KISS - Monster (2012) Oct 6, 2012 11:38:37 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Oct 6, 2012 11:38:37 GMT -5
It's a MONSTER.
Well, some of it is.
The new KISS album circa 2012 is called Monster, and some of it does, indeed, live up to the album's title. Some of it, well, not so much. But, then again, this is KISS after all, and that's nothing new.
KISS doesn't have a single studio album out of the twenty that they've relased that is excellent all the way through. They've come close a few times (the self-titled debut album, it's follow up Hotter Than Hell, Destroyer, Rock And Roll Over, Creatures of the Night, and Revenge come to mind), but they've never released an album that didn't have at least one clunker. But their best albums all have multiple songs that are just so damned entertaining and enjoyable that having a couple clunkers on the same album hasn't mattered.
Their previous album, 2009's Sonic Boom, definitely had a couple clunkers. "Never Enough," featured the unpardonable sin of ripping off a Poison riff. Never mind that the Poison riff in question borrowed liberally from early KISS songs, it was still a Poison riff. Besides, the rest of that song was just OK. Then there was, "Stand," which featured a chorus loaded with so much cheese that listening to that song too many times in the same week has been identified by the Surgeon General as being hazardous to your health. (And Paul Stanley's vocals on that song were pretty bad - his voice has been shredded after literally decades of pushing his voice beyond it's limits.) Overall, however, Sonic Boom was a very strong album and a return of KISS sounding like KISS rather than a band chasing trends. That was certainly refreshing.
So would the follow up sound like Sonic Boom Part II, or would it sound more like the Destroyer/Revenge hybrid the band had been threatening to make?
It turns out that the answer to the above question is, "Neither." It sounds somewhat similar to Sonic Boom, but it is significantly different. In fact, Monster doesn't really fit in with any previous KISS album, even if there are elements of different eras in KISStory present among the album's 12 tracks (13 if you get the version with the bonus track).
Paul Stanley, who produced the album as he did on Sonic Boom, said that with Monster he wasn't trying to make a great KISS album, he was trying to make a great Rock and Roll album. He was comparing it to the great albums of The Who, The Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, etc. Lofty ambitions, to be sure. And some of the influences from those bands definitely creep in here and there on the album, which is part of the reason why it doesn't fit in neatly with any of the previous KISS albums.
But is Monster really, honestly, of that caliber? Is it worthy of mention alongside Who's Next or Sticky Fingers?
But it is a solid Rock album, and a worthy effort for a band 39 years into their recording career. Hell, it's much more worthy than previous KISS albums like Crazy Nights or Hot In The Shade, which were written and recorded when the band was still fairly young.
So what do we have on Monster?
The album opens with the song that was released months ago as the lead single, the high octane, high energy, "Hell Or Hallelujah." On first listen this one sounds like a fairly ordinary attempt at coming up with a new, "I Stole Your Love," type of song (Love Gun, 1977). But it's a grower. Like fungus, "Hell Or Hallelujah," grows on you. My initial reaction to this one was, "Yeah, it's good, but not as killer as, 'Modern Day Delilah," but the more I listened to it the more I liked it. And while Paul Stanley's vocals are not as strong as in decades past, this is the perfect song to open up Monster. It's uptempo and high energy and has some solid vocal melodies and a really good chorus hook to go along with the great riffs.
Then it all comes down to the, "Wall Of Sound." We all bow down! OK, maybe not all of us, but a lot of Hard Rock fans will. Big, meaty riffs and a great chorus hook highlight this one. "Wall Of Sound," is loaded with attitude. It's almost a Creatures/Asylum/Revenge hybrid in style, and definitely the right song to bring Gene Simmons into the spotlight on the album.
But then the cracks start to show. Not huge cracks, but cracks in the foundation all the same. "Freak," is, well, just OK. The chorus is pretty cool and works well, but the verse lacks intensity and urgency. The verse just sounds tired. The bridge picks it back up a bit, leading into the strong chorus, but the verse sounds like one of the less inspired songs off of Paul Stanley's Live To Win solo album from a few years ago. This is a song that could have used an outside producer to let Paul know that the verse just wasn't cutting it and was hurting the song.
Then Gene takes the album, "Back To The Stone Age," a better song overall than it's predecessor. An intuitive twelve year old told me that it reminded her of The Monkees', "I'm A Believer," and there is a passing resemblance to that song in the chorus (in a Hard Rock or 80's Metal kind of way). It opens with Gene screaming like Ted Nugent on, "Crave," a scream he would repeat just as Ted did on that song. The rest of the song is the meat and potatoes Hard Rock that Gene promised months before the album's release. "Back to The Stone Age," is catchy, it's infectious, and like, "Wall Of Sound," it's loaded with attitude. Good stuff. "I like it." It's three minutes and one second of good, solid Hard Rock.
And then the early 70's British Rock influences come in. "Shout Mercy," sounds like Asylum era KISS trying to write something like an early 70's Stones song. Imagine, "Sympathy For The Devil," combined with, "It's Only Rock And Roll," and KISS' own, "Tears Are Falling," and, "Uh! All Night," from the aforementioned Asylum album. That's what you get here. "Shout Mercy," comes complete with the Woo Wooo's from, "Sympathy," and some, "It's Only Rock And Roll," esque riffs. All brought through KISS' Asylum filter. This may be the best song on the album. It's fun, it's catchy, and it's just a great slice of old school Rock and Roll!
"Long Way Down," is a little more serious than the more playful, "Shout Mercy." "Long Way Down," brings in some Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie influences. Led Pie? Humble Zeppelin? Not quite - this is still clearly KISS, but Paul's influences are definitely showing here, including the, "Shapes Of Things," type intro. This is another really good song, and one which doesn't sound like any KISS song previously released. Within the KISS catalog this one is fresh and new. Within the Rock world this is well worn retro rock (actually, it would have been a perfect fit on Fastway's 1983 debut album). Bottom line? Good song.
Then we get the Sonic Boom Part II song from Gene, "Eat Your Heart Out," which is, basically, a hybrid of, "Russian Roulette," and, "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)." We've heard this one before. Still, on it's own merits it's a fairly good song, and, like much of the KISS catalog, more enjoyable and entertaining than it has any right to be.
But with an album title like Monster there should be some heavier, meatier tracks than the last few.
Enter, "The Devil Is Me," a heavier, slightly darker song than the last 3 or 4 songs. "Devil," has some BIG Classic Rock type riffs and some halfway dark vocal melodies (especialy in the bridge). This is a Monster of a track, even if it borrows a bit from the intro to Gene's own, "Reality," show (now defunct), Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. This is one of the album's highlights for sure.
Then lead guitarist Tommy Thayer gets a turn. "Outta This World," is basically, "When Lightning Strikes, Jr." Again, we're talking meat and potatoes Hard Rock, with a nice bit of flair thrown in at the end. This is a very good track, although nothing terribly special - it's like a good AC/DC song. There's nothing revolutionary or relevatory here, just some good riffs and catchy vocal melodies. And maybe the best vocal performance on the album.
Eric Singer gets his turn at singing a song next in, "All For The Love Of Rock And Roll," an old school Rock and Roll song in the vein of KISS' own, "Mainline," or, "Mr. Speed." There are bits of the Stones in the guitar parts (much like on the aforementioned songs, maybe even moreso), but this is pure KISS. The tempo is just a tad slower than it should be, and it's a very familiar song (too familiar, perhaps), but it's still incredibly catchy and fun in that old time Rock and Roll kind of way. Another good KISS comparison is, "Tomorrow and Tonight," from Love Gun - not a great song, but fun and enjoyable all the same.
Crazy Nights meets Revenge. Many KISS fans will tell you that the idea of Crazy Nights meeting revenge is like an oxymoron. But here we have a song that takes Crazy Nights type melodies and marries them to Revenge type production and the more aggressive playing style they showed on that album. That in and of itself could be a good thing. Unfortunately, the very worst of KISS' lyric writing rears it's ugly head here. Cocky, "Naughty," and utterly sophomoric, the lyrics to, "Take Me Down Below," are absolutely cringe-worthy (especially coming from a couple 60+ year old guys as Gene and Paul trade off vocals). Musically, this song is fair, but lyrically the song is so bad that including it here defies logic. It would make sense to include it if the music and vocal melodies were among the strongest on the album. They're not. Again, an outside producer might have pushed for a lyric rewrite (to at least be a little more clever), or may have pushed to completely scrap the song.
The standard version of the album closes with a better song, "Last Chance," which is a good, but not great song. The drum beat (the driving snare on 1,2, 3, & 4) doesn't quite fit the groove of the riffs. Eric Singer, who gives some very good performances throughout the album, makes one of the few missteps of his entire recording career on this one. It's still a good song, and it is still enjoyable, but a more straightforward beat (snare on 2 & 4) would have worked better. Who knows? Maybe Paul Stanley chose the beat (he is known for demoing up songs in their entirety, including drum parts fully written). "Last Chance," is better the song that came before it, and it's a good way to end the album.
Monster works because the highlights are as good as they are, and because there are only a couple real clunkers on here. This isn't one of KISS' strongest albums, but it is far from their weakest. KISS fans more often than not will likely enjoy this album a lot, and non-KISS fans may actually like it more than most KISS albums as it has some new elements that give it a unique sound within their catalog.