KISS - Crazy Nights (1987) Apr 5, 2010 12:46:22 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Apr 5, 2010 12:46:22 GMT -5
Ahhh... The best laid plans. Sometimes things don't work out the way they're intended.
Such was the case with KISS' 1987 album, Crazy Nights. It was supposed to be the album that took KISS back up to the stratosphere of musical success. They had already gotten back to Platinum sales status with Animalize (1984), and Lick it Up (1983) and Asylum (1985) were dangerously close to the million sales mark at that point as well. KISS was commercially viable again in the mid 80's, but that wasn't good enough for them.
They wanted the mega hit. They wanted to be among the elite Hard Rock bands. They wanted to see the kind of success that Van Halen, Def Leppard, and Bon Jovi had seen.
So they hired hit producer Ron Nevison to lead the way for their next album. He seemed like an excellent choice with his background, which included working on albums by Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and UFO in the 1970's, and his (then) recent mega hit albums for Heart and Ozzy Osbourne. To further their chances for success, KISS frontman Paul Stanley brought in hit songwriter Diane Warren to complement his collaborations with longtime songwriting partners Desmond Child and Adam Mitchell. Everything was in place for a huge smash hit album.
Except the album itself. Somehow amidst all the planning and preparation the one thing that didn't happen was the final result that all involved had expected (and then convinced themselves that they actually achieved): a great album.
Crazy Nights is not a great album.
Looking back, the album's shortcomings could have been predicted if the signs on the wall had been read correctly. Nevison's production work at that time (mid 1980's) had a really cold, mechanical feel, with a fairly harsh sound. His work on Crazy Nights is arguably the worst of his career, but it wasn't without precedent. Ozzy Osbourne's The Ultimate Sin and Heart's self titled 1985 album both had a sound that was overly slick and had something of a plastic sheen to them. The guitar tones were very crisp and loaded with high end and high mids. Warmth - the one thing Nevison gave his recordings in the 70's - was missing.
Crazy Nights sounds absolutely awful. The bass is way too low in the mix, and it's EQ'd all wrong. It's a very midrangey bass tone, and doesn't do much to hold down the bottom end - which is exactly what the bass is supposed to do in the first place. The guitar tone sounds very much like the guitar tones Nevison had recorded and mixed on Heart's 1985 album and Ozzy's Ultimate Sin album, only taken a step and a half farther - it's harsh, completely lacking in warmth, and extremely thin. It sounds mechanical, overprocessed, and just plain bad. The drum sounds on Crazy Nights aren't much better, loaded with too much reverb and not enough bottom end. Nevison botched the technical part of his job on Crazy Nights. Badly.
But what about the songs? Surely such a carefully planned album with a hit making producer would at least have great songs, right?
Sure, some of the songs are good, and a couple are very good, but the album just doesn't sound like KISS. It almost sounds like a 1987 updating of their Unmasked album - played by machines (or programmed on to a computer & synthesizers).
Lead single and album opener, "Crazy Crazy Nights," turned off a lot of their fans that they had spent the previous 5 years building up. It's a throwaway fluff piece of Pop Metal. Yeah, it's catchy as hell and has aged fairly well, but it's still throwaway fluff.
"I'll Fight Hell to Hold You," is a really good song - except for Paul Stanley's vocal gymnastics. He tests the upper regions of his vocal range on this one, becoming just a tad annoying in the process. That's a shame, because other than that this is a top notch song. It's modern (in a 1980's way), but it holds up well 20+ years later - with the exception of Paul's screechingly high range vocals.
The attempt to make a Classic KISS song is present on the next track, "Bang Bang You," which is an obvious attempted follow up to the song, "Love Gun," (which is even referenced in the lyrics). Again, this is fluff. Catchy fluff, fun fluff, but it's goofy fluff all the same and to this day turns off some KISS fans. It isn't a bad song, really (it is well crafted), but it's so obviously contrived that for some it's hard to get past the goofy lyrics and musical fluff.
Going for a modern, high octane showcase for guitar player Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Carr, Gene Simmons brings his first song to the table with, "No No No." It's fun, it's fast, and it's a burst of energy. It features some great soloing from Bruce and some great double-bass drumming from Eric. What it doesn't feature is a great vocal melody. The riffs are OK, but nothing to write home about, and without a great vocal melody the whole thing just sounds mediocre (with the exception of Kulick and Carr's performances, which are first rate).
The album finally brings a track worthy of the expectations that the album had going in with, "Hell or High Water," one of Gene Simmons' better songs of the 1980's. There is something of a 70's feel to the song - unfortunately that something is pummeled and overproduced into an 80's song by Nevison. Still, this is a very, very good song and had there been more like it on the album KISStory might have been very different in the years that followed. Bruce Kulick co-wrote this one with Gene, and it's clear that he brought a lot to the table.
Paul Stanley follows that one up with, "My Way," a good song that sounds nothing like KISS and very much like a solo song that could have been a reworked outtake from Stanley's 1978 solo album. Driven by a keyboard line and Paul's soaring vocals, "My Way," is a grand track that would have made for a really strong song - on a Paul Stanley solo album. On a KISS album? It stands out like a sore thumb.
To open what was side two of the record the band goes to Paul once again with, "When Your Walls Come Down." It's a decent track, but once again it's sabotaged by the thin, mechanical production. Yeah, lyrically it's a little silly and sophomoric - but this is KISS we're talking about, so that would have been nothing new. In the end, it's just an OK track on an OK album. "Walls," is really a good example of what's wrong with Crazy Nights. There just isn't much to the album beyond the plastic sheen.
The big gun that the band and Nevison were counting on for their big hit single was, "Reason To Live," and, truth be told, it should have been a big hit. This is a great power ballad from Paul. It's every bit as good as the hit ballads that Nevison had produced for Heart, and both he and the band had every reason to believe that this would be a Top 20 hit. It wasn't. It died on the singles chart before it ever hit the Top 40, although the video was a hit on MTV. Without a hit single the more Pop Metal oriented album was unable to find the crossover crowd that all involved hoped and planned for. The backlash from the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal fans, however, hurt KISS' commercial fortunes for the next couple of years, and this song was a big reason for that backlash. It's a very good song in that style, it's just a style that many of the fans they had picked up over the previous 5 years did not care for.
Gene gets back in the game with, "Good Girl Gone Bad," a song not far removed from, "Hell or High Water." It's another album highlight, and like the aforementioned, "Hell or High Water," features a great vocal from Gene. These two songs could have anchored a great KISS album as solid album cuts, but instead they are two of the highlights on Crazy Nights.
"Turn on the Night," is another Pop oriented Hard Rock song from Paul with a keyboard line that is, unfortunately, too prominent in the mix. Having heard Bruce Kulick play this song live on YouTube in recent years it's easy to hear why the band was so high on the song - it would be pretty darned good if not for the thin production and overly keyboard heavy mix. In this form it sounds like KISS attempting to be Bon Jovi, but in a more raw form it sounds like KISS being KISS. It's unfortunate that the album was mixed so poorly (and so uniformly, the production and mix sounds the same on every song - which was a major criticism of Ozzy Osbourne's Ron Nevison produced Ultimate Sin album).
To close out the album they turned to an older Gene Simmons song that had already been released by ex-Plasmatic Wendy O. Williams on her WOW album back in 1984, "Thief in the Night." Gene himself played bass on that album, and co-wrote the whole thing. The production on that album was far better and far more natural than that on Crazy Nights, and the original version of this song just had a much better feel. This is still a good song, and the right way to end the album, but for those who had already heard the original version it was a minor disappointment.
Ultimately, KISS' attempt to get the big smash hit album backfired. The album sold about a million and a quarter copies, which was respectable - if you didn't know that they were attempting for something much more successful. This was a case of a band and a producer trying too hard. It was a case of the album being too pre-planned, too prefabricated, and not authentic enough. There wasn't one bit of spontaneity on Crazy Nights, and that really hurt the album - almost as much as the bad audio production.
There are some good songs here. There are also some mediocre songs here. But as a whole this is just an example of how not to make a Hard Rock album. It just seems like KISS and Ron Nevison tried too hard to make a hit album, rather than trying to make a great album.
It could almost be said that Crazy Nights is the musical equivalent of Operation Market Garden in World War II. There were some successes, and some targets were achieved, but overall it was a failed attempt with a high cost to those involved.
(It could have been a 3.25/5 if not for the lousy production & mix.)