KISS- MONSTER- Universal Music
Okay, I will admit, the first thought that enters my mind upon examining the new disc from my favorite band KISS is “Man, I hope the album itself is better than the cover art”. Thankfully, it is. Much better, in fact. I really wasn’t that big on the last album cover but could at least appreciate the fact that it looked like an artist spent some time on coming up with a concept. The title “Monster” could have lent itself to so many different creative interpretations from comic book inspired dreamscapes to abstract images that provoke but instead we get a rather stock looking photo of the current band. It’s sort of an understandable fact that the guys don’t really take a lot of chances at this stage in the game and generally go for the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach whether talking about setlists or staging but KISS album covers have often been far more interesting. This time out, screw the cover and just dive into the music which is insanely potent for a band which has been doing this for seemingly eons.
Everyone has heard the track “Hell or Halleluljah” with it’s driving riff (reminiscent of Deep Purple’s “Burn”) and it’s an excellent choice for an opening act. Paul Stanley takes a “Modern Day Delilah” approach again here and it works like a charm. It feels good, indeed. Stanley produces the albums these days and has always been a massive part of the creative end of KISS so the next question is; does Uncle Gene bring it this time out? The next song, “Wall Of Sound” is excellent, probably one of the best Gene Simmons songs since the REVENGE era. It’s a loud, aggressive and affirmative anthem for the KISS Army to remember that “we all bow down to the wall of sound” and it’s refreshing whenever Gene can convincingly put across emotions other than horniness. More of this please. The next song, “Freak” is another anthem of course and another song where Paul is just really, really strong in all respects. It’s also another very effective “us against them” song that KISS has always been able to use to their advantage in rallying the troops.
I really want to like “Back To The Stone Age” but I can’t honestly admit that it’s any good. Of course you can tell from the title and lyrics that despite the shared credits this is Gene’s personality to the max. We all “get it” but it’s reeeallly cheesy nonetheless (and us KISS kids were bred on this stuff). The performances from all four KISSers are great and the verses and riff are great musically but the chorus is kind of where it all falls apart and feels undeveloped. Gene’s bass playing on “Monster” is fantastic though so who gives a shit and the next song, “Shout Mercy” in particular really features some of his best bass work in years. It’s a snakelike riff that wraps around a really great Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer guitar tradeoff and an excellent song structure in general. It’s heavy, as is most of the album (which features NO ballads) but with a hint of Detroit Motown swagger for good measure and diversity.
My favorite song at this point is easily “Long Way Down” which features some seriously strong and intelligent lyrics from Paul Stanley while also showcasing his undying love and appreciation for Led Zeppelin. Eric Singer turns in a great performance on the entire album but is just unreal on “Long Way Down”, beating the living hell out of his kit exactly the way we all know he’s capable of. The next song “Eat Your Heart Out” took some listens to grow on me but it now has big time. I love the fact that this song is such a group effort, which is ultimately what wins over the listener about “Monster” in general. It’s a Gene vocal but he’s hardly the only one who shines on the track which features Tommy Thayer kicking total ass through the entire track and Paul and Eric throwing in great gang vocals about a “hot mess” who is just what they need (heeheehee).
Gene gets another vocal turn on another seriously strong track, “The Devil Is Me” and again, I have to say he has not sounded this focused since REVENGE. I realize that the Bob Ezrin produced early nineties effort was not a commercial smash for the guys but I think they know exactly how strong REVENGE was nonetheless. A song like “The Devil Is Me” and MONSTER as a whole kind of hints at what of a proper follow up to REVENGE would have sounded like has the band not gotten off track during the “Carnival of Souls” and “Reunion” era. Tommy and Eric are the future of KISS and they both get a lead vocal chance to shine on this album just as they did on SONIC BOOM. Tommy’s track “Out of This World” didn’t strike me as immediately as his previous attempt “When Lightning Strikes” but it is growing on me. The guitar playing and production is amazing here and absolutely captures some of that original “Spaceman” feel and sound that they were going for. Eric’s track “All For the Love Of Rock and Roll” is rumored to be a single/video, probably a good choice as it’s unbelievably catchy and probably the most Klassic KISS sounding song on the album. Eric’s vocals have always been one of the biggest reasons I am a huge fan of his and he has never sounded better than he does here, he should sing two or three tracks next time around. Speaking of Klassic KISS, some of the best moments have always been when Gene and Paul trade off verses on a track and that happens here on “Take Me Down Below”. It’s a classic ‘Oh yeah’ horny KISS song that features an unhinged and sick solo by Tommy and sets the stage for “Last Chance” the closing track (unless you have the Best Buy version). “Last Chance” is effective in its urgency and Paul’s delivery, a blazing, tom-tom beating blitz of a song that succeeds in making you wanna push repeat to start the whole ride all over again. Hey, I’m very obviously a member of the KISS Army and biased as hell, but MONSTER has at least 9 or 10 great rock and roll songs to make anyone stand up and salute. 4/5 FOUR STARS (* * * *)