(unproofed, probably not final, pre-publication freebie...)
"From the songs to the playing and singing, everything about this album is consistent without compromise. The album is exactly who I am now and what I want to be doing. It's got all the sides of what I do, so it's not surprising that it's got elements of everything I've done plus a leap into the 21st century. I don't need to hype it. I'll leave that to everyone else who's heard it" (KISS Online).
Like Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley announced plans to record a solo album in June 2003. The were certain expectations of competition, similar to the 1978 solo albums, to see how Gene and Paul approached their individual projects. A recap of a quarter century earlier, an irrelevant blast from the past. Singles performance: "Hold Me, Touch Me" (Paul) versus "Radioactive" (Gene). A tie, and somewhat embarrassing one at that. Neither single offering did particularly well on the Billboard charts reaching what can only be considered as poor positions of 46 and 47 respectively. On the Cashbox charts the difference was somewhat wider with Paul, at #41, charting ten positions better than Gene. Score! Whatever. In 1978 Ace Frehley won the battle of the KISS egos with his genuine hit single. Interestingly, in terms of the 1978 solo album chartings Gene's beat all the others hands down managing a high position of #22 on Billboard with 22 weeks on the charts. Ace was second, Paul third, with a dismal #40, and Peter last. However, in 2003, Gene and Paul were not working on KISS related solo albums, nor were they operating on the same wave-length. After thirty years, they didn't have to.
From the beginning Paul wanted to make it clear that he was not living in 1978, '88, or even '98. His 21st century solo album was going to be about who Paul was at the time the songs were written, and essentially recorded. He mentioned that he'd be working with songwriter Andreas Carlsson (Billboard). Andreas is better known for his "Boy" band, or derivative pop, song-writing contributions for artists that include N'sync, the Backstreet Boys, At Five, and the not-very-boyish Britney Spears and Celine Dion. However, his pop/rock sensitivities have also resulted in more serious collaborations with the likes of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. This scared the living daylights out of some KISS fans, yet it wasn't a particularly surprising move. Paul has long been known to share those pop/rock sensitivities and be a proponent of the well-crafted song and seemed to take preemptive action against a possible backlash commenting, "He's a great writer, and actually, a big KISS fan" (Billboard). Some of the earliest Carlsson/Stanley collaborations would include "Ready To Rock Your World" (Warner-Chappell #859488800), "Impossible" (Warner-Chappell #856444500; ASCAP), and "Bloodtype R" (Warner-Chappell #855881400; ASCAP).
By early 2004 "Bloodtype R" had been tried out on a somewhat unsuspecting public when it was released as the German band Silbermond's first single in March. Re-titled "Mach's Dir Selbst," it was included on their "Verschwende Deine Zeit" ("Waste Your Time") album. The German song title is a bit of a play on words roughly translating as "Do It To Yourself," as in self-pleasuring! The female-fronted pop/rock band's single entered the German charts at #56 and became the band's first minor hit. The band's single also featured a 3:15 "longer rock mix" of the song and was supported by a promo video that featured guitarist Thomas Stolle wearing a KISS T-shirt in honor of the collaboration with Paul. A Dutch girl pop band, Bad Candy recorded the English language original version on their self-titled album released in April 2006: "Bloodtype R is for rebel / You're in bed with the devil / I throw my fist in the air / What they tell me I don't care / Call it all stupidity / Well that's just me." According to the band's PR, the song was "Written by the absolute world top of songwriters Paul Stanley and Andres Carlsson. This edgy song represents the rebellious nature of the four girls" (Bad Candy - MySpace).
As far as the status of "Ready To Rock Your World" and "Impossible," they have been published and are available to be picked up and recorded by other artists, like "Bloodtype R" was. As of mid-2006 neither song has been picked up publicly. Whatever the source of the material for his album Paul was clear that he wouldn't be recycling any old songs. According to Paul, "I'm a big believer that, if a song doesn't make it on an album, there's a reason and to dig up something that's been sitting around for 10 or 15 years doesn't seem worth it, because at some point, sure, it can see the light of day, just by default. And that's not enough reason... I believe if something gets rejected time and time again, it probably doesn't belong on an album. I also like to think that a song is like a fresh issue of a magazine or a newspaper. Ya know, the ink is still wet because it's current. Recycling old stuff, to me, is not of any interest, because as life goes on, there are new experiences to draw from" (Billboard). This wasn't a particularly new concept for Paul, as he'd seldom recycled in the past. And anyway, recycling was Gene's modus operandi.
During 2004 Paul was also passing his experience on to other younger acts. He co-wrote "Angel To You (Devil To Me)" with Ben Romans from the pop band Click Five. This song was initially released by the band on their 2005 three track EP (CLK-701) that they sold over 10,000 copies of at their concerts. The Click Five toured with both Ashlee Simpson and the Backstreet Boys. If that makes anyone shudder, the band have also shared the stage with the likes of Alanis Morisette, Barenaked Ladies, and Rod Stewart. Along with Paul the band also collaborated with Elliott Easton of the Cars, who plays the guitar solo on the band's recording of the song (and other tracks). Paul also offered the band's front man, Eric Dill, some advice: "He'd talk to me and say 'You look good up there, but try to connect more to the audience.' I had Paul Stanley, who's a master at it, willing to help me out and giving me tips" (Plain Dealer).
Paul's association with the Click Five was a result of one of KISS' former tour managers, Wayne Sharp, who was the band's manager. The band, manager, and Paul had had Thanksgiving dinner at Wayne's house in 2003. While KISS toured during 2004 Paul, Tommy Thayer, and Doc McGhee went to the Abbey Lounge in Somerville, a Boston bar, to see the band perform following KISS' show at the Tweeter Center on July 16. They covered "Detroit Rock City" to honor him. The band asked Paul to collaborate with Ben and he accepted. Ben flew to Los Angeles for a writing session with Paul resulting in the song. When the band released their debut album, "Greetings From Irmie House," on August 16, 2005 it reached #15 on the US Billboard album chart. The band also didn't rely on the collaboration with Paul to support the album, instead using other material for single releases.
If anything, the collaboration with The Click Five was yet another experiment in measuring his skills with power-pop, more than a decade after abandoning the format. Paul's co-writes got material out to the public and allowed him to gauge the response from a safe distance. Both "Bloodtype R" and "Angel To You (Devil To Me)" were well received. Since this sort of material was the direction Paul was taking, to no one's surprise, he must have felt somewhat positive.
A regular song-writing of Andreas Carlsson was one somewhat notorious Desmond Child. Desmond had played an important role with Paul's song-writing during the 1984-8 period, and had co-authored unmasked classics such as "Heaven's On Fire," "Hide Your Heart," "Reason To Love," and more. He'd become one of the most successful and prolific song-writers, a Barry Mann of the 1980s and 90s. However, by 1989 KISS were attempting to move away from the overly-polished material and it was suggested, to paraphrase, "lock the doors to the studio and shoot anyone who looks like Desmond Child." After becoming acquainted with Paul Stanley during Paul's recording of his first solo album in 1978 (members of Desmond's band "Rouge" appeared on Paul's 1978 album), Paul and Desmond would forge a strong song-writing partnership. There's a whole stack of material written by Paul and Desmond that little is known about, including whether any of the songs are current, or were written in the 1980s. Additionally, the songs may well have been written for other artists, or simply offered for publishing and recording by other artists. Some of these include: "Dead End Girl (EMI #38029), "Do Or Die" (EMI #36407), "Face To Face" (EMI #36408), "Hold On" (EMI #37686), and "Trust" (EMI #38131).
One collaboration, "Where Angels Dare," would be by Desmond, Paul, and John 5. According to John, "I did write a song with Paul Stanley and Desmond Child. I played on a couple of tracks on his new solo album. That was such a huge thing for me. I am a major KISS fan and still am. It is an honor to be part of that too" (Glam-metal.com). John Lowery is a former guitarist for the David Lee Roth band and Marilyn Manson. According to the KISS Magazine, he submitted an untitled song, that he'd worked on with Bob Kulick and Bruce Bouillet, to Paul for consideration on the album. It's not clear what happened to that song, or whether reported details are being mixed up. John played on "Where Angels Dare" and "Bulletproof." While collaborations with Carlesson and Lowery were new for Paul, he also worked with Marty Frederiksen (along with Desmond) on "Lift." Marty is (in)famous for his work on the more recent Aerosmith albums and Def Leppard's pop-oriented "X." Another interesting collaboration occurs on "Everytime I See You Around" which Paul wrote with Pete Masitti. Pete is a singer, songwriter, and producer who has worked with the likes of Hootie & The Blowfish, Danny Wood, and Julio Iglesias Jr.
By June 2004 Paul was reporting that his album had reached the half-way stage and that he expected it to be released around January 2005 (WRIF 101.1 FM). Paul was also speaking in trademark metaphors and taking what some interpreted as being shots at Gene who had already thrown together his solo album and released it. According to Paul, "I'm just not on a soap box talking about it. It's half done. I'm not about selling sizzle. My album's about delivering a steak. It won't matter who's involved or what color the cover is. That's what it's not about. I want to release it sometime around the New Year" (Press Of Atlantic City). This date slipped. By March 2005 Paul was reporting that he expected to start mixing the album in May.
Former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick provided some hints about the direction of the album: "Some of there are closer to cool things like 'Every Time I Look At You' from 'Revenge'. He's got some more up-tempo kinda things that I haven't heard" (RockConfidential.com). In fact both Kulicks were reported to be involved in the project early on. Bruce performing bass, and Bob providing the studio. Bruce had played bass on numerous KISS recordings, such as "Nothing Can Keep Me From You," "Forever," "Hell Or High Water," "Tough Love," "Every Time I Look At You," and seven of the songs on "Carnival Of Souls." Apparently, Bruce was also asked to play some guitar on the album. According to Bruce, "I played bass on four tunes so far. He's asked me to play some guitar stuff. I'm just waiting on a phone call from him. The stuff is terrific. It's definitely what Paul really gets off on. The other half of the record I haven't heard yet, but it's very melodic. I'm happy that he's following his vision. He's not trying to write a KISS record, although every KISS fan is going to love it" (RockConfidential.com). Bruce's bass contributions would only be used on "Everytime I See You Around," "Second To None," and "Lovin' You Without You."
Paul was pleased to be working with Bruce, commenting, "I've always been a big fan of Bruce Kulick's bass playing so it's great to have him on some of the album" (KISS Online). What was clear to Paul was that he had no restrictions in whom he used for the record: "The difference [between doing a solo album and writing a KISS record] is… I mean, it's very easy for me to do a one-man KISS album, 'cause in the past, there's been a lot of times where I've come in with finished demos and we would just wind up copying them. But in doing a solo album, instead of writing songs with a band in mind, you put together a band with your songs in mind - you do it backwards. So it's a lot more fun, because you just take people in the studio that you want for a particular song as opposed to writing a song because you have certain people" (WRIF 101.1 FM). As a result several guitarists, in addition to John 5, were mentioned in conjunction with the album: Corky James, Brad Fernquist, and one of Andreas' buddies Tommy Denander.
Brad Fernquist played the majority of the lead guitar on Paul's album while also providing some additional rhythm guitar on a couple of tracks. Having toured with the Goo Goo Dolls he became involved at the suggestion of Doc McGhee who manages another act that Brad had done some work for. According to Brad, "I played almost all the leads on his record. I also played some rhythm guitar. That was a really great experience. He was totally fun to hang out with and he was funny. I meet him before briefly but never spent any time with him, so I didn't know what he was like or what to expect. But he turned out to be a great guy to be around. And the music is very cool... But it's modern rock, it does have some heavy tunes and a couple of laid back ballads. But overall it sounds very modern" (Glam-Metal.com).
Also performing some of the guitar work is Corky James, who has played with numerous artists, including Anastacia, Avril Lavigne, Hillary Duff, John Hiatt, Paris Hilton, and Vanessa Carlton. According to Paul, "Corky just blows me away with his parts and sounds" (KISS Online). Corky has also suggested that he played all of the bass on the album (KISS Kollector), though as with everything musical there could be a mix of performers on the finished project, and Paul may have selected the best performance or feeling for each song during final mixing. What is clear is that Corky had recorded guitar and bass parts for all ten of the album's tracks. His guitar work would appear on all of the album's tracks.
Tommy Denander flew to Los Angeles to do some session work for Andreas Carlsson in February 2005. During his trip he recorded with The Click Five and played guitar for Paul on "Wake Up Screaming" and "Live To Win." Like Andreas, Tommy is a long-time KISS fan. According to Tommy, "Having been the biggest KISS fan you can be for all my life this was unreal. I started to play because I saw a KISS poster in 1975! I got to play on 2 songs and they both sounded really good so this will no doubt be a fantastic album" (Tommy-Denander.com). Only Tommy's work on "Wake Up Screaming" would be utilized with the lead work on "Live To Win" being done by Brad.
Paul had revealed in March 2005 that the drums on his album had been handled by Victor Indrizzo. Victor had toured and recorded with numerous artists including Macy Gray, Jimmy Gnecco, Brian May, Five For Fighting, Aimee Mann, Avril Lavigne, Hillary Duff, The Vines, Scott Weiland, and Sheryl Crow. According to Paul, "Victor is just an amazing drummer who can bash with the best of them while keeping a great groove going" (KISS Online).
Also helping Paul on more esoteric aspects of the album were keyboard player Russ Irwin and conductor/arranger David Campbell. David had worked with KISS on both the "Symphony" and the "Detroit Rock City" soundtrack song "Nothing Can Keep Me From You" and was brought in to help provide what Paul described as a "cinematic quality" (KISS Magazine). Russ Irwin started out as a drummer and progressed to piano and guitar, eventually releasing a self-titled solo album on EMI/SBK records in 1991. The solo album would feature a top 40 single, "My Heart Belongs to You." He played keyboards and sang backing vocals on Aerosmith's "Nine Lives," "Just Push Play," "Oh Yeah!," "Roximus Maximus," and "How's it Honkin' on Bobo" Tours. He's also toured with Sting and was once a member of the band 'Mayfield' with former Tears for Fears member Curt Smith and played on their one album. According to Paul, "I've known Russ for over 15 years before the KISS/AEROSMITH tour happened and his being a part of the project seemed like a natural" (KISS Online).
What was no surprise to anyone was that Paul utilized piano, keyboards, and some sequencing on his album. Russ, Zac Rae, Brian Steckler, and Greg Kurstin would perform piano or keyboards on five of the album's tracks. Additionally, Harry Sommerdahl would play keyboards and do some programming on seven of the songs. This is indicitive of the direction Paul was taking with his music. One final musician would play bass on the three tracks not covered by Bruce Kulick or Corky, Sean Hurley. Like so many of the other players on the album, Sean's background is not rooted in the metal world, with him having recorded for the likes of Anastacia, Justin Guarini, and the legendary Arlo Guthrie.
In early December 2005 Paul reported what his fans had been waiting for: "It's done, mixed and ready to go, and according to everybody who's heard it, it's damn good" (Bravewords). Paul was proud of his album and what it represented: "I didn't want to do one of those albums where you list people and it becomes some sort of a, trying to impress everybody with names" (ABC News). What remained was for Paul to try and find a record label to release it, something that wasn't necessarily going to be an easy task even for him - his star power had declined. In February 2006 Paul revealed the title for the album, "Live To Win." Unfortunately, he was still looking for a record label. According to Paul, "There's nothing worse, that I've seen in the past, [than] when you have a deal, let's say in America, and the company in Germany hates your album" (Bravewords). If Paul was worrying about getting a label he certainly wasn't worrying about the record being released: "At this point, if it sells 100 copies or 100,000 copies or 10,000,000 copies, it won't change my life either way. All it's about is doing what I want to do and what I have the freedom to do. That being said, it's a very mainstream album. I don't think I'm going to surprise anybody being mistaken for somebody else" (Billboard).
On June 14, 2006 Paul confirmed that he had signed with Universal Music Group and that his album had been scheduled for release in October. This was certainly something of a shock considering some of the criticism of Universal during KISS tenure on the label. Still as one of the largest multi-national record labels Universal was well placed to accomplish what Paul wanted for the record. Paul would be housed on Universal's New Door Records imprint, a label that has been "created as a vehicle to cross-promote new material by artists with existing Universal catalog" (Billboard). By late July 2006 the official track-listing was starting to circulate, even though unofficial website KISS Kollector had been listing the tracks for several months and had tracked-down and interviewed many of those involved in the project. These tracks included: "Live To Win," "Wake Up Screaming," "Lift," "Everytime I See You Around," "Bulletproof," "All About You," "Second To None," "It's Not Me," "Lovin' You Without You," and "Where Angels Dare."
From publication records it has long been known that the title-track, "Live To Win," is a Carlsson/Child/Stanley composition. Possibly the most notable song on the album is "Lovin' You Without You." This composition marks Paul's first individual songwriting credit since "Tears Are Falling" in 1985! Paul also returned to old-friend Holly Knight, who had helped him write two anthems on "Psycho Circus," for "It's Not Me." Both "Wake Up Screaming" and "All About You" are Stanley/Child/Carlsson collaborations while "Bulletproof" and "Second To None" were written by Stanley and Carlsson.
The majority of the recording work on the album was done at Hensen Recording Studios, formerly A&M Studios, in Hollywood. Tommy Denander has indicated that he did his work on the songs he participated on at Desmond Child's studio on Sunset Boulevard and another anonymous studio that had been rented specifically for his contribution. What Paul has indicated is that he is keen to do a solo tour to support the record. KISS currently have no plans for the rest of 2006, and it is likely that Paul will hit the road at some point. Unlike his 1989 tour Paul plans to take a large band out on the road, since, "Because there's a lot more going on, on this album" (ABC News). However, that is the future and everything is subject to change.
The question that remains is: Why has it taken Paul so long to release the album when both he and Gene announced their solo album plans around the same time? Gene released "Asshole" in May 2004! Paul had the same KISS interruptions as Gene, tours with Aerosmith in 2003, Poison in 2004, and various appearances since. Paul's hip problems and the related surgeries certainly haven't helped matters. They've been a distraction, and Paul has been adamant about the importance of resolving the issue as much as possible. And Paul's surgeries haven't gone smoothly, even in 2006 there is the prospect of Paul having a third surgery: "I think I'm not done. I think that, unfortunately, things just haven't gone as smoothly as expected, and the second, you know, revision of that first surgery just didn't do what was necessary. And I think after the new year I'm gonna have to start looking to probably have something re-done" (Launch Radio Networks).
Most importantly, Paul has lived his private life during the 2003-6 period. He has not been a slave to other people or fan expectations. An avid artist, Paul held his first art exhibition at Celebrites Gallery in Wailea, Hawaii on April 6, 2005 touted as "The Painter's KISS." KISS fans had perhaps unwittingly seen Paul's work in the past - he'd drawn the KISS Depot "No Substitutes" logo back in 1995. According to Celebrites PR, "Paul Stanley creates purely abstract and emotionally charged compositions in which we are invited to experience his work as an object of the visceral… A state of mind detached from any unnecessary association with things or places tangible. The scale is huge, the paint laid on thickly, the colors have been chosen in order to generate a powerfully physical and emotional effect. Paul's work can be associated with the Abstract Expressionist of the late 1940's and 1950's. He aims to maximize the direct, physical impact of his painting through scale, texture, color and simplicity of images."
Paul held a second exhibition in December 2005. Apart from his "expressionist" work, Paul has also done a series of KISS-related paintings working in his preferred medium of acrylic. He began his solo styled KISS pictures completing his "Love Gun" portrait in February 2006. Gene's "God Of Thunder" followed in April, and Ace's "Shock Me" in May. Peter's "Beth" completed the series in June. Celebrites Galleries offered limited edition signed giclee prints on canvas of each (many of his other paintings).These KISS-related and other new pieces were exhibited at Paul's third exhibition on June 14, 2006.
Paul was also suggested to be involved musically with Ronnie Montrose. In July 2005 Paul announced that he expected to be recording the guest vocals for a Montrose song. He said, "Barring any unforeseen contractual problems, I'm hoping to do it since Ronnie Montrose is a friend and killer guitar player. The first album by the original lineup of Montrose is one of my all-time favorites" (Melodic Rock). The tracks Ronnie had done, that needed lead vocals, had been recorded during the summer of 2003 with Eric Singer and bassist Ricky Phillips. Ronnie commented in 2004, "I'm now working on bringing 10 of my favorite singers together to each contribute lyrics and vocals to some incredible 'Power Trio' tracks that Ricky Phillips and Eric Singer and I recorded live in the studio last summer. The tentative title will be 'Ronnie Montrose and Friends - 10x10' and the complete list of singers will be listed here as soon as everyone is on board... I've contacted many of my friends, and am very excited to bring this assemblage of talent together on one project" (RonnieMontrose.com). Unfortunately, within a few months Paul's involvement was cancelled, apparently because he wasn't happy with the song.
Most importantly, perhaps, in Paul's life, he married long time girlfriend Erin Sutton at The Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel and Spa in Pasadena on November 19, 2005. At time of writing the couple are expecting a child. Whatever the timing for the album, it's been a personal experience that Paul has refused to rush. According to Paul, "This album is purely a labor of love. It is a labor of passion, and something where I was concerned with turning out the album I heard in my head, without regard for having glitz and star power from other sources" (PR). When he heads out on the road to support his album, he'll be doing it his way as Paul Stanley. Whatever he does, Paul Stanley lives to win...
It's hard to stay away from KISS comparrisons considering Paul's role within that band. But I'll try.
Live To Win - Lush textures with the down-tuned guitars dark riffs and keyboard overlays had me thinking recent Rush albums. Very atmospheric with an excellent chorus, though structurally this could be Paul's "Carnival Of Souls."
Lift - Almost Gun's 'N Roses-ish, but brooding with some very interesting chordal structures. Again the keyboards provide an interesting texture. This is very contemporary, more so than the first track. At nearly four minutes this is the album's epic track.
Wake Up Screaming - Great choruses and verses, the song attempts to build into something greater than the sub-three minutes allow. Just as you're getting into it and bopping your head, it's over. Love the drum and programming on this.
Everytime I See You Around - Hmmm, I can see Cher singing this circa 1988. For me it would have been better being given to her or Paul dueting with her. A decent song, but too twitchy.
Bulletproof - If any song on the album is contrived, this one is it. Bu-yeah! Son of "Silver Spoon." I think the chorus bites, though the verses are cool. The guitar solo is also storming.
All About You - Very Bon Jovi "Keep The Faith"-ish with some mid-80's new wave guitar sounds that made me think of Balls Of Fire or Southern Death Cult. Great anthemic verse, very Paul. Great lyrics. One of the album's out-standing tracks.
Second To None - The "Pussy" song. Blah. Too positive, too syrupy, blah, ick. It was so nice I had to go and piss on the neighbor's cat to get the "Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog" feeling out of me! Give me "Forever," "Every Time I Look At You," or "I Will Be There." This is more in the "I Finally Found My Way" class of ballads. BLAH!
It's Not Me - Hands down this is the best song on the album. In terms of craft, no superlatives will do it justice. It's just perfectly balanced, even if it feels like something that Holly and Paul have written a hundred times over. Perfect chorus, instrumentation, and a great showpiece of Paul's voice.
Lovin' You Without You - Another "Pussy" song. Paul's voice reminded me of him struggling to sound mature singing "Long Long Road" in 1971. It certainly didn't make me cringe as much as "Second To None," but compared to the other Stanley ballads it really doesn't compare.
Where Angels Dare - Great somewhat modern sounding piece. Again, very well crafted in terms of lyrics and music. Great delivery and interesting structure. But it really does remind me of something I've heard before. Still, another of the album's out-standing tracks.
Positives. Paul's voice sounds fantastic. The album is representative of a master proving he still has it - though few probably doubt it and at least he doesn't rap between songs (which has become painful at times during recent KISS shows)! Everything is well crafted, though in some cases too well crafted, perhaps over-thought. Complaints. Album is too short. The songs are too short. They're not too concise, prunned of unneccessary fat, just too short. They may be great for radio, but they leave me longing for a few more songs. It's over too quickly. I look forward to hearing Paul play some of this stuff live.