The Year Of KISS: Unmasked (1980)

“All I want is a little conversation….”

KISS entered the 1980’s in a state of flux. Peter Criss was out of the band and Ace Frehley was becoming disenchanted with the direction of the group. Despite this, he soldiered on and wrote two songs, co-wrote a third song, and provided lead vocals for all three on KISS’ 1980 effort, Unmasked. In many circles this album is considered to be one of the band’s worst recordings. While I don’t entirely agree with that, I must say that this album is one of my least favorite KISS releases.

Front, L to R: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley. Top, the new drummer for KISS, Eric Carr, in his Fox persona makeup.

Even though Criss was out of the group, KISS still used his image on the album and credited him as a performer. He also appeared in the video for the album’s first single, Shandi. All of the drums on Unmasked were provided by Anton Fig. Fig had previously provided drums on KISS’ Dynasty album and Ace Frehley’s solo release. Most people probably know him best from his time in the World’s Most Dangerous Band headed up by Paul Shaffer on Late Night With David Letterman.

The album was KISS’ longest studio release at the time, featuring eleven tracks. It featured a lot of outside contributors as far as writing is concerned. Vini Poncia co-wrote almost all of the songs on the album with input from Simmons, Stanley, and Frehley. Gerard McMahon wrote Is That You? Three singles were released from the album. Shandi was the first single released. It peaked at #47 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart but proved to be much more popular outside of the United States. It made top ten lists in multiple countries. The next single was the Ace Frehley track Talk To Me. It only reached the top ten in Switzerland and was never released as a single in the United States. The final single, Tomorrow, was released worldwide but only charted in Germany.

Track Listing:

  1. Is That You?
  2. Shandi (single)
  3. Talk To Me (single outside of United States)
  4. Naked City
  5. What Makes The World Go Round
  6. Tomorrow (single)
  7. Two Sides Of The Coin
  8. She’s So European
  9. Easy As It Seems
  10. Torpedo Girl
  11. You’re All That I Want

Personnel: (please note that for simplicity’s sake, I am only giving a general listing of each contributor) Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, bass guitar), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass guitar, rhythm guitar), Ace Frehley (lead and backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, bass guitar), Peter Criss (credited as drums but did not perform on the album), Anton Fig (uncredited but provided all drums), Vini Poncia (keyboards, backing vocals, percussion), Holly Knight (keyboards), Tom Harper (bass guitar), and Bob Kulick (guitars).

I believe that this album is more of a disco album than Dynasty despite that album being declared the “disco” album by most fans. Unmasked strayed even farther from KISS’ classic hard rock sound. While it isn’t a very strong KISS album it is a very solid pop record. Whether you like the album or not, you cannot deny that there are a number of catchy tracks on this release. Easy As It Seems, Is That You?, Tomorrow, and She’s So European are all solid pop tracks that would most likely have been better served by being recorded by established pop acts of the day instead of being recorded by KISS.

Image capture of Peter Criss “performing” in the Shandi video.

My favorite song on this album and one of my favorite KISS tracks of all time is Shandi. There’s just something about this ballad that gets to me. Another favorite of mine from this album is Talk To Me. While it’s a bit tame when compared to other Frehley tracks, it’s his best performance vocally in my opinion. Other tracks on the album, especially Naked City and You’re All That I Want, left me wanting. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t terrible songs. They just don’t seem to fit in with the rest of KISS’ catalogue.

KISS toured in support of the album but only played one show in the United States. Played at the Palladium Theatre in New York, the group used the performance as the official reveal of Eric Carr as the new drummer. They then set out on a successful European and Australian tour. Their costumes on the tour were basically the same as the ones that they used during the Dynasty tour except for Eric Carr’s Fox costume. Although a few tracks from the album were played on that tour, only Shandi has been heard infrequently ever since over the years. It’s played almost always in Australia and makes appearances on KISS Kruises and pre-shows for hardcore KISS Army members.

The message from U.S. fans was clear with Unmasked sales. They wanted KISS to get back to their hard rock sound that hadn’t been heard since Love Gun. KISS made promises to do just that with their next album, released in 1981, but you’ll have to wait to see just what happened with that album next month.

Thanks for checking out my review of Unmasked. The Year Of KISS continues next month with one of the band’s most polarizing releases and one of its most beloved recordings. After that we’ll take a Summer Solo Break before tackling the “No Makeup” era, the Reunion tour, and the final days of KISS!

The Year Of KISS: Dynasty (1979)

“I’ve Been A Gambler But I’m Nobody’s Fool….”

1977 saw KISS on top of the world. A trio of massively popular albums were followed up by a second live album, Alive II, which actually sold better than the much beloved Alive. In April of 1978 the band released their first greatest hits collection, Double Platinum. On the surface, things looked great for the band. Behind the scenes, however, things were becoming toxic. The band’s members released four solo albums in September of 1978. All four albums shipped platinum, but failed to meet fan expectations for the most part. Many fans look at the solo releases as the beginning of the end for the original lineup. Things wouldn’t get much better for the group with the release of their first studio album in two years, 1979’s Dynasty.

With friction between the band’s members, Dynasty would become the first album to not feature all of the band members on all of the songs. This may or may not be why the album was a huge departure from KISS’ hard rock sound that had developed over all of their other albums. Dynasty is considered by many to be the band’s “disco” album and an attempt at winning over more pop music fans.

The album had nine tracks on it. Two singles were released. Despite straying from KISS’ signature sound, the album’s first single, I Was Made For Lovin’ You, was a huge success. It reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has become a concert mainstay over the years. The second single, Sure Know Something, peaked at #47 and experienced a mild resurgence in popularity in the mid 90’s thanks to the band’s MTV Unplugged live album.

Track Listing:

  1. I Was Made For Lovin’ You (Single)
  2. 2,000 Man
  3. Sure Know Something (Single)
  4. Dirty Livin’
  5. Charisma
  6. Magic Touch
  7. Hard Times
  8. X-Ray Eyes
  9. Save Your Love

Personnel: Peter Criss (lead vocals and drums on Dirty Livin’), Ace Frehley (lead and backing vocals, lead guitar and all guitars and bass on 2,000 Man, Hard Times, and Save Your Love), Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitars, lead guitar on Sure Know Something, bass on I Was Made For Lovin’ You and Magic Touch), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass, rhythm guitar on X-Ray Eyes)

In addition to the four original members, there were two other primary musicians on the album. Anton Fig played all drums on the album except for Dirty Livin’. Vini Poncia played keyboards, percussion, and provided backing vocals.

The album is a bit all over the place in my opinion. Despite this I enjoy it quite a bit. The two singles strayed from KISS’ original sound the most with Dirty Livin’ not too far behind. While everyone talks about I Was Made For Lovin’ You, Sure Know Something is my favorite of the album’s two singles. It’s also my favorite track on the album overall. Charisma is actually a very solid track but it’s a bit left of center for KISS. X-Ray Eyes is a decent rocker that reminds me of Radioactive from Gene’s solo album. Magic Touch is an okay track but it’s probably my least favorite song on the album. All three of the Ace Frehley fronted tracks, Hard Times, Save Your Love, and 2,000 Man (a Rolling Stones cover), have a real rock and roll sound to them and are definitely the closest tracks to KISS’ original sound.

Paul Stanley sings lead vocals on three tracks. Ace Frehley does the same, perhaps due to the fact that he really got to test out his voice on his solo album. Surprisingly, Gene Simmons only contributes two lead vocal performances. Peter Criss only sang on Dirty Livin’.

Always conscious of their image, KISS went to extremes with their look for the Dynasty tour. Peter Criss wore a green fur coat full of what looks like tails. His boots, also green, featured poofy fur embellishments. Gene’s costume appears to have been heavily influenced by kaiju, especially Godzilla, and featured a red cape. Paul’s look featured a lot of puffy pink embellishments and stars. Ace won the costume contest with one of my favorite looks of his, a shimmering cape and a light blue chest piece that featured broken glass.

Dynasty was KISS’ seventh studio album. It did gain the band newer, younger fans, but fans of the band’s original sound felt forgotten and ignored by a band that at least appeared to be “selling out” in order to make more money. Merchandise sales were still high but album sales were leveling off and not meeting the expectations of the band or of the record label. Big changes were coming for KISS and they weren’t necessarily good ones.

Thanks for checking out my review of Dynasty. Despite all of the challenges faced by the band, it’s not that bad of an album. Come back next week to see my thoughts on Unmasked!

Metal Lords (2022)

“Why can’t we all not fit in together?”

I like Metal Lords. The 2022 Netflix tale drops us into the lives of three teens, Hunter, Kevin, and Emily, who don’t fit at their school. Hunter dreams of being in a metal band that takes over the world. Kevin is torn between helping his best friend form a metal band and trying to be a normal high school kid. Cello player Emily has to take medication for her rage issues and feels like a misfit because of it. The three of them ultimately come together and plan to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands.

There is absolutely nothing new about this coming-of-age film. We’ve all seen films where misfits try their darnedest to fit in and eventually except who they really are and succeed at being themselves. This film is exactly like all of those other films but with metal as the “misfit” modus operandi. Hunter is a somewhat unlikable kid who pushes away his best friend and refuses (at first) to allow another outsider (Emily) join his group until he realizes that he’s been wrong about both of them. Kevin is a good guy who is average at just about everything, awkward, and loyal to a fault but finally manages to unite his friends to achieve success. Emily is the ultimate outsider. She doesn’t fit in and believes that she doesn’t deserve to fit in because of her mental health issues. She sees herself as a freak and it is up to Kevin to bring her out of her shell.

The film has other standard tropes you’d find in teen comedies. There’s Clay, the good-hearted popular guy who befriends Kevin and “steals” him from Hunter’s band. Then we have Kendall, who is a character on the periphery of popularity. She’s liked by many of the popular kids at her school but still finds herself a little on the outside of everything. There’s also a former standout at the school who pops up late in the film with an inspirational message for one of the teens. Throw in a couple of parties, a little too much drinking, bullies, and a dream sequence featuring guys that metalheads will definitely recognize and you’ve got a standard teen flick.

The film has nothing new in it, but still managed to hold my attention. There are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, a couple of sugary sweet interactions between Kevin and Emily, and the aforementioned dream sequence where Rob Halford (Judas Priest, Fight), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), and Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) give Kevin some sound relationship advice. It all adds up to a decent movie with heart, tons of great metal music, and some nice laughs.

I got a real Wayne and Garth vibe from Hunter and Kevin. Although they aren’t as dumb as Wayne and Garth, the duo interact and feed off of one another much like that duo. It also helps that Kevin wears glasses and plays the drums and Hunter plays guitar and goes off on rants at moments. Hunter is played by newcomer Adrian Greensmith. He shows a lot of heart and anger as the character. I really wish that his character’s friendship with Robbie (Christopher M. Lopes), a character with his own issues that he has no control over, would have been expanded a bit. Jaeden Martell portrays Kevin. Martell has awkward down pat. He’s an excellent character and the one that I identified with the most in the film. Isis Hainsworth plays Emily. Her character is broken emotionally and Hainsworth does a great job of revealing that in the film. Her awkward moments with Kevin were some of the best moments in the film. The cast is rounded out by Brett Gelman (Stranger Things, Fleabag), Sufe Bradshaw (Veep), Noah Urrea (Now United), Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike), and Analesa Fisher (Pretty Little Liars, Chad).

The film is rated “R” for language, sexual references, nudity, and drug/alcohol use. The language is pretty strong in the film. The name of Hunter and Kevin’s band is Skullfucker (which Emily changes with a few supplies from the art department so that they can enter the Battle of the Bands). There are a ton of images on the walls of the teens’ rooms that some might deem inappropriate for younger viewers. A couple of the teens have sex but nothing is shown and there’s a brief bit of nudity during a skinny dipping scene where we see both male and female bottoms. The drug and alcohol use is limited to brief moments at the parties including Kevin puking after drinking too much.

The film isn’t amazing or cutting edge but it is a nice diversion for an afternoon. If you’re a fan of different types of metal as I am, you’ll definitely want to check this movie out for its soundtrack. Tom Morello was the film’s executive music producer and he definitely made sure to throw in metal from different ages and styles. He also wrote the film’s big track, Machinery Of Torment, which I highly recommend. Be on the lookout for a ton of metal references everywhere in the film as well.

I do recommend this film but I don’t expect you to be blown away by it. It’s a fun film with great music, comedic teen awkwardness, and characters that we can all identify with from different points in our lives. I hope that you watch it and I hope that you like it.

Thanks for checking out my review.

The Year Of KISS: Love Gun (1977)

“Make Me Feel Better…..”

By 1977, KISS was one of the most popular bands in the world. Not only were Alive!, Destroyer, and Rock And Roll Over all successful albums, the band’s name and faces were plastered on tons of merchandise. KISS comics from Marvel, toy guitars, and a KISS radio were all released in 1977 and were soon followed by trading cards, a pinball machine, and more items in 1978. KISS also released their sixth album, Love Gun, in June of 1977. It shipped platinum and is considered to be one of KISS’ greatest albums.

Love Gun contains elements of all of KISS’ other studio albums up to that point. It has sludgy rockers like Hotter Than Hell, raw guitars that echo their self-titled debut, the slick production of Rock And Roll Over, a few sonic experiments as can be found in Destroyer, and the punchy drums and guitars of Dressed To Kill. It’s an amazing album that is home to some of KISS’ most beloved tracks. Of all of the “make-up” year releases, it feels like the most complete album in my opinion.

The album features ten tracks. Two singles were released. The first one, the slightly-less-creepier-than-Goin’ Blind track titled Christine Sixteen, tells the story of a man (Gene Simmons in this case) who has fallen for a sixteen year old girl. It topped out at #25 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. The second single was the album’s title track, Love Gun. It reached #61 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and has been a mainstay of every KISS tour since it was first released. Christine Sixteen, however, faded from the band’s setlist in the early 1980’s and has infrequently returned over the years ever since.

Track Listing:

  1. I Stole Your Love
  2. Christine Sixteen (Single)
  3. Got Love For Sale
  4. Shock Me
  5. Tomorrow And Tonight
  6. Love Gun (Single)
  7. Hooligan
  8. Almost Human
  9. Plaster Caster
  10. Then She Kissed Me

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitars), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass), Ace Frehley (lead and backing vocals, lead guitar), Peter Criss (lead and backing vocals, drums).

As I previously stated, this album sounds like the fusion of all five of the studio albums that preceded it. I Stole Your Love, Hooligan, and Shock Me remind me of the band’s gritty beginnings. Tomorrow And Tonight makes me think about the first three albums by the group. Love Gun could have easily been a track on Rock And Roll Over. The blistering drums from Peter Criss prove that he’s more than just a jazz drummer at heart. Tracks such as Almost Human recall Destroyer and Plaster Caster is definitely a Dressed To Kill era tune.

This is the first album to feature Ace on lead vocals. He takes the helm on Shock Me and also provides, in my opinion, one of his best guitar solos on the song as well. It’s easily one of my favorite KISS tunes. Hooligan is Peter Criss’ lone lead vocal contribution to the album. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the record. Peter’s aforementioned drums and Paul Stanley’s amazing vocals and sexual innuendo-laden lyrics on Love Gun make it another favorite song of mine.

Gene Simmons’ vocals are strong on all of the songs that he fronts on the album. Christine Sixteen and Almost Human are my favorite tracks by him on this album. Plaster Caster never connected with me for some reason. It’s my least favorite song on the album including the cover of Then He Kissed Me (titled Then She Kissed Me on this album) originally performed by The Crystals and written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry.

Ken Kelly did the amazing cover art. Along with Destroyer (also done by Kelly), it’s probably one of the most recognized and beloved album covers of all time. It has been slapped on tons of KISS merchandise and was also recreated in statue form. McFarlane Toys released an amazing statue of the album cover in 2004 and it has become a highly sought after collector’s item. I personally own a t-shirt and a blanket with the album’s iconic cover emblazoned upon it.

The album is seen by many as one of the group’s best releases. It was the final album to feature all four members of the band on every track. There were internal problems in the band that were starting to affect the group’s mentality and their performances on tour. Despite being on top of the world, KISS’ popularity was about to start fading.

The KISS Love Gun, a cardboard insert found in the original LP release of the album.

After the release of Love Gun, KISS would release Alive II in October of 1977 and then their first compilation album, Double Platinum, in April of 1978. The group would go on to release four solo albums in September of that same year. I’ll be reviewing those four albums in June and July. In May of 1979 KISS would release Dynasty………and things would begin to fall apart.

I can’t wait for you to read my reviews of Dynasty and Unmasked next month. Those albums and Music “From The Elder” are probably the band’s three most polarizing albums. My last studio album review prior to the “solo album summer break” in June and July will be of Creatures of the Night. Oh, and here’s a photo of Love Gun Girl. She’s a KISS super fan who can be found on Twitter at @Official_LGG and on Instagram at @detroitrockcece. Go show her some love and tell her that Ken’s Alternate Universe sent you her way.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed all of my reviews so far in this series. With six studio albums down it means that I have fourteen left to revisit! Thanks for reading my reviews!

The Year Of KISS: Rock And Roll Over (1976)

“You need my love, baby, oh so bad….”

Still riding a massive wave of success with both Alive! and Destroyer and eager to solidify their popularity, KISS went back to the studio in September of 1976 to record Rock And Roll Over. Released in November of 1976, the album is considered by many to be the “workhorse” album that is sandwiched between two of KISS’ biggest studio albums, Destroyer and Love Gun.

I can definitely understand the “workhorse” title when compared to the other albums released during KISS’ prime years. Destroyer experimented with new sounds, instruments, and musical stylings. Love Gun fused those new sounds with KISS’ louder and rawer early efforts. Rock And Roll Over feels like the album that should have been released after Dressed To Kill. It sounds just like KISS’ first three studio albums but features a band that is clearly in sync, more mature, and polished. It’s the oddball of KISS’ glory years but I love it. It’s one of my favorite KISS albums.

Produced by Eddie Kramer, who previously produced Alive! and would also produce Love Gun, Alive III, and Ace Frehley (solo album), the album featured ten tracks. Two singles, Hard Luck Woman and Calling Dr. Love, were released with Hard Luck Woman reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Calling Dr. Love almost matching its predecessor by peaking at #16. The album itself reached platinum status and went to #11 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Track Listing:

  1. I Want You
  2. Take Me
  3. Calling Dr. Love
  4. Ladies Room
  5. Baby Driver
  6. Love’Em And Leave’Em
  7. Mr. Speed
  8. See You In Your Dreams
  9. Hard Luck Woman
  10. Makin’ Love

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, additional guitars), Ace Frehley (backing vocals, lead guitar), Peter Criss (lead and backing vocals, drums), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass)

The album is definitely a callback to the group’s first three albums. The guitar solos by Ace are crunchy, fast, and amazing. Peter’s vocals are gritty and sand paper perfection. His drums are boogie woogie and blues inspired as well. Gene gives yet another sinister performance and he shines in particular on Calling Dr. Love. Paul is credited with writing or co-writing five of the album’s ten tracks and you can easily hear his influence on the overall KISS sound on this album. His vocals are amazing as well.

I have quite a few favorite tracks on this album. Hard Luck Woman is one of my favorite KISS tracks of all time. I also love Calling Dr. Love. Ace’s solo on that track is one of my favorites by him. Of the songs that weren’t released as singles, Baby Driver and I Want You are my favorites. I also have to give a nod to Makin’ Love and Ladies Room. Oh, and that opening riff on Mr. Speed! I really can’t find a track on this album that I dislike. All of them are excellent.

I also have to mention the amazing album cover art by Michael Doret. It’s one of my favorite album covers of all time. The stylized heads of the band members are fused together in a circle that looks a lot like a buzzsaw. Each head features a background unique to each member of the band. Gene features fire, Paul features angelic wings, Peter has jungle grass, and Ace is firing lasers out of his eyes with space as a backdrop. It’s a cool cover simply put.

Thanks for revisiting Rock And Roll Over with me today. Let me know in the comments which tracks you enjoy on the album. Up next is Love Gun. It features quite a few of my favorite tracks and I’ll talk about all of them next week. See you again real soon!

The Year Of KISS: Destroyer (1976)

“All Of The Fame And The Masquerade…..”

KISS released their legendary live album, Alive!, in September of 1975. The album was a risky move for both the band and Casablanca records. Another lackluster release would most likely shutter the record label’s doors and with it, possibly KISS’ future. Luckily, the album proved to be a massive hit and on the strength of one single, a live version of “Rock And Roll All Nite,” and a brilliant packaging scheme that included a tour book and letters from the band, KISS found themselves on top of the world. Of course, being on top meant that their next studio album would have to blow listeners away as well, or the band could find itself back at the bottom of the barrel.

With producer Bob Ezrin at the helm, KISS’ fourth studio album, 1976’s Destroyer, would become the band’s signature release. The album was released on March 15th and by November it was certified platinum. It was the first KISS studio album to achieve platinum status. It was also the first KISS record to receive backlash from fans. Many older fans of the band’s raw, rowdy sound were taken aback by the strings, a ballad, and all of the bells and whistles that Ezrin added to the recording. Despite this, the album found new fans with the November release of the single “Beth,” a ballad sung by drummer Peter Criss that featured a piano and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. It was out of character for the band but new listeners embraced Criss’ raspy vocals and they turned out to purchase the album. Most of the group’s older fans would eventually fall in love with the album and to this day it is considered to be their greatest release.

Everything about the album, from it’s amazing cover created by Ken Kelly to its use of an orchestra, a calliope, a children’s choir, and more, would firmly cement the album on future lists of iconic records. It had nine tracks and a tenth “hidden” instrumental track. There were five singles released from the album: “Shout It Out Loud,” “God Of Thunder,” “Flaming Youth,” “Beth,” and “Detroit Rock City.” The album would top out at #11 on the Billboard 200 chart and “Beth” would become the band’s biggest hit, peaking at #7 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.

Track Listing:

  1. Detroit Rock City
  2. King Of The Night Time World
  3. God Of Thunder
  4. Great Expectations
  5. Flaming Youth
  6. Sweet Pain
  7. Shout It Out Loud
  8. Beth
  9. Do You Love Me?
  10. Rock And Roll Party (hidden track)

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar), Peter Criss (lead vocals, backing vocals, drums), Gene Simmons (bass, lead vocals, backing vocals), Ace Frehley (lead guitar, backing vocals).

The album featured a lot of new things that older fans weren’t accustomed to from the band. Cackling children on “God Of Thunder,” one of Gene’s signature songs, was downright creepy. The punchy calliope on “Flaming Youth” gave a youthful sound to the track and, at least in my opinion, made it a better song as a whole. The orchestra on “Beth” was excellent and the many ambient sounds on “Detroit Rock City,” from the diner noise to the revving car engine and Alive! playing on the radio and especially the car crash that flies right into the opening for “King Of The Night Time World,” this album definitely pushed the envelope.

I love this album. It’s one of my favorites by the band. I love how unique it sounds compared to other studio releases by the group and it features many of my favorite songs. My favorite songs on this album include “Flaming Youth,” “King Of The Night Time World,” “Do You Love Me,” and “Shout It Out Loud.” I could probably list all of the tracks as favorites, but these four really stick out in my mind. I love Ace’s solo on “Shout It Out Loud” and on “Detroit Rock City.” Everything about “King Of The Night Time World” is amazing, but I especially love the rhythm guitar work. This album is truly a work of art.

The album has been re-released a few times. A remastered version of the original album was released in the 1990’s along with all of the band’s other releases up to and including Crazy Nights (originally 1987). In 2012, Destroyer Resurrected was released featuring the album’s original artwork, another remaster by Bob Ezrin, and the inclusion of Ace Frehley’s original solo on “Sweet Pain” and the original album version featuring a solo by Dick Wagner of Alice Cooper’s band. 2021 saw the release of the 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition with four discs and a Blu-ray.

Thanks for checking out my review. This album was slickly produced by still retained the edge that KISS established with their previous albums. If you want the original lineup of KISS in top form, Destroyer is one of the best albums to experience them.

The Year Of KISS: The Alive! Albums (1975-2006)

“You Wanted The Best…..”

I couldn’t do an entire year of KISS’ studio albums without at least mentioning the Alive live album releases. KISS is best known for their bombastic live performances and their first Alive album literally saved them and Casablanca Records from falling apart. While I won’t go into much detail about the albums, I do want to at least expose new listeners to them. I am only focusing on the official Alive albums and not other live albums and live compilations such as Unplugged and You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best. I will eventually talk about the Unplugged album later this year because it was a pivotal performance that reunited the original lineup and rekindled the fire of KISS’ popularity. For now, let’s take a glimpse at each of the Alive albums.

KISS Alive! (1975)

KISS Alive! is the granddaddy of them all. Without the success of this album, there probably wouldn’t be nearly fifty years of KISS to listen to and celebrate. This album, composed of tracks from KISS’ first three studio albums (all of which failed to spark music sales for the band), saved KISS and Casablanca records from financial destruction. The lone single from the album, Rock And Roll All Nite, hooked in new listeners and album sales began to heat up. My personal favorite track on the album is “Black Diamond.” The album managed to capture KISS’ energy in their live shows (with a little studio magic thrown in for good measure). It currently sits at over nine million sales and remains KISS’ best selling album of all time. The group followed up the album with their first huge studio album, Destroyer, in 1976 . That album also happens to be their best selling studio album of all time. The rest is KISStory.

KISS Alive II (1977)

Alive! saved KISS. The next three studio albums, Destroyer, Rock And Roll Over, and Love Gun solidified their place in rock and roll history. Alive II simply kept the KISS train rolling as the band was riding a wave of massive success. It featured live versions of tracks from the band’s three latest albums and five studio tracks. Of those tracks, “Rocket Ride” is perhaps the most notable, as it is the only studio track on the album to feature Ace Frehley playing lead and bass guitar. Bob Kulick provided guitars for the rest of the studio tracks except for “Any Way You Want It.” All of the guitars on that track were played by Paul Stanley. Of the live tracks on the album, my favorite is a very country-fied version of “Hard Luck Woman.” The album was very successful and was certified 2X Platinum. It’s also the band’s highest charting live album, reaching #7 on the US Charts.

KISS Alive III (1993)

The KISS Army would have to wait sixteen years before KISS would release a new Alive album. KISS Alive III was released in May of 1993 and by the time of its release, the band had gone through a number of changes. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were long gone from the band and the group now featured founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and new members Eric Singer on drum and Bruce Kulick on lead guitar. Eric Carr, the band’s second drummer, passed away in 1991 and Singer was brought in as his replacement. Kulick was the latest lead guitarist. He was preceded by Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John.

In my opinion this album sounds a lot more polished than the previous live releases. This might be due to production quality at the time, overdubbing, or the fact that Stanley and Simmons had perfected their live performances and both Singer and Kulick are arguably the two most talented players to ever grace the stage as members of KISS. My favorite song on the album is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which showcases Kulick’s prowess on the guitar. A close second would be “Lick It Up.”

KISS Symphony: Alive IV

Ten years after the release of Alive III, KISS blew the minds of critics and fans alike with KISS Symphony: Alive IV. It is easily my favorite live album by the band and the one that I listen to on a regular basis. In true KISS fashion, they took things to an entirely different level with this release. If featured Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Tommy Thayer. The album was broken into three acts. Each act was different from the others. The first act featured the band playing six tracks on their own. My personal favorite track from that act is “Strutter.” For the second act, the Melbourne Symphony Ensemble was brought in to play an acoustic set with the band. This act featured five tracks, all of which were ballads by the band. My favorite of this act is “Shandi,” but I also appreciate the addition of the creepy “Goin’ Blind” from the band’s Hotter Than Hell studio album. The final act featured the sixty piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, all of whom wore face paint to match members of KISS. The songs in this portion of the show are simply amazing. “Detroit Rock City” and “Black Diamond” are my two favorite tracks from this act.

This album is simply wonderful. KISS have spent their entire career being looked down upon by critics for their lack of playing skills, artistry, and overall sound. This album proves that their music is amazing. Hearing cellos, violins, flutes, and numerous other “high end” instruments crank out tracks like “Rock And Roll All Nite” shows that KISS was and is much better than they are given credit for by their naysayers. If I had to recommend any live album by KISS, this would be the one.

KISS Alive! The Millennium Concert (2006)

Technically this particular album was the fourth Alive album recorded by KISS. It was originally recorded in on December 31, 1999, almost four years prior to KISS Symphony: Alive IV. It featured all four original members of the band, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley. Label merger issues prevented the album from initially being released. It was then shelved by Mercury/Universal with no particular release date in place. Finally, nearly seven years after being recorded, the album was released as part of the excellent KISS Alive! 1975-2000 Box Set in November of 2006.

The box set itself featured remastered versions of KISS’ first three Alive releases and KISS Alive! The Millennium Concert. It included bonus tracks and a booklet. I personally have this box set and I really love it. It’s a great way to showcase the first three live albums and the Millennium Concert is a nice addition.

The Millennium Concert album is pretty good but it’s probably my least favorite live release from the band. It features three tracks from the band that were never recorded with Ace and/or Peter. My favorite track would probably have to be “Shout It Out Loud” or “100,000 Years.” Overall, it’s great to have in my collection but it has never been a go-to album for me.

Seeing a live show by KISS is an experience that I highly recommend. I’ve seen the band live on three occasions myself and truly want to see them again before they call it quits. While the live albums miss out on the visuals of KISS’ live shows, they do a very good job of capturing the sheer power of the band’s sound. Grab the box set if you can and I highly recommend purchasing KISS Symphony as well. If nothing else, purchase the original Alive! album for your collection as it is the one that started it all.

Thanks for reading my review. I’ll release my review of Destroyer on Friday. Let me know in the comments what you think about any or all of KISS live albums.

The Year of KISS: Dressed To Kill (1975)

“She’s a dancer, a romancer. I’m a Capricorn and she’s a Cancer.”

Still looking for a hit album, KISS returned to the studio in February of 1975, four short months after the release of Hotter Than Hell. By March, the band released their third studio album, Dressed To Kill. While it sold better than its predecessor, the album still didn’t generate much in the way of profits for KISS. Little did the band know that just a few months later, the live version of one of Dressed To Kill‘s singles, Rock And Roll All Nite, would help catapult the band to stardom.

The album featured a photo of the band on the cover. All four members of the group were dressed in suits. Three of the suits, the ill-fitting ones, were provided by manager Bill Aucoin from his own closet. Only Peter Criss had a suit of his own. The fact that the suits fit Paul, Ace, and Gene poorly only added to the appeal of the cover and it has since become a favorite cover of many fans. It’s so popular that the band revisited the look with designer John Varvatos in 2014…..with tailored suits.

KISS in 2014. L to R: Tommy Thayer, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Eric Singer.

The album featured ten tracks. Two singles were released. “Rock And Roll All Nite” peaked at #68 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, “C’mon And Love Me,” failed to chart. The album itself managed to reach #32 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart making it the highest charting album for KISS prior to the release of Alive! in September of 1975.

Track Listing:

  1. Room Service
  2. Two Timer
  3. Ladies In Waiting
  4. Getaway
  5. Rock Bottom
  6. C’mon And Love Me
  7. Anything For My Baby
  8. She
  9. Love Her All I Can
  10. Rock And Roll All Nite

Personnel: Peter Criss (vocals, backing vocals, drums), Gene Simmons (vocals, backing vocals, bass), Ace Frehley (lead guitar, backing vocals), Paul Stanley (vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar).

The album sounds more urgent than Hotter Than Hell in my opinion. I don’t know if that’s the best way to describe it, but there’s something about this album that sounds as if it’s out to prove something to the world but it slightly misses the mark. Maybe the band is weary from the road or maybe they are desperate to hit with a song, but this album feels rushed (but not in a bad way). Ace’s solos have more punch to them. Pete’s drums roll along with perfect boogie woogie timing. Gene’s bass sounds amazing and works perfectly with Pete’s skin pounding. Paul is Paul. Of all of the members of the band, he’s been the most consistent over the years. He delivers exactly what he needs to deliver and does it with attitude.

My favorite song on the album is “Getaway.” It’s the only song on the album that features Peter Criss’ raspy voice on vocals and he really screeches out the lyrics on this rocker. “Room Service,” loaded with innuendo as any great KISS track should, is another favorite. My favorite lyric from any KISS track is also on this album. It’s “She’s a dancer, a romancer. I’m a Capricorn and she’s a cancer” from “C’mon And Love Me.” That song and pretty much all of the songs on this album, are some of my favorite tunes by the band. “She” and “Love Her All I Can” feature two of my favorite Ace Frehley solos. “Rock Bottom” has a great lead in that sets up Paul’s ripping lead vocals. I really like this album on the whole. There’s no filler, tons of amazing Ace solos, and great vocals by Peter, Paul, and Gene.

The album is simply fun to listen to at a high volume. The giant in the room is obviously “Rock And Roll All Nite” but it’s just one piece of the album. Hotter Than Hell was sludgy and wonderful. Dressed To Kill is more polished but still kicks you in the teeth. It’s a harbinger of the great things that are coming later in 1975. It’s KISS finally proving to the world that they are ready to hit it big.

Thanks for checking out my review. KISS’ next release, Alive!, isn’t a studio release so I won’t give it a full review. That doesn’t mean that I might throw in a few of my thoughts on the album next week. I’m just getting warmed up with my reviews of the KISS studio albums. This is going to be fun. I hope that you’re enjoying the ride!

The Year Of KISS: Hotter Than Hell (1974)

“You’re so young and so much different than I….”

Just a few months after releasing their debut album in February of 1974, KISS’ second album, Hotter Than Hell, hit record store shelves on October 22nd. Sales of the album were worse than the group’s debut. Live shows weren’t the problem and many critics then and now believe that the album’s poor performance was due to the production quality and lack of any major promotion. In any case, the album would reach gold status in 1977 much like the debut.

The album is perhaps best known for its iconic front and back covers. The front cover features the band (all inebriated except for Gene) surrounded by Japanese images and phrases. It’s been said that in the photo Peter Criss is holding Paul Stanley up in order to prevent him from falling due his excessive drunkeness. The back cover features an illustrated mock up of all four members’ face paint and images of each member from a huge photo shoot that allegedly turned into a big orgy.

The gang having a lot of fun.

There were ten tracks on the album. Only one of the album’s tracks, “Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll,” was released as a single. Despite this, many of the album’s tracks remained in the band’s tour playlists over the years, especially “Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll” and “Hotter Than Hell.” The album peaked at #100 on the Billboard charts.

Track Listing:

  1. Got To Choose
  2. Parasite
  3. Goin’ Blind
  4. Hotter Than Hell
  5. Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll
  6. All The Way
  7. Watchin’ You
  8. Mainline
  9. Comin’ Home
  10. Strange Ways

Personnel: Paul Stanley (vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitars), Ace Frehley (lead guitar, backing vocals), Peter Criss (drums, vocals), Gene Simmons (vocals, bass, backing vocals).

Even though this album has been criticized for its “sludgy” production quality, I personally believe that this sludge actually improves the album overall. There’s something rawer about this album that almost all of the other releases from KISS lack. From the plodding guitars on tracks like “Goin’ Blind” to the rapid fire lead in on “Parasite,” this album sounds like it was made by a hungry band wanting to make it big and that’s exactly what KISS was when this album was produced.

Note Ace’s half makeup. Due to an accident prior to the shoot, Ace’s face had to be altered on the album cover because he couldn’t apply makeup to the right side of his face.

I really like this album. Standout tracks for me are “Parasite,” “Goin’ Blind,” and “Mainline.” I really love the guitar work on “Parasite.” It’s a meaty rocker that, at least to me, is one of KISS’ best songs from their entire catalog. The bizarre and rather creepy lyrics of “Goin’ Blind” had me a bit perplexed, but I love how it just slowly rolls along without a care about what you think about it. It’s a cool track. “Mainline” is simply a great rock n’ roller that is only strengthened by Peter’s amazing vocals.

Oddly enough, my least favorite track is the album’s lone single, “Let Me Go, Rock N’ Roll.” The entire album is gritty and I love the sound. Gene and Paul handle most of the lead vocal duties but Peter shines on his two lead vocal performances on “Mainline” and “Strange Ways.” Ace wrote “Parasite” and “Strange Ways” and co-wrote “Comin’ Home.” Those songs feature some of his best work on lead guitar.

Another shot from the album’s photo shoot. Note Ace’s “patched up” makeup.

Hotter Than Hell best captures KISS’ raw grit and power on a studio album in my opinion. Only one other album comes close, 1975’s Dressed To Kill. I’ll be talking about that album next month. If you haven’t heard Hotter Than Hell before, I highly recommend giving it a listen. It might sound a bit off initially but, given time, I’m sure that you’ll grow to love it.

Thanks for reading my review!

The Year Of KISS: KISS (1974)

“Out on the streets for a living….”

Formed in 1973 from the ashes of a band called Wicked Lester, KISS began recording their debut album, KISS, in October of that same year. Just a few months later on February 18, 1974, the album was released. Despite heavy promotion from Casablanca Records, the album only managed to sell around 75,000 copies. It wouldn’t achieve gold status until 1977. Poor album performance was a trend that KISS and Casablanca would experience with the band’s first three studio albums. Only their massively successful live album, Alive, in 1975, would save them and Casablanca Records from falling to the wayside.

L to R: Ace “Space Ace” Frehley, Peter “Catman” Criss, Gene “The Demon” Simmons, and Paul “Starchild” Stanley.

There were nine tracks on the original album. Most of them would go on to become staples of KISS’ live shows. “Kissin’ Time” was added to later presses of the record in July of 1974. Three singles were released and the album peaked on the US Billboard Chart at #87.

Track Listing:

  1. Strutter (single)
  2. Nothin’ To Lose (single)
  3. Firehouse
  4. Cold Gin
  5. Let Me Know
  6. Kissin’ Time (single released in May of 1974, added to track list in July, 1974)
  7. Deuce
  8. Love Theme From “KISS”
  9. 100,000 Years
  10. Black Diamond

Personnel: Paul Stanley (rhythm guitars, vocals), Ace Frehley (lead guitar, backing vocals), Peter Criss (drums, vocals), Gene Simmons (bass, vocals).

This is one of my favorite KISS albums. Of the ten tracks that were on it, seven of them have consistently been played by the band on tour for nearly fifty years. I keep waffling between which track is my favorite on the album. Some days I say that “Black Diamond” is my favorite song and then I’ll turn around and say that “Strutter” is my favorite one. All that I know for sure is that both of those songs feature amazing drum work from Peter Criss and great vocals by Criss on “Black Diamond” and Paul Stanley on “Strutter.” Another song that I really love is the Ace Frehley penned “Cold Gin” that is sung by Gene Simmons. The bass on “100,000” years is also amazing. For lack of a better term it’s just a sexy groove. Ace really shines on all of his solos on this album, especially on “Black Diamond.” “Love Theme From KISS” is a surprisingly solid instrumental track. “Firehouse” is a sludgy rocker that signals the sound for KISS’ next album, Hotter Than Hell.

The album and the band are unique in that three of the four band members sang lead vocals. Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Gene Simmons all sang lead vocals. In some cases, they would trade off vocals in the same song. Ace Frehley would eventually take the lead on “Shock Me” in 1977 on the album Love Gun.

There really isn’t a bad track to be found here. It should be noted that I am biased in my opinion because KISS is my favorite band. I hope this little review helps out anybody that might be interested in the group. If you like gritty, punchy hard rock, KISS is for you.

Thanks for checking out my review!