Their recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction has a lot of fans romanticizing Kiss’ original lineup. It wasn’t all “Deuce” and “God of Thunder,” however.
Kiss set a standard for crass, loud and in-no-small-way filthy rock — not to mention egos as outsized as their outfits — during a 1970s hey day featuring Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, before a brief four-member comeback between 1996–2001. And that’s the period we’re focusing on, since the Rock Hall is only welcoming the founding members.
Unfortunately, that means we don’t get a chance to join the chorus of fans who’ve dumped on The Elder, since by then Criss had already been replaced by Eric Carr. (Heck, even Simmons gave that disastrous 1981 project a zero rating — though “as a bad Genesis record,” he added, The Elder would rank as a two.) It also means we were forced — heavy sigh — to delve back into the band’s deflating 1998 reunion disc …
“CHRISTINE SIXTEEN,” (LOVE GUN, 1977): Kiss’ precipitous slide into glossy pop late in the decade begins with fluffy little numbers like this Simmons-sung hit, an ode to statutory rape with none of the wrong-headed salaciousness that you might expect from your favorite demon. Instead, bubblegum, occasionally non-sensical lyrics are matched in kind with a sugary-sweet piano signature and an utterly paper-thin groove.
That its mindless, earworm chorus — the title, yelled incessantly — is so easily stuck in our heads is all the more reason to despise “Christine Sixteen.” And also, why it went to No. 25 in 1977. Some radio programmers would only play the song after 7 p.m. — though that was apparently because of content worries. Kiss sounded as soft as a pom pom.
“RAISE YOUR GLASSES,” (PSYCHO CIRCUS, 1998): One of the greatest things about Kiss is Stanley’s propensity for stadium-rocking anthems. One of the worst things about Kiss is Stanley’s propensity for stadium-rocking anthems. Even when he has a bad idea, or — as with this calorie-free, Holly Knight-co-written tripe — no idea, he still insists on dressing it up as a huge sing-along moment.
Owing much to the plasticine MTV-era over-production of late-1980s whiffs like Crazy Nights, “Raise Your Glasses” represents the nadir of this reunion project with Criss and Frehley (who hadn’t both been on a Kiss album since 1979) — if only because it sounds like the worst of what Kiss did in the interim.
“KISSIN’ TIME,” (KISS, 1974): Every new band needs a theme song. And, better yet, one that name checks all of the great American cities — don’t forget “St. Lou!” — where you’re about to rock: “Let’s do it in Detroit! … What are we waiting for?” Inspiration, perhaps? The decades-later advent of GPS, in order to find some offbeat new locales? Something better for source material than Bobby Rydell?
Expectations for Kiss don’t exactly run toward the academic, of course. But this No. 83-charting group-sung snoozer — actually a reworked version of an old Rydell bobbisox hit which concludes its cliche-riddled trudge with an utterly cliched extra-long fade out — is just plain dumb.
“BABY DRIVER,” (ROCK ‘N ROLL OVER, 1976): As paper thin as “Kissin’ Time” no doubt was, at least you could discern some recognizable theme. They were Kiss, and they intended to play in a series of well-known American cities. Got it. “Baby Driver,” nearly four decades later, remains a nonsensical mess. Maybe about a woman? Or a car? Or a car and a woman? A woman in a car? “Nobody knows where you’re going,” Criss wails. “Nobody cares where you been.” Yes, exactly.
It’s the rare clunker on a return-to-form album that saw Kiss reunite with Alive! producer Eddie Kramer after the weird experimentation of Bob Ezrin’s Destroyer. Criss elsewhere acquits himself much better on Stanley’s “Hard Luck Woman,” which was originally thought of as a vehicle for Rod Stewart.
“I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN’ YOU,” (DYNASTY, 1979): Nothing about this made sense. First, there was the idea of Kiss doing a disco song. Then there was the fact that the disco era was all but over. That didn’t stop Stanley, who reportedly bragged that he wrote “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” in 10 minutes after a trip to Studio 54 — just to prove how easy writing in the disco genre was. Is that really a point worth making?
Dynasty, which also saw the band undergo a deeply disturbing costume redo, marked the death knell for what Kiss had once been — and not just because of that teeth-splintering moment of Stanley falsetto. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” found the band working for the first time with popster Desmond Child, who would go on to ruin large swaths of the 1980s with contributions on albums between Animalize and Hot in the Shade.