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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Kiss, Dynasty (Casablanca, 1979)

By Null

Kiss is the worst band in the world. Well, maybe they’re not the worst, but they definitely get an award for the worst lyricists of all time. Any kid can rhyme bar, star, car, and far. While the album Dynasty often gets a bad rap from their fan base as their “disco” album, I would say that it is their best album. It the only one I can listen to from beginning to end. Well, I can also make it through Kiss’s Ace Frehley album.

Let me set the scene. It is the late 1970s and I am a little kid living on a farm in Michigan. Kenny Rogers, Pat Benetar, Journey, Bob Seger, Kiss, as well as a few others, were the records and 8-tracks that were available for me to pick through. Most of these were bought by my parents or my older brother. We had Double Platinum, Dynasty, and the four Kiss solo albums in our collection. We also had Kiss Alive 2, which I believe was mandatory for Michiganders because it contained the song, “Detroit Rock City.”

Kiss came into my life primarily as superheroes. They were just superheroes that happened to be in band and made records. As gluttonous marketing whores, Kiss knew no boundaries. There were lunchboxes, action figures, coloring books, etc. I will always remember watching the Phantom of the Park movie on TV in 1978 when Kiss battled an evil enemy with their superpowers. Even as a young child, I could not really take these guys seriously. (See the dialogue in the following clip.)

Despite all this, Kiss was still kind of cool. It was hard for kids not be drawn to their make-up and spaceman/demon costumes. Every Halloween there would be a certain percentage of kids dressed up like Kiss. Any young kid in the late seventies can attest to this fact.

Over the last several years I have been acquiring the music that I listened to at a very young age for both nostalgic reasons and to reassess the music itself. I have found that early Pat Benetar and Rick Springfield were the precursors to my future love of punk rock, at least musically speaking. Add some distortion and speed up the tempo a bit and you’re pretty much there. Reluctantly, I decided that it was time to collect the Kiss records I had as a kid and consider how these formative records felt in my forties. I decided to forgo Kiss Alive 2, because it seemed redundant and I don’t really recall listening to it that much.

When I picked up Double Platinum with its reflective cover, I was surprised how bad it was. I remembered all the songs but also recalled how I would move the needle around the record on my Fisher Price record player to avoid what, even then, seemed like stupid songs. “Beth,” “Cold Gin,” “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Detroit Rock City” were my go-to songs. “Deuce” had some great riffage. “Rock Bottom (intro)/She” sounded a lot like Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye.”(I listened to Cheech and Chung’s Greatest Hits on 8-track quite a bit back then.) I can only surmise that the emotional depth and mystery I found in Bob Seger, Billy Joel, and others was not present in these Kiss songs. The endless conquest of women and the rock and roll lifestyle in the lyrics: planes, limos, and the like, seemed cartoonish and adolescent to me even when I was still in elementary school. I would take a break from Kiss and throw my Soundtrack to Pete’s Dragon back on the little turntable.

Recently I picked up only two of the Kiss solo albums, even though we had them all when I was young. As a kid, it was awesome to have all the Kiss solo records because, to be honest, they just looked cool as a collection. Peter Chris’s album was some kind of Seger rock ‘n’ blues hybrid, which I found unlistenable. I rarely listened to Paul Stanley’s record because I hated it. His voice just creeped me out. I didn’t like it when he was all “acoustic-y” and I hated it when he screamed. I just didn’t buy it when he tried to be all “romantic” when it seemed he just wanted a piece of ass.

I did pick up the Kiss solo records by Gene Simmons and Ace Freley though. Gene Simmon’s solo album had its moments. This womanizing Republican douchbag was capable of a few good songs. I remember spinning “Living in Sin” endless amounts of time. My father often lived in sin at Holiday Inns. “Radioactive” was also pretty good with its “radioactive” refrain. Oddly enough, Bob Seger actually sings background on many of these tracks. Cher, Helen Reddy, Donna Summer, and others also appear on Gene’s record. There is also a heavy Beatles influence. I would pick and choose tracks from this album as well.

The cover of Gene’s solo album, however, kind of scared the shit out me. We weren’t a particularly religious family, but for some reason one night, a preacher came by to tell my parents about all the satanic messages found on the cover of rock albums and in rock music. Thinking back, this is really strange because we hardly ever when to church and we lived on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know if the preacher was doing the rounds in the country or what. But it was odd. I sat at the table and listened to him talk about the images and subversive messages in rock music. I remember him telling us that KISS stood for “Knights In Satan’s Service.” When all was said and done, my parents didn’t really care too much. They didn’t take records away from us. As a matter of fact they didn’t mention it again. I think it freaked my mom out a little bit, but I am pretty sure that my step dad realized that the only real threat of these bands was that they were all “queers” and “druggies.”

The preacher showed up in the evening when the night was black and the shadows and strange sounds of a farm were all at the height of their powers, particularly for a kid like me with an untamed and endless imagination. I was a little creeped out. My brother was very aware of this and took advantage of it, as older brothers tend to do. That night, while we slept in the attic, my brother kept moving the cover of the Gene Simmon’s record directly above my head while I slept, so that every time I woke up Gene Simmons would be staring at me with that little trickle of blood oozing over his lip. The devil is in the details and I will always remember that the blood that was oozing over “the Demon’s” black lip was made even more sinister by the fact that it looked like a severed piece of a court jester’s hat with a little “blood bell” dangling at the end. It was satanic madness. This may only be evident when viewing the large image that can only be experienced with vinyl album covers. I slept very little that night. Even today, as an atheist, supernatural musings and horror films scare the shit out of me.

Anyway, the best of the Kiss solo albums was defiantly Ace Frehley’s. A lot of the lyrics were still pretty lame, but it rocked. I still think of it as the sister record to Dynasty. Ace, or the Spaceman, was the gritty and streetwise member of the band and seemed to display more emotion than the other members, even if that emotion was derived from cocaine withdrawal. This solo album is what Kiss records should sound like. He had a hit with his cover of Russ Ballard’s “New York Groove” and the guitar on “I’m in Need of Love” helped foster my continuing love of the delay pedal.

Lastly, I picked up the Kiss album Dynasty, which is the only Kiss album I have internalized. I know every note of that record and I never skipped over tracks like I did with the others. As much as I dislike Kiss and all that they stand for, Dynasty remains forever imprinted on my brain. Even the album cover was cool with all four superheroes’ faces—reminiscent of the solo albums. Somewhere there is a VHS tape of me as a 4th grader standing in front of our fireplace with an unplugged electric guitar mouthing the words and “playing” along with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” Their cover of the Stones “2,000 Man” could be their greatest achievement. The song was originally a sci-fi fantasy, but it has become our new reality. Every song on this album is great. The songs give a little bit more for the listener to chew on, both musically and lyrically. The production is crisp and clear. I have yet to hear a Kiss album that sounds quite like this one. The best riffs are on this slab of vinyl as well. Even Gene Simmons plays some complex and funky bass lines. The music stands head and shoulders above anything I have ever heard the band record. The themes on this record still contain some of the go-to Kiss crap, but overall, the album seems to have more real life depth and emotion. Much of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle stuff was left on the sidelines while songs like “Dirty Livin’” and “Hard Times” illustrated a world-weariness, as opposed to the glittery rich rock star life. Both of these are Ace Frehley songs, which gives me the inclination to believe he was the real star during this period of Kiss. The harmonies and background vocals on “Sure Know Something,” “Magic Touch,” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” are extraordinary and they even make me like Paul Stanley for 40 minutes while this record spins. The verses of “Sure Know Something” sound like a warm 1970s rock blanket with harmonies that sound like The Eagles. “Charisma” could be Gene Simmons greatest moment on record. The bass sounds so cool that I even forget this is essentially a song talking about how incredibly awesome he is. Yet, somehow, this song makes me forgive him, momentarily.

I realize that to a real Kiss fan, much of this review might seem inaccurate or down right incorrect. I am sure that Kiss has had other great moments throughout their career and output, but I have yet to hear them. And for my part, I am not inclined to find them. I am perfectly happy to live in my little world of Dynasty and Ace Frehley’s solo Kiss album. I guess I wrote this review for people like me who generally dislike Kiss. To those of you out there, here is a little secret: Dynasty is a fucking mega record.


1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this. I secretly enjoy Kiss, despite knowing that they are morons.