A proper tribute to the hottest band in the world has been on my to-do list going back to…1977?
So yes, that will happen. For now, in honor of Kiss getting their Hall of Fame on this evening, I’ll happily revisit two pieces dedicated to two of their albums. The first, from a real labor of love, 10 Albums That Supposedly Suck (But Don’t), here’s my assessment of the oft-maligned Dynasty:
10. Kiss: Dynasty (1979)
Okay, let’s get this one out of the way right up front. It’s not necessarily that this album is better than average (it’s not), it’s that so many members of the Kiss Army—not to mention normal people who understand, and accept, that Gene Simmons wears a toupee today and likely wore a wig then—think it sucks (it doesn’t). More than a few folks point to this as the nadir of the original band’s output. It might be, actually, but that still does not mean it sucks. Yes, it has the made-for-radio, inspired by disco (!) debacle “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, a title so insipid, uninspired and calculated it could not possibly be tolerable on principle. There are a lot of other stinkers on this set, particularly the one contribution from Peter Criss, a cat who went from being a drummer who sometimes did drugs to a druggie who sometimes played drums. In fact, the same guy who played on Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album (and who would later gain fame as the drummer in David Letterman’s late night all-star band), Anton Fig, provided most of the drumming on this one. How embarrassing (for Criss; for the band).
Speaking of that Ace Frehley solo album: what a revelation. The space cadet who played the (often excellent) solos and was usually too self-conscious to sing suddenly came into his own. His effort is, arguably, the most cohesive Kiss-related album since Destroyer. True, Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun had the hits and put them over the top commercially, but they were also overly produced and oddly sterile (compare virtually any of those songs with how much better they sound on Kiss Alive II). For whatever reason, whether it was fatigue, chemicals or lack of inspiration, Frehley briefly emerged as the unquestionable creative force in the band. His solo album was so much better than the others’ it seems unfair, even inappropriate, to compare them, and on Dynasty he is practically holding the act together himself. That he could not hold his own act together much longer is as unfortunate as it was inevitable (if you find that to be a harsh or inaccurate assessment, listen to the lyrics on the solo set—or just consider some of the song titles: “Snowblind”, “Ozone”, “Wiped Out”).
Frehley’s two original contributions, “Hard Times” and “Save Your Love” rock as hard as anything Kiss ever did, and his guitar playing throughout is assured and intense. Even though this album has questionable material from Stanley and Simmons, like “X-Ray Eyes” and “Sure Know Something”, those gents also acquit themselves tolerably well with “Charisma” and “Magic Touch”. Yes, “Magic Touch” is probably a song that makes even hardcore Kiss fans feel a bit faint (in a bad way), yet it’s almost disgustingly irresistible. And Ace’s solo is ridiculous (in a good way). Last, but not least, there is the Stones’ cover, “2000 Man.” First off, having the balls to cover an obscure Stones song warrants Frehley serious props, and the fact that he pulls off a much-better-than-respectable (and, importantly, not paint-by-numbers) interpretation was impressive, then, and remains righteous, now. The other members may have already been phoning it in by this point, but Ace had a few more tricks up his sleeve and Dynasty should, if nothing else, be celebrated as the last time he looked down at the rest of the world.
Bonus: Love for the band’s best album (by far).
First off, much more on this, another time. For now, to revisit my piece from 2010, Hey Gibson, Let’s Talk Guitar Albums!, here is a short, sweet love letter to Kiss: Alive!
Before the sex, drugs, alcohol and the gravity of expectations vs. ability set in, Kiss was lean, hungry, unappreciated and angry. They also wore make-up. But circa 1975, the hardest touring band in show biz was firing on every conceivable cylinder. Their overproduced, somewhat half-baked studio work did not adequately represent what outstanding musicians they all were (no, seriously), but their genius decision to put out a live album (before they were big) and make it a double album was what put them over. And it still sounds incredible; easily one of the best live albums of the era. (Even if chunks, perhaps large chunks of it were retouched and refined and redone in the studio. Chalk that up to WHO GIVES A SHIT?) The star of these proceedings is Ace Frehley, who was always better than he sounded. He is a rock god on this outing, and he never really sounded better than this. Every single song features a solo that is logical, concise and utterly original (check out his restrained but authoritative work at the 1:50 minute mark here). All those candy-ass hair bands in the ’80s weren’t even trying to emulate this because they knew it was impossible.