Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Kiss Solo Albums- 35 years later

By 1978, Kiss were one of the biggest rock bands in the world. From their iconic make-up to their explosive concerts, they were instantly loved by teenagers alike. In fact, a 1977 Gallup poll showed that Kiss were the most popular band. The band were also known for their long line of merchandise. Everything from action figures to pinball machines were out there for people to buy.

It was also it 1978 that their management decided that the band was movie material. During this time, the band took part in filming the campy made-for-TV-movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. The filming for the movie was disastrous: the band couldn't act to save their lives and there were also tensions within the band. The movie would later premiere on ABC in October 1978. While it was a hit in the ratings, the movie was panned by critics. Some countries went as far to releasing the movie theatrically (under a different title and with additional scenes).

After the filming of Phantom, guitarist Ace Frehley felt like it was time for him to leave the band. He was told not to and instead, make a solo album while still in the band. This idea grew and in the end, it was decided all four members would  make their own solo album.

The albums were released on September 18, 1978.

Usually in anniversary articles, I go into detail about how the songs were written and came to be. In this case with their being four albums to cover, I will simply review each album.

As for the order I review them in...most Kiss fans will go by the cataloge number of the album. If this is the case, this is the order:

Gene Simmons
Ace Frehley
Peter Criss
Paul Stanley

 Gene Simmons - Gene Simmons
Gene Simmons
Rating: ***

According to his 2002 autobiography Kiss & Make Up, Gene Simmons had one thing in mind when he was making his solo album: his would be the best. The result: certainly isn't the best but there are some very interesting songs on Gene's album. Of the four albums, Gene's is by far the most diverse. While this is a rock album, Gene experiments with disco, soul, R&B, and even a classical tune. When it comes to rockers, Gene does okay: songs such as "Radioactive" and his re-recording of Kiss' "See You In Your Dreams" are examples. However, Gene doesn't shy away from showing his Beatles influences in "See You Tonight", "Mr. Make Believe" and "Man of 1000 Faces". Gene's album is also the most star-studded featuring musicians such as Joe Perry and Rick Nielsen. Donna Summer is on backing vocals on "Burning Up With Fever" and Cher can be heard on "Living In Sin".  Now what's bad about this album? Well, the soul/R&B songs are the weak spots this album as they are pretty forgettable. He even has the balls to end his album with a cover of "When You Wish Upon a Star".

 Ace Frehley - Ace Frehley
Ace Frehley
Rating: ****

It's pretty funny: it was suggested he should make a solo album and he ended up making probably the best of the four albums. At this point in time, no one had really heard Ace Frehley take the mic. His singing debut was "Shock Me" from Love Gun but this time, he was singing an album's worth of songs. Statistics show that Frehley's album sold the most copies and there's a reason why: it's a great album. Even Kiss' harshest critics have a soft spot for this album. I think what make Ace's album so great is because of its simplicity: basic, hard-hitting rock n roll- no frills. It sounds as if he really wasn't trying. He just went in and made a rock album. Ace certainly doesn't mess around with rip roaring rockers such as "Rip It Out", "Ozone" and "Speedin' Back to My Baby". There even more melodic numbers with "What's On Your Mind" and the instrumental "Fractured Mirror". Unlike the other solo albums, Frehley was able to score a hit single with his cover of Hello's "New York Groove". 

 Peter Criss - Peter Criss
Peter Criss
Rating: ** 1/2

It really hurts me to do this: Peter Criss' solo album is, without a doubt, the weakest of the solo albums. Even sales show that his album sold the least of the solo albums. I really don't know what to think of Peter Criss. I think he's a great drummer but he just seems very bitter when he talks about his times in Kiss, especially about the current line-up. As for the album,  it's just boring. I will admit that Peter has a great singing voice but the songs here are dull. I only really like a few songs on here: "I'm Gonna Love You" is a nice pop track while "Tossin' and Turnin'" is good fun. I even like the album's closer, "I Can't Stop the Rain". The rest of the album is mediocre at best. I do like that Peter tried something different but this album could've really used some good hard rockers. There's even a song on here titled "That's The Kind of Sugar Papa Likes". Seriously? Still, I can somehow sit through Peter's album but that doesn't mean it's easy.

 Paul Stanley - Paul Stanley
Paul Stanley
Rating: ****

With him being my favorite member of Kiss, Paul Stanley's solo album has albums been a favorite of mine. Sometimes, I can't decide whether I like Paul's or Ace's more. The thing I like to say is Ace's is the best but Paul's is my favorite. I know that doesn't really make any sense but please work with me for a moment here! Of the four solo albums, Paul's album sounds the most like a Kiss album which what I think I like about it: it's a great combination of hard rock and pop hooks. "Tonight You Belong to Me" is a killer opening track while "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me" has a very power pop sound to it. There are more hard rockers in the form of "Love in Chains" and some more on the pop side such as "It's Alright" and "Goodbye". Paul can't help but have several ballads. The strongest of them, for me personally, is "Take Me Away (Together As One". Paul's vocal performance alone makes that song great.

The solo albums by Kiss were big sellers but critically, the albums were not well received at the time. The band were blamed for being lazy just for taking on such an unusual project. In 1979, the band regrouped for Dynasty. The album was another big seller and featured the hit single "I Was Made For Lovin' You". The fans, however, felt that the band had sold out given the single and the album leaned more towards a disco sound than a hard rock sound. Criss left in 1980 and Frehley followed in 1982. After a series of poor selling albums in the early 1980's, Simmons and Stanley decided it was time for the band to remove their iconic make-up. On September 18, 1983 (five years to the day the solo albums were released) Kiss finally unmasked on MTV and released Lick It Up. It was a brand new chapter for the band and Lick It Up was well received.  

As of 2013, Kiss is still performing (though with the make up back on since 1996). Simmons and Stanley remain the two sole constant members of the band. Since 2004, they have been with guitarist Tommy Thayer and long time drummer Eric Singer. 

As for the Kiss solo albums, some overlook them as flops. Still, there are members of the loyal Kiss Army who still enjoy listening to these four albums. 

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