Editor’s Note: This month, we’re posting not one, but two guides to the respective best and worst of KISS. The second, more explicitly negative part is going up next week; but even the first, technically positive installment is full of some pretty withering asides. What can I say? Something about KISS just fills me with equal parts joy and contempt. But, as I wrote yesterday’s post, it occurred to me that constructing brutal bon mots about the Goofiest Band in the Land isn’t exactly a new hobby for me; hell, I’ve been doing it now for almost a full decade, and that’s just counting what’s been preserved on the Internet. Here, for example, is the review I wrote of Paul Stanley‘s 2006 solo album Live to Win, released almost exactly nine years ago. It was one of my most widely-read, and also widely-reviled pieces, for reasons that will soon become evident. I would have included some of the scathing rebuttals I received from KISS fans in the comments, but they appear to have been lost forever. So just take my word for it: the KISS Army was not pleased with my evaluation of their co-commander-in-chief’s work. And, to be honest, I was a little unnecessarily mean at times; I’ve edited the post to soften some of the insults that, in my youthful verve, veered a little too close to verbal abuse. I hope it’s evident that my KISS-roasting skills have improved in the last nine years, even if my diplomacy has not. See you next week! – Z.H.
I’m no grizzled veteran rock journo, but I like to think I’m streetwise enough to know what to expect when I slam a classic rock icon; so here I am, beginning a review on the defensive. I like, and even respect, Paul Stanley. Maybe not as a human being (I wouldn’t know), and, aside from a few ironic giggles, certainly not as a constructed persona (his stage banter on last year’s Rock the Nation Live DVD was enough to make even the most ardent KISS fan crawl under a rock and die). But as a songwriter and performer, I consider Stanley to be a truly underrated force in hard rock. If you don’t believe me, just look at his credits: “Love Gun,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud“–“Got to Choose,” for Christ’s sake! So before the hate mail comes flowing in, people, let me get this off my chest: I’m not about to slam Live to Win because I have it in for Paul Stanley. I’m about to slam Live to Win because it’s an absolutely unforgivable, unlistenable load of tripe.
Neither the songwriting chops nor the sheer arena-rock thrills of the KISS classics listed above are in evidence on Paul Stanley’s solo “debut” (actually his second album, if you count his quarter of the notorious KISS solo orgy of 1978). Instead, we get what sounds like grade-B Evanescence, with vocals overdubbed by a 54-year-old whose top range is disappearing about as rapidly as his famous rug of chest hair is going grey. Even worse, the bulk of the songs are co-written with Desmond Child: a name that should strike fear into the heart of any hard rock fan, whose credits include not only many of Aerosmith’s worst songs, but also ’80s KISS low points like “Heaven’s on Fire,” “Uh! All Night,” and “Let’s Put the X in Sex.” The resulting album is predictably sucked dry, not to mention ProTooled within an inch of its life. Thirty years after Stanley was bold (or arrogant) enough to flub his high notes on “I Want You” without any post-production fuckery, he’s apparently more comfortable glossing his vocals until they’re as plastic and artificial as his now Botox-expressionless face (see above).
If this doesn’t seem like a real review, then you’ve got me — it sort of isn’t. But that’s only because Live to Win hardly qualifies as a real album. There are no high or even low points, unless you count its mercifully brief 33-minute running time. Every song just bleeds together into a mush of embarrassing, out-of-touch musical self-flagellation. Okay, here’s something: the monster ballad “Everytime I See You Around” sounds kinda like Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” That, if you can’t guess, isn’t a compliment either. In fact, the best thing I can say about Stanley’s exercise in irrelevancy is actually more of a compliment to his bandmate of 30 years. I never thought there would be a worse rock-dinosaur solo album than Gene Simmons‘ Asshole, but a mere two years later, here it is. Enjoy!
You can buy Live to Win on Amazon, or stream it on Spotify below. I don’t recommend either option: