Wednesday, June 4, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KISS - 40

Kiss is all about an image, and a brand.  It was established way back at the start of this 40 years, and is well-known:  Four guys in costumes, one guy with a big tongue, I Wanna Rock And Roll All Nite, and big cartoon rock music.  It's pretty simple, and it's worked out very, very well, even a belated acknowledgement this year from the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.  However, dig a little deeper into the recording career of the band, and you'll find out how many times they have tried to step away from the format, only to see that anything else they try fails.  Luckily for the band, when they step back into the image and brand, things get back on track.

This 40th anniversary 2-disc set covers all the hits right up to 2012's Hell Or Hallelujah, from the album Monster.  That's pretty typical stuff for them, cartoon devils from the pen of Paul Stanley, in arena rock.  But back on disc one, you'll find out that early on, Kiss were seduced by the dark ...or make that, the light side.  They may have hit with the teens big-time with the Kiss Alive! album, but they got even bigger with the pretty ballad Beth.  Well, once pop success is reached, those dollars are hard to resist.  After that came Hard Luck Woman, a total rip-off of Rod Stewart and Maggie May.  It was somewhat of a hit too, and the Stanley/Simmons axis seemed bent on finding more of that.  When things were starting to fizzle in the late 70's, somebody came up with the pretty decent idea of each member doing a solo album.  Decent on paper, anyway.  In truth, the albums were horrible, topped by Stanley's ghastly, sappy Hold Me, Touch Me single.  These albums are often mentioned as the most "returned" albums in history, meaning hundreds of thousands of unsold copies were sent back to the manufacturer from stores.  The message was clear:  stick to the formula.

Only Kiss still didn't get it.  Unmasked saw them take off the make-up, undermining the core mystery of the group, the comic book secret identities which appealed to teens.  Then came a supposedly serious rock album Music From The Elder.  Kiss was close to death.  That is, until they finally got the message in the early 80's.  Back to hard rock, and back to big crowds and respectable sales, featuring the tacky but catchy I Love It Loud, Lick It Up, Heaven's On Fire, and Let's Put The X In Sex.  By now the giant tongue'd one had figured out the whole merch thing too, and any more attempts at broadening their sound and audience were abandoned.  Funny though, proving a bunch of different theories right, especially the one about hanging on long enough brings grudging respect, Kiss have been embraced by new generations while regaining some old fans who like reliving their childhood.

This set features a few rare things, nice for diehards, including some demos and live cuts.  All the expected numbers are here, as well as several live versions from the many, many live albums they've put out.  But that's what people want from Kiss.  Or as Simmons says to a July 4 crowd in Pittsburgh in 2004, "Whaddya say we play some good rock and roll music and blow some crap up?"  It's that simple.

2 comments:

  1. Bob, you got it wrong. Unmasked(1980) they still had their makeup on, and for the next subsequent albums Music from The Elder(1981) and Creatures of The Night(1982). It was Lick It Up(1983) that they removed the makeup.

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  2. ah, my memory of that incredible moment in rock history did indeed fail me. Thanks Moniz. In a form of punishment, I shall now go and listen to all four solo albums.

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