing throughout it that seems as though it were lifted off a David Bowie record.

They do a disgusting cover version of The Rolling Stones' "2,000 Man." In Kiss' case disgusting usually isn't an insult, but this time, the song was done with a punky crassness that I'm not sure suited the psychedelic original, and it flounders. "Sure Know Something" is a Paul Stanley pop song, and the melody is quite limp. It was released as a single at the time, and what a terrible choice. "Charisma" is probably the most disgusting song of the lot, which again isn't really a problem, but disgusting Kiss songs are supposed to be awesome, aren't they? It lumbers itself through a terrible melody sung by Gene Simmons as obnoxious as ever, bragging about his over-sexed rock star prowess. And there's no tinge of Mad Magazine irony to it, which constitutes a huge missed opportunity for the band.

Paul Stanley's "Magic Touch" is yet another wussyish pop song, and it's alright, but it isn't especially distinctive. The guitar throughout is heavy, which means for sure that would have been a better choice for a single than “Sure Know Something.” Kiss is best served with heavy guitar, you know.

Then for some reason the album ends with three of some the most butt-whomping songs of them all. And and no surprise: Two of them were written by Ace. Why on God's green earth would they bury songs like those? I mean, “Hard Times” has an excellent riff. ….....Yeah, that's right, I said RIFF. Isn't it odd how much of a commodity those things are in this album? Every Kiss fan who dislikes Dynasty I'd imagine would cite that as their primo reason. Frehley's vocals are quite “average-guy-ish,” but he sings with spirit. He also has another excellent anthem called “Save Your Love,” which closes the album strongly. Sandwiched in between those two is Simmons' mid-tempo “X-Ray Eyes,” which hardly has the same kind of flow and juice as the Frehley songs, but it has a lotta guitar.

Thanks to those last three songs--and the enjoyability of “Dirty Livin'” and even “I Was Made For Loving You”--I don't quite agree with everyone who says that Dynasty was a below-par Kiss album. On that same token, Kiss are also a ways off their peak here, and I think everyone in the world agrees at least they went downhill after this. 10/15.

Unmasked (1980)

Track Listing:
Is That You? B+ / Shandi B+ / Talk to Me B / Naked City B / What Makes the World Go 'Round B+ / Tomorrow B / Two Sides of the Coin B- / She's so European C / Easy As it Seems B / Torpedo Girl B- / You're All That I Want C

Oh dear, Kiss went pop for this release. If you thought the dirty disco of their previous album was weird, then wait until you hear them do new wave. Naturally, there's nothing wrong with new wave--this era, after all, produced many of my all-time favorite albums. But just a quick listen to Unmasked shows Kiss completely out of their element. But I wouldn't call it a *bad* album, per se. It's nothing less than listenable. Perhaps it's even mildly enjoyable at times. However, it does show what happens to an artistically limited band when they don't play to their strengths. (Which, if you've somehow forgotten, is hard-rock for air-heads.)

“Tomorrow” sounds like some kind of Cars song. This was also the album in which drummer Peter Criss was replaced with Eric Carr. (Criss still received credit in the album notes, but he didn't participate.) The Cars had a real knack at creating enticing pop hooks that stick to you for years with just one listen; Kiss' attempt to do the same was a miserable failure. I mean, I must've listened to that song three times this morning, and how did it go, again? (The only thing that comes to mind is that song from the musical Annie.) But when it's playing, it's kind of a fun thing to sit through; it has some bubbly pop-guitars, happy hand-clapping drums and a cute chorus.

Where are the good riffs? That's how Kiss used to thrive, but they don't even bother with those things here. Even the guitar itself is this weird, processed rrrrrr that has no bite to it. Generally speaking, that processed sound is peachy when we're dealing with new wave pop stars clad in thin ties. But why are Kiss chewing bubble-gum when we'd much rather see them with fake blood dribbling off their chins making power chords? I kind of like the opening song, though, despite the fact it was written entirely by an outside songwriter. (Or maybe not 'despite the fact?') It doesn't rock very much, but it does have a decently crunchy rhythm guitar playing eighth notes. I also like Stanley's falsetto, which wails a bit in the choppy chorus “You – al – ways – get – the – boys – you – like!” With just a little more juice, that song might have made a halfway decent bar-rocker. ...That's my favorite song of the album, by the way, so I'm afraid that's as good as it gets.

“Shandi” is also basically good, which opens with a drum pattern that I happened to notice is very similar to the pattern that opens Bowie's “Fantastic Voyage.” (I must've listened to way too much Bowie in my days to pick up something like that.) It has a pretty decent pop chorus, so I'll count that as my second favorite song here. I'll also note they use some jangle-pop guitar there, which is a decision that undoubtedly made many of their longtime fans cry out to the heavens despairingly. (I love jangle-guitar, of course, but even I wish Kiss would just stick to their fuzz-guitar basics.)

The major disappointments for me are Ace Frehley's contributions, only because I would have expected him to ROCK instead of following suit with the other guys in their quest to write the world's most uninspired pop tunes. He might even be the weakest link of the band at this point, because he insisted on providing vocals all his songs. I mean, his vocals worked out fine when he was growl-singing in his 1978 solo album, but the dude just doesn't have the voice for pop. It reeks of karaoke night. Like it or not, but glamor-boy Paul Stanley had the pipes on him to make a career out of it, and maybe he would have if he had better songs to sing. Frehley's “Two Sides of the Coin” has a discernible riff, but it's not catchy at all and it's lumbered down through that filtered guitar sound. He also wrote “Talk to Me,” which has a slightly more interesting melody and rocks a little more, but it's utterly forgettable. And then there's “Torpedo Girl,” which starts out with a pretty cool bass groove, but then the rest of the song happens.

I think you get the idea. While I wouldn't call this album atrocious, it's certainly unremarkable. If you're into collecting Kiss albums, you'd might as well get this at some point just to say you have a complete collection. However, if you're opting for only the cool ones, give Unmasked a miss. 8/15

Music From “The Elder” (1981)

Track Listing:
Fanfare B+ / Just a Boy B+ / Odyssey A- / Only You C- / Under the Rose B / Dark Light C+ / A World Without Heroes B / The Oath B / Mr. Blackwell B+ / Escape from the Island B / I B

Isn't it weird that Kiss tried to make a serious art-rock album? I guess returning producer Bob Ezrin, who was previously at the helm of Destroyer, was largely behind this, but still... I almost want to respect them for it. But at the same time I agree with the masses that it was ultimately a damaging decision for them. Of all Kiss' albums released from 1974-1997, this is the only one that didn't earn an RIAA certification. Even worse than that, this was what prompted their lead guitarist (and their most decently talented instrumentalist) Ace Frehley to quit the band.

The opening song is a brief instrumental titled “Fanfare,” and it sounds about like you probably think it'd sound. Except I think it deserved to be far GRANDER than it was. It's nothing but a bunch of wussy flutes and woodwinds playing some Medieval thing before a grandiose build-up of brass instruments pops up playing something reminiscent of (but not nearly as effective as) “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” ...This leads into a wussy folk ballad called “Just a Boy,” which really isn't that bad if you're into the idea of hearing Paul Stanley giving a falsetto vocal performance that strikes me as “angelic.” Well, he's not a bad falsetto singer, as a matter of fact.

However, the best moment on here, by far, is “Odyssey.” It doesn't sound so much like The Beatles as it does Klaatu, but I kinda like Klaatu. (Don't you?) It's not bad. I like the chord progression. I like the huge orchestration. The melody is pretty good also. Surely, it's corny as hell, but I have to figure that's the point of it. The downside to it is that the lyrics are disappointingly non-descriptive for a song that's about an outer space odyssey. I was also gutted to discover (although not surprised) that it's from an outside songwriter.

“A World Without Heroes” was a collaboration between Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Bob Ezrin, and (surprise!) Lou Reed. However, Reed's involvement was reportedly giving them only a single line of lyric. The melody is alright but ultimately forgettable, and they use an electric piano in there, which I believe is the stupidest instrument of all time. It's hardly the worst thing I've ever heard, but I'd much prefer filling my dead air with something more fulfilling.

The song that comes next is “The Oath,” which at least starts off sounding like what Kiss should have sounded like in the early '80s. That is, brainless hair metal. I hear some pulsating growl-guitar reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's “Whole Lotta Love.” But it isn't long into it that they try going for a complicated melody. Isn't K.I.S.S. supposed to stand for Keep It Simple, Stupid?... “Mr. Blackwell” is a similar story, except I like that song far more. It opens as a crunch-heavy, mid-paced guitar song that makes my toe tap, and in the middle, there's a sort of sound-effects collage. It's not bad, and the ultimate proof that Kiss were pretty good at throwing noise at your ears. True-blue Kiss fans probably prefer the album closer “I” to anything else here, which is the most rock-heavy song of the lot. I like its attitude and noise, but I ultimately found it kind of dull. It needed more juice, I think.

So now with the songs I really didn't like, and surprisingly there weren't a whole lot of them. “Only You” is ridiculously bad. I don't even know why I'm giving it something as high as a C-. (Well, I guess things have to start getting offensive before they delve into the D-range.) It's loud and heavy, but I'm soooooo bored with it that I only want to turn it off. Another disappointment is “Only You” even though I do like those 'mystical' guitar textures they come up with. However, that might be only because it reminds me of early Genesis. But it's a mess; they hadn't a clue where to go with it. I will say, however, I generally liked their idea of them singing the song in big, low voices like some kind of demonic monks.

To conclude, I'll say this isn't as bad of an album as some reviewers seem to think it is. (It's a frequent entry on magazines' “Worst Albums of All Time” lists.) But at the same time, this is kind of a pointless album. As a Kiss album, it isn't very exciting. And as an art-rock album, it isn't very good either. I'll give it one of my neutral ratings: 9/15.

Creatures of the Night (1982)

Track Listing:
Creatures of the Night B+ / Saint and Sinner B- / Keep Me Comin' B- / Rock & Roll Hell B- / Danger B+ / I Love it Loud D+ / I Still Love You B- Killer B / War Machine B+

Holy crap. I think Kiss read my reviews and actually took my advice. How is that even possible? In their 1982 album, they'd finally abandoned all those miserable attempts at art-rock and pop-rock that plagued their previous three works and instead focused on what it was that supposedly made these guys great in the first place: that is, FRIGGIN' LOUD GUITAR MUSIC. Seriously, this should have been obvious. And yet they needed someone who wasn't any larger than a jumbo shrimp to tell them this. (I was a fetus when this album was released, issuing advice to Kiss right from the mother's womb.)

However, even though Kiss is now writing music that's far more appropriate to their strengths, that doesn't necessarily save this album from stinking to high heaven. By far the biggest problem with it is it's so doggoned plastic. There used to be a certain joy listening to Kiss' schtick, but this is fairly standard '80s hair metal fare. In fact, it's even worse than that: It's boring and has zero inspiration. It doesn't even have a particular song that I can latch onto and enjoy even though most of this is perfectly listenable.

I think probably the title track is the best song of the bunch, although when it comes to trying to pick a favorite, I'm plagued with not really caring. But I'd say the title track is as good as any of 'em. It has loud stadium drums, glitzy rapid-fire guitar licks, and Paul Stanley singing in an operatic, Iron Maiden-ish sort of way. (These guys might be generally famous for being untalented, but Stanley was pretty good at singing for someone who's supposedly untalented.) Another OK-ish song is “War Machine,” which has a dark and growling riff that's almost catchy. Do I remember it five minutes after it's through playing, though? Not really.

“Danger” is another ridiculously overblown and over-sung metal song, but since that's all this album is good for, I guess we can chalk that up as another one of the album's high moments. It's hard to come up with a unique way to describe the song, but I suppose it has a slightly more distinctive chorus than the rest and I like hearing those testicle-electrocution, Roger-Taylor-like wails I hear in the background.

Speaking of Queen, what's with Kiss trying to rip-off Queen's “We Will Rock You” in “Love it Loud?” Man, that Queen song was insufferable as it was, but Kiss trying a similar thing makes me want to rip out my friggin' ear drums. It seems awhile since I've awarded anything less than a C- to a song, and that must be why I've been saving it! It has a ridiculously macho vocal performance from the world's most obnoxious man, Gene Simmons, who sings a melody that's so horrible it makes Queen's melody sound like Mozart. Another song that kind of reminds me of Queen's style is “Saint and Sinner,” particularly that playful electric guitar that plays heavy notes in the chorus. It's such a shame Kiss sucked at melodies or otherwise they might have been able to pull that off. “Keep Me Comin'” has a fast-paced riff with some appealingly growling guitar, but … wow is that thing ever so bland. I don't even know why I bothered bringing it up other than I convinced myself I should name off more songs.

Oh, and the necessary trivia regarding Kiss' line-up: Ace Frehley had absolutely zero participation in this album even though he is depicted on the album cover. The Wise One of Life, Wikipedia, tells me that there were some sort of contractual reasons that Frehley had to be put on the cover. ...I don't get it, but that's what happened. In his place on lead guitar, we have Vinnie Vincent. He would only last a couple albums with the band, so it's best not we get too attached to him. I did a Google search on him, and he's ugly as hell. In other words, he fit in with the group just nicely.

Even though Kiss essentially heeded my advice and released an album that I wanted them to release all along, I find this album a little bit too bland for my tastes. Say what you want about Music from “The Elder”, but at least then I had more of a perverse interest in it. And I think surely the highs of that album surpass the highs of this one. Thus, I'll put this album on the higher spectrum of a 8/15. Why on the higher spectrum? Just so that it's clear I think this is better than Unmasked.

Lick It Up (1983)

Track Listing:
Exciter A- / Not For the Innocent A / Lick It Up A- / Young and Wasted B / Gimme More B+ / All Hell's Breakin' Loose B+ / Million to One B- / Fits Like a Glove C+ / Dance All Over Your Face C+ / And On the 8th Day A

Well hey, now. Who are those fellas on the cover? Were Kiss replaced with a real band finally? ...Ah, nah. That's still Kiss. They just had their make-up removed. That was a big thing they did on MTV as a publicity stunt. However, while that gimmick was a notable thing of Kisstory that helped revitalize their career, I happen to think there's one thing more important than that: The music inside this album is CATCHY and FUN. Of course, it's not exactly brilliant or anything, but since when were Kiss ever brilliant? Or anything else in hair metal, for that matter?

...Indeed, this shows Kiss continuing down that same mainstream hair-metal path they began trodding in their previous album Creatures of the Night. The difference is that the production is crisper, and the songs are better. In other words, this is an '80s Kiss album that actual people might want to own. And many people did own this; this was Kiss' best selling album since 1979's Dynasty. Their success was thanks, in a large part, to their new lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent who co-wrote eight of these songs. Unfortunately, however, this would be his final album with Kiss. The word was that he couldn't get along with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and they would eventually fire him. At any rate, let's enjoy Vinnie Vincent while we still got him. Because it would be a long, long while before Kiss would ever be this good again. If ever.

The festivities begin with “Exciter,” a fast-paced rocker with heavy and crisp guitars, some high-power vocals from Paul Stanley, and a chorus that is actually catchy. It's not anything more or less than your average, everyday hair-metal song, but given that hair-metal sets out to be little else than entertaining, I have to count the song as a runaway success.

Even better in my book is the mid-tempo rocker “Not For the Innocent” mostly because of all those interesting riffs I keep hearing throughout it. More than that, that song shows Kiss writing at a level of sophistication we've rarely ever seen from them. I'm particularly taken with that almost dissonant run-in of chords they play in the refrain that leads into its chorus. It creates just a little bit of tension, and the chorus is what resolves it. I also find the vocal melody to be very catchy. However, this might be the real shocker for me: Gene Simmons actually turns in an excellent vocal performance. He sings like he's growling to the moon like the demon he's always pretended to be, and he does it with enough power and clarity that I find him convincing at it.

For sure, the fan-favorite of this disc is the title track, which is more standard pop-metal. According to Wikipedia, the band has been said to have performed it more than 800 times in concert. And you know what? I am not a Kiss fan, and I like it too. Once again, the guitars come in with immaculate clarity, but they have enough actual grit to them that they can get the blood flowing. The melody is catchy and sung in a manner from Paul Stanley that's enjoyably theatrical, and I like hearing those heavy voices singing Pick it up! Pick it up! in the chorus. I even like hearing that bass coming in so clearly... even though that's only basically only a one-note bass! (Ah, what am I expecting? Gene Simmons ain't no Jah Wobble!) Lastly, I like that Vinnie Vincent comes in with a few simple though appealingly dirty licks in the final third, as he apparently saw no need for a flashy hair metal solo. Simplicity speaks louder sometimes. (Wow. I think I just said that Kiss were restraining themselves.)

It sounds a lot like I'm gushing over this album, but unfortunately, despite those three songs, the album isn't 100% great. The compliments I gave Simmons' vocals for “Not For the Innocent” are completely lost when he gives similar performances in “Young and Wasted” and “It's Like a Glove” where he comes off as RIDICULOUSLY overwrought. The latter song, especially, I find that his overbearingly ugly vocals obliterate the experience for me. “Gimme More” is generic as hair-metal gets, but at least there I can appreciate it has a whole lot of energy, and I (as usual!) enjoy Paul Stanley's spirited, glamor-boy vocals. “All Hell Breaks Loose” is a mid-tempo rocker with a catchy riff, but it isn't too long before I start to get bored with it. (That is apart from Vincent's electric guitar solo, which sounds to me like he's experimenting some Middle Eastern motifs! ...Why did Kiss have to fire him again?) One of the blander songs of the lot is “Dance All Over Your Face,” which lumbers around at a dull pace and never manages to find any truly interesting chords along its journey.

And then there's the final song of the album “And On the 8th Day,” which is ridiculously overblown... But in that case, it's overblown in a fun way. I mean, I love the way Gene Simmons sings this line: Rock of ages carry the news / To the heart of a brave new world / Feel the noise in the name of ROCK!!! / Let the heavens roar. THAT is exactly the kind of mega-theatrical, bigger-than-the-universe song that Kiss should have been doing all along. Never anything else. They should treat the universe like it's lucky to have them in it. The best thing about the song, though, is that it's very catchy, and it's played with guitars are bouncy and crunchy.

This might be far from the greatest album ever made--even by Kiss--but the simple fact is this: Lick It Up is a crisp album with a few surprisingly good songs on it. I still think Alive! is the best Kiss experience and Rock and Roll Over is their finest studio album, but I'll give this one the Bronze medal. A strong 10/15.

Animalize (1984)

Track Listing:
I've Had Enough (Into the Fire) B+ / Heaven's on Fire B+ / Burn Bitch Burn C+ / Get All You Can Take B- / Lonely is the Hunter B / Under the Gun B+ / Thrills in the Night B- / While the City Sleeps C+ / Murder in High Heels B

After Kiss released Vinnie Vincent from their ranks, they brought on a new lead guitarist by the name of Mark St. John. He seemed like a nice guy and his guitar playing was about like an average, flashy hair-metal guitarist. Unfortunately, like Vincent before him, St. John didn't get along well with the rest of the group. He'd also developed arthritis and was only able to perform a few shows with Kiss while they were on tour. (He would be replaced with former Blackjack guitarist Bruce Kulick, who on December 1984 would become promoted as a full-fledged member of the group.) ...So anyway, here is the brief and forgettable tenure of Mark St. John!

Kiss' previous album Lick it Up I praised as being tight, crispy and rife with interesting riffs. In this album, things are far muddier and nothing here strikes me as terribly memorable. I will give the album credit for at least being well-mixed--the heavy guitar and drums manage to come in powerfully with neither instrument particularly drowning one another out. Paul Stanley--who is easily the best singer of Kiss--seems like he's on the top of his game as he turns in plenty of heavy and fun operatic-metal performances. Gene Simmons sings lead quite a bit on here as well, but he doesn't even come close.

The album opener “I've Had Enough (Into the Fire)” is probably the best song here, and it has a rapidly paced riff and those enjoyable vocals from Paul Stanley. St. John's rapid-fingered, super-scaling guitar solo in the middle reminds me of something out of Spinal Tap--although comparing anything to Spinal Tap isn't necessarily a knock-down in my book, since I like those songs. One thing the song definitely could have used was a hookier melody; without it, there's not much else that sets it apart from any other hair-metal song from 1984. The song was co-written by Desmond Child, by the way, who would later go onto writing some Bon Jovi hits and Aerosmith's “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).”

Another fast-paced song Child helped co-write was “Under the Gun,” which is another candidate for best-song-of-the-record. And, really, the only reason I enjoy that one is specifically because of its fast pace. That, and I guess it's kind of fun to hear Stanley belting out “FIIIIIEEEEYAAAAAH!!!” every once in awhile. The guitars are tight and of course St. John takes the opportunity to let in a bazillion generic hair-metal scales in those gaps between stanzas. “Heaven's on Fire” is another decent song here that sounds more like classic Kiss; that is, the pace is slow and heavy, and it has a chorus that's dumb 'n' catchy. I'd say it's also a fun song, if completely unremarkable.

Kiss more or less kept this album consistent, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because I can pretty well keep listening to this album without ever feeling particularly nauseous. It's bad because there's not a single song here that lingers with me long after I turn the album off. (Just an example of why Lick it Up was far superior to this album: I still remember how “And on the 8th Day” goes. Nothing on Animalize bothers approaching that level.) My only major complaint about the songs in here is that one of them, “Burn Bitch Burn,” I find too sleazy for its own good. (“I got nasty habits, it's a fine line / So many girls, so little time / When love rears its head, I wanna get on your case (ooh yeah) / Ooh babe, I wanna put my log in your fireplace / Ooh, maybe baby, you wanna get played.”) ...Man, that Tipper Gore sure had her work cut out for her!

As far as generic hair-metal albums go, this one is alright. If you're really into that type of music, then you should get this album and prosper with it. As far as I know, this is either average or slightly above average for the genre. (I haven't even scratched the surface with this type of music, so I cannot tell you that for sure.) For Kiss, they've certainly done better in the past, and I think this album shows them well below their peak. ...Which--let's be frank--was never that high to begin with. Animalize is an entertaining album to an extent. All it needed was better songs. 8/15

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All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.