By Bill Adams
Both fans and critics can say what they like about KISS, but the basic truth is that the band has never really changed over the last forty years. Be they masked, unmasked, sporting an all-original lineup or a new conglomerate featuring new players, there has always been a consistency in the band’s music that is inescapable; it is big, bombastic rock and it has always worn the cliches of its brand (the riffs, the hooks, the recurring lyrical images) in a proud and perfectly visible manner. That is not meant to sound like a damnable analysis; that consistency has won KISS a legion of supporters which span generations. True, fans bicker about the quality of one record over another in the band’s catalogue regularly, but those arguments tend to be pretty superficial – a mix tape spanning the band’s entire career (all thirty-nine years of it) could easily be made and stand alone as a solid effort; it wouldn’t be easy for a new listener to pick out a carbon date on any of the songs.
Call KISS’ sound timeless if you want but, no matter what you call it, the band has beautifully reiterated why they have the love and support of millions behind them with Monster – their twentieth studio album.
The elements of classicism (or at least those elements which make a classic KISS album, combined) are apparent from the moment “Hell Or Hallelujah” kicks the doors open on Monster and lunges in with guns blazing. Paul Stanley is in fine voice here, showing no age or weakness in even a single note of his performance. Gene Simmons‘ bass growls menacingly here (and proves to keep doing so throughout the rest of the album, really) in perfect counterpoint to Stanley’s vocals, but the real story is the contributions of guitarist Tommy Thayer; for the first time ever, someone other than Ace Frehley has managed to play like Ace Frehley on a KISS song. The effect of that performance is immediate; with Thayer’s guitar at the helm, listeners will suddenly remember why it once seemed like a good idea to get messed up on gin or rock and roll all nite and party every day or shout it out loud that Detroit Rock City was the place to be. That guitar tone is gold and is the perfect thing that listeners will feel course through them from balls to brains.
The band doesn’t let up after that first salvo though, they stand tall and hard throughout the eleven tracks which follow “Hell Or Hallelujah.” Even if it doesn’t sound like the band’s single most original effort to date (“Wall Of Sound” plays a little like a rewrite of “Eat The Rich” by Aerosmith and “Freak” lifts the chords and tone from the guitars in “Ocean Size” by Jane’s Addiction), it is a great listen from top to bottom and songs like “Back To The Stone Age,” “The Devil Is Me” and “All For The Love Of Rock & Roll” exemplify the sound, the style and the delivery which have caused fans to fall in love with KISS over the last forty years. Each of those songs will warm even the hardest hearts, and renew their devotion to the band. It’s a great feeling, and proof that some things never go out of fashion; on some level, everyone just loves singing along to a great, hedonistic rock song.KISS has been providing songs which cater to that affection for forty years and their wellspring of inspiration is in no danger of drying up, as Monster proves.
Bill Adams is also editor in chief of groundcontrolmag.com