KISS is one of those bands you either love or hate. There’s no middle ground when it comes to them and, to be honest, that’s the way they like it. Some of their albums over the years have been loved (Destroyer, Love Gun, Creatures of the Night) or despised (Music from “The Elder,” Hot in the Shade, Carnival of Souls). As we approach the 40th anniversary of the “Hottest Band in The World,” KISS unleashes their latest album, Monster, their first since 2009’s fantastic Sonic Boom and the second album with the lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. Being a KISS fan for almost 30 years, I could not wait to hear what the boys had in store for us in 2012.
The first single “Hell or Hallelujah” has been around since it was released on iTunes in July. In tradition with classic KISS album openers, this single lets the listener know what they’re in for when they drop the CD in the stereo (or to go even more old school, drop the needle on the vinyl version). Reminding me at times of “I Stole Your Love” (from 1977’s Love Gun) and “Burn” by Deep Purple, this track shows the band having more energy than anything on Sonic Boom (which was a damn good record, too). Track two is “Wall of Sound,” the first of four Gene Simmons tunes. This track just pummels you from beginning to end; probably Gene’s heaviest song since the Revenge days 20 years ago. “We all bow down to the wall of sound,” Gene sings near the end. And bow down you will.
“Freak” is Paul singing about being proud of who he is and not caring what others say, which is one of the great things about KISS in general. People have mocked and ridiculed KISS over decades and yet they still soldier on without a care in the world. It’s also a great song to have on this record with all the stories about bullying in the news these days. “Back to the Stone Age” is the only song on the album that I couldn’t really get into. It sounds a little too much like “Kick Out the Jams” by the MC5 for my liking; maybe in time it will grow on me. However, Gene’s screams at the beginning and at the end of the solo section are great.
“Shout Mercy” was a song that caught me by surprise. With a drum intro very similar to that of 1982’s classic “Creatures of the Night,” Paul really kicks it into high gear on this track. This song could very easily become a live staple for the band. “Long Way Down” continues Paul’s strong songs here, talking about appreciating what you have before it’s all taken away from you. It has a very Led Zeppelin feel to it, at times hinting at “Ramble On.” My only problem is that Paul’s voice on this song sounds a little rough. I can only imagine him singing this 10-12 years ago; he would’ve owned this track.
We come back to Gene on “Eat Your Heart Out,” which starts off with a great a capella version of the chorus before the whole band kicks in. Even though it recycles lyrics from past Gene songs, it’s still a solid track. This song also is the biggest shocker on the album for me. I didn’t expect to like it when I heard the samples on iTunes, but I was surprised at how much I loved it. Gene follows that up with another heavy rocker, “The Devil Is Me.” In the vein of “God of Thunder,” “Unholy” and “I’m an Animal,” it’s the Demon at his most devilish.
Tommy Thayer has his first turn to the microphone next with “Outta This World.” This could’ve fit in on any KISS record from the ’80s as it has that era’s feel to it. It’s a fun track that I enjoyed more than “When Lightning Strikes,” Tommy’s track on Sonic Boom. Following that is Eric Singer’s turn to bellow out “All For the Love of Rock & Roll,” which has a very blues rock feel to it, similar to “Mainline” (also written by Paul) from 1974’s classic Hotter Than Hell. It also sounds like it could’ve fit right in on original KISS drummer Peter Criss’ 1978 solo record. I didn’t like it as much as “All for the Glory” from Sonic Boom, but I like the approach to it. It might grow on me in the future as well.
Next we have Gene and Paul trading lead vocals on “Take Me Down Below.” You have to wonder while reading the lyrics if they had the KISS Kruise on their mind when they wrote this track. Nevertheless, it’s always a treat when the two original members sing together on a track. Finally, we end with “Last Chance,” which feels like it belongs right on Lick It Up. A great way to end the album; very uptempo and powerful. Paul gives it all he’s got as we reach the finish line. And it might just very well be the best KISS album closer since “War Machine” 30 years ago.
Overall, I was really impressed with the body of work the boys created. It’s not a perfect record by any means. However, as Gene once sang, “nobody’s perfect”…but b-b-baby, they come awfully close.
Favorite tracks: “Last Chance,” “Wall of Sound,” “Shout Mercy”
Overall rating (out of 10): 8 out of 10
Monster is available Oct. 9. Visit KISS online at www.kissonline.com.
Article by Jason Hlinka