The band Kiss may be many things, but tender and affectionate are not two of them. In fact, Kiss has become a mini-corporation by exploiting the worst aspects of contemporary popular music. They are jackhammer loud and raucous, and their stage show is highlighted by vomitting blood and spitting fire; they generally turn a filled arena into armageddon.
Normally, you might just grit your teeth, but Kiss has become so big that they've surpassed even their own wildest dreams. There's a line of Kiss products and a Kiss cartoon show on Saturday mornings. Their concerts sell out so regularly and so quickly that frightened parents can only sit at home and wonder where they failed. Every child from 8 years old who isn't swooning to Shauan Cassidy is probably reeling to Kiss.
Peter Criss, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Gene Simmons are Kiss and when they announced a group hiatus to work on individual projects, the snickers could be heard throughout the music industry. You must understand that Kiss is not so much a band as an "act." As an act, they are superfying - as a band, mediocre at best. Kiss theatrics are part freak show, part base violence, and apparently a chartic experience for the legion of pubescents and teens that make up most of their following. Esthetically, albums like "Destroyer" and "Love Gun" exhibit a nimbing drone married to adolescent lyrics that appeal ostensibly to the most primal musical instincts.
All this commercial success for four guys in cat makeup has raised the ire of many critics. Now, with release of solo albums by all four members of the group, you would think that the dissection could begin. People who've been waiting years to demolish Kiss, member by member, have their chance. Yet, these new solo albums serve their avowed purpose by casting but at least there's some variety and of the efforts is particularly inspiring, the players in a different light. None a blessed respite from the bludgeon of their group work.
Criss and Stanley's are the most versatile, Frehley's the most derivative, and Simmon's the most Kiss-like. The irony is that despite an attempt to be recognized separately, the quartet's personnel released their identically packaged products on the same day. All four album jackets say "Kiss" in the upper left corner and indicate the individual members' name in the upper right. The four record sleeves have pictures of all Kissers. All four albums are dedicated to whatever three players are missing from the solo venture. All the logos and type faces have that familiar Kiss style. For all the talk about individuality, Kiss's solo project all look alike.
Yet, they don't sound as much alike as you might think. "Peter Criss" (Casablanca, NBLP 7122) and "Paul Stanley" (Calablanca, NBLP 7123) offer tunes in an old Beatles' vein besides the expected harder material. Criss, who is Kiss's drummer, projects an almost relexed personality on "Don't You Let Me Down" and "You Matter To Me," while guitarist Stanley knows enough to rev up the production to cover his thin voice on "Hold Me, Touch Me."
Neither Criss or Stanley could carry the Beatles' instrument casrs, but there are definite leanings here toward pop and away from volume.
Ace Frehley plays guitar and bass and covers all the vocals on his album, but his is the weakest of the four. "Ace Frehley" (Calablanca, NBLP 7121) suffers most from a lack of musical imagination. No one has ever accused Kiss of being innovative, but at least Criss and Stanley borrow from more diverse sources.
Frehley's "New York Groove" (written by Russ Ballard) is a steal of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" except for a formulized chorus hook in the middle. "Fractured Mirror" is a bit more ambitious, but bogs down in monotony. To his credit, Frehley trys to stay away from known Kiss patterns, but what he uses as a substitute is mere filler.
Gene Simmons, on the other hand, makes no bones about sticking close to the proven Kiss mold. His album, "Gene Simmons" (Calablanca, NBLP 7120), is more straight power rock than the other three and some of itd simple-minded thumping is bound to rekindle the spirits of Kiss faithful who may have felt that their heors had gone soft.
Simmons is the one who spits blood and tiltillates the masses with his elongated tongue. He is also the most visible Kisser, dating Cher, giving interviews, and generally playing the role of spokesman for Kiss doings. His album is easily the most celebrity-laden of the bunch, including Bob Seger, Helen Reddy, Cher, Janis Ian and Donna Summer among others.
Seger pitches in on "Radioactive" and that tune and other rockers like "True Confessions" thunder right along. But Simmons takes a few chances, most notable a laughable reworking of "When You Wish Upon a Star." His album does nothing to enhance his reputation as a musician characteristic more squarely on his own shoulders - for better or worse.
Though the four albums offer slightly different variations on the Kiss theme, the quartet remains a single organization. There is a section of a Kiss mural in each one of the solo albums that can only be completed by buying the set. The whole operation seems predicated on the principle of all-for-one-and-one-for-all.
So far, it's done more for Kiss than it ever did for the Three Musketeers.