The Year Of KISS: Monster (2012)

“Cause money makes the rules!”

KISS pulled their way back into the mainstream spotlight with Sonic Boom. Despite constant criticism from “fans” upset with the fact that Ace and Peter had been replaced by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, makeup and all, the group continued to tour successfully, selling out multiple shows and putting out more and more merchandise for KISS Army members and others to scoop up for their collections. While Sonic Boom was definitely worth the wait, fans wanted more. KISS appeared eager to comply. Gene Simmons constantly hinted at and teased at the notion that a new album was in the works. After a three year and three day wait and multiple delays, Monster was released on October 9, 2012.

Unlike Sonic Boom, Monster was not released exclusively by one retailer. Advertising was relatively limited to television, radio, and magazine interviews although the band did publish a literal “monster” book that stood three feet tall by two and a half feet wide that featured 127 pictures from the band’s long history. In true KISS fashion, only one thousand copies of each version of the book were released. There were ten country flag covers to choose from and each book featured a signature page with autographs from the current members of the band.

The album featured twelve songs with a bonus track, Right Here Right Now, on the Tour edition of the album and a live version of King Of The Night Time World added to the Japanese release. A deluxe edition was also made available that featured a sixty-four page booklet. Two singles were released for the album. The first single, Hell Or Hallelujah, was released in July of 2012 nearly three months before the album’s release. It peaked at #36 on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart. The second single, Long Way Down, crawled to #26 on the Billboard Heritage Rock Chart. The album itself performed extremely well, debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200 Chart. It was the third consecutive album to reach the top three on that particular chart, joining Psycho Circus (peaked at #3) and Sonic Boom (peaked at #2).

Track Listing:

  1. Hell Or Hallelujah (Single)
  2. Wall Of Sound
  3. Freak
  4. Back To The Stone Age
  5. Shout Mercy
  6. Long Way Down
  7. Eat Your Heart Out
  8. The Devil Is Me
  9. Outta This World
  10. All For The Love Of Rock & Roll
  11. Take Me Down Below
  12. Last Chance

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass), Tommy Thayer (lead and backing vocals, lead guitar), Eric Singer (lead and backing vocals, drums), Brian Whelan (piano on Freak)

As they did with Sonic Boom, KISS limited input from outside sources and players, with only Brian Whelan and a choir on All For The Love Of Rock & Roll contributing on the album. All songs were written by the four members of the band with Paul Stanley penning or co-writing ten of the album’s twelve tracks. Tommy Thayer wrote or co-wrote nine tracks on the album. Gene Simmons wrote or co-wrote six tracks. Eric Singer co-wrote Back To The Stone Age with the rest of the band. Paul Stanley and Greg Collins handled the album’s stripped down production, all of which was done on analogue equipment that gave the album a much meatier, thicker sound than Sonic Boom. The album truly does have a full sound that is both sludgy and crisp at the same time. Of all of KISS’ latter albums, it’s probably my favorite sounding album of the bunch.

The album was touted by the group to be a “meat and potatoes” rock album with no ballads or filler. They definitely delivered that with Monster. The album is loaded with straight ahead rockers. It feels a lot like many of AC/DC’s 1980’s releases, a true hard rock album that’s simple, loud, and fun to listen to at home or on the road. I believe that this 80’s feel is primarily due to the contributions of Tommy Thayer who did the same thing on Sonic Boom. He’s definitely got an ear for meaty rock tracks.

My favorite track on the album is Hell Or Hallelujah. It’s a fast-paced rocker with amazing guitar work by Thayer and solid vocals from Stanley. Last Chance is another hard rocker that I really enjoy. Wall Of Sound is probably Gene’s strongest track on Monster. It’s a pounding track that punches at you and I really enjoy it. The Devil Is Me is another solid Gene track as is Back To The Stone Age. Eric Singer slows things down a bit with his lone lead vocal track, All For The Love Of Rock & Roll. It has a boogie-woogie, almost 1950’s vibe to it. It’s one of my favorite tracks on Monster and it’s also the most unique song on the album. For some reason Paul Stanley’s Freak speaks to me. The lyrics aren’t necessarily groundbreaking and it’s outsider subject that has been visited by numerous bands over the years, but I really do enjoy listening to this song. Tommy Thayer’s lead vocal beast, Outta This World, is really fun. While I think that When Lightning Strikes from Sonic Boom is the better of his two vocal performances, Outta This World is definitely a very close second.The only track that I’m not totally cool with is Take Me Down Below. Lyrically it’s the weakest track on the album and feels like a weak attempt to recapture some of KISS’ cheesy glory found on songs like Love Gun and Read My Body. Musically, it’s just as solid as everything else on this album.

The music is excellent on this album. Stanley, Simmons, Singer, and Thayer are definitely synced together well and it shows. Gene’s bass is plodding, thick, and murky when necessary and it provides a great backbone for the entire album. Singer is as Singer does, providing perfect timing on each track with his drum work. Paul’s vocals are good andd work well with the overall sound of Monster. His rhythm guitar keeps provides a nice layer of sound on each track. Thayer’s guitar work is amazing. Of all of his work with the band, he sounds his best on this album. In my opinion this is the first album where Thayer gets to really show off a little bit of himself on solos. Overall, Monster can be played end to end without the need to skip a track.

October of this year marked the ten year anniversary of the release of Monster. As it stands, this will most likely be the band’s final studio album. Both Gene and Paul have talked about their reasoning for not releasing new music over the last decade. When recently asked about the possibility of new music from the group, Paul Stanley said, “I came to the conclusion that it (new music) can never compete with the past….it hasn’t the connection to important times in your life.” Simmons, as usual, took a more financial view on releasing new material stating, “KISS is not a charity. Working your ass off to have somebody download or stream your music for free is not my idea of how things should be. When you don’t put a value on music, it doesn’t have value.” Tommy Thayer said similar things in recent interviews when asked if he will release new music after KISS’ End Of The Road Tour finally draws to a close. He said that he’ll continue doing things musically but will most likely not release a solo album. No stranger to playing for numerous bands at the same time, Eric Singer will probably keep rolling along, picking up jobs from whatever bands want him. He and Paul Stanley have worked on Stanley’s solo projects before, so maybe they’ll work together in the future. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: KISS has definitely left their mark on rock n’ roll and the music industry as a whole.

Thanks to each and every person that has been along for the ride during The Year Of KISS. I hope that you’ve all enjoyed my look at the studio albums, band members, and memorabilia over the course of this year. While I may never do another year-long series on a band I will definitely continue reviewing the occasional album, old and new, when I see fit. Keep on rockin’!

The Year Of KISS: Sonic Boom (2009)

“Made Of Fire, Made Of Heat…..

The KISS trip down memory lane proved extremely successful for the band from the mid 1990’s to 2002. Ace Frehley left the band permanently that year. Peter Criss left the band three times starting with his first exit in 2001and his final, permanent exit in 2004. With each Criss exit, the band replaced him with their drummer from the first half of the 1990’s, Eric Singer. The move proved to be controversial due to the fact that Singer wore the Cat facepaint that Peter Criss wore throughout his original and reunion runs with the band. Ace Frehley continued playing with Singer in the group. When Frehley eventually exited, Tommy Thayer replaced him and wore the Spaceman makeup. Peter Criss played along with Thayer each time that he reunited with the band as well. I only mention this because neither Criss nor Frehley had any problem playing with Singer or Thayer in the band until both of them exited the group permanently. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons continued successfully touring with Singer and Thayer and continue to do so to this day. The only thing missing prior to 2009 was an album of original music featuring Singer and Thayer. That all changed on October 6, 2009 with the release of Sonic Boom.

FILE – In this May 20, 2009 file photo, the rock band Kiss poses backstage after performing at the “American Idol” finale in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, file)

The group had been teasing about new music for a few years prior to the release of the album. When the album was officially announced, the group went into full promotion mode. The group made appearances all over television, did countless interviews in magazines and on the web, did commercials, and locked in an exclusive release deal with Walmart. As part of the deal, Walmart would be the sole location where listeners could purchase the album and “KISS Korners” were set up in the stores featuring all of the band’s remastered albums, the Sonic Boom album, Mr. Potato Head KISS figures, KISS M&Ms, throw blankets, t-shirts, and more items. KISS makeup and wigs were also on the shelves in the Halloween department. I actually purchased the album, a throw blanket, and some of the M&Ms a day earlier than the actual release date as did a number of other people in the United States as Walmart mistakenly put the album out a few days early at many of their locations.

A KISS Korner at Walmart. The setup varied by store (and employee effort).

The album featured eleven songs and included a second disc featuring fifteen classic KISS songs re-recorded with the current lineup and a DVD featuring six tracks recorded live at a concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The constant promotion and exclusive deal with Walmart proved to be an excellent move as Sonic Boom sales catapulted the album to the #2 spot on the Billboard 200. This was the highest debut for a KISS album, beating out Psycho Circus which debuted at #3 in 1998. This was also the longest amount of time (eleven years) to pass between two KISS albums of original music. Three singles were released from the album. The first one, Modern Day Delilah, peaked at #50 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart. Say Yeah was the second single and managed to reach the #1 spot on Russian charts. The final single released from the album was Never Enough. It only charted on the Billboard Heritage Rock Tracks chart, reaching #30.

Track Listing:

  1. Modern Day Delilah (Single)
  2. Russian Roulette
  3. Never Enough (Single)
  4. Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect)
  5. Stand
  6. Hot And Cold
  7. All For The Glory
  8. Danger Us
  9. I’m An Animal
  10. When Lightning Strikes
  11. Say Yeah (Single)

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass), Eric Singer (lead and backing vocals, drums), Tommy Thayer (lead and backing vocals, lead guitar), Brian Whelan (piano)

With an extremely slim amount of personnel (all four members of the band and Brian Whelan providing piano work), this album sounded very tight and in sync. The band sounds great on this album. Paul Stanley sang lead vocals on four tracks and shared lead vocals with Gene Simmons on Stand. Simmons provided lead vocals on four tracks in addition to the shared vocals with Stanley on Stand. Both Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer sang lead vocals on one song each. Paul Stanley wrote or co-wrote nine tracks on the album. Gene Simmons wrote wrote or co-wrote six tracks. Tommy Thayer co-wrote three songs on the album.

As I already stated, this album is tight and the band sounds great together. I know that a lot of people signed off on KISS after the exit of Ace and Peter, but those folks don’t know what they are missing. Eric Singer is arguably the best overall drummer that the band has ever had and Tommy is a much bigger influence than he is given credit for by fans. Simply listen to the three tracks that he co-wrote for Sonic Boom and you can hear a noticeable difference in those tracks when compared to the rest of the album. In fact, the track that he sang lead vocals on, When Lightning Strikes, is one of my favorite songs on the album. The other tracks that he contributed to are favorites as well. Never Enough feels like a mid-1980’s hair rocker. The plodding, pounding I’m An Animal fits Gene’s Demon persona to perfection. It’s also a great song to hear live. A lot of fans claim that this album reminds them of a lot of music from the prime KISS era of the late 1970’s and Modern Day Delilah is probably the song that proves this point the most with Tommy Thayer’s very Ace-like solo. Say Yeah is solid, features a great chorus, and also happens to be the one track from the album that has continued to be played live. In all honesty there isn’t a bad track on the album with possibly the exception of the lyrically challenged Danger Us. Written and sung by Paul Stanley, it’s the weakest track on the album in my opinion.

As far as the second disc in the set, it’s actually a re-release of the album from KISS’ 2008 CD/DVD combo Japan release Jigoku-Retsuden. It features fifteen of KISS’ most popular tracks re-recorded by Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer. The only vocal change is in Black Diamond, where Singer sings the lead vocal originally recorded by Peter Criss. The rest of the songs are fronted by Simmons or Stanley and include many of the band’s concert staples such as Detroit Rock City, Love Gun, Calling Dr. Love, and Deuce. It also includes Forever, Heaven’s On Fire, and Lick It Up from the No Makeup era. It’s a very good album with much slicker production than the original recordings of these songs.

KISS gained new fans, won back some old ones, and drove a few even farther away with the release of Sonic Boom. No matter what anyone else believes, I think that this is one of KISS’ best releases from their entire career. It reminded a lot of folks of the band’s older material but with a fresher spin on their sound. The cover reminded a lot of people of the classic Rock And Roll Over album cover which is no surprise since artist Michael Doret did both covers. Heck, even the way that KISS plastered their faces and music all over television, social media, and the airwaves was reminiscent of the band’s heyday in the 70’s. Overall, Sonic Boom is a love letter to the past with an eye focused on the band’s future. If you don’t own it, grab a copy. Snag some of those M&Ms if you can still find them as well!

Thanks for checking out my post. Be sure to check out the photo of yours truly below hamming it up in full Demon makeup and a Sonic Boom tee! See you next week when I finish out The Year Of KISS with their final studio album released in 2012, Monster!

The Year Of KISS: Psycho Circus (1998)

“I wanna leave but I can’t get away….”

With the recording of Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions all but forgotten, KISS rode a wave of nostalgia that started in 1995 with the reuniting of the original band on MTV Unplugged. KISS was once again at the top of the world, as the original members went on a reunion tour that ran through 1996 and 1997. Intent on staying at the top, KISS headed into the studio to record their first new studio album with all four of the band’s original members…..sort of. Recording for Psycho Circus began in January of 1998 and would last until April of that year. Although it was promoted as the first album to feature Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, and Gene Simmons together since Dynasty (1979), Criss and Frehley’s images were used much more than their actual musical abilities.

The album was released in September of 1998 to much success. It’s supporting tour, the Psycho Circus World Tour, also proved to be very popular with fans. A massive onslaught of promotions were put into action to pump up the reunited band’s image and tons of gimmicks were used on the tour, with music videos, and with the album itself. It was a lot like KISS’ gimmicks in the 70’s but on a much bigger scale. Some of the more notable things used by KISS included a 3-D music video for the title track, 3-D sequences on the supporting tour, and multiple versions of the album including a Japanese release with pop-up images and a lenticular version (the version that I personally own).

Screen cap from the Psycho Circus video.

The album featured ten tracks with one bonus track on the Japanese release. Three singles were officially released and a fourth one (I Finally Found My Way) was released as a promotional single. The first single, Psycho Circus, peaked at #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart and hit the top ten lists of four different countries. We Are One, the second single, topped out at #18 on the Norwegian charts but failed to chart in the United States. The final single, You Wanted The Best, reached #22 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200, one of KISS’ best album debuts.

Track Listing:

  1. Psycho Circus (Single)
  2. Within
  3. I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock & Roll
  4. Into The Void
  5. We Are One (Single)
  6. You Wanted The Best (Single)
  7. Raise Your Glasses
  8. I Finally Found My Way
  9. Dreamin’
  10. Journey Of 1,000 Years

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, guitars, bass), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass), Ace Frehley (lead and backing vocals, lead guitar on Into The Void and You Wanted The Best), Peter Criss (lead and backing vocals, drums on Into The Void), Kevin Valentine (all other drums), Tommy Thayer (all other lead guitars except where noted), Bruce Kulick (lead guitars on Within and additional guitars), Shelly Berg (piano, orchestrations), Bob Ezrin (Fender Rhodes piano)

As you can tell from the personnel list, the contributions of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were limited. Criss only played drums on one track and Frehley only played lead guitar on two tracks. In fact, only Into The Void (written by Frehley and Karl Cochran) features all four members performing together. Paul sang lead on four tracks. Gene sang lead on three tracks. Both Ace and Peter sang lead vocals on one track each. All four members traded off lead vocals for You Wanted The Best. Bruce Fairbairn produced the album. Stanley had five co-writing credits. Simmons had four writing credits. Frehley had one co-writing credit. Bruce Kulick, Holly Knight, Karl Cochran, and Bob Ezrin all had one co-writing credit and Curtis Cuomo had two.

I really enjoyed this album. It was the second album that I purchased from the band on its initial release. A friend of mine actually let me borrow his copy (as my copy of Hot In The Shade was gathering dust) and it re-ignited the spark for my interest in the group. In fact, you could say that Psycho Circus pushed me over the edge into being a full-fledged fan of the group. I love Into The Void. It’s my favorite track on the album. A very close second is Psycho Circus. You Wanted The Best and Within are two other tracks that I really enjoy. Even though most of the tracks aren’t truly the “original” KISS, they are still great tracks with strong lyrics (a weak spot for KISS in my opinion) and a massive sound. The only real clunker for me was I Finally Found My Way. To me it completely derails the pounding sound of the rest of the album.

Naysayers dislike the album because it isn’t “really KISS” and that’s a shame because this album is a really strong rock record. It’s not as good as Revenge or Creatures Of The Night, but it can hold its own against anything else that the band put out in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was great to see the original members back together again and up to their old tricks on the stage. Ace would eventually leave the group for good in early 2002 and was replaced by Tommy Thayer (in full Spaceman costume and face paint). Peter Criss would leave in 2001, return in 2002, and leave again for good in 2004. He was replaced by Eric Singer (in full Catman costume and makeup) on all three occasions. The addition of Thayer and Singer in costume was controversial, but fans old and new continued (and still continue) to support the band. In 2009, eleven years after the release of Psycho Circus, KISS would release their first album of new material featuring the so-called imposters, Sonic Boom. I’ll take a look at that album and its follow-up, Monster, next month to finish off The Year Of KISS!

Thanks for checking out my post! I’ll see you again real soon!

The Year Of KISS: Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions (1997)

“Faded smiles behind dark shades….”

Although 1992’s Revenge was positively received, KISS was starting to fade as a mainstream band. By the time the group returned to the studio to record their next album, Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions, the music that they inspired and ultimately embraced in the 1980’s, glam and pop rock, was all but dead thanks to the newest sensation, grunge. As KISS has been known to do over the years, they attempted to morph into their own version of grunge with Carnival Of Souls. The results were….mixed.

KISS started recording Carnival in November of 1995, just a few months after their appearance on the wildly popular MTV acoustic series, Unplugged. It was also on Unplugged where Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley reunited with founding members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. The reunion proved to be popular with fans and would ultimately culminate in the band’s Reunion Tour. Both of the other members of the band at the time, lead guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer, were unaware of the reunion plans and weren’t told about them until just before the Unplugged performance according to interviews with both Kulick and Singer over the years. KISS finished production of Carnival in February of 1996 but due to the popularity of the return of Ace and Peter, Gene and Paul pursued the Reunion tour with them and shelved the album. The band’s Unplugged performance would be released on compact disc and on DVD in March of 1996 while Carnival collected dust.

Despite the album being shut down so that the Reunion Tour could go ahead, KISS fans managed to get their hands on bootleg copies and began sharing it. This move forced KISS’ hand and they eventually released the album with little fanfare and no supporting tour in October of 1997. Critics attacked the album for being a desperate attempt by KISS to remain relevant. Others said that it was just one more in a long line of KISS albums that tried to emulate popular trends of the time. In this case the trend was grunge and while the band gave their best effort, the album just couldn’t find the right audience.

The album featured twelve tracks. It is the longest album by the band despite having fewer songs than Hot In The Shade. Only one song was under four minutes long and five tracks were over five minutes long. The lone single, Jungle, clocked in at 6:49. It peaked at #7 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart but failed to make an impact elsewhere. The album broke the top twenty in Finland and reached #27 on the US Billboard 200.

Track Listing:

  1. Hate
  2. Rain
  3. Master & Slave
  4. Childhood’s End
  5. I Will Be There
  6. Jungle (Single)
  7. In My Head
  8. It Never Goes Away
  9. Seduction of the Innocent
  10. I Confess
  11. In The Mirror
  12. I Walk Alone

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, 12 string acoustic guitar, ukulele), Bruce Kulick (lead and backing vocals, lead guitars, some acoustic and bass guitar), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass), Eric Singer (drums, backing vocals)

Additional personnel included Carole Keiser, the Crossroads Boys Choir, and Nick Simmons (Gene’s son) on backing vocals on Childhood’s End. Songwriting credits include six for Paul Stanley, nine for Bruce Kulick, six for Gene Simmons, three for Steve Van Zen, six for Curtis Cuomo, and one each for Jaime St. James, Ken Tamplin, and future KISS lead guitarist, Tommy Thayer. Gene and Paul co-produced the album with Toby Wright.

This is one of my least favorite KISS albums. It’s an especially ill-fitting album for Paul Stanley’s voice. He sounds best on pop and hard rock tracks. His vocals are significantly restrained on this album. Almost all of his songs are slow, plodding dirges that limit his punchy vocal stylings. He only lets it rip for a little while on Master & Slave, but none of his songs are that notable. Gene’s voice is much better suited for grunge music and it definitely shows on this album. Although I am not much of a fan of any of these tracks, Hate and Childhood’s End stand out from the pack. Both songs feature Gene on vocals. This is also the only KISS album with Bruce Kulick on lead vocals. He mans the mic on I Walk Alone. That track features the best guitar solo on the album.

Over the years Bruce Kulick has been the most vocal supporter for the album. That might be due to the fact that he co-wrote so many of the album’s tracks and that he finally got to sing a lead vocal on a KISS album. It could also be because this album was released at such a terrible time for Kulick and Eric Singer. When Peter Criss and Ace Frehley ultimately left the band again (multiple times), only Eric Singer ever returned. Kulick never came back as a regular member of the band and, in my opinion, that’s a shame. Kulick has also been relatively quiet as to why he has never returned to the group. He makes occasional appearances on KISS Kruises and seems to have a good rapport with all of the members of the band past and present. He seems to be especially close with Eric Singer and Ace Frehley. He is currently a member of Grand Funk Railroad, has released his own solo work, and was also in the band Union.

Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions is a black mark for KISS in my opinion. Its bungled release, boring (and very un-KISS like) grunge tone, and lack of a tour made it extremely forgettable. It saw the permanent exit of Bruce Kulick as a member of the group, left Eric Singer in limbo, and made Gene and Paul look quite a bit selfish as they put their focus on the Reunion Tour. KISS would definitely recover, but the band was about to embark on a long run of no new material and a ton of nostalgia circuit tours.

Thanks for checking out my post. Next week I’ll be looking at the “Reunion” album, Psycho Circus. We’ve only got three more Fridays in the Year of KISS!

The Year Of KISS: Revenge (1992)

“I’ve gotta body built for sin and an appetite for passion!”

With the 1980’s behind them, KISS strolled into the new decade with their name still in the press but at a level that was nowhere near their success in the 1970’s. The band both lost and gained fans throughout the “no makeup” era that featured three different lead guitarists and musical style changes that went from hard rock to glam to pop rock and power ballads. Gene Simmons had strayed from the path of the band hoping to be everything from an actor to a record producer. With 1989’s Hot In The Shade, the band exited the decade with more respect, but also with a ton of questions. To top it all off, the hairband killer called grunge was about to rear its ugly head.

Hoping to reignite their brand once again, KISS returned to the recording studio to crank out what many consider to be their heaviest and purest hard rock album, 1992’s Revenge. After a pleasurable experience with Bob Ezrin recording their cover of Argent’s God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You (with altered lyrics and entitled God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II) for the soundtrack to Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey, the band decided to bring him in as the producer for the album that would become Revenge. The group also brought in a number of outside sources to co-write songs and play on the album. Most notably, Vinnie Vincent made his return to the band as a songwriter on three tracks. The relationship was short-lived, however, as Vincent ended up suing the band.

Other problems arose for the band when Eric Carr’s health began to degrade. Suffering from heart cancer, Carr was able to record vocals for God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II, but was unable to play the drums. Eric Singer was brought in to record the drum tracks. Eric Carr appeared in the music video recorded for the song wearing a wig due to the fact that he had lost his hair as a result of chemotherapy. Carr would eventually die of complications from his cancer on November 24, 1991. Sadly, he passed away on the same day as Queen’s Freddie Mercury and as a result, his death was mentioned only in passing on news programs, overshadowed by the extremely popular Freddie Mercury. Carr’s backing vocals, his last recording with KISS, can be heard on Revenge on God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II.

Eric Singer would ultimately become KISS’ permanent drummer. Replacing Carr was tough as he was very popular with the KISS Army, but Singer, who had previously worked with Paul Stanley on a solo tour and was also part of Lita Ford’s band and Black Sabbath as well, slid right into the job and kept the band rolling. His shock of blonde hair also made him stand out amongst his new bandmates, as all of them had black hair and the band had adopted an all black look for the Revenge photoshoot. Singer has the uncanny ability to play multiple music styles at a ridiculously high level. From blues and soul rhythms to skin pounding rock and metal, Singer can play all of it with little effort. He is, in my opinion, KISS’ most technically gifted and multi-faceted drummer.

The album featured a total of twelve tracks. Of those twelve, five were released as singles. The first single, God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II was previously released on the soundtrack for Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey and peaked at #21 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Unholy was the second single released promotionally in the United States but charted well in Europe. In peaked at #2 on the Norwegian Singles chart and made the top thirty in four other European charts. Domino was the third single and reached #26 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart followed by I Just Wanna which crawled to #34. The final single, Every Time I Look At You, only charted in Sweden at #31 on that country’s Sverigetopplistan chart. The album itself debuted and peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart making it KISS’ first album to break the Top 10 in the US since Dynasty thirteen years earlier.

Track Listing:

  1. Unholy (Single)
  2. Take It Off
  3. Tough Love
  4. Spit
  5. God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II (Single)
  6. Domino (Single)
  7. Heart Of Chrome
  8. Thou Shalt Not
  9. Every Time I Look At You (Single)
  10. Paralyzed
  11. I Just Wanna (Single)
  12. Carr Jam 1981

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar), Eric Singer (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Bruce Kulick (lead guitar, additional bass, backing vocals), Gene Simmons (bass, lead and backing vocals), Eric Carr (backing vocals on God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II and drums on Carr Jam ’91)

Paul Stanley sang lead on five tracks. Gene Simmons sang lead on four tracks. Stanley and Simmons alternated lead vocals together on two tracks (Spit and God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II). Carr Jam 1981 is an instrumental track. Additional musicians on the album include Vinnie Vincent on the guitar intro of Unholy, Kevin Valentine (drums), Dick Wagner (guitars), and Tommy Thayer, Jaime St. James, and Jesse Damon (backing vocals).

The album featured input from a number of writers. Paul Stanley co-wrote seven tracks. Gene Simmons co-wrote six tracks. Eric Carr received credit for writing Carr Jam 1981. Bruce Kulick co-wrote Tough Love. Vinnie Vincent received three co-writing credits. Producer Bob Ezrin co-wrote six tracks. Russ Ballard, Kane Roberts, Scott Van Zen, and Jesse Damon each received one co-writing credit.

Despite being especially popular amongst members of the KISS Army and loved by members of the band itself, Revenge failed to ignite KISS’ popularity amongst mainstream music listeners. The band faced stiff competition from grunge music, which was gaining popularity in the late 1980’s and would explode throughout the 1990’s, effectively wiping out popular hard rock, glam, and heavy metal bands of the time. Hip Hop and rap also proved to be tough competition, as the two styles became popular not only in urban areas, but in the middle class suburbs as well.

Even though it never really found its footing at the time of its release, Revenge was and still is an important album for KISS. It proved that the band did indeed have some serious heavy metal and hard rock chops with tracks like Unholy and Heart Of Chrome. It also reminded fans that KISS still knew how to have fun with tracks like I Just Wanna, Spit, and Take It Off. Of all of the non-makeup era releases, this album is probably the most consistent, featuring an excellent balance of songs and one token power ballad.

In my opinion, this is one of KISS’ best albums overall. Gene Simmons is at his demonic best on Unholy, which happens to be my favorite track off of this album. Just close your eyes and you can visualize the Demon licking up blood and aping across the stage in evil glee while this track plays. I Just Wanna is also a favorite track of mine. It’s just fun to sing along with and if you’re a student of rock n’ roll history, you’ll probably notice that the verses and overall song sound a lot like Summertime Blues by rock pioneer Eddie Cochran (co-written with his manager, Jerry Capehart). You can literally swap the lyrics out of both songs and they fit perfectly. It should be noted that Paul Stanley has stated that Summertime Blues was definitely the inspiration for I Just Wanna. Other songs that really stood out to me on this album are Heart Of Chrome, Tough Love, God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You II, and the somewhat trashy Take It Off. Spit and Domino are my least favorite tracks on the album. There’s something very forced about both of them to me. Every Time I Look At You is very good, but can’t compete with Beth or Forever in my opinion.

KISS could have ended their no-makeup era with Revenge and all would be just fine with me. However, they had one more album up their sleeve before the original members decided to get back together. I’ll cover that album next month along with the first and only studio album of the reunion era.

Thanks for checking out this post. The Year Of KISS is almost over. I hope that you have enjoyed it so far!

The Year Of KISS: Hot In The Shade (1989)

“Rosa had a lover on the shady side of town.”

Hot In The Shade, KISS’ follow-up project to their highest charting 1980’s release, Crazy Nights, is very personal to me because it was the first KISS album that I ever purchased. It would get me into conversations later in life that would set me on the path to becoming a member of the KISS Army. It contains some amazing KISS tracks and some pretty terrible ones as well. It was released on October 17, 1989, and I bought my copy on CD in late January of 1990 (a few weeks after the release of the single Forever). KISS was still very much relevant at the time of the album’s release, but they were slowly fading from the spotlight once again. They needed another hit to keep them in the news and Hot In The Shade would definitely deliver.

Crazy Nights was a popular album but many longtime fans weren’t impressed by the keyboards and synthesizers used on the album. I personally didn’t have a problem with that but KISS apparently did because they removed the keys and synths for Hot In The Shade. They also added horns and female backing vocalists on some of the tracks. The band also seemed to be firing pretty well on all cylinders, with Gene Simmons seeming to have settled back into his role as the band’s bass player and most recognizable member.

The album featured fifteen tracks, more than any other KISS studio album released over the band’s entire existence. It featured three singles. The first single, Hide Your Heart, peaked at #66 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, the power ballad Forever, became KISS’ biggest charting hit since Beth reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. Forever topped out at #8 on the same chart, just one position shy of matching Beth. The final single, Rise To It, limped to #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album topped out at #29 on the US Billboard 200.

Track Listing:

  1. Rise To It (Single)
  2. Betrayed
  3. Hide Your Heart (Single)
  4. Prisoner Of Love
  5. Read My Body
  6. Love’s A Slap In The Face
  7. Forever (Single)
  8. Silver Spoon
  9. Cadillac Dreams
  10. King Of Hearts
  11. The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away
  12. You Love Me To Hate You
  13. Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell
  14. Little Caesar
  15. Boomerang

Personnel: Eric Carr (drums, percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals and bass on Little Caesar), Bruce Kulick (lead guitars, backing vocals, acoustic guitar solo on Forever), Paul Stanley (lead vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitars, brass arrangement on Cadillac Dreams), Gene Simmons (lead vocals, backing vocals, bass)

Paul Stanley sang lead vocals on seven tracks. Gene Simmons, as he did on most of the band’s 80’s releases, sang lead vocals on the other half of the tracks, seven in all. In addition, Eric Carr took on lead vocals for Little Caesar, the first member of the band to sing lead on a studio album other than Simmons or Stanley since Music From The Elder (1981). Additional musicians included Phil Ashley (keyboards), All Star Cadillac Brass, The Sisters of No Mercy (backing vocals), Kevin Valentine (drums), and Pat Regan (saxophone).

This is also the first album by the band to feature input from future lead guitarist/Space Man, Tommy Thayer. Thayer played the electroacoustic guitar on Betrayed and The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away. He also co-wrote those two songs with Gene Simmons. Simmons contributed writing on eight of the album tracks. Paul Stanley co-wrote seven tracks. Kulick co-wrote two tracks and Eric Carr co-wrote Little Caesar with Gene Simmons and Adam Mitchell. Additional songwriters included Vini Poncia, Bob Halligan, Jr., Desmond Child, and Holly Knight. I’ll mention another songwriter in a later paragraph.

The album as a whole is somewhat of a letdown to me. I, like many fans of the band, feel that there are just too many filler tracks. Most KISS albums up to that point featured between eight and ten songs. They were fairly short and to the point. HITS, loaded with fifteen tracks, felt bloated and weighed down by a number of forgettable tracks. For me, those forgettable tracks were Love’s A Slap In The Face, Cadillac Dreams, The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away, and You Love Me To Hate You. I’d also throw away Read My Body but I have too much fun laughing at its blatantly cheesy lyrics. If it was tossed in, that would give KISS ten good tracks for the album. My least favorite track on the album is You Love Me To Hate You.

For all of the bad songs on the album, there are also some pretty amazing tracks. First and foremost I have to mention Forever. Yes, a power ballad convinced me to put money down for my first ever KISS album and I don’t regret it one bit. The song, co-written by Paul Stanley and Michael Bolton (yes, THAT Michael Bolton), is simply wonderful. Paul’s voice is powerful on this track and it’s one of his best vocal performances in my opinion. Bruce Kulick’s acoustic solo is one of my favorite not only by him but from the band as a whole.I love this song so much that I championed it to be on the set list at my wedding. My wife refused so I tried to have it played at our reception. To be honest, my reception was a big blur, so I don’t know if it was played there or it fell to the wayside.

Other great songs on this album include Rise To It, Hide Your Heart, Little Caesar, Prisoner Of Love, and Betrayed. Rise To It opens the album with a twinge of twang and goes into a solid pop rocker. In fact, most of the tracks on this album could be defined as heavy pop rock tracks. Many fans claim the song Boomerang, the album’s closer, to be a light speed metal track but I don’t hear it. It’s essentially a sped up pop rocker to me. Betrayed and Prisoner Of Love feature some solid guitar work by Kulick and Gene’s vocals on both tracks are surprisingly strong. If I had to pick a second favorite on this album, it would easily be Hide Your Heart. It’s a great story song and you can visualize it while Paul is pumping out the lyrics.

Ultimately, HITS has more misses. Most KISS albums feature a few outstanding tracks, a few solid songs, and possibly one forgettable track, but HITS has at least four (arguably five) real stinkers, three amazing tracks, and a few other good tracks that can’t make up for the disastrous tracks like Cadillac Dreams. I keep Forever and Hide Your Heart in my regular rotation. I have tried multiple times and failed to match Paul’s voice on Forever. I cannot say the actual word “forever”and have it sound as good as it does when Paul hits that note. KISS was definitely experimenting with their songwriting abilities on this album as Hide Your Heart is pretty unique in the KISS catalog. Overall, I love a few songs on this album, dislike many more, but have fond memories of listening to this album as a kid.

So there you have it. I love this album…..but I hate it. It’s got hits, more misses, and too much filler. It has one of my all time favorite KISS tracks and many more of my least favorites. Next week I’ll be looking at Revenge, the kick in the teeth that KISS and music in general desperately needed. Thanks for checking out my post!

The Year Of KISS: Crazy Nights (1987)

“This is our music, we love it loud!”

Just over two years after the release of Asylum, KISS gave the world their fourteenth studio album, Crazy Nights. Released on September 21, 1987, it was the longest break between albums for the band since the release of Love Gun (1977) and Dynasty (1979) not counting the four solo albums in 1978. The band released one album a year from 1979 to 1985, and went through two drummers and four lead guitarists during that time. Thankfully Bruce Kulick proved to be a keeper and the stability of his and drummer Eric Carr’s abilities gave KISS their strongest lineup in my opinion.

Despite the stability of Carr and Kulick, the band was still dealing with infighting primarily between Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Stanley, ever the frontman, continued to champion the cause of KISS throughout the 80’s and Gene was trying to break into acting and music management. Stanley accused Gene of slacking off with the band and even Simmons has said over the years that he was lost as an artist at the time. It shows on Crazy Nights. Stanley’s songs on the album are much, much better than Simmons’ tunes.

The band stripped back much of their glam look from the previous few years, primarily wearing tight leather, spandex, and darker colors with a lot less makeup. That being said, the videos produced for the album’s singles featured plenty of flamboyancy and glammed up looks, especially from Paul.

The album featured eleven tracks. Of those tracks, three were released as singles. The first single, Crazy Crazy Nights, was very successful. It managed to reach #4 on the UK Singles Chart, #37 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart, #65 on the Billboard Hot 100, #7 on the Norwegian Singles Chart, #9 on the Irish Singles Chart, and charted on a total of eight different charts overall. The second single, the power ballad Reason To Live, hit #34 and #64 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively. The final single, Turn On The Night, only managed to reach #41 on the UK Singles Chart. The album itself reached #18 on the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum less than two months after its release. It was KISS’ highest charting album in the 1980’s.

Track Listing:

  1. Crazy Crazy Nights (Single)
  2. I’ll Fight Hell To Hold You
  3. Bang Bang You
  4. No, No, No
  5. Hell Or High Water
  6. My Way
  7. When Your Walls Come Down
  8. Reason To Live (Single)
  9. Good Girl Gone Bad
  10. Turn On The Night (Single)
  11. Thief In The Night

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Bruce Kulick (lead guitars, backing vocals), Eric Carr (drums, backing vocals, percussion), Gene Simmons (lead vocals, bass, backing vocals)

Stanley provided lead vocals on seven of the eleven tracks on the album. Simmons sang lead on the four other tracks. Tom Kelly provided additional backing vocals. The band also added keyboards to the mix for the album, bringing in Phil Ashley to lay down many of the keyboard work on the album along with Paul Stanley. Fans had mixed feelings about the keys on the album.

This album is all over the place for me. It features some of my favorite and least favorite KISS songs. It opens up with Crazy Crazy Nights, my favorite KISS song to hear live. There’s something empowering about singing this song along with thousands of fans and Paul Stanley. I also really love Reason To Live and Turn On The Night. Both of these power ballads sound amazing and Bruce Kulick’s solos are wonderful. Another favorite of mine is Good Girl Gone Bad. It’s the only Gene Simmons lead vocal track that I really like on this album. I’ll Fight Hell To Hold You and My Way round out my favorite tracks on this album.

The album suffers from what I consider to be lazy writing. Songs like No, No, No and Bang Bang You reek of lame lyrics. No, No, No does, however, feature some of Bruce Kulick’s most impressive playing and the obvious influence of Eddie Van Halen. In fact, the album has a number of songs that sound a lot like some of Van Halen’s tracks.

Ultimately Crazy Nights is an uneven album that features tracks that are amazing and just as many that are forgettable. It isn’t as consistent as Asylum but I do have to say that this is some of Bruce Kulick’s best work for the band. I also like how KISS added more ballads and that those songs proved to be some of the best on the album. It was a low key risky album in my opinion and it only partly worked.

I also have to add that I really like the cover of this album. The shattered glass effect reminds me of my favorite Paul Stanley guitar and the contrasting black and blue on the cover looks great. It’s probably my favorite no-makeup era cover overall.

Next month I’ll be taking a look at Hot In The Shade, the first KISS album that I ever owned. I think that my review of that album might be a bit of a shock for most folks considering the fact that it features the song that got me initially hooked on KISS…..and tons of filler.

Thanks for checking out my post. The Year Of KISS has been fun for me and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it as well.

The Year Of KISS: Asylum (1985)

“I’m gonna live my life, oh yeah!”

One year and three days after the release of 1984’s Animalize, KISS released their thirteenth studio album, Asylum. As successful as the band was at the time, they were on their third lead guitarist in three albums. Bruce Kulick, who finished out the Animalize tour after Mark St. John was released, was officially brought in as a member of the band and his influence and style are firmly imprinted on Asylum and the rest of KISS’ catalogue until 1996 when the original four members of the group would reunite. Kulick played with amazing speed and intricacy when necessary, but also held his fast fingers in check on slower tracks. As flashy as his playing was, Kulick seemed to be the most reserved member of the band, seemingly happy to take a step back and let Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Eric Carr have all of the glory. In my opinion, Kulick is the most technically gifted guitar player that the band ever had.

The band seemed to mesh quite well on Asylum. Carr gladly pounded his way through the album which was composed almost entirely of hard rock and glam metal tracks. One could argue that Who Wants To Be Lonely and Tears Are Falling bordered upon being power ballads, but they were uptempo tracks with some surprisingly heavy guitar work in my opinion. Paul’s vocals were amazing on this album and improved upon his work on Animalize. He also shared producer credits on the album with Gene but, as many have said over the years (including Gene), Stanley did most of the production work himself. Simmons did an excellent job on bass and as I’ve already stated, Kulick handled lead guitar duties like a champ.

The band also amped up their glam look for the album and its supporting tour. Bright blues, pinks, greens, and reds were all over the place. The band added eyeliner and mascara to their look as well. Oh, there was also a lot of hairspray….so….much….hairspray. This is probably my least favorite look for the band despite being one of my favorite lineups.

Released on September 16, 1985, the album featured ten tracks. Only one single was released. Tears Are Falling was released on the same day as the album and peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #20 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts. The album itself managed to climb to #20 on the US Billboard 200. It achieved gold status in 1985 and eventually hit platinum status a few years later.

Track Listing:

  1. King Of The Mountain
  2. Any Way You Slice It
  3. Who Wants To Be Lonely
  4. Trial By Fire
  5. I’m Alive
  6. Love’s A Deadly Weapon
  7. Tears Are Falling (Single)
  8. Secretly Cruel
  9. Radar For Love
  10. Uh! All Night

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bass on Tears Are Falling), Bruce Kulick (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Carr (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Gene Simmons (bass, lead vocals), Jean Beauvoir (bass, backing vocals on Who Wants To Be Lonely and Uh! All Night), Allan Schwartzberg (drum overdubs)

The album featured a lot fewer artists than Animalize and, at least in my opinion, sounded much better. While Asylum kept KISS in the public eye, it failed to capture audiences as well as its predecessor. Paul Stanley co-wrote six songs on the album and was the sole writer on Tears Are Falling. Gene Simmons co-wrote four tracks. Kulick received three co-writing credits. Additional co-writers included Desmond Child, Jean Beauvoir, Howard Rice, and Wes Beech.

The album opens with the blisteringly strong King Of The Mountain. The song showcases Paul Stanley’s vocals and Bruce Kulick’s guitars. From there, Stanley and Gene Simmons alternate on lead vocals with Gene taking over on Any Way You Slice It, another excellent song and Paul following that up with Who Wants To Be Lonely. The album remains consistently strong on all of the tracks until it hits Secretly Cruel (Simmons on lead vocals) and Radar For Love (Stanley on lead vocals). While Secretly Cruel features some excellent guitars, it just sits wrong with me for some reason. Radar For Love is an awkward track with its hard stops and starts. The album finishes off with one of KISS’ best innuendo-laden 80’s tracks, Uh! All Night.

My favorite songs on the album are Tears Are Falling, Who Wants To Be Lonely, King Of The Mountain, and Trial By Fire. In all honesty, I like all but two of the songs (Secretly Cruel, Radar For Love) to some degree. Trial By Fire sounds like a tune you’d hear playing in the background of an 80’s film where kids are preparing for the state basketball game, a BMX race, or some other sporting event. King Of The Mountain is great, period. I wish that it had been released as a single. All of the songs are heavy on lead guitars and when allowed, Eric Carr unleashes a barrage of drums. The band released videos for Tears Are Falling, Who Wants To Be Lonely, and Uh! All Night.

Although it underperformed when compared to other 80’s KISS albums, Asylum is a surprisingly solid album with eight strong tracks and two fillers. It’s one of KISS’ best albums in my opinion and is severely underrated. The band would continue to have decent success for the rest of the decade but wouldn’t catch on fire again until the early 90’s.

Next week I’ll be tackling KISS’ 1987 release, Crazy Nights. Thankfully the band trimmed back the glam look for the album but cranked up their power ballad efforts. Does it work? Find out in my next entry in The Year Of KISS!

The Year Of KISS: Animalize (1984)

“I wanna put my log in your fireplace….”

Hot on the heels of their Lick It Up Tour, KISS headed back into the studio to record their next album, 1984’s Animalize. The band’s popularity was growing once again and they needed to put out an album that could keep their name in the magazines, their faces on television, and, perhaps most important of all, their music on the radio and the charts. There was a problem, however, because Vinnie Vincent was gone and the group needed a strong lead guitarist to replace him as quickly as possible. Luckily for the group, Mark St. John was ready to take Vinnie’s place and he did so with blisteringly fast playing ability.

Much like Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John apparently didn’t mesh very well with the rest of the group. According to St. John, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons didn’t trust his playing. In numerous articles over the years, St. John mentioned how Stanley and Simmons would insist on being at the studio while he was recording his parts for Animalize. Stanley even accused him of being unable to duplicate or replay solos and other parts of songs.

Another source of aggravation for the band was Gene Simmons. Surprisingly, he had become more focused on his own film career and his work as a band manager at the time. Over the years, Simmons has admitted that he “lost his way” with the band when he removed his makeup. Paul Stanley called out Simmons as well during this time and ultimately Simmons praised Stanley for not only being honest with him, but for keeping the band alive while Simmons found himself. Despite all of the issues with St. John and Simmons, the album was recorded and eventually released on September 13, 1984.

The album featured nine tracks. It was a huge success. It outperformed Lick It Up and became the band’s biggest-selling album since Dynasty. That being said, only one of its two singles, Heaven’s On Fire, managed to chart. That song peaked at #11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart and #49 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. The other single, Thrills In The Night, failed to chart. Heaven’s On Fire is the only song from the album that has remained in the band’s live show over the years.

Track Listing:

  1. I’ve Had Enough (Into The Fire)
  2. Heaven’s On Fire (Single)
  3. Burn Bitch Burn
  4. Get All You Can Take
  5. Lonely Is The Hunter
  6. Under The Gun
  7. Thrills In The Night (Single)
  8. While The City Sleeps
  9. Murder In High-Heels

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, Mark St. John (lead guitar), Eric Carr (backing vocals, drums, percussion), Gene Simmons (lead and backing vocals, bass), Bruce Kulick (guitar solos on Murder In High-Heels and Lonely Is The Hunter), Jean Beauvoir (bass on Get All You Can Take, Under The Gun, and Thrills In The Night) Mitch Weissman (additional guitars), Desmond Child (backing vocals), and Allan Schwartzberg (drum overdubs)

As you can see from the personnel list, producer Paul Stanley brought in a number of outside players to get the album’s sound just right. In standard KISS fashion, no one has ever said just how much of the actual band’s input was kept on the album. Five of the album’s tracks were co-written by Paul Stanley. Eric Carr received one co-writing credit. Gene Simmons wrote Lonely Is The Hunter and Burn Bitch Burn. He also co-wrote two other tracks. Jean Beauvoir, Desmond Child, and Mitch Weissman co-wrote many of the tracks as well.

While the album was a financial success and kept KISS reasonably close to the upper echelon of pop culture, the album is about fifty-fifty for me. I’ve Had Enough (Into The Fire) is one of the best album openers that KISS has ever cranked out in my opinion. It’s followed up by two great songs, Heaven’s On Fire and the surprisingly fun-to-sing-along-with Burn Bitch Burn. Then the quality drops off considerably in my opinion. Of the remaining tracks, Under The Gun is pretty decent and Thrills In The Night deserves more attention than it has received over the years. The rest of the songs are forgettable. In particular, Get All You Can Take is easily one of my least favorite songs by KISS overall. Paul’s voice grates my ears in that song and that’s rare for me as I quite like Paul’s vocals on most tracks.

Mark St. John’s guitar work is ridiculously fast. It’s so fast that it sort of sounds like it’s falling off of the rails at times during songs. His style to me is essentially Vinnie Vincent at 2X speed and with slightly less talent. St. John just never clicked with me. He could obviously play the guitar very well, but of all of KISS’ axe men over the years, he’s my least favorite. I hate saying that considering how tough his life was after exiting the band, but it’s the truth.

Speaking of St. John’s exit, he didn’t even finish the Animalize tour with the group. Roughly two months after the album’s release, St. John was fired from the group and replaced by Bruce Kulick (pictured above with Stanley and Simmons). Suffering from reactive arthritis, St. John’s arms and fingers would swell to the point that he could not play his guitar. According to St. John, his arthritis was used as the public excuse for his firing but in reality, it was the fact that he couldn’t get along with the rest of the group. He only managed to play two full shows on the tour. Kulick was brought along and waited backstage in case he was needed to finish a show. Kulick would remain with the band until the eventual reunion of the original lineup in 1996.

My favorite songs on this album are the two singles, with Heaven’s On Fire being one of my favorite KISS songs overall. I know that that might not make much sense due to the fact that I am not big on St. John’s style, but it was perfect on that track to me. I’ve Had Enough (Into The Fire) is another track that occasionally makes it into my rotation. It’s a brutally powerful track.

Overall, Animalize just doesn’t register with me like a lot of KISS’ other albums have done over the years. It’s one of the albums that I listen to the least and I rarely talk about it. I believe that it would be a lot more memorable if the band had taken a step back for just a few more months, hired a guitarist that they could work with instead of one out of necessity and due to time constraints, and spent more time on the songs. The band’s next album, 1985’s Asylum, is, in my opinion, a much better album. I’ll be reviewing it next month. It’s the first album to feature Bruce Kulick as an official member of the band.

Thanks for reading my post. Did Animalize work for you? Do you wish that Mark St. John would have had more time with the band? Let me know in the comments.

The Year Of KISS: Lick It Up (1983)

“It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself.”

September 18, 1983 will go down in history as one of the most pivotal points in time for KISS. Ace and Peter were gone. Record sales and the band’s popularity were low. Creatures Of The Night failed to give the group a boost despite being an amazing album. The group needed something to bring the old fans back and attract new fans. That something was the removal of the band’s signature makeup and the release of Lick It Up. The band, now featuring Vinnie Vincent on guitar, appeared on MTV without their makeup for the first time and announced the release of their new album.

Watching the video of the band’s revelation was awkward in my opinion. Despite telling fans that appearing without makeup was comfortable, Gene appears to be noticeably uncomfortable to me. Paul initially appears uncomfortable but, being the showman that he is, quickly falls into his “promo” mode for the band. Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent appear to be just fine.

Lick It Up was recorded almost immediately after the band wrapped up their less than stellar Creatures Of The Night tour. Stylistically it is nothing more than a continuation of Creatures to me. It features blitzkrieg fast guitar work by Vinnie Vincent, the same wonderfully powerful drums of Eric Carr, Paul Stanley’s strong vocals and rhythm guitars, and Gene Simmons’ growling bass and vocals. Unlike Creatures it lacks a ballad. That wouldn’t be the case for the band’s next few albums, as the power ballad would prove to be one of KISS’ strong points later in the 1980’s.

The album cover features the band standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a white background. Outside of Gene sticking out his tongue and the classic KISS logo, nothing else about the cover calls back to the band’s first makeup era. It’s the harbinger of a new time for KISS.

The album featured ten tracks. It jumped up to #24 on the US Billboard 200 and peaked in the Top 20 in ten different countries. It went gold by December of 1983 and would eventually hit platinum status in 1990. The album featured two singles, the title track and All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose. Despite amazing album sales, neither single impressed on the charts, with Lick It Up topping out on the US Billboard 100 at #66 and All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose peaking at #71 on the German Singles Chart. Even though it fared poorly on the radio, Lick It Up is a live show staple for the band.

Track Listing:

  1. Exciter
  2. Not For The Innocent
  3. Lick It Up (Single)
  4. Young And Wasted
  5. Gimme More
  6. All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose (Single)
  7. A Million To One
  8. Fits Like A Glove
  9. Dance All Over Your Face
  10. And On The 8th Day

Personnel: Paul Stanley (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Gene Simmons (lead vocals, bass), Vinnie Vincent (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Carr (drums, backing vocals), Rick Derringer (guitar solo on Exciter)

After a number of album releases featuring multiple outside artists, it was refreshing to see KISS go somewhat back to basics with the four members doing almost all of the work on the album themselves. Michael James Jackson produced the album along with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

My favorite track on this album is Not For The Innocent. The 1980’s would slowly see Gene Simmons take a step back on KISS’ albums and Not For The Innocent is, at least in my opinion, his last real “Demon” track until the release of 1992’s Revenge and the single Unholy. Simmons has frequently stated that the Unmasked era for the band was a distant time for him. He said that he was more interested in becoming a movie star at the time than for being in KISS and credits Paul Stanley for keeping the band alive during that era.

The title track, despite its hokey post-apocalyptic music video, is also a favorite track of mine. Other standout tracks include the speedy Young And Wasted, the groovy rocker Fits Like A Glove, and the album’s closer, And On The 8th Day. I’m not much of a fan of the rest of the album. It’s okay, but even though it sold much better than Creatures, I feel as if that album is far superior and actually deserved more attention than it received with its initial release.

Of course, you can’t talk about Lick It Up, the No Makeup Era, or the revival of KISS without mentioning the enigmatic Vinnie Vincent. Despite his brief tenure with the group, Vincent deserves a lot of credit for breathing new life into the KISS machine. Vincent not only played on six tracks and co-wrote three songs (including the massively popular I Love It Loud) for Creatures, he also co-wrote eight of the ten songs for Lick It Up including the title track. He was booted from the band in 1984 but eventually returned as a songwriter for 1992’s Revenge. To this day there is a strained relationship between KISS and Vincent.

With Lick It Up, KISS was back in the news, back on the charts, and making waves once again. Vinnie Vincent injected new life into the group but his personality proved to be too much for the other members of the band. Gene Simmons was about to seek fame on the big screen, leaving Paul Stanley alone to run the show. Eric Carr, ever the professional, was content with pounding the drums for the group and being perhaps its most fan-friendly member at the time. What was next for the group? Find out next Friday when I return with another installment of The Year Of KISS.

Thanks for checking out my post. I’ve got some wonderful updates coming very soon and even more KISS related posts waiting in the wings. See you soon!