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REVIEW: KISS: MONSTER

The KISS album Monster, produced by Paul Stanley & Greg Collins, is the band’s 2012 follow up to 2009’s Sonic Boom.

In general I considered Sonic Boom the return to form that the band hadn’t had since Revenge, and also that it was the closest they’d come to an album worthy of those released in their mid ’70s heyday. So it was nice to see that Monster continued this trend by building upon Sonic Boom’s successes. Whereas Sonic Boom hearkens back to the ’70’s Monster more faithfully revisits the 1980’s era of KISS, in my opinion. Part of this vibe comes I think from the hand that Paul had in producing the album, since he did this so often in that period. The difference being that Gene is far more involved in this album than he was throughout most of the 1980’s.  Despite the shortcomings that the vocal offerings of Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer have here, it is obvious that after more than a decade’s consistency they are really playing well together and bringing these two talented team players  on was one of the best decisions that Paul and Gene have made for the future of the band. They enjoy working together, and it shows in very positive ways.  Paul and Gene still have what it takes to lead a hard rocking band as they approach 40 years in a business that, if it gives most bands five years they should consider themselves lucky. Historically, the attention span of pop culture is very short, and relatively very few bands have lasted as long as KISS has.

One of the few faults I have with the album Monster is its title. For some reason Monster just doesn’t seem to fit the vibe of it. I’ve tried to think of a name that I would be able to suggest here; I don’t think any of the song titles fit either, but I really can’t think of something that would really express what I feel it should be. It is an odd feeling, usually the album titles fit very well but Monster just doesn’t seem to work here. Maybe some synonym for tenacity or perseverance? I’m not really sure.

I hope KISS continues this trend in albums, and that they put them out consistently from now on. The band is now engaged in yet another world tour with no end in sight, but these days will one day come to an end, and I hope to be able to enjoy them as long as I can with as much new music from the band as I can get. Monster is an album worthy to show as an example to the uninitiated what kind of band KISS is. That can’t be said of most of their output in the 1990’s, and it is great to have a modern example to bring to the table; to say, “This is brand new and it is great!”

#1 Hell or Hallelujah:  The first single from the album has an addicting and likable opening riff, the song is a lot of fun to sing along to, and reminiscent of their mid 1980’s period. Sounds a lot like an outtake from the Asylum period.  It was a very good choice for the single.

#2 Wall of Sound: I read an interview not long ago where Gene Simmons claimed this was his favorite song on the album. I actually agree with him; and think it probably not only his best song on the album but the best overall.  Has one of the most common themes, yet most inspiring of KISS lyrics: “When it all goes wrong / you gotta be strong / When the rest of the world’s gonna shatter/ it doesn’t matter/ Let the floods go raging by / Let the sinners wash away /  Til the dark of night / Sees a ray of light / And begins another day.”  This is one of the reasons why I’ve always loved this band. Underneath the grease painted bad guy evil image the message is almost always remarkably positive and hopeful.

#3 Freak: This tune was written with Lady Gaga in mind and I understand that originally it was intended that she provide duet vocals with Paul on this, although in the end that was not done. I like it the way it is, but think it would be neat to have a re-recording with the duet, just to see how it would come out. It might be bad, but you never know … it could also be good, and a great way to connect with the younger generation so that KISS music is more relevant in the mind of the young.  Overall the tune is typical of the rebellious nature of rock & roll.  It IS fun, but I probably would have liked it even more in my younger days when I was in a freakish state of mind myself.

#4 Back To The Stone Age:  Another theme common with KISS songs, and Gene penned ones in particular, this tune would probably be best heard live, though it is doubtful I think that it would make it into a live set. A lot of the KISS songs that are staples now were not popular by way of radio airplay, and if the band were still really interested in promoting their new album during concert tours as they used to be, I could see this one added to a live show and taking off. Now having to compete with  the classic repertoire  I don’t see that happening. But it would be nice.

#5 Shout Mercy: This is a great vehicle for Paul’s best strengths, and fortunately it has appeared in some of the recent set lists on their recent tour.  I bet it is fun to sing along with a crowd of rabid face painted fans. It has a spectacular guitar solo, too.

#6 Long Way Down: A great bassline here, and I really like the way it fades out at the end, but lyrically though it starts with an interesting idea it seems half-finished.

#7 Eat Your Heart Out: Another tune reminiscent of the mid 1980’s for the band, a great chorus, a neat solo, but has the problem of feeling dated.  Still probably would be best performed live, I’d bet.

#8 The Devil Is Me:  A great bassline, and a tune which reveals the common theme of Gene’s philosophy regarding the prevalence of the negative side of human nature being the default.

#9 Outta This World: Tommy Thayer’s vocal offering. It has a great chorus and nice harmonies, but as has been the common problem with Tommy Thayer’s songs they sound like he’s trying to be Ace Frehley. I understand who he was supposed to replace and I’m glad he’s there and willing to come to work, but after more than a decade its time to define yourself, Tommy. This song sounds great, it isn’t bad, but it would sound better if Ace were singing it.

#10 All For The Love Of Rock & Roll : Eric Singer’s vocal offering. Screams Peter Criss clone even more than “Outta This World” screams Ace Frehley. Sounds just like an outtake from Peter’s 1978 solo album. This is annoying because I know Eric has it in him to be more of an individual; he did it on Carnival of Souls, for goodness sake, and he has a longer history with the band than Tommy does, at least in the role of performing on stage. He can do better.

#11 Take Me Down Below:  A great tune which displays the band’s talent for silly sexual innuendo. Great bassline, great solo, great fun.

#12 Last Chance: This is a great closer for the album, an addictive chorus which would probably be a lot of fun to hear performed live. If I could see Paul swing across the crowd and sing something besides Love Gun, this would be it. It’s spectacular when it comes to that brief section that is just drums and bass.

#13 Right Here, Right Now : This is the digital bonus track, and it is a great tune that has a wonderfully addictive guitar opening riff & solo, the lyrics are predictably KISS in a good way; very inspiring! In truth, I  really like this song but it is so unfortunate to be stuck in exclusive digital download land, because this song deserves to benefit from the same level of sound quality as the rest of the physical album and it doesn’t have it. If you think Apple iTunes is selling you CD quality files, they’re lying to you, unfortunately.  Also, I am still really upset at Best Buy for misrepresenting what they were selling and trying to claim they had physical CDs with this song on it, because they didn’t. I recommend this song, and I love it, I am just unhappy that I can’t find a copy of it on a physical album. I am hoping that someday it shows up as a bonus track on some rehashed greatest hits collection. That for me would be a reason to spend money.

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Joshua Day

Joshua Day works as an operations and production assistant for an NPR affiliate in Virginia, where he has been a sort of jack of all trades for the last 15 years. His diverse musical interests include World music, jazz, and classical as well as rock & roll.

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