KISS in Rolling Stone Magazine (1978)

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

Review of “Alive II” album (RS #256, Jan. 1978, John Swenson)

“One of the perennial saving graces of rock & roll is its accessibility to the true believer. In a sort of Horatio Alger formula, if you need it badly enough and have the right attitude, eventually you’ll become an adequate rocker. Kiss, a band built almost entirely around an image, offers the latest proof of this maxim.

Kiss has improved dramatically during its recording career, first to the high point of raw efficiency achieved on “I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night,” more recently to improved instrumental technique. The group has brought a lot of listening and a lot more outright thievery to Alive II, resulting in a textbook demonstration of how to play Stones/Who hard rock. The guitar solos on “King of the Night Time World” and “Shock Me” are note-for-note duplications of sections from Pete Townshend’s long improvisation (“My Generation”) on side two of Live at Leeds. Even more Startling is the way the screams over sustained guitar codas on those two songs and on “Makin’ Love” sound exactly like Roger Daltrey finishing off Townshend’s pyrotechnics.

It’s open to question how much credit to give a band for using such well-proven formulas, and it’s also true that a wan reflection of the original, no matter how sincere, is still not the real thing. But it remains that Alive II captures the essence of live rock & roll very well – perhaps even a little better than the recent Stones set.”

“A docile audience: The Kiss of Death” (RS #258, Feb. 1978, Charles M. Young)

A review of the Dec. 14, 1977 show at Madison Square Garden with Detective.

When the lights dimmed, I threw my coat over my head and screamed at the woman next to me, “Here they come!” Only they never came. No M80s from the upper tier. No cherry bombs. No finger-poppers. No nothing. The woman, who had never been to a hard-rock concert before, thought I was a damn fool.

“Listen, you gotta believe me,” I begged. “I’ve seen six Kiss concerts in the last year and it’s never been like this. The crowd is the most docile since I saw Crosby, Stills and Nash last summer.” And they stayed that way through the show – barely bothering to stand for the encores, making little noise of any kind. Possible explanations:

1. New York is a bad town for Kiss. It was one of the last areas to break for the band. This being a media center, it is possible that some people read critics and want to fell sophisticated.

2. The word is finally getting out that the firecrackers are blowing people’s heads off. Kiss is hereby commended for having some guy come out before the shows and berate the fans for kilting each other.

3. The thrill is gone. Much as I enjoy watching Gene Simmons puke blood; he’s been doing it every night for three years.

4. The real fanatics were elsewhere. They went to the following nights’ concerts. This show was added only after two others had sold out

5. Their demographics are changing. Through overexposure, Kiss seems no longer Forbidden Fruit. They are losing their traditional support among proletarian teenage boys and picking up children impressed by costumes. A third of the crowd appeared to be parents with little kids. Kiss records are selling phenomenally well, but maybe to Shaun Cassidy weenie bops.

6. Kiss got demoralized when I compared their music to buffalo farts last spring. But I compared it favorably. Most popular music I rank lower than buffalo farts.

7. Even though they are better than buffalo farts, Gene Simmons’ latest love songs to his dick are dumb. Unless you are a fourteen-year-old virgin with zits. But then you don’t want to be sitting next to your mommy and five-year-old brother while you think macho.

8. The show wasn’t that good. Even with all the explosions, flame throwers and hydraulic lifts, the band seemed tired. Peter Criss was so hoarse during “Beth” that he broke up laughing. Ace Frehley, whose mind is supposedly on Mars, looked more as if his mind were on getting it over with.

9. Detective stunned the crowd into silent awe. Since these guys don’t do anything but clone late-period Zeppelin and Bad Company licks, it must have been the two avocados the singer seemed to have stuffed in the crotch of his white satin stretch pants.

“Four Ways To Kiss” (RS #279, Nov. 1978, John Swenson)

“The worst thing is that the kids think we are breaking up,” frets bassist and Kiss spokesman Gene Simmons about the recent joint release of the four members’ solo albums. While not in the running for album of the year, each is miles beyond the recording standards applied to any one Kiss LP. But the group is worried that its audience will consider the move betrayal. “We’re asking everyone not to refer to these as solo albums,” prods Kiss publicist Julie Harrison about the identically packaged, self-titled LPs. “We want them to be called Kiss albums.”

In fact, the albums by Simmons and guitarists Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley won’t seem too foreign to kids raised on the Kiss brand of recycled heavy metal. But drummer Peter Criss’ solo album has absolutely nothing to do with Kiss, a fact which makes Criss very proud. “I’ve always been different,” he explains, “because Gene, Paul and Ace are more into Zeppelin, Humble Pie and Hendrix, while I was always into the Stones, Beatles and R&B performers like Sam Cooke. When I’m home I listen to the Eagles, old Beatles, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwicke.”

This is not the first time Criss has created a stylistic dilemma within the band. Though his song “Beth” became a big Kiss hit, the ballad didn’t fit the band’s image, he explains. “Kiss is a strange group, a lot of voting. They didn’t want to do the song, the kids aren’t gonna accept it, they said. Gene was against it because he said it didn’t fit the concept. But our public is gonna dig it. Kiss never made good albums, our shows always outsold our albums, but it’s time that changed.”

The drummer chose Vini Poncia (Nilsson, Ringo) to produce his album, and Poncia’s star-maker production provided Criss with the slickest support of any of the solo efforts. There are several pleasant surprises, notably an energetic remake of “Tossin’ and Turnin’” and an autobiographical tune called “Hooked on Rock and Roll.” Criss feels that his album is the first step toward separating his career from Kiss. “I see myself eventually on my own without the makeup and the bombs, without theatrics. I could dig getting up there with a white suit and three chick-singers. I don’t know if this is it for the band – nothing lasts forever. I’ve made it. At least now it’s a steppingstone for each of us. If the band split up I really wouldn’t mind.”

Unlike Criss, the other members of the group had strong ideas about how their solo albums should sound and sought help only during the engineering and mixing stages. As a result the three albums have marked similarities to Kiss’ music.

“I’ve never had more fun doing an album,” says Ace Frehley. “It was more exciting than Kiss because I had more freedom. I didn’t have to listen to three other guys telling me what to do.” Frehley played most of the instruments himself on his LP and experimented a lot musically. “Ozone,” “I’m in Need of Love,” and “New York Groove” employed innovative guitar and recording techniques. His favorite track is “Fractured Mirror.” “It means a lot to met he says, “because it’s an advanced instrumental that holds up to ‘Tubular Bells.’”

It’s no surprise to find that Kiss mastermind Gene Simmons’ solo album is a roughly conceptual treatise on stardom which features a celebrity lineup including Cher, Helen Reddy, Bob Seger and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson. “Paul McCartney Wanted to sing on those songs,” he says with a straight face, “but he wasn’t available so I got the guys from Beatlemania [Mitch Weissman and Joe Pecorino].”

It is somewhat surprising, however, that the record comes across with the macabre humor more characteristic of Who bassist John Entwistle. But it’s downright astonishing to hear Simmons do softly lyrical Beatles influenced pop songs like “See You Tonite,” “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide” and “Mr. Make Believe.” Simmons is proud of the shock value. Many of the songs on the album were written before his involvement with Kiss, which explains many of the stylistic differences. However, Simmons maintains that Kiss will be able to assimilate this material into future stage shows. “We’re breaking down every preconceived notion people have about us,” he says, “and showing everybody that we can be the biggest and not be dictated to by our own confines. It’s Kiss just because we play it.”

Paul Stanley’s album comes the closest to sounding like Kiss, except that his songs have more dynamic range than the group’s work. But it’s his album that provides a blueprint of how Kiss might expand its scope without retreating too much from the band’s old image. “I tried not to contradict what I did before,” he explains. “There’s nothing wrong with progressing. I never said anything in Kiss that I didn’t believe. If you want to do something different it shouldn’t be mislabeled.

“These albums are an introduction to another Kiss, another level,” he concludes “The next Kiss album will sound a lot closer to the solo albums than the last Kiss album. People forget how uncompromising we are. They see the chrome, not the engine.”

Review of the Solo albums (RS #281/2, Dec. 1978, Robert Duncan)

Good taste is murder to rock & roll. Just take a look around. Fact is, from Elm to the Sex Pistols, the best rock & roll has always been strictly in bad taste. But time and again rock & rollers refuse to remember this, and as they get older and richer, sure enough, they start worrying about which fork is for the salad.

Except for a brief and regretted lapse on the oily Destroyer, Kiss has stood for nothing if not bad taste. And it’s the utter vulgarity of the blood spitting, the platform shoes, the makeup and the under-produced songs about grimy sex and dumb partying that’s made these guys one of the only genuine rock and roll bands in this benighted decade. But now, having constructed a most magnificently meretricious commercial empire from a consummate sense of grossness and stupidity the members of Kiss have decided, so it seems, to remove the camouflage and reveal themselves on these solo albums for what they really are: four tuna with good taste. Alas, fellas, Kiss don’t need tuna with good taste. Kiss needs tuna that taste good. Don’t they ever learn?

But wait. What’s that word? What’s that sound? Miracle of miracles, good taste behind Kiss’ bad taste is even worse than what passed before! Whole new realms of revulsion from rock & roll’s supreme Awful Majesties! That said, it’d be difficult and not a little unfair to single out any one of the four Kiss-ers for worst bad-taste honors. But when drummer Peter Criss, a guy who made a million bucks wearing a silver button nose and kitty whiskers, tells me in his “Hooked on Rock ‘n Roll “ that it’s been a rough road to the top, I wince with him. I also hasten to add that the further soul posturing in “Tossin’ and Turnin’” and Criss’ kitsch classic, “That’s the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes,” isn’t going to make the road back down any smoother. Of course, the name of the game is: get bad.

In between the funk on Criss’ record are several ballads, a form that almost everyone in the group apparently be1ieves is the true hallmark of a rocker’s good taste. The Catman (who wrote and sang the tear-jerker hit, “Beth,” on Destroyer) is in his element here and almost scores again with die grandiose “I Can’t Stop The Rain.” Beyond that my note say: “Out-of-tune acoustic playing. One note is good.” Which just about sums up this LP. Criss couldn’t be worse.

Then again, he could be Ace Frehley, who reveals in tunes such as “Snow Blind,” “Ozone,” and “Wiped-Out” that he’s got booze and drugs on (in?) his mind much of the time. Musically, Frehley illustrates this fact with a lot of pre-washed Jimi Hendrix-style guitar playing and some oddly appealing Todd Rundgren-like teenage-spacester singing. In his particular bid for respectability, Kiss’ lead guitarist eschews ballads, preferring instead to crank up long instrumentals like a veritable Sheepshead Bay Beethoven. On result, “Fractured Mirror,” has a duh-hey simplicity that in other quarters might make it Eno-esque. Only on “Rip It Out,” a fast rocker with great nasty lyrics that urge the girl to actually rip her heart out, does Frehley get it all together. Whatever it is.

True to his Kiss persona as the Lover (he wears red lipstick), rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist Paul Stanley concentrates on love songs. Presumably because he’s one of the band’s two chief song-writers and thus gets more practice at the craft, Stanley’s no stranger to a nice melody and airy harmonies. (His “Ain’t Quite Right” is nearly Brooklynese Crosby, Stills and Nash.) Fortunately, good taste falters when Stanley’s singing ventures too close to the Art Garfunkel threshold of high-pitched sensitivity and is finally brought low by his lyrics, especially in the two bittersweet parenthetical moister works, “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)” and “Take Me Away (Together as One)?” Bad. And wondrously so!

Gene Simmons, singing bassist Bay-Lizard and gross-out king of Kiss is probably the brains behind the group. But his album begs the question: how much brains does it really take to be the brains behind Kiss? Less than Einstein, more than sweet potatoes would be my ballpark answer. While he definitely understands bad taste and its effective, applications, Simmons here appears torn between the diligent grudge that’s been his specialty and the True Self he no doubt displays privately to girlfriend Cher (who, incidentally, appears on “Living in Sin” as the telephone groupie, if my ears don’t deceive me).

Perhaps more than anything else, Simmons seeks respect for his notable wit. In his wittiest move, he’s used two of the Beatlemania cast for backup vocals on a couple of Rubber Soul-type numbers. Gene Simmons also knocks off the best rock & roll song on any of these records with the extremely catchy “Radioactive?” For the hat trick, he executes a brilliant defense of his gross-out ride in “Tunnel of Love.” “‘Tunnel oflove / Tunnel of love / I’ve got to visit your tunnel of love” Simmons growl-sings like a guy who has to pee really bad after a long car ride. In another line, he tells a would-be lover: “You’ll jump off the roof if I say.” Now if that isn’t a rock & roll sentiment, I don’t know what is.

All’s well until Simmons breaks out the “close to my heart” stuff – ballads again – such as his Lon Chaney tribute, “Man of 1000 Faces,” the autobiographical(?) “Mr. Make Believe” and the Emerson, Lake and Palmer-like “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide” (sung in his most painfully normal vocal style ever). I’ll admit the old Bat-Lizard almost moves me with these, but in the end, they’re just too slick and too disconcertingly out of character. On the other hand, what exactly is this whimpering rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star?” A bad joke? Gong!

If you ever worried that these bozos were going to ditch you for the mainstream just like all the others, their solo LPs will put your mind to ease. As long as Kiss is on the job, rock & roll is here to stay and Charlie Tuna is king.

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