Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Top 5's of 2014 (KISS EDITION) - Tim Durling

Next up on the Top 5 lists is Tim Durling. Actually, instead of a top five this year Tim decided to discuss all the great new Kiss items released in 2014. Tim has a great new video blog called Tim's Vinyl Confessions as well. This is a great blog that has loads of great info, Tim sure knows his stuff. He has a link at the end of his write-up, so be sure to check out his site.

So here is Tim in his own words:

My year end review is going to be a little different. My personal musical tastes tend to run in the classic rock vein, and although there were a handful of decent releases this year by some of my 70s-80s favourites (i.e. Winger, Helix, Night Ranger, Tesla, Skid Row) there were no new albums that completely knocked me out.

But that doesn't mean it wasn't an exciting musical year for me.

To the dismay of their many critics over the years, KISS reached their fortieth year as a recording act in 2014, and with the new year came plenty of new KISS "product." Now as a fan, I will say that over the years, I grew weary of all their "product" because it was getting to the point where the merch was outweighing the music. I have a full set of the 1997 Todd MacFarlane KISS figures, couple of t-shirts, and a few other similar items, but I don't crave that stuff. Call me animal, but I happen to enjoy KISS for their music. And thankfully, this year the products they released were (mostly) musical.

First, let's the get the elephant in the room out of the way (which is no doubt the sentiment of many in the nominating committee in Cleveland)...15 long years after first becoming eligible, the "Hottest Band in the World" finally received their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, for a group whose hits include titles like "Shout it out Loud" and "I Love it Loud," the ceremony was a rather muted affair. Due to continued backbiting between former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, with founders and constants Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, no one in any of their respective camps could come to an agreement beyond going up and making their speeches (only the original four members were inducted, though to their credit, Paul and Gene did acknowledge all members past and present) -- meaning that no version of KISS performed. Which is a real shame, because I feel it would have shown the music "intelligensia" which had rallied against KISS as being all visual no substance, that this band is comprised of good musicians and good songs.

(Side note: to any of you reading this who don't have any appreciation for their music, well, thanks for reading this far!! But also, I would encourage anyone to watch their MTV Unplugged performance. You may still not enjoy their music, that's subjective, but upon viewing I can't see where anyone couldn't admit, that this band does indeed know how to play.)

Now, the music. There have been several KISS compilations released over the years, to say the least. And in my opinion, none of them have been anything you could call comprehensive, for various reasons. First of all, a group as prolific as KISS (especially in the 70s through the mid 80s) can't fully be distilled onto a single CD. The closest thing would probably be 1988's Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits, even though that raised eyebrows for replacing Peter Criss's vocals on "Beth" with those of then-current drummer Eric Carr, who tragically passed away in 1991. Also, in the years following the 1996 reunion of the original foursome (which didn't last), compilations that followed (and indeed, the group's own setlists) tended to downplay, or just plain omit the group's non-makeup years, which produced more than a few hit singles.

KISS '40' (subtitled "Decades of Decibels") changed that in 2014.  

Released in May, '40' is a sprawling, two-disc set of music from their 1974 debut album, all the way through their most recent studio album, 2012's Monster. What is remarkable about this release, is that it is the most balanced compilation ever conceived by any combination of band and/or label. This follows a strict rule of one song per album, including live albums, previous comps that had new material, and one song from each of the original four's 1978 solo albums (collectively known as "The KISS Albums"). There are also plenty of live cuts starting at '75 and ending in 2010. So even though there are bound to be certain fans' "must-haves" missing, the casual fan will recognize most of the songs here, even if some are alternate and/or live versions. They even included a never-before released demo from 1977, "Reputation." This is a Gene Simmons penned and sung tune quite typical of the Demon's output at that time. In fact, astute fans will hear bits of what became later "actual" KISS songs like "Christine Sixteeen," "Ladies Room," even "Radioactive" which appeared on Gene's eclectic 1978 solo disc.

Besides the great track selection, I also have to commend the inner sleeve artwork and contents. Each page contains pictures of the group, along with the associated albums. The back cover of the booklet also lists every member of KISS, even late guitarist Mark St. John, whose tenure with the group only lasted for one album (1984's Animalize) and only part of the ensuing tour.

Another KISS release followed later this year, with the deluxe reissue of 1977's Love Gun. This album was for many years, the highest charting KISS album, going all the way to #3 here in Canada, #4 in Billboard. It contained the top 30 single "Christine Sixteen," as well as other songs which would become concert staples, such as "I Stole Your Love," Ace's debut as a vocalist "Shock Me," and the iconic title cut, one of Paul Stanley's personal favourite KISS songs, which he claims to have written on a plane, without any instruments.

As part of Universal Music's Deluxe Edition series, this is a generally well-done release. I have their reissue of Def Leppard's Hysteria, and want to pick up two others that just came out this year, namely Bon Jovi's New Jersey and Bryan Adams's Reckless. But I digress...

The draw for longtime fans is obviously the material on disc two, a grab-bag of demo versions of familiar songs, songs that had never been released before (including another appearance of "Reputation") live tracks, and a 1977 CHUM-FM interview with Gene Simmons prior to their show at the Montreal Forum -- a show, I might add, with a brand new opening act by the name of Cheap Trick.

For me, the most fascinating bit is the "Love Gun" teaching demo which is literally what it sounds like, Paul Stanley showing someone (presumably Ace) how to play a song that up till then, only existed in the mind of the Starchild.

Now onto important stuff like the packaging. The original Love Gun record came out with all kinds of goodies, as was the norm for KISS in their 1970s heyday, not least of which was an actual toy "love gun" that is just about impossible to find these days, especially unassembled. The deluxe reissue CD was advertised as containing a reproduction of the gun as a magnet.

I stress the word 'advertised' because my copy (purchased from contained no such magnet :-( On the bright side, I did receive a slight discount for this reason. Guess I will have to learn to live with it (that was sarcasm.)

The inner packaging is also very well done, starting off with an essay by none other than Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott, who incidentally co-headlined a successful tour with KISS this past year. For me it was cool to see the singer of one of my favourite bands, waxing poetic about another of my favourite bands. Yet it was puzzling to me because being a DL fan for much longer than I've been into KISS, I have read and seen countless interviews with the various Lep members talking about their influences, and never seen KISS mentioned. Joe would always give props to mostly intrinsically British acts like Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Sweet, the Who, Mott the Hoople, Thin Lizzy, Queen, oh, and Mott the Hoople. I'm not saying he wasn't a genuine KISS fan back then, it just struck me as a little surprising that he would get the job of doing the writeup, as opposed to someone a little more "hip," for instance Tom Morello, who I must admit did a fine job introducing KISS at the Hall of Fame induction.

I look forward to possibly more deluxe treatments of their albums in the future. Dynasty, maybe?

2014 also brought a new album from original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, his first since 2009's Anomaly. Given the vastly altered state of buying and selling music these days, it is perhaps not so surprising that Ace fans and the KISS army (not necessarily one and the same) purchased enough copies of Space Invader to give it a #9 debut in Billboard, far and away the highest charting Ace Frehley album; though obviously chart position means far less than it did in previous years. (If one of Ace's Frehley's Comet albums debuted in the top 10 back in the 80s, it would have no doubt outsold any of KISS's albums during the same period.)

If this cover art looks very "classic KISS," there's a good reason for that. Ace was smart enough to enlist the design talents of one Ken Kelly, who was also responsible for the album art of Destroyer and Love Gun. As for the album itself, in my opinion not terribly different from any other Ace album. A few standout songs and a lot of filler. This was the first single, and probably one of the better cuts on Space Invader.

Ace just isn't a vocalist, and could really have benefitted from a co-lead singer on this. When the song suits him, the results are catchy and cool. But to listen to that voice over the course of an entire album, well...

Also, unusual for Frehley, for once he doesn't hit it out of the park with a cover tune. In the past, Ace has demonstrated perhaps surprising insight when it comes to covering songs. In his time with KISS, he was the only member of the group to score a hit with the 1978 solo albums, with his version of the Russ Ballard-penned "New York Groove," a UK hit for the group Hello in 1975. (note: Ballard was also a member of the band Argent, and with that band penned the song "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" which KISS recorded and partially rewrote in 1992, long after Ace had left. If you're a Ritchie Blackmore/Rainbow fan, you'll know Ballard's writing from their "Since You Been Gone" and "I Surrender.") And he completely reinvented an obscure Rolling Stones song to suit his persona, when he covered the Jagger-Richards composition "2000 Man" in 1979. Over the course of his solo years he also delivered faithful covers of ELO's "Do Ya" and more recently Sweet's "Fox on the Run." So I was extremely disappointed in Ace's rendition of Steve Miller's "The Joker." First of all it is such an overplayed tune that it is practically impossible to breathe new life into it; also he attempts to alter its arrangement which in my opinion falls completely flat, and creates even more wasted "space" on Space Invader. Don't get me wrong, I like Ace and I'm glad he put out some new music, but I always feel he's capable of better.


Given that this is Maritime Vinyl, it's only appropriate (it's only right now?) that we talk about vinyl.

Universal Music recognized KISS's 40th year in a big way this year, with a massive vinyl reissue campaign.


For the insane (read: filthy rich) fan, there's the massive vinyl box set. And for the rest of us, the records (love saying 'the records') are available one by one. Now as a longtime fan, I already had much of their vinyl, but now albums from the 90s and beyond became available that had never been on vinyl in North America, and in some cases ever.  

1992's Revenge is generally considered to be one of the finest KISS albums from the non-makeup era. It was a return to harder rock after flirtations with Bon Jovi-style pop metal which probably reached its apex with 1987's Crazy Nights album. This album would have been released in various territories on vinyl when it first came out, but this is the first time I got a copy.

I was so excited to get this on vinyl. The striking artwork on this album was done by none other than Hugh Syme, one of the finest in rock album art design. If you're a fan of Rush, you'll be familiar with his work, having worked with that band (who early on shared many a stage with KISS) from Caress of Steel onward.

Also exciting for me was the vinyl release of 1998's Psycho Circus. Universal faithfully produced, in glorious 12x12" dimensions, the lenticular cover art that was on the CD of this release.

I am sure I will be making more purchases of the 2014 KISS vinyl reissues, but for now, I'm just glad to see them available. And lest anyone think no one under the age of 40 is interested, my 14 year old nephew Will (a newly-minted HUGE fan) has purchased way more of the vinyl than I have, snapping up KISS, Dynasty, Lick it Up, Asylum, Revenge, and Monster, and I'm sure more to come. Long Live Vinyl my friends!!


I hope you've enjoyed reading this, and if you're fan of classic rock (since I already know you're a fan of vinyl), I urge you to check out my show Tim's Vinyl Confessions on Facebook and YouTube. This is my KISS TVC episode.

In closing, 2014 appears to have been a great year for KISS, it was a fantastic year for me, and I hope it was for you as well. Wishing you all Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

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