Okay, I know all of you have been patiently waiting on this. It's my personal review of the newest Kiss album, Monster and everything that it concerns. And let me warn you, this may be a bit long winded. So proceed at your own peril. Also, I'm not a professional writer, I don't use big words. You might get tired of reading the words cool, terrific and fantastic.
First, why am I doing an extensive review of Monster? There are two reasons. The first reason is that Kiss is and will always be my favorite band. Whether I like this album or not has no bearing on that. And If I don't like it, after 20 studio albums, there's bound to be a couple of stinkers in the bunch. My initial thoughts have been that the album stinks as far as Kiss albums go, so since my initial listen or two I've been avoiding it like the friggin' plague. And that's the other reason I wanted to do this in depth review. You know, give it a few serious, concentrated spins and see how it shakes out.
So here are my goals:
A. Review each song and rate it based on a scale of 1-10.
B. Review each band member's performance.
C. Calculate an overall album rating from these ratings.
D. Use the info in number one and number two above to list what I think is right or wrong with Kiss today and give my reasonable suggestions that could make the band better musically (I say reasonable because something like Ace or Peter re-joining the band would not be considered reasonable).
E. And finally, give the album it's proper title (this will be based on other information gathered throughout the listening experience).
A. Individual Song Ratings
1. Hell Or Hallelujah (Stanley) (10)- Kicking things off is the first single released from the album. This song starts with a great riff, very reminiscent of one of my favorite Kiss tunes, I Stole Your Love. This is a very decent song. It's straight up rock and Tommy lays down a good solo. I really like when Paul's vocal coincides with the solo. Song Rating 8/10
2. Wall Of Sound (Stanley/Simmons/Thayer) (6) - Another really nice riff to kick things off. Gene's got vocals on this, and he sounds great. The second verse is really short, but that's nothing new. It doesn't take away from the song. Tommy's solo for this song is outstanding. He doesn't overplay, but it's a slightly extended solo, with the second half really smokin'. This is better than any song off of Sonic Boom in my opinion. Gene has outdone himself here. Song Rating 10/10
3. Freak (Stanley/Thayer) (16) - This one kicks in pretty good, but I'm not crazy about the verse. The chorus is a little better, but just doesn't really sound all that convincing coming from Paul. Another good solo. But the breakdown in the middle just seems out of place to me. "I pledge allegiance, to the state of, independence". WTF. I don't get it. But I do like the nod to Hendrix as it comes back to the song. Song Rating 7/10
4. Back To The Stone Age (Simmons/Stanley/Thayer/Singer) (4) - I love the start of this song. The bass distortion is cool. The driving drum beat is cool too. "Howl at the moon" and "kiss the ring". I'm pretty sure these are recycled lyrics, the former from Tommy's song on Sonic Boom and the latter from a Gene song off of either Hot In The Shade or Revenge. The is not terrible, but the lowest rated song for me so far. Song Rating 6/10
5. Shout Mercy (Stanley/Thayer) (6) - Nothing stands out about the beginning of Shout Mercy. I hear more recycled lyrics ("ready, steady to go"). I even hear a Led Zeppelin lyric, almost ("what is and what could never be"). I don't like the little hand clap after the solo, and I can't make up my mind if I like the nod to The Stones ("woo woo") or not. Song Rating 6/10
6. Long Way Down (Stanley/Thayer) (4) - I absolutely love the beginning of this song. It really jumps out of the speakers at you. The verse is superb. The only part I'm not crazy about is when Paul sings "but you would not listen". And this lyric, "This life makes fools of wise men, thieves and kings" is just so cool. You can really hear Tommy in the backing vocals. I like this song a good bit. I'd say it's the second best song so far. Song Rating 9/10
7. Eat Your Heart Out (Simmons) (14) - An a capella intro for this song. At first I didn't like this song at all, but after spinning it a few times, it's definitely a grower. Gene's bass and Tommy's solo shine here. My recommendation is that if you didn't like this after one listen, try it a few more times. And quit being pissed off because Tommy's in the band. Song Rating 7/10
8. The Devil Is Me (Simmons/Stanley/Thayer) (7) - This is a perfect Gene song. The bass, the evilness of the lyrics. Seriously, check out the bass on this song. Another killer solo from Tommy and I'm gonna say this is rivaling Wall Of Sound for my favorite song on the album. Song Rating 10/10
9. Outta This World (Thayer) (4) - Let the Tommy bashing begin...but not here. This is a good, rocking song. Eric Singer's drumming is really up front, especially at the end of the song. Uh oh, there's another recycled lyric ("you and me we're like TNT"). I guess Paul told Tommy he could use his lyric from the Sonic Boom album. Other than that, this is better than his song from Sonic Boom. Song Rating 8/10
10. All For The Love Of Rock & Roll (Stanley) (7) - And following Tommy, we have the obligatory Eric song, written, of course, by Paul. I guess Eric can't write his own song. Anyway, what I do dig here is the cowbell and the opening riff that's goes back to the 70's (Mr. Speed) and the 80's (Secretly Cruel). And it's the first song that I've actually noticed Paul's voice in the backing vocals. But that's about it. I wouldn't say I hate it, but I don't particularly like it. Song Rating 6/10
11. Take Me Down Below (Simmons/Stanley/Thayer) (11) - I love it when Paul and Gene share vocals...usually. But I'm gonna be very blunt here, and pardon my French, but this song fuckin' sucks. Song Rating 2/10
12. Last Chance (Stanley/Simmons/Thayer) (7) - This is, finally, another solid song by Paul. The opening bass play by Gene, distorted tone and all, are terrific. Love it. Nothing bad to say here. Song Rating 9/10
B. Individual Performance
Eric Singer - Eric has been a solid member of Kiss for quite a while now. And his performance is very solid on Monster. I like the re-invigorated use of the cowbell over the last two albums for the band. And his drums do seem to really pop at times. Eric has a good voice, similar to Peter Criss' voice but not as raspy. But the song Paul wrote for him to sing is one of the worst on the album. Grade - B
Tommy Thayer - Tommy plays some really nice lead on this album. I'm not a musician, so I can't use guitar terms, but it's pleasing to my ears. And they aren't direct rips from many of Ace's original leads like on Sonic Boom. You can discern his voice on a couple of backing vocals. And his song is actually better than his song from Sonic Boom. Grade - B Plus
Gene Simmons - Gene has four and a half of the twelve songs on Monster. But the big surprise to me is that two of his songs scored highest for me. Perfect tens to be exact. Paul's songs have always resonated better with me. But not this time. Gene's voice is still in pretty good shape after all these years. He still writes cheesy lyrics and still sounds silly when he sings about sex, but hey, he's not gonna change now. What I really love is his bass tone here. And his playing is pretty aggressive. Grade - A
Paul Stanley - Starchild. Paul has always been my favorite member of Kiss. He's always shined a little brighter than Gene as far as I'm concerned. But not this time. I'm really disappointed in his songwriting for Monster. He has five and a half songs vocally, and another that he wrote just for Eric to sing. Seriously, with only two better than average songs, this is some of his worst writing ever for a whole album. His vocals are good. He can't hit the high notes as well as back in the day, but he still sounds like Paul Stanley. He also sat in the producer's chair for this album, and I'll say he broke even there. But overall, I'm just disappointed. Grade - C
C. Overall Album Rating
The average song rating for the album is 7.3 (out of 10). All of the individual ratings average out to a B, so I'm gonna bump up my overall album rating to 7.5/10 stars. Quite honestly, that's better than I thought it would be. It still puts Monster in the bottom quarter of Kiss albums, but it has grown on me enough to say that it's not nearly as terrible as I originally thought. And as far as the album cover goes, I don't care for it. I would have preferred another painted album cover of the band looking like....monsters.
D. What's Right Or Wrong About Kiss Today And How I Would Fix It
I think the main thing is that Paul and Gene are happy and they are once again interested in making new music. Tommy and Eric catch a lot of grief from the die hard fans because of the characters that they play. But is it really any different that a different actor playing James Bond? Who knows, they may stick around long enough to make a couple more albums, and if they do what I say next, those albums will just get better.
As far as what I think is wrong with Kiss, it starts with the producer. Almost all classic, huge albums have had an outside producer, not a member of the band. Now I know this can sometimes backfire production wise, as it did for Kiss early in their career (think Hotter Than Hell and Music From The Elder). In the former's case, although the songs were great, many fans say the album could have been produced much better. As for the latter, Ezrin's drug filled production and ideas just about destroyed the band. I think in Paul Stanley's case, he doesn't want someone telling him what to do. He wants all-in work from every member of the band. But if the band is gelling so well, what would be the harm in having an outside producer? Everybody should be on the same page, so it shouldn't be a problem.
And only songs from band members. I think this is a mistake. You are putting yourself in a box.
Well, short of taking the makeup back off and bringing Bruce Kulick back into the band, which we know is not gonna happen, here's what I think would fix Kiss from my standpoint. Hire an outside producer. Like I said, everybody within the band is happy and they are gonna show up and do what needs to be done. An outside voice will help. And don't strap yourself down to just band collaborations. Especially Paul. Some of his greatest songs have been with co-writers. Call Desmond Child. Just don't write a ballad with him. Slow ballads probably aren't gonna work, but something like Tears Are Falling or Who Wants To Be Lonely would be awesome.
Don't force yourself (Paul) to write a song specifically for another band member. Write a good freakin' song that you like, then let Eric sing that. Or let him sing one of Gene's songs. Or let him write his own song. If it sucks, don't record it. Remember Eric Carr? He couldn't get a song on a Kiss album to save his life. Why should Eric Singer be any different. If his songs don't cut it, don't record 'em. Just don't force it. And Tommy, you can write a song about something other than outer space. It's okay. Don't overdo the character that you did not create. And Paul needs to be unhappy in his personal life (not really, but better songs come from that). And please, for the love of God, quit recycling lyrics. Please.
E. The Proper Title For Monster
Finally, a much better title for Monster would have been "Yeah". If you don't believe me, count the number of times that word was used lyrically on the album. Look at the number in parenthesis beside each song title and the song writers names above. The grand total is 96. Just sayin'.
Finally, the iTunes version of Monster has a bonus track on it. I don't own that version, so I didn't include it in this review. However, here is the track from youtube in case you haven't heard it. It's okay. It could have easily replaced Take Me Down Below.
I wish I could like this, really I do. But I cant get past a few things...
1 - The Branding
2 - Two people dressing up as original members. Though they may deserve to be in the band, and may even be better musicians, they should have never agreed to take on the persona of two legends. KISS needed to create new identify and move forward that way, much like they did with Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent. It would have been more honest.
3 - Trying to recreate their sound from the 70's. That's not who they are now! Write something that came naturally. To me this all sounds forced, and uninspired
4 - Mix up your live set list for petes sake! Reach deep into a great catalog and give us some gems!
I cant shake the feeling of being a jilted fan. Taken for granted, taken for stupid. I've bought the vinyl, rebought the CD's, and updated to remasters. I am, scratch that, WAS a loyalist. Now all they have done is leave me alienated.
I wish them well, I wont be following them any further