Sunday, January 27, 2008

Discography: Kiss (the makeup years)

Before anyone even says anything, I know that this stuff was geared toward adolescent males (and actually appealed most to pre-adolescent males). I know the lyrics are about as stupid as anything rock music has ever produced. I know the objectification of women is part and parcel of Kiss and I hate that. However, I was about six when I first got into Kiss and from 1977 until 1980, I probably listened to little else. Over the years, I've become more and more disgusted with Kiss' increasingly cheap commercialism, but I still come back to these old albums from time to time. Now, they were every bit as commercial in 1974 as they were on that Farewell Tour that didn't seem to end, but there is a difference. For years Kiss wanted to be the biggest band in the world and they went about that by writing good, fun pop/rock songs and putting on a stage show that was second to none. Everything was for sale, but frankly, even the Kiss action figures were pretty cool.

Kiss (1974)
Kiss' debut has some great songs on it. "Strutter," "Firehouse," "Cold Gin" and "Deuce" are among their best. The trouble is that it also includes "Kissin' Time" (which actually wasn't included on the first pressing) and "Love Theme from Kiss," the former a lackluster cover and the latter a complete embarrassment. Still this album had the raw swagger of the British glam bands Kiss surely wanted not just to imitate, but beat at their own game.
Rating: 8/10

Hotter Than Hell (1974)
Their sophomore album didn't polish things up, but it tends to drag too often. Sure the title track is one of their most famous tunes and "Watchin' You" and "Let Me Go, Rock n Roll" are every bit as good as the debut, but there's too much material like "Goin' Blind" (it feels like a coma) and "Mainline" (if I wanted Faces, I'd play Faces, because they're better at it). Coming out less than nine months after Kiss, it's pretty clear this one was rushed.
Rating: 6/10

Dressed to Kill (1975)
Coming only five months after Hotter..., Dressed to Kill should have suffered from the same shortage of good material, but it didn't. Sure, I've heard "Rock and Roll All Nite" way too many times, but I still get a kick out of "Room Service," "C'mon and Love Me" and really the whole album. "She" is one of their most memorable songs.
Rating: 8/10

Destroyer (1976)
Destroyer had long been my favorite Kiss album and it certainly has plenty of fine songs, from the well-known "Detroit Rock City" and "God of Thunder" to lesser known cuts like "Flaming Youth" and "Shout It Out Loud" (both of which were singles). The trouble is Destroyer is just too slick and despite good songs, the album lacks the loose fun of their earlier releases. Oh yeah, and this one has "Great Expectations," which might be the best case against it.
Rating: 7/10

Rock and Roll Over (1976)
While Destroyer erred on the side of slickness, Kiss made an adjustment on the follow-up. Rock and Roll Over splits the difference between their early rawness and the somewhat emasculated sound on Destroyer, resulting in perhaps Kiss' best record. "I Want You" and "Makin' Love" measure up to their best songs and "Baby Driver," "Take Me" and "Ladies Room" aren't far off either. Since Rod Stewart didn't want "Hard Luck Woman," the band decided Peter Criss was the next best thing. Of course he's nowhere near Rod, but it's a decent ballad nonetheless.
Rating: 8/10

Love Gun (1977)
Kiss found the right formula on Rock and Roll Over and stuck with it on Love Gun. Once again it worked, but it's a shame they didn't have one more good tune so they didn't have to cover "Then She Kissed Me." Still, the title track, "Christine Sixteen," and just about everything else here are great catchy hard rock tunes. "Shock Me" and "Hooligan," whose lyrics are dumb even dumb by Kiss standards, are still a blast.
Rating: 8/10

Dynasty (1979)
This one has taken a beating over the years and it's certainly somewhat deserved. Kiss actually had an edge prior to taking their solo album break the year before, but there's very little of that left on here. However, there are some good pop moments in "I Was Made for Loving You" and "Charisma." "Hard Times" is the hardest rocking song, but it's just plain dull. It's sad when the best song on the album is a Stones cover. The reality is that Dynasty has too much in common with what bands like Toto were doing at the same time. Yeah, I guess Dynasty deserves what it gets.
Rating: 4/10

Unmasked (1980)
This one generally fares even worse than Dynasty, but I like it a little bit more. They were still short on good songs (maybe less so than on the last album) and it really has no teeth whatsoever, but the whole affair doesn't feel as forced. I suspect that on both of these albums, Paul stepped forward to take control of a seriously listing ship and set its pop course. He succeeded in keeping it afloat, but it's arguable as to whether that was a good thing or not. Most of the album is very mediocre, but "Talk to Me" and "She's So European" save the album from "Shandi." "Torpedo Girl" isn't a bad time either, even if it's nothing to write home about.
Rating: 5/10

Music from the Elder (1981)
All I can say is the album is as bad as that video for "A World Without Heroes" where Gene (still in makeup of course) cries. I think everyone who bought this wanted to cry and wishes, like Gene, they could hide behind some goofy makeup too.
Rating: 1/10

Creatures of the Night (1982)
Kiss seemed to take Ace's (yet unannounced) departure much more in stride than they had Peter's, which seems odd since Ace was bigger contributor. Still, they saw that no one was interested in the pop leanings or, worse yet, the concept albums of a bunch of goofballs in Kabuki face. Rather than take off the makeup, Kiss instead made their heaviest album ever. It didn't increase sales much in the US, but the outcome was some of their best material. The title track and "Killer" find Kiss as a metal band really for the first time. Even the ballad, "I Still Love You," has some heavy parts and "I Love It Loud" is an anthem of inarticulate loudness.
Rating: 8/10

I've only addressed the makeup-era studio albums here and I'm just going to pretend the solo albums don't exist. While it wouldn't be so bad to spend some time with Ace's, that would force me to listen to the other three. Some would say that listening to this much Kiss at once is surely masochistic and perhaps it is, but I'm not up for the kind of beating that Gene and Peter's solo albums in particular can dish out on my poor ears.

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Blogger Metal Mark said...

I would probably be inclined to agree with most of your views on these albums. Except I may rank "Hotter than hell" a little higher and "Unmasked" a little lower. "Dressed to kill" is my favorite album with "Lovegun" a close second. In a way it's a shame "Creatures of the night" didn't do better when it was released because it's a very solid release. However it has stood up very well over the years and I think diehard and casual KISS fans alike realize that and it's respected now.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Rhodeislandrock said...

Being the KISS diehard I am I would rate the debut album higher to a 9 and Hotter Than Hell to an 8. I'd put Rock And Roll Over up to a 9 because it's my favorite even though I can't stand 'Calling Dr. Love'. Love Gun loses a point because of 'Then She Kissed Me' & 'Tomorrow & Tonight', I give it a 7. I'd up Dynasty to a 5 to keep it even with Unmasked. Both records are cut from the same cloth but I reach for Unmasked more.

The Elder is tricky, it's either loved or loathed. Over the years I've gone from hating it to loving it. If I listen objectively, it was way off the KISS formula. Creatures is a return to a heavier form of crunch....a definite 9.

Heavy Metal Addiction

1:32 AM  
Blogger taotechuck said...

The time you spent listening to and writing about these albums is time that you will never, ever, ever get back. Never. Ever.

9:29 PM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

I actually agree with most of your opinions here, too. I tend to like Rock and Roll Over and Creatures of the Night the most of all of these, and I might rate Dynasty a bit higher (but as a pop album, not as a KISS one).

-- david

10:08 AM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Yeah, but isn't it worth it to spend time with Ace's solo album? It's the only one I own, and it's certainly superior to everything that followed it up to Creatures. I absoutely adore Ace's solo album as a pure rock record. I can honestly say I mostly bury the rest of Kiss out of my head on his album, while Paul's makes you think of Kiss all the way since he did little to change it up. Gene's is only fun to listen to him Cher get dirty on the phone, albeit "See You Tonite" has a beautiful charm on that reunion concert. Peter's.... we won't go there.

Dressed to Kill is also my favorite Kiss album, closely pushed by Rock and Roll Over. Destroyer used to be my favorite, but I agree with your thoughts there, particularly the uninspired attempt at rock opera-ism on "Great Expectations." I actually prefer much of The Elder to that song. I actually spent time with The Elder and yup, a good deal of it is embarassing, but there's some excellent riffs and solos by Ace every now and then.

And yeah, I'm totally flaming, but "Shandi's" a total guilty pleasure. Don't know why. Maybe because I wanna smooch whomever Shandi is just because Paul's so desperate to win her attention with a silly love song.

7:52 PM  

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