As I listen to it now, seemingly 100,00 years from 1979, it dawns on me that KISS‘s controversial release, Dynasty, is a direct result of the 4 solo albums, damn good and in many ways the band’s ‘White Album’; disjunct yet many splendored. Strong as it is, turns out that selling out is a ‘Dirty Livin’.
For all it’s detracting elements, Dynasty is time piece worth revisiting on so many levels, a pivotal moment in KISStory that sees the band at their apex staring into the abyss. In a mere 5 years, KISS had gone from a dirty underground leathered shock rock band with a demonic tinge, largely thanks to Simmons early incarnations, to the biggest fucking band in the world. ‘The Return of KISS’ in ’79 with Dynasty is mega-KISS fully mechanized for world domination, with a sure-fire disco hit for radio as the ace up their sleeves. ‘Beth’ lit the radio lamp, and others kept it afloat (‘Hard Luck Woman’, ‘Dr. Love’) but ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ signaled that KISS had no choice but to compete, something ironically no one believed they’d be able to do beyond the initial buzz. Dynasty proved all the early critics wrong and yet proved them all right: KISS was more a ‘business’ than a band, as they had suspected. By 1979, KISS had over-saturated the market with product and, ironically, become almost too good, and certainly too well packaged. In modern terms, KISS had been on an amazing run but were ‘played out’.
But backing up, and without the hindsight of KISStory, Dynasty truly benefits musically from the reality that, with the solo records behind them, they were now a four headed monster with distinct styles, voices and proclivities. It must have been all Bill Aucoin could handle, knowing surely it could not go on at this clip forever; he had created four madmen by enabling each as true stars.
Yes, Dynasty — the proof maybe right there in the title? The fact that they would consider such a title while they still had the sour taste left by the over pressing of the 4-solo albums, seems a little too boastful for (even) KISS, especially on the heels of the Double Platinum hits package. Then add the heightened competition the solo album endeavor created between the band members. The fact that rock producer legends Eddie Kramer & Bob Ezrin had both extracted hits from Peter Criss, and the fact that Ace outflanked all his bandmates with his Kramer produced version of ‘New York Groove’, makes ’79 an interesting time for Simmons & Stanley, the founders and true architects of the bands ultimate survival.
It was Paul Stanley’s time for a hit, and disco had so much in common with his Motown roots, it just fit like a glove. If ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ hadn’t have made it, ‘Sure Know Something’ might have in its stead? Certainly, no way though that Gene, no matter how wonderfully he modernized his growl on Dynasty, was going to fit in a disco suit, musically speaking. Gene’s megalomania by ’79 was not focused on music per se, it was ‘Super KISS” and any way you slice it, he was having another piece. Over satiated, and likely a shrewd decision, Gene let Paul take the lead, and it worked. Crafty move also to placate Ace simultaneously by giving the Spacemen, for the first time on any KISS record, more songs on it than the Bat-Demon himself!
But to the music — this is great KISS record, and the best song on it is Criss’s ‘Dirty Livin” followed by Stanley’s ‘Magic Touch’ and Gene’s cartoonishly brilliant ‘X-Ray Eyes’. Produced by Vinnie Poncia with Criss M.I.A. and Anton Fig on the skins, Dynasty is a snapshot of four stars shifting orbits, about to combust. As fucked up as they were, and however separate they were in recording various tracks on it, Dynasty is a singular powerhouse that hangs tough today. Unfortunately though in ’79 the face shock value of “I Was Made For Loving You” was too much for US hard rock fans to endorse, regardless of Frehley’s stellar and oft overlooked contributions to the party. And. even though Criss was practically persona non-grata at this stage of the game, one can’t help but wonder how KISStory’s path may have changed had KISS lead with the compelling, dark disco soul of ‘Dirty Livin’ as the single? or if they had nixed “I Was Made For Loving You” altogether?!
While the Beatles asked you to not judge a book by it’s cover with their famously blank ‘White Album’ cover, KISS instead forces us to follow the ever-evolving plot with Dynasty. Blatantly no longer street, KISS had become elite and had no choice but to embrace their celebrity, hence the biggest mistake on the album, the self-absorbed title.