KISStorian’s ‘SONIC MONSTER’ a rock & roll party!

kissWhat a life it is KISStorians to have time free on a Saturday afternoon to contemplate the finer things in life, like combining KISS’s Sonic Boom & Monster discs into arguable one of the best KISS albums of all time, a playlist I refer to as ‘Sonic Monster’. Try this at home and get it the car stereo pronto hombre because listen up, and listen good … Sonic Boom and Monster are pretty damn good rock & roll records so, yeah, old school gripes aside people, a tip of the proverbial ‘Firehouse’ helmets to Tommy Thayer & Eric Singer for manning the barricades …all for the glory of the KISS Army. This would be a cool KISS delux release remixed by a special guest like Phil Spector (via web)  or Bob ‘The Elder’ Ezrin himself? Maybe the boys would have fun turning it in to a live album with Eddie Kramer? ūüôā Don’t be afraid to dream.

SONIC MONSTER(2016) Modern Day Delilah – Wall Of Sound  – Outta This World – I’m An Animal – Say Yeah – Hell Or Hallelujah – Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect) – Shout Mercy – When Lightning Strikes – Long Way Down – Danger Us – Stand – All For The Love Of Rock & Roll – Back To The Stone Age  – Last Chance 

KISS top US charts “All For The Love of Rock & Roll”

singerUpon further review I have come to the conclusion that KISS‘s “All For The Love of Rock & Roll” should have gone straight to number #1. It was, and still is, the new old school KISS rock & roll song that might have hit pay dirt on radio, or at least had a shot. Wouldn’t it have been ironic if a song by the (new) drummer in the band would have again propelled KISS on radio like back in 70’s when the boys broke. Who-da-thunk?

“Hell or hallelujah”, the single from Monster, was heavy and cool and yeah a return to form on some levels but a bit heavy and rugged for mainstream radio. Not that anyone in radio would throw their arms open to a new KISS single. KISStorians know better. I can’t help but wonder if Eric Singers rock & roll semi-masterpiece wouldn’t have caught a few ears off guard, like the band was able to do with “Hard Luck Woman” and “Beth” for that matter. Slight of hand, twist of fate….the grand illusion. Is that Rod Stewart dude? Our the chameleon heroes KISS, ever-courting the main stream, really may have a fairly obvious sharp play here.

“I hitched a ride on a train going nowhere, got 50 bucks in the bank, ain’t a lot of dough, but when you know the feeling, ….well it feels allright” – ERIC SINGER

Don’t get me wrong, I know that classic rock radio, or classic rock stations, have a playlist with little room for newbies, regardless the band. Sure, when they make the rounds on tour or with record release promo ‘phoners’ the stations will offer up a  few spins of ‘the new single’ but little else. I am not saying there aren’t great stations playing great new music but the double edge sword of being a house hold name relegates one to the highly cherished label of classic and, unfortunately, its a grave yard out there.  Ask ACDC, the Stones, Sting, ZZ Top, Metallica …new offerings will find no quarter on radio.

This track may have broken the mold though because A – it’s a dynamite chorus, B – Eric’s a dynamite singer and C – it sounds immediately familiar without being a rip-off.

The track also has, in my opinion, Eric Singer’s best rock & roll drum track to date. Sure, he’s killed shit on heavier, more metal based stuff with the band but I always felt he lacked that “swing” Gene talks about when speaking of Peter Criss. Here Eric sounds like a looser, more sympathetic Carmine Appice.

Want to do an easy test to find out what songs is really ‘rock & roll’ or not? Grab a couple toddlers and pop on Bill Haley’s “Rock & Around The Clock” or Elvis’s “Hound Dog” or the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock & Roll” or Rod’s “Hot Legs” or Led Zeps’ “Rock & Roll” or any Chuck Berry song —- they will dance. This tune has a similar quality, like my childhood fave “What’s Your Name?” by Skynyrd.

Back to Singer: I was at a KISS convention in Chicago once and Eric Singer was there. I got to ask him a question from the perspective of a drummer and it was: “Eric, what staple KISS live tune was the most difficult for you to play, or get down?” He paused briefly, tilted his head looking skyward and laughed: “you know what, I’ve never really thought about it ……and it’s weird because I wouldn’t have thought so going in since I’ve heard the song a million times, even before joining the band ……but the hardest one was “Rock & Roll All Night”. He didn’t elaborate and I was like (in me ‘ed) “jeez, that’s not good”.

If “All For The Love of Rock & Roll” is any indication, Eric is definitely officially in the NY groove. Some of the bass-snare-tom triplets and subtle snare work on this song show a side of Eric we haven’t heard much of since his world-class performances on MTV Unplugged.  Maybe laying back, as he had to then, and does on “All For The Love…” suits him better than the harder edge, double-bass acrobatics that got his name out there in the 80’s?

After Eric Carr passed away KISS would need a real pounder and Eric fit the bill because he drives the beat.  When you play drums in one of mother earths loudest band, subtle snare taps and rolls get lost in the din but as todays KISS devolves ever closer to its original vibe, Singer’s true rock & roll leanings appear to be finally coming out “Mommy Big-time” as Gene would say. Metal is more linear while rock & roll is more flow and I now realize how well Singer bridges between Peter Criss and Eric Carr. He’s more versatile than either and that well-honed skill is why he’s played and recorded with so many artists. In KISS, he combines the best of the chippy veteran Criss and the bombastic late great Carr to put his own stamp on the KISS music brand.

I know it’s too late but I see a really cool intentionally sepia-scaled video for the tune all about Eric growing up:  imagine grainy 30 millimeter clips of a kid with his first kit smiling back at the camera then shifting to bar scenes of a younger Singer “draggin’ home his drums”….basically a highly 70’s-stylized documentary feel. Heck, maybe even include a ‘re-enactment’ of him at that famed show in Cleveland as a kid when he climbed up into one of the ‘opera booths’ during a KISS show and got tossed from the venue… and then, at the end, I see Eric walking to the stage, twirling his sticks and singing the chorus to the camera, in full Catman gear.  As a PR masterstroke they could even intersperse classic clips of Peter, the original ‘Catman’, because it’s a cool story that might find ‘feel-good’ traction. Like Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer is ‘rock soldier’ who made damn sure he was ready when the KISS Army came calling, “All For The Love of Rock & Roll”.


KISStorian’s top ten GENE SIMMONS deep cuts

KISS Nation should demand the boyz seal these ten Gene master strokes up immediately in a time-capsule. I cannot put them in any order of import; no mere mortal could possibly extrapolate such calculations (not safely anyway).

WAR MACHINE – Creatures of The Night¬†This may have in fact have been recorded “On The 8th Day” because it is freakin’ god-like rock. The intro guitar riff is a couple of light years ahead of its time; hard to believe songsmith Bryan Adams could have had anything to do with the song, but he did. Gene’s growl says get the bleep out of my way or get run over by the biggest drums on earth, ever (thanks Eric Carr) and stands as a testament to Gene’s mastering of the ‘monster plod’. When he sings “draw the battle lines” it’s so evil, so infectious, that I literally wish to rule the world briefly. Terrifying. The gut-check guitars in the verse and the sheer space allowed for the drums to resonate ’till the next A-chord bruises another rib is downright primal. If “War Machine” doesn’t get your blood boiling you probably have never ‘rocked’ anyway. While we’re at it, it bears mentioning that there isn’t a bad track on Creatures; get it.

ALMOST HUMAN – Love Gun – Let me count the ways it’s special: the grabber bass tone, the poppin’ bass breaks, Peter Criss’s jungle groove, Ace Frehley’s Hendrix-inspired guitar solo, Gene’s all-holds-barred vocal musings, lyrics like “the moon is out I think I’m gonna change”. It ¬†screams ‘The Demon’ and yet has an avant-garde thing about it that few Kiss songs do. “Almost Human” added to the mystery of KISS in ’77, showcasing Gene’s knack for expanding the KISS superhero brand vision. ¬†Gene meets Zappa compliments of legendary producer Eddie Kramer.

GOIN’ BLIND – Hotter Than Hell Of the early Gene songs this is by far the darkest offering, in both lyrical content and musical tone, though “Watchin’ You” (off the same record) comes as a close second. When I was a kid, I couldn’t listen to “Goin’ Blind” because it troubled me, as it should have: it’s about a 93-year-old man in love with a 16-year-old. No question, it has a palpable desperation about it. The stark imagery, slowly developing minor chord melody, grungy mix and Gene’s straining lead vocal (“BEEE_EEEEEEE”) make for a heady, gut wrenching brew that exposes Gene’s British Invasion bug. ¬†To me, this is the song that qualifies Gene as an artist to be reckoned with. It’s all too wonderful; maybe the darkest ballad of all time!! ¬†Ace’s solo work throughout the track alone make “Goin Blind” a top ten Kiss song in this rock soldiers book. Yes, it’s Gene the bohemian artist.

ANIMAL – Sonic Boom ¬†Okay, I know, it’s not ‘Klassic KISS’ ¬†but you coulda fooled me, or anyone who cares. It’s a ruthless mother of tune that recalls Gene at his very finest, declaring independence and little remorse for his prey – probably the best tune he’s written in 20 years. It just sounds so damn urgent one has to wonder what buttons Paul Stanley must have pushed to awaken the Demon’s ire. Too bad he couldn’t have mustered something like this up for Animalize;¬†the album might have been even a bigger success for the boyz. How does a 60-year-old man write a rock riff this cool and have it not sound like anything else? The “Almost Human” refrain in the break is a real nice touch and Tommy Thayer lays down the law on arguably his best lead on the bands most recent opus. Conviction? Guilty as charged.

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES – Gene Simmons When KISS ruled the world the gods decreed there be four solo Kiss albums, and so it was. Gene’s ego was approaching supernova at the time so it was probably for the best, and maybe why “Man Of 1.000 Faces” was so perfect then and is so perfect now. It’s like a personal Gene Simmons brand statement / warning of things to come, and it’s a great song that took some guts. The first-person revelations and ¬†horn arrangements in the verses roar into an anthemic Beatles-inspired chorus that sounds more like a Broadway encore than a KISS song. It really shows Gene’s ability to tell a story and, in this case, an apparently spot on autobiographical one that paints Gene as a new hero to root for.

NAKED CITY – Unmasked – Okay, the record leaves a lot of folks with a poppy “what happened to KISS” taste in their mouths but it is, in hindsight, a pretty good record, largely due to the three Ace tunes on it. For some reason though, “Naked City” always felt strangely ultra-sincere to me in relation to the rest of it. So many departures on it including Gene’s falsetto and a quasi-reggae groove guitar line that came off like an entirely new KISS branching out. And, for all its cliche imagery, somehow Gene is able to sell us on the bleak reality of the ‘naked city’. With Kiss waning in popularity in America at the time, perhaps in some detached mercenary sort of way the song was about the fact Gene knew the band may be left for dead stateside. Was it all over? ¬†Gene even asks the question in the veiled lyric “Is there no tomorrow?”

LARGER THAN LIFE – Alive II– LTL is just that, KISS at their 70’s zenith, in a position to audaciously release their second double-live record in just three years! But it gets better; side four included some new material that made it a ‘must have’ (like all KISS). The best Gene cut on it is “Larger Than Life”. Gene’s voice is flat-out menacing and the Bonham-esque groove Peter Criss lays down makes for one of the very best rock moments in KISSstory. I would say it’s easily in any true believers’ top ten as far as studio recordings go ‘cuz there are so many cool things exploding in your face. So dry. So crisp. So tight. So raw. So Gene. I hear a cool reworking of The Who’s “The Seeker” riff with heavier guitars, a Beatles shock end-of-chorus turn-around and one of the best snare-flamm, bass-drum breaks on any rock song, ever. “Da-Boom, Da-Boom, Da-Boom, Da-Boom DA DA!!!” No one sounds or even thinks like Gene, no one ever will and this one proves it. ¬†What you have in LTL is signature, A1 Simmons, basking not so sheepishly in the glow of KISS’s 70’s supremacy. It’s nothing short of a rock & roll masterpiece.

TWO TIMER – Dressed To Kill – Dressed To Kill is always overlooked when folks talk about the early stuff but it is, if a little short in length, a good rockin’ time. Funny though that Gene should be the one calling the kettle black but that’s exactly what we get on this rrotsy rocker. Juxtapose this with the sentiments on “Ladies In Waiting” on the same record and you have Gene’s split personality. His walking bass line shows he listened closely as young player and learned his lessons well. “Two Timer” is steeped in old school song craftiness and is the kind of thing that you could hear coming from other bands which, lets face it, you can’t say for many Gene songs. Plus, vocally he pulls off a Louis Armstrong-like richness with so much personality and believability that one has to say aloud “Geno!” The lyrics are fun too because, for the first time, Gene’s on the losing end complaining “she tells me she’s high fashion, she thinks she looks divine, and ¬†that’s what I keep telling her, I tell her all the time” lol.. ¬†As the song fades, Gene raps “that’s the truth baby you’re a….”, in what sounds to me like a nod to the hip vocal stylings of Hendrix in songs like “Cross Town Traffic” and “Foxy Lady”.

WAITING FOR THE MORNING LIGHT – A**hole –¬†¬†Everyone tends to slag Gene’s solo efforts, inside the band and even in the KISS Army ranks; I don’t get why. Gene seems to have fun with them, taking chances more often than not and touching on genres no one would think Gene would have any interest in. Who knows, this song may be closer to the real Gene Simmons than anything else, especially if you are an aficionado of his early demos. In any event, it’s one of the very few sweet sentiments expressed anywhere by him and offers a glimpse of the lighter side of his ‘singer/songwriter’ upbringing.

******* Pick one –¬†Lick It Up –¬†LIU is a guilty pleasure on a lot of levels but, album title aside, it’s a balls to the wall rock record that declared KISS alive and well in 1983 and may have been the best hard rock record of the year. Still sounds fresh to me, although Paul sometime poo-poos the album for some reason. Simply put, it represents Gene’s best 80’s/ sans make-up outing, bar none. Young & Wasted”, “On The 8th Dy”, “Fits Like A Glove”, “Not For The Innocent”, “Dance All Over Your Face” – sweet Jesus, it’s a Gene-a-thon that finds the freshly scrubbed Simmons lashing out in anger, fit to be tied and chomping at the bit. Makes one wonder what happened between LIU and¬†Animalize¬†to sour his enthusiasm because if you don’t have LIU (and Creatures of The Night for that matter), you are quite truly in the dark on the sheer magnitude of KISS’s scope. For example,¬†“Young & Wasted” is KISS doing metal better than the real metal bands they had been forced to compete with to stay afloat. With the unmasking as a backdrop to the release, Gene’s tracks on LIU are an essential heaping helping of KISStory. “Not For Innocent”,”Fits Like A Glove”, and “Dance All Over Your Face” sound the charge for a new ‘unholy’ KISS looking for your daughter, reminding the listeners that Gene was back on the hunt while “On The 8th Day” defined KISS’ mission for the first time in biblical terms as the band soldiered on “through the heart of a brave new world”. Although the¬†Dynasty¬†tour was dubbed “The Return of KISS”, it was Lick It Up that saved the band’s ass and shows Simmons to be one of the heaviest musicians of all-time.