By Chad Baalman
With nearly 40 years, 19 studio albums and other lineup changes in the rear-view mirror, Kiss could perhaps get a pass for losing a couple miles per hour off the fastball.
But with the début of their latest album called Monster, Kiss has shown without a doubt they are capable of bringing the heater.
In 2009, Kiss whetted the appetite of fans with the release of Sonic Boom, the band's first in 11 years. And while it gave a fan base desperate for new music something to chew on, it was just a taste.
If Sonic Boom was the appetizer, then Monster is the steak dinner – a juicy, 12-cut offering chock full of a catchy riffs, cowbells, sizzling solos (Tommy Thayer's, not Ace Frehley's) and a big-boned bass capable of rattling the strongest fillings. And yes, there's dessert later.
Founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, along with drummer Eric Singer and Thayer, clearly brought more attitude and vigor to the sessions when recording commenced in last year in Hollywood, Calif. Stanley, like he did three years ago, wore the producer’s hat along with Greg Collins (engineering/mixing credits include No Doubt, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Again, all songs were written solely by the band and all the songs were tracked to analog tape.
"With this album, we're totally at home with who we are, what we are, our past, present, and future," Stanley told The Pulse Of Radio last month. "And I wanted us to take any blinders off so to speak." The follow-up to Sonic Boom features a more urgent tempo and in your face sound, which was quite evident right out of the batter's box with the first single "Hell Or Hallelujah," a scorcher sung by Stanley with a main riff reminiscent of Deep Purple's Burn.
And while this album at times gives a nod to some of Kiss' early influences – MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" can be heard in "Back To The Stone Age" while the band's a capella intro to "Eat Your Heart Out" screams Humble Pie's "30 Days In The Hole" – it is not a retro album.
In fact, it's so hard to compare it to the other efforts that it has its own little place somewhere in the vast Kiss catalogue.
"I wanted to unleash us and let us be exactly who we are today," Stanley described Kiss’ attitude towards their 20th studio album.
"Wall of Sound," clocking in at under three minutes with Simmons on vocals, welds a sledgehammer with an endless, pounding riff. Stanley then takes his turn with "Freak," an empowerment song of sorts ('I've got streaks in my hair / People point at me and stare / If they ask me I say, 'Yeah, I'm a freak) in a similar vein as Shinedown's hit "Bully" from earlier this year.
The aforementioned "Back To The Stone Age" and "Eat Your Heart Out" are a pair of aces in Simmons' deck. The latter features Simmons in all-out macho, macho man mode and his snarling bass coupled with Singer's ever-present cowbell. In the former, he longs for a simpler time and belts out a couple blood-curdling screams during the final chorus.
"Long Way Down," the second single just recently released to radio, is the sixth track on Monster and it's a fitting place for the Led Zeppelin-esque tune. It's the heart of album. Stanley’s voice might sound weathered at times, yet it provides the right touch of character to this nicely layered song, one which warns of the pratfalls of excess and not heeding advice. It's one of Singer's shining moments on the album as well as he is all over the drum set.
Speaking of Singer, he took "All For The Love Of Rock & Roll," penned by Stanley, and delivered a vocal performance that was equal parts sauce and soul. Along with handclaps – yes, handclaps – it dovetails nicely with Thayer's catchy-as-heck riff that harkens back to "Mr. Speed" from 1976. This is definitely the feel good track that will get your toes tapping.
"Shout Mercy" is another tune that draws some similarities to the Humble Pie, ala "I Don't Need No Doctor," and Stanley isn't afraid to admit it.
"My early days were spent every Friday and Saturday night at the Fillmore East," he said in the 64-page booklet that’s part of a Wal-Mart exclusive edition of the disc. "'Shout Mercy' has the kind of passion and urgency that made so many of the bands I saw so unrelenting and powerful."
Thayer, who handles vocals on “Outta This World,” sounds more comfortable in his skin, not only on this song but on lead guitar throughout. Perhaps he tried too hard to mimic Frehley the last time the band was in the studio instead of being Thayer. His licks and breaks are fresh and more than serviceable here.
“The Devil Is Me” is the requisite demon song that fits Simmons’ character while “Last Chance” is a no-frills, north-and-south rocker that’s more than able as the album’s finisher.
And it wouldn't be a Kiss album without a song that shows their affection for the opposite sex. The innuendo-filled "Take Me Down Below" does just that with lyrics so corny, so over the top with two men in their 60s trading lead parts ("I raised my flag and she dropped her dress," says Stanley) that you want to reach out and slap the speakers.
Then you realize – it's Kiss! When you've put in the time and sold as many records as they have over close to 40 years – you can do whatever you want.
Monster track listing
1. Hell Or Hallelujah
2. Wall Of Sound
4. Back To The Stone Age
5. Shout Mercy
6. Long Way Down
7. Eat Your Heart Out
8. The Devil Is Me
9. Outta This World
10. All For The Love Of Rock & Roll
11. Take Me Down Below
12. Last Chance
13. Right Here Right Now (iTunes bonus track)