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Thursday, August 10, 2017

1019. Kiss / Kiss. 1974. 4/5

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There are some things in life that really make you feel your age. The fact that this album is now 43 years old, only five years younger than myself, really does remind myself of my age. It’s a long time to be out there on stage wearing makeup, that’s for sure. And it is on stage that Kiss make the magic happen, not just with the stage show, but with the energy of their performance. This is where their drive is at its best, and for the most part this is what is missing from their debut album. Yes, it was a different age in regards to recording, but first impressions of the songs here should make this a monster. That it wasn’t on its initial release is part of that mystery.

Perhaps the ‘no energy’ phrase is not completely fair, but I think it stands to reason. Listening to this album today, and then listening to the frenzied madness that comes from the same songs on the Alive! album (just 18 months later and after another two studio albums – wow!) and you can hear what they are missing from the recorded studio versions here. Where’s that bottom end? Where’s the blazing guitars? Where’s the high energy vocals? For the most part, that isn’t here. That doesn’t mean that, in retrospect, this isn’t a good album. It just means that it feels like the songs here have had their legs cut off at the knees compared to the live versions as they are played. You could use the same argument with other albums of the era of course, and you would be correct. It just seems a bit more noticeable here because of what Kiss became.
If you are a Kiss fan, you already know where the strength lies. If you aren’t a big fan, you still know the important songs off this album. There’s still the strange moments. I know that the band was brought back into the studio to record the cover version of “Kissin’ Time” after the album was initially released and not doing as well as they all hoped. But seriously, a Bobby Rydell cover? Did they really think this was going to lift their sales? Did they just record it because of the title? I don’t know. I do know that it is a bit of a misnomer on the album. Add to that the instrumental piece “Love Theme From Kiss” which just seems out of place and unnecessary to the whole scheme of the album.
The rest of the album speaks for itself. “Nothin’ to Lose” has that 60’s rockabilly about it that can get a bit annoying depending on your mood and how often you are listening to it. Did Kiss really need piano in a song in the direction they were heading? Anyway. “Firehouse” is a good song that just doesn’t have the energy and fire it should have. The plodding style of this studio recorded version, both musically and vocally from Gene, just holds back its potential. It rarely fails to disappoint me when I hear this version. The same can be said for “Let Me Know”, though there is no live version to compare it to. It sounds better when Paul is singing rather than Gene. These are small and not significant criticisms. Again it comes to the age of the recording rather than the quality. I’d just like to hear more grunt in them. You can’t change time though.
In many ways you could argue the same about the remainder of the songs here too, but they are the classics and it is hard to go past them. The awesome opening song “Strutter” that still holds its brilliance to this day. Also “Deuce”, which could be considered to be the twin of “Strutter” such is their importance to the Kiss lineage of greatness. “Cold Gin” which has become a staple of live cover bands all over the world. Along with “100,000 Years” and the album closer “Black Diamond”, these were the songs that built the palace that Kiss became in a short space of time, and these for me still hold the foundations for my love of the band.

Kiss has not always managed to make great albums. They have had their ups and downs, and in many ways a lot depends on how you take the band as to whether you enjoy their music or not. Some swear by the first four albums as the only ones you need, whereas others, myself included, can find just as much joy in some of the work from the 1980’s as their early material. One thing that is for certain is that if you haven’t heard this album, then you have missed out on something, because here is where it began, and in particular the five ‘foundation’ songs here are the basis of what became the monster.

Rating:  “I know a thing or two about her”.  4/5
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