A fairly nice review of Kiss`s first two albums in this article. It seems that not every critic hated them at the start of their career.
World Record Kiss-off in Chicago
Sabre toothed guitarist sets fire to hair, audience applauds
By Max Bell
To partially paraphrase an old punk song: “It`s 1975 okay, all across the U.S.A.” Meanwhile back in the States it`s thunder and lightning time.
Kiss are a 1970`s band for all those who claim there aren`t any, and as if the name wasn`t enough to put you on your guard they turn out to be New Yorkers as representative of that city as Vanilla Fudge or the Velvet Underground. They look and act hideous too; lots of leather and grease paint but in a way the antithesis of glam rock, which is a bandwagon they may be involuntarily assigned to.
Where Kiss differ from their stable mates is that they can actually play. In between the heavy metal rock and roll there`s sublety and precision coupled with the perennial appeal of dirty street brat lyrics spat out by the aggressively macho bassist Gene Simmons. Behind him the band pump a combination of MC5-like adolescent frustration and Blue Oyster Cult style melt-rock.
For once the warpaint image, and the sour smell of excess, fit perfectly into the overall musical approach. There`s a first album of unbelievable ferocity. Try “Strutter” which is not the high camp posturing you`d imagine – no scout masters in this set-up. Under all that make-up they leer like four Joel Grays. “Nothin` To Lose”, a single, should shortly be assaulting England`s unsullied airwaves, fired by the joint Samurai interplay of composer Paul Stanley and Space “Ace” Frehley. Ace is the quiet one in the party until he straps on his guitar – then he stumbles across stage, smearing licks over every number. “Kissin`Time” is their anthem, a travelogue inspired by the mouthing marathons that are an unmistakeable feature of the concerts now. At times Simmons sounds a dead ringer for Rob Tyner but they do have a definable buzz of their own. For example “Let Me Know” drifts into a perfectly straight accapella before Peter Criss, drummer, sets it back on its heels for an all-out rocking exit. He doesn`t let go of the beat ever. “100,000 Years” and “Black Diamond” are propelled screaming over Stanley and Frehley`s rhythmic escapades, while the latter has a descending finale that has to be heard to be believed.
Sometimes Kiss are too damn loud for their own good; they certainly won`t be to everyone`s taste or temper. But only the instrumental “Love Theme From Kiss” lacks the energy of its companions, coming across as an unnecessary allowance for taste.
And so to a superior successor, “Hotter Than Hell”, which says it all, or nearly. I don`t think anyone would deny that Kiss are anything other than basic. Their lyrics are simple juvenile escapism shot through with blatant sexual fantasy. It`s an integral simplicity though because they work on a feeling. It`s a crude mood which hasn`t yet been perfected. At the moment they veer between polarities of cleverness and elementary brashness, but when the two collide the result is real excitement.
As far as standards of excellence go Kiss are non-starters because they aren`t competing on level terms with exploratory technicians or the relaxed intelligence of a Steely Dan; they will appeal to the darker side of your nature with their chiaroscuric masks, huge emblazoned signs and deliberately spectacular presentation. What emerges is a sound that doesn`t allow for partial acceptance; you either love it or hate it and no disguising intent.
“Hotter Than Hell” invariably surpasses its predecessor; the sophisticated touches, while sensibly sparse, being more effective. On “Goin` Blind” there`s a distant melodic line which could almost be The Beatles, if Kiss weren`t a million megatons removed from the sixties. Similarly the title track and “Let Me Go, Rock And Roll” are the relentless brain numbing blast which is four kids in a garage band – with Mosrite equipment – taken to a logical conclusion.
What these albums reveal is that New York music has a freneticism all its own that doesn`t basically alter; some people are just better at playing it than others. “Mainline” puts Kiss firmly on the right side of the track while “Comin` Home” and “Strange Ways” (isn`t that where we came in?) show exactly how much of an East Coast group they are. No flowers, no sunshine, not even audible narcotics but cities, concrete and cold gin. Kiss have the type of aura that sends parents seeking asylum while the kids stick their pictures on the wall.
These two albums aren`t the sort you recommend to anyone. Listen to them first and then decide. Number one is definitely hors d`oeuvres for a meal which nearly arrives on “Hotter Than Hell” but which I think is yet to come.
Here`s a recorded testimony which embodies claims of being flash-rock`s prime exponents. In all honesty they make the Dolls seem like the boys next door. Even so a lot of people still remain suspicous of their credentials and point to the likelihood of this being another transient stage in a predictable, but brief, fame.
Thus a Transatlantic call provided a basis for evaluating the band in the absence of live performance here. In the States it`s 9.30 a.m., a time when most degenerate heavy kids are staggering into bed. However, Gene and Paul are coming across disgustingly bright and breezy.
After the initial formalities we get down to the obvious tack of glam n`glitter and where Kiss feature in relation to it: “Nowhere man, that thing is dead and the participants are finished too. But we`re getting a bigger response all the time. I don`t want to sound malicious but with people like the Dolls, well, you can`t go on fooling audiences all the time. We can play. Before this came together we were practising for months in a loft to get it right.”
By all accounts response have been close to hysteria. Thrills and spills in plenty too. The first time Simmons tried this flame-throwing act in public the fire rebounded from his dagger and set his hair alight. “It wasn`t `til our roadie smothered me with his jacket that I knew what happened. The crowd loved it though, thought it was part of the act.” A disturbing factor about mass gatherings (like rock concerts) is that one always feel the latent crowd power might uncontrollably erupt. Stanley cites a Baltimore incident. “We were playing a number and suddenly there`s a fire in the balcony. Kids gathered around it and were chanting like at a ceremonial magic rite – they`d started it.” Recently, in Detroit, a boy leapt from a second floor window after seeing Kiss. Incidents like these worry Gene but he insists the attitudes of their audiences are healthy.
“It`s not a negative vibe, like smashing seats. They get rid of frustration with the music. Personally I`d be insulted if people didn`t react immediately. Groups have tried that laid-back experimental trip too long. We`re not gonna use any audience to get heavy; our music is going to get simpler. We want to be seen as a dancing band whose records get taken to parties.”
Aside from volume violence (Kiss play at 110 decibels which is liable to flatten you to any adjacent wall) each member has a identifiable persona reflected largely by make-up. Space “Ace” Frehley is an S.F. freak who`ll explain von Daniken at the drop of a hat.
Criss imagines he`s reincarnated from a cat, has nine lives, paints on whiskers and at one point in the act is hoisted eight feet into the air as if on a hot tin roof. He doesn`t yet drink milk on stage.
Simmons, who has horror movies written all over, holds that “we all have various personalities. On stage we let the fantasy come through. I believe in putting on a show, if people pay to see you they expect you to be larger than life.” Part of the “everybody`s a star” ethic has been the participation in Kissathons leading to a world kiss-off in Chicago (the record being set at over 100 hours). What Kiss have obviously succeeded in doing is cultivating a marketable self-sufficient package.
It remains to be seen whether interest will be generated away from what is an American phenomenon. You could interpret the standard spiel about bi-sexuality and sabre-toothed tigers as a self-conscious, calculated gambit for arousing curiosity and perhaps the wave Kiss are currently riding will break, but it hasn`t happened yet. Of course they`re aesthetically suspect, and ultimately about bad taste, but since when wasn`t there a place in rock music for that?
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This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Lowell George (Little Feat), Alan Hull (Lindisfarne), Marc Bolan, Doobie Brothers, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, John McLaughlin, The Soft Machine, Bob Pegg, Little Milton, Ian Bairnson (Pilot).
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