Back in 1977 Kiss really were the Hottest Band In The World – at least in the live arena – but they had also established themselves as a platinum selling act with increasingly confident and well-crafted studio albums. Having reached what some consider a peak with the seminal “Destroyer” (which also had the deluxe reissue treatment recently) they pulled out all the stops for their next release, the rather unsubtle statement of cock rock that is “Love Gun”.
The Ken Kelly artwork was an essential part of the package in the days before CD or MP3 and having been steered through the last few years by Bob Ezrin they took to the studio this time with Eddie Kramer, looking for a fresh approach.
Despite his remarkable pedigree (Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix) his production didn’t quite have the bombast that the painted princes needed to capture the excitement of their concerts and, let’s face it, the material was patchy.
There is no debating the classic status of anthems like ‘I Stole Your Love’, ‘Plaster Caster’ and the catchy-as-hell title track, but the rest of the album wasn’t the band at their finest.
‘Shock Me’ is fun, laid back and grooves along, with Frehley doing lead vocals for the first time whilst ‘Tomorrow And Tonight’ has an unshamedly 60’s pop hook, but they never quite grabbed you like ‘God Of Thunder’, ‘Deuce’ or ‘C’mon And Love Me’.
Chucking in an unnecessary cover of ‘Then (S)he Kissed Me’, a dull Peter Criss number and the Yewtree-whiff of T-Rex lite ‘Christine Sixteen’ and this was the start of the end for the classic line-up. Wanting more of a democracy within the band, Ace and Peter pushed to have their songs on the album even though Simmons and Stanley were clearly the better writers. Although this is all written with hindsight, the disjointed feel of “Love Gun” was a hint of the fall out to come.
The last album that all four original members played on in full, this sold better than it deserved to, but for all its flaws – it still has a special place in my heart. There is a naivety to the songwriting and an exuberance to the lyrics that cannot be contrived, and the whole thing has a sense of the comic book chaos that the characters they created had come to represent.
The reissue has been superbly remastered, giving it a harder edge without losing any of the shimmer and sheen of the 70’s glam sound and the vocals in particular have much more presence and clarity. Paul’s screeched paeans to lust at the end of the opening track make you wonder if he’s standing behind you as you listen. Sadly the drum sound still grates and lets the whole thing down in the same way Kramer did a decade later on Anthrax‘s monumental “Among The Living”.
Of course, a remaster is just a remaster unless you shove an extra disc of odds and sods on the back of it and then you get to call it “Deluxe”. The bonus disc here is what actually piqued my interest. The demos are neat little gems and show where Gene and Paul could take things when they felt free to compose whatever came naturally rather than trying to confirm to the rock anthem mould they had become famed for.
‘Much Too Soon’ is grunge before its time and a weird surprise to be thinking of Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney when listening to The Demon himself from more than 30 years ago. The ‘Love Gun’ “teaching demo” is so quaint you just want to hug Paul and tell him how smashing his new hit is, as he breaks down the riffs and explains each chord with Nigel Tufnell deadpan aplomb. That said – Gene‘s opening line “I know you write me…..sexy letters” on the demo of ‘I Know Who you Are’ is more Alan Partridge than David St Hubbins.
There’s a previously unreleased telephone interview with Gene that illustrates why he has always been a master showman and self-publicist but back in the day when his spiel was all “rock and roll” and less “business” and…well…back when he wasn’t such an obvious asshole.
The closing trio of live tracks are spectacular and although they are from the same tour as the “Alive II” release they weren’t recorded specifically with a view to making an album and have a more aggressive edge than the aforementioned platter.
Overall this is a pretty good bunch of songs with a superb remastering job and some fantastic bonus tracks. If you’re new to Kiss, buy “Alive” and “Alive II”, but if you’re a long time fan then this package is fascinating, exciting and worth every penny.