For years, Kiss has had as its bellowing mantra the phrase: “You wanted the best, you got the best!” For me, the request was always simpler, more straight forward: I want them to rock.
Nothing self-conscious or too referential. Nothing too high concept. Just do what they do: Party music for the horns-throwing set. When Kiss accomplishes that, they are an irresistible force — this scary-addictive combination of metal bombast, eye-popping stage theatrics and mindless will to fun.
And Monster, after a very, very long time, has them rocking.
It’s anthematic when it needs to be (the lead single “Hell or Hallelujah”), winkingly raunchy, of course (“Take Me Down Below”), and giddily self-referential (“Duece”>”Last Chance,” but so what?; “Freak” also seems to tip its hat to “Thief In The Night” from Crazy Nights) — but without the more obvious thievery from the licks library of our dearly departed Ace Frehley, something that marred guitarist Tommy Thayer’s debut on 2009’s transitional Sonic Boom. There’s a greater sense of this new lineup working together as a unit too, with Thayer taking over the vocals on “Outta This World” and the underrated drummer Eric Singer fronting a Paul Stanley-penned cut called “All for the Love of Rock n Roll.”
If you wore out your original copy of Alive!, though, you might be most excited to hear that many of the album’s best tracks showcase Stanley’s fellow band co-founder Gene Simmons — a key element of every Kiss album that’s worked. Quite frankly, the 1980s showed that when Simmons is otherwise occupied, Kiss becomes a shadow of its former blood-spitting, flame-throwing, rock and rolling, all nighting and every daying self.
Instead, the delicate, and all-important, balance of musical input from Simmons and Stanley is again achieved, and it gives Monster this varied potency. Gene’s deep-blue malevolency on “The Devil is Me” is answered by the yowling groove of Paul’s “Long Way Down.” Sparks that haven’t flown since 1992’s Revenge return for the grungy “Wall of Sound,” only to be nearly matched by Stanley’s garage-rock singalong “Last Chance.”
I kept coming back, however, to “Back to the Stone Age,” which recalls — as much as any other track here — the band’s balls-out 1970s hey day. But only in the sense that Kiss sounds like they are having fun again.
That, for me at least, is all that matters.
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