KISS in Rolling Stone Magazine (1976)

This stuff was OCR’d from the original magazine scans…

Review of “Alive!” album (RS #203, Jan. 1976, Alan Niester)

Kiss onstage could possibly be mildly entertaining for about ten minutes, but on record, minus the impact of gaudy painted faces and stage theatrics, the band must be judged solely for its music. It’s awful. Criminally repetitive, thuddingly monotonous. And like the legions of equally talent-less bands across the country, Kiss attempts to get by on volume and tired riffing. Unlike these other bands, however, they came up with the idea of dragging rock further into the pits of theatrical overkill, managing, in the process, to pick up a legion of young fans who hadn’t heard these riffs in their previous incarcerations (Grand Funk comes to mind). That Casablanca has decided to promote the band as new bad-boy teen idols is obvious from the packaging-a glossy full-color, multi-page insert showing all the Kisses in close-up, and a suitably trippy letter from each (“Dear Earthlings: …When I play guitar onstage, it’s like making love… Love, Ace”).

“Success – It’s Just a Kiss Away” (RS #209, Mar. 1976, David McGee)

“On New Year’s Eve 1975, a Nassau Coliseum audience of 13,000 screamed praises for Kiss, four New York City musicians who favor heavy metal in their music, black and silver makeup on their faces, silk, leather and feathers on their bodies, and a plethora of special effects onstage, ranging from fire pods which shoot flames 15 feet into the air to a hydraulically levitated drum stand and a guitar that belches skyrockets.

Onstage were: Gene Simmons, a fire-breathing, blood-spitting bass player who stalks and lurks menacing around stage right, fluttering rock’s most lascivious tongue at swarms of young girls in front of the stage; Paul Stanley, a sensual purveyor of thunderous chords, commanding center stage, prancing to and fro, masculine/feminine in whiteface with a large black star over his right eye; Ace Frehley, a self-described “crazy kid from the Bronx; a rebel, always in trouble with the cops,” making good as lead guitarist, blending speed with emotion, his lithe body floating gracefully around stage left and his mind inhabiting another plane entirely; and Peter Criss, drummer with boundless energy, high school dropout, ex-member of a Brooklyn street gang called the Phantom Lords, with black cat whiskers and silver nose.

On New Year’s Eve 1974, Kiss played its first major concert at the Academy of Music, opening for headliners Blue Oyster Cult. One year later to the day, Kiss headlined and Blue Oyster Cult was second billed. That a rivalry exists between these two groups is academic – this concert marked the end of Kiss’s most successful year and the beginning of what Kiss’s promoters believe to be a cultural phenomenon and, concurrent with the release of its fifth album – the Bob Ezrin-produced Destroyer – a musical force.

For openers, the band’s music has become an integral part of the show rather than a backdrop for visuals. Moreover, as Ezrin (of Alice Cooper fame) will tell you, Kiss’s momentum has been building for at least a year and a half. Ezrin was alerted to the group’s potential by Mike Longman, a 16-year-old high school student who regularly calls Ezrin to talk about records. “Oh man, they’re great,” Longman told him, “The kids in high school love them. Only problem is their records are so shitty.” Ezrin wondered why, if their records were so shitty, he should get involved. “Because this group is so good we buy their records anyway,” answered Longman.

“I could hear a rumble from the street,” says Ezrin, “and I’ve always had a very good sense for that. I listened and I knew Kiss was having a profound effect on people already and they weren’t even home yet. No airplay. No singles. No real big headlining tours.”

Since then, Kissmania has made its presence felt. There’s been a “Kiss-In” in an Illinois shopping center; keys to the city were awarded the group in Cadillac, Michigan; and in Terre Haute, Indiana, a Kiss Army (4000 strong) forced a local DJ to air Kiss. All of the group’s recent shows have been sellouts, and Alive, the group’s fourth album, has sold over a million units.

Kiss’s latest album, Destroyer, reflects Ezrin’s vision of the band as a “social phenomenon…” a caricature of all the urges of youth.” Under Ezrin’s direction, the melodies have become as strong and memorable as the riffs behind them. There’s a fluency, precision and urgency now that escaped them a year ago. Destroyer is a radical departure from Kiss’s previous albums – it works as an album of songs which convey the group’s image as, in Ezrin’s words, “symbols of just unfettered evil and sexuality,” along with taking some new directions. Criss’s lyrical ballad, “Beth,” for example, proves him to be the group’s best singer and may even find its way onto some MOR playlists.

Ironically, the biggest obstacle the group faced in the last year and a half (was its record company, Casablanca. Last summer, rumors circulated that Casablanca was nearly broke and wasn’t paying Kiss its royalties. Casablanca president Neil Bogart confirmed that the label suffered “tremendous loss” on one album (Here’s Johnny – Great Moments from the Tonight Show) and was in financial difficulty at the time the Kiss controversy arose. But, he said, success with Alive and Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby album simultaneously solved the money crisis and royalties dispute. Kiss’s manager Bill Aucoin agreed that the royalty problem had been resolved.

Kiss was formed three years ago when Stanley and Simmons, unhappy with the group they were playing in, decided to assemble a theatrical show band that would be, according to Simmons, “the next logical step” beyond the best bands he and Stanley had seen – the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the time, Criss was emerging from a year’s absence from the music world, a reaction to the breakup of his group, Chelsea. “I fell apart,” says Criss, shuddering at the memory. “I stayed home. played, wrote, did a lot of drugs and went bananas. Then I got out of it and said, ‘I’m ready, I’m really ready to make it.’ I put an ad in ROLLING STONE – ‘Drummer looking to make it, Will do anything.’ Then Gene called me one night.”

Finding that Criss’s musical and theatrical ambitions jibed with his and Stanley’s, Simmons invited him to join the new band. The trio rehearsed for three months in a loft at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, then advertised for a lead guitarist in the Village Voice. A veritable rogues’ gallery of musical incompetents applied and were rejected before a disheveled Frehley entered the loft late one night, plugged in and was hired. Stanley dubbed the group Kiss (reject names included Albatross and Fuck) and they began playing clubs in Queens and on Long Island before making a New York City concert debut on May 4th, 1973 in the 23rd Street loft. Frehley remembers that the group was “terrible. We put on makeup, but it wasn’t Kiss makeup, it was feminine makeup, like the New York Dolls. Back then the Dolls Were the hottest thing and we always wished we could be the Dolls ‘cause we were nobody at the time. But we weren’t physically like the Dolls, who were small, skinny guys, so we decided to come on real strong in black and silver.”

For a year Kiss played the clubs and promoted itself tirelessly, to the point of compiling a mailing list and sending out press releases and concert tickets to anyone they thought was important in the music industry. One of those people was Bill Aucoin, then producer of the nationally syndicated music show Flip Side. Aucoin saw the group play a July 4th concert at the Crystal Room in Times Square’s seedy Diplomat Hotel and signed them to a management contract with two conditions: That he would build the group into a major act, “something spectacular,” and that he would get them a record contract in two weeks or the deal was off. Two weeks later, Aucoin had his friend Bogart, who was just starting Casablanca, interested enough in Kiss to make them his first signing. The big push was underway.

“Really’, what we’re dealing with is emotions,” says Simmons. “You don’t always get a chance to fuck when you’re horny or punch somebody in the face when you feel like it. It’s frustration and it builds. Some people never let it out. They crack and they’re carried away by the guys in the white coats. Our situations are ‘Let your guts out!’ things. You scream and all that frustration comes out. When people become disenchanted with the world, they turn to fantasy and here we are. We’re real fantasy figures.” But this fantasy world some times approaches highly questionable taste. The liner notes on Alive, for instance, consist of scribbled notes from each member fit to titillate their audience’s baser instincts. Gene Simmons writes, “Dear Victims… I love to do all those deliciously painful things to you that make you writhe and groan in ecstasy… My spiked seven-inch boot heels are at the ready, should you be in the mood for heavy sport…” Paul Stanley writes, “Nothing arouses me more than seeing you getting off on me…” Ace Frehley informs that “When I play guitar onstage it’s like making love. If you’re good you get off every time…” And from Peter Criss: “You should get your claws into this album. I know it’s gonna make your tails stand straight up…”

Mystique, image and intuitive calculation will only get a band so far before it must be redeemed by its music. Kiss is coming to terms with this bit of reality. “We were trying to bring back flamboyance and stage show to rock & roll,” explains Simmons, “and we knew there’d be problems with the music. But you have to take that first step. When we started out, that’s the music we were doing at that time and that’s what we were like then. I don’t feel apologies are necessary, because there’s simply nothing to apologize for. We’ve become what we are because of what we look like, obviously, and because of the music. Destroyer is just the second step. The music’s taking the forefront.”

And in another two years?

“International stars,” Aucoin says, and then heads out for the Providence (Rhode Island) Arena, where Kiss is playing to a capacity audience. Five months ago, they were second on a bill headlining Black Sabbath.”

Review of “Destroyer” album (RS #214, June 1976, John Milward)

“There’s no doubt that Destroyer is Kiss’s best album yet or that Bob Ezrin, Alice Cooper’s heavy-handed wizard of heavy-metal production who helped write seven of the nine tunes here, has made the difference. But despite Ezrin’s superb production, Kiss still lacks that flash of creative madness that could have made their music interesting, or at least listenable.

The lead-off song, “Detroit, Rock City,” begins with 90 seconds of Cooper-like effects: the sound, of the breakfast table and a news announcer in the background reading a story of a kid who died in a head-on collision; then a flashback to the doomed youth entering his car that night, his mind undoubtedly on the song that follows, and finally in the coda, the screeching crash. Unfortunately, Kiss entirely lacks the satiric distance that often made Cooper’s use of such conceits genuinely funny, and worse yet, such gimmickry is the best Destroyer has to offer.

The songs, save for two bloated ballads, are relentless riff rockers rooted in patently pedestrian drumming. Although constructed with professional aplomb, making use of a wide array of heavy-metal conventions, there’s nothing new here. Even when an effective melody, such as the rabble-rousing “Shout It Out Loud,” is presented, the lackluster performances dampen the effect. The vocals are undistinguished and emotionally empty; the lyrics-about partying and the rock scene, with plenty of campy S&M allusions – trite. Worse yet, there’s not a memorable guitar solo on the album.”

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