The very event which many thought would signal the end of KISS has, ironically, breathed life into the 15-year-old bonk-rocking beast.
As we speak, the Paul Stanley-Desmond Child (yeah, HIM again) composition “Hide Your Heart” is cutting a trail of destruction across US radio and must be on the verge of being added to playlists here. It’s a two-year-old song, a discard that KISS were never going to release from the poppy 1987 Crazy Nights album.
Stanley, however, loved it and included it in his controversial solo club tour of the US earlier this year, a tour which many interpreted as signifying a rift between him and definitive sleazoid bassist Gene Simmons. Simmons, however, went to see the Stanley show in Los Angeles, his jaw dropped when he heard the song and the rest may very well become history (instead of the band).
“’Hide Your Heart’ was the song,” says Simmons from PolyGram New York. “Seeing it live I thought the song was so good. It really belonged on that record, it had that feel.”
What did Gene think of seeing his longtime partner in crime on stage without him?
“I thought it was good. I thought he was terrific, I thought the band was OK. He was the star of the band.”
The tongue-flicking one, talkative on most subjects, isn’t saying much. Paul, however, says the solo tour’s benefits to KISS will eventually go way beyond one single.
“Well, doing the solo tour was great because.. . any time I become stronger the band becomes stronger,” the star-child says.
“Doing a solo tour gave me a chance to listen to what the fans want and what they wanted to hear. ..I wasn’t in a position where there were any songs I had to do. I could do whatever I wanted to.”
The fans clearly liked “Hide Your Heart”, a tale of a rather messy urban love triangle involving two blokes from rival gangs. Its omission from Crazy Nights, which thrust KISS back into the Australian top 25 albums chart, meant it was recorded instead by Bonnie Tyler, Molly Hatchet, Robin Beck and now former KISSer Ace Frehley.
“We let (producer) Ron Nevison pick the songs for the (Crazy Nights) album,” said a hyperactive Stanley. “So he didn’t pick that one. Last month I ran into Ron and he said ‘is the album coming out?’ and I said ‘Yeah, it should be out shortly.’ He said ‘what’s the first single?’ and I said ‘The song you didn’t use from Crazy Nights!’
Paul and Gene have resumed production duties on 15-track Hot In The Shade (H.I.T.S.?), the band’s 23rd album since their debut on Casablanca in 1974. The result is a far more typical KISS record, with Stanley blasting away with seven 8Os stadium rockers, Simmons chipping in with seven sleazy sonic slammers and drummer Eric Carr trying his hand at his first vinyl vocal assignment, aside from last year’s remake of Beth.
Highlights include the tremendous anthemic Rise To It, Simmons twin street songs BetrOyed and The Street Giveth, The Street Taketh Away and Stanley’s scythingly emotive vocals on Silver Spoon and King of Hearts.
According to Simmons, Hot In The Shade is about “the New York Experience”.
“I have no problem singing about fucking, which is one of my favourite activities, but sooner or later you’ve got to pick a different point of view about that stuff,” he says unabashed.
“So, emphasising that, I wrote songs that I thought were almost story songs… that talked about… growing up in New York and Cadillac Dreams, you know, ‘when I was 17 I was an angry young man’. That kind of stuff. Autobiographical story songs.”
When the phone is handed over to Paul for a few minutes, he insists Gene is just a little bit wrong on this point. “It’s really not about memories and growing up as a kid as much as it’s about life in the city right now.
“I mean, it’s what we see around us now. It’s not about recalling our pasts as children. Hot In The Shade’s about New York right now…”
Refusing to lay down and die, KISS re-signed for another ten years with PolyGram in a huge deal which includes seven albums, Alive Ill, a greatest hits package (oh dear, not another one!) and solo albums. Simmons Records is clawing its way upward and Gene is now living with former centrefold Shannon Tweed and their eight month old son. His life, he says, is going well.
“The record’s really just flying out the windows in America,” he says. “You know, it was just released here, we’re approaching platinum even as we speak. Which, if you’re still counting, means 21 gold and 18 platinum. I can’t believe it myself.
OTS: There were plans for you to play in World Park ‘89 and quite some controversy over its postponement. What did you know about the whole thing?
GS: “We have to set the record straight. We know nothing about what’s going on in Australia. All we knew was that there was a promoter who wanted to bring the band there, we were willing to go, and then all we knew was the promoter disappeared. And the rest is guesswork. I can’t tell you what happened after that, except this guy, the promoter — we never heard from him again.
OTS: There is a theory at the moment that a band needs to sell about three million of a current album to do an arena in the States. Do you agree with that?
GS: “No. Hold on a second, a pretty grl just walked in.
“I’m back. There are just no rules. There are bands in America like the Grateful Dead, which is not one of my favourite bands, but they can play a big place and they sell no records. There’s another group called the Beach Boys, who can play any large venue and sell it out but there are no record sales there either. On the other hand, you can be Richard Marx, who has the number one record in America, who can’t sell any tickets at all. So there really just aren’t any rules. “Tone Loc, who had the nurnber one single in America and the album went very well too, it did double platinum, and he was doing clubs. On the other hand the Stones, who do not really sell a lot of records, never did and still don’t, can fill up a stadium anywhere in the world.”
OTS: The song you wrote with Ace doesn’t appear to have made if onto his album. Does that bother you?
GS: “No, not really. That’s the lesser of all evils. The great thing about it is I’m just glad I can write songs, y’know? And that some of them are good enough to appear on records. You can’t hit the mark every time and that’s the way it goes.” OTS: It appears that Paul is the one probing for the hit single and your approach seems to be more constant. Is that a fair comment?
GS: “Yeah, that’s OK. But within the context of a band you’ve got that kind of flexibility. Everybody reaches for different things and that makes for a nice little album.”
OTS: Does that mean you’re more secure than Paul? Does Paul need to keep proving himself?
GS: “I don’t know that that can ever be verbalized as simply as that. I think it probably comes down to more that we both have slightly different points of view on music and the kinds of stuff we like but any one of us going off on his own and doing something is probably not as satisfying as both of us doing the same thing together. The only analogy I can make is within the confines of the Beatles. McCartney always wrote sweeter stuff and Lennon always wrote darker stuff. Each of them on their own just didn’t seem to have the goods. Together, they were the Beatles. With Harrison doing his thing and Ringo doing his thing, you can see a part of the Beatles in each one of them. But together, they are the Beatles. And no matter how many hits each one of them has, you can never eclipse the Beatles. Neither one of us, or anybody in the band, is ever going to eclipse KISS because it’s the chemistry. It’s that thing, it’s the combination of spices that makes something taste good or make something half taste good. “
OTS: There’s a rumour that you haven’t played bass on the last three KISS albums, that in fact Jean Beauvoir has done it instead.
GS: “Well I wish I could tell you that’s true, but.. . the truth is that on “Little Caesar” Ace played bass, I’m sorry, not Ace, Eric played bass, I played guitar on “Love’s A Slap In The Face” and “Somewhere Between (Heaven and Hell)”. Bruce played bass on something else and Paul played slide solo and not Bruce. All those considerations of who plays an instrument and all of that sort of stuff, it’s just not as important to us as keeping the personality of the band.”
0TS: Have you been changed by monogamy or not?
GS: “The questions is, am I monogamous?”
OTS: But you are a family man now, aren’t you?
GS: “I wonder what that means.”
OTS: What does it mean?
GS: “I think to most people it would mean marriage, in which case in this case it just doesn’t apply. I’m not married, never have been and never will be. But do I have a boy? Oh yeah”
Filed for ON THE STREET November 15, 1989
GENE SIMMONS swivels his demonic head and directs a deathly, horror movie glare towards the sound-desk.
“Slow black—out!” he barks into the microphone at a hapless lighting roadie. “Yes sir,” comes the meek, intimidated response. “I understand what you’re saying.” “No,” Simmons retorts solemnly. “This is ‘what I’m saying…”
The multi-millionaire bassist mimics the cocking of a gun and sends a deafening “KA-POW!” shuddering through the obscenely loud PA.
It’s the day before the kick-off of KISS’ back-to-bombs-’n ‘-pyro world tour and Gene is seething at a lighting cock-up. The next night, a stage roadie is out of a job and most of the lighting crew are on a warning after the 35-foot talking Sphinx uttered nothing but gibberish and some of Gene’s worst production fears came true.
Half of the giant KISS sign spluttered and died, there was none of the green sludge that was supposed to spew from stage-front pipes, and lighting during Eric Carr’s drum solo was obviously out of synch.
KISS HAVE been holed up in the sleepy Texan ‘ burg of Lubbock — birthplace of Buddy Holly — for nine days, putting the finishing touches to a tour that almost never was. But now Paul Stanley is sitting beside me in a Holiday Inn hotel room, insisting: “I can safely say we’re ready.”
The Stanley/Michael Bolton-penned power ballad ‘Forever’ had dropped out of the US top 10 two weeks before, after after becoming the having becoming the band’s first bona fide Stateside hit in a decade. Back in February, the tour was postponed because of a lack of interest. Are KISS, I wonder, touring on the back of one single? Was this whole massive jaunt – with Slaughter and Faster Pussycaty in support – conceived as a reaction to just one song?
Paul struggles to overcome the local Lions convention singing ‘Give Me A Home Where The Buffalo Roam’ in the enclosed courtyard outside.
“I’m not one for bullshitting and I’m not one for lying,” he says. “When you’re going to undertake a tour of this size you’re not going to do it for your health. To go out and launch a massive tour makes no sense unless there’s a reason to do it.”
So are you, as you told Kerrang! back in ish 286, putting your ‘ass on time line’ with this tour?
“That makes things sound too much like a do-or-die mission, and nothing is a do-or-die mission. We wanted to do something massive — in terms of the range of songs as well as staging.”
FOR KISS fans who have remained loyal and believing, there is something rather contradictory about Slaughter’s inclusion on the bill. Slaughter are a band containing two ex-members Vinnie Vincent Invasion, Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum. Vincent was, of course, once KISS’ guitarist. First, we hear that Vinnie Vincent was the bad guy, that he was (and I quote Paul) “riding on KISS’ coat-tails”. Now we buy an album by Slaughter, the band whose name in itself takes advantage of Vinnie’s success, and read the liner notes which proclaim, ‘Thanks to KISS fan dubs around time world’. Are they not claiming fame for being in band for five minutes with a guy who was in KISS for 10 minutes?
“They’re not riding on his coat-tails because in a matter of weeks they’ve got further than he ever got,” Paul observes coldly. “So, if anything, I think you’d have to believe he was holding them back.
“I’d dare say … Vinnie would like to ride on their coat-tails…”
JOINING UP with the KISS caravan for three days is an intriguing experience. Half of America’s media was invited to Lubbock, but only Spin magazine, MTV’s ‘Headbangers’ Ball’, local scribes, some radio stations and of course Kerrang! bothered to show up. Meanwhile, kindred ‘70s demi-gods Aerosmith are sitting pretty on the cover of Rolling Stone. If was Paul Stanley, it would annoy me.
Paul seems, at least, to be annoyed at the question.
“I don’t give a fuck,” he says. “The truth of it is that we’ve secured our place, and what people choose to write will be unbiased – which I prefer – or based on their own insecurities.”
Paul doesn’t like these questions and I really wish I didn’t feel compelled to ask them. But here KISS are. 17 years on, and everybody who’s not wearing a KISS T-shirt is sniggering at their overblown theatrics and school toilet lyrics just as they did all that time ago. Only now, KISS are old as well as overblown and juvenile. That’s what ‘they’ say.
When I enquire if KISS really arc still sufficiently hungry, the words play on Stanley’s mind enough for him to bring it up out of the blue in an interview later that afternoon, saying it had pissed him off.
“This whole nonsense about being hungry is a way of glamorizing something for critics that is totally irrelevant for the fans or the band,” he informs me, peering out from under neatly curled hair.
“If you want to starve, you go do it.
“Maybe some of the critics, their writing would improve if they went hungry for a while. Quite frankly, I don’t sec enough starving critics.”
As one punter remarked at the gig, KISS have never received serious press and it’s a sore point. For me, it’s a sore point that such influential figures should even care by now. Asked how aware he is of criticism, the Starchild pauses:
“That’s an interesting question…”
Paul reacts carefully when I tell him Axl Rose has described his music as sludge rock. Paul, conversely, rates Axi as one of the few true rock stars of the ‘90s.
“I didn’t know about that. Do I follow him? I’m certainly not an aficionado of what AxI Rose has to say. I don’t know him any more than I know anyone else.
“If you’re an interesting personality in rock ‘n’ roll, then that’s great, but respect to me is something that comes with time. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just an interesting personality until – with time – you prove yourself to be something more.
“If somebody takes swipes – which is sometimes natural – well the truth is you sometimes get attention by doing that. Whether you have something valid or not to say will on1y play ’ itself out in five or 10 years, because by then people might be saying, ‘Who said that?’ “
PAUL DOESN’T turn when I say goodbye for the last time. An answer to whether he thinks KISS (generally) get the respect they deserve is cleverly avoided, but I think I have the anser anyway.
There’s an ominous rumble swelling from 10,500 Texans by the time the ‘Hot In The Shade’ World Tour is ready to be unveiled. Slaughter got the girlies interested, Faster Pussycat entranced the punters with no taste, and there are fights, chants and can throwers.
A grandiose fanfare, the sort of stuff you hear in ‘Curse of Tutankhamen’, rises above the buzz. The lights are killed – on time! – the smoke billows and the curtain drops to reveal the (unbespectacled) monolithic Sphinx.
The Sphinx appears on the cover of the ‘Hot In The Shade’ opus wearing giant sunglasses. But backstage, there’s a 25-foot pair of dark sunglasses left surplus to requirements, victim of a last minute Simmons-Stanley creative decision. The rest of the stage is a chaotic concoction of pipes and girders, presumably a re-creation of the New York rooftop in the ‘Hide Your Heart’ video.
The Sphinx’s mouth opens slowly and a line of pin-like lasers fire outward, hitting the back of the ageing. spherical arena. Between the beams of_light stand Gene, Paul, Bruce Kulick and Eric ‘Sign My Tits, Please’ Carr.
Fireworks explode, the boys take their places and a concussion bomb bloody-near deafens us as they launch into ‘I Stole Your Love’. from the ‘Love Gun’ opus.
Yeah, pretty damn heart-warning. Excavated artefact ‘Deuce’ sounds positively filthy and yeah, even HUNGRY. That riff sends a 100-below chill down my spine and to every extremity as Paul rocks from side to side with his hair in the wind like it’s 1975.
NOW, GIVEN this is a two-and-a-half hour, I25 song set, I’ll spare you the minute details. Things went wrong, sure; but a lot of other things went awfully right. Gene’s stalking, kicking and jumping. Paul’s strutting along the catwalks and grimacing at the power of the stuff as much as he’s pouting.
Eric bang-s away reliably, Bruce concentrates on his playing and ambles around unassumingly. The set list boasts ‘C’mon And Love Me’, ‘Detroit Rock City’ and the sleaziest reworking of ‘Fits Like A Glove’ imaginable.
Four tracks, yep, four, from the 1974 debut album, three each from ‘Hot In The Shade’ and ‘Destroyer’ and double servings frona ‘Love Gun’, ‘Lick It Up’ and ‘Animalize’.
Paul’s raps, adorable as they are, were kept to a minimum by the sheer amount of material. His intro to ‘Strutter’, in which he reveals it could have been written about any girl because “they’re all the same”, could do with a bit of’90s enlightenment, however…
‘Heaven’s On Fire’ looms predictably but seductively and flame-throwers spit fireballs on cue. ‘Hide Your Heart’ confirms itself as one of their greatest hits-that-never-were, with lasers making undulating patterns on the back wall
before dying chillingly as Carr beats out the gunshot at the songs climax.
It turns out that the lasers are quite capable of doing more than patterns but Simmons has ruled that writing ‘Kiss’ on the back wall is not cool.
On the last day of rehearsals, he had ordered a change to the voice synthesizer – the wiggly lines you see on cardiac machines. Simmons wanted the laser synthesizer to appear IN the Sphinx’s mouth, not be projected from the mouth onto the back wall.
When the time came around for it all to happen on opening night, the synthesizer did appear in the Sphinx’s mouth, but started talking one riff too early, stuttered, and when it was supposed to say, ‘I am the lord of the wastelands’… mumbled nothing but rubbish.
The lights during Carr’s gadgetry-aided solo were also less than spot-on, and there was no sign of the water that was supposed to fall from the Sphinx’s nostrils. Stage-front, instead of green sludge from the pipes, there was only trickling water. (Maybe they should have tried it the other way around — Ed.).
But the show went on. ‘Detroit Rock’ City’ was as devastating as you’d hope, the Sphinx sunk and disappeared, the extinguishers fired and the concussion bombs went off.
The special FX verdict…? Impossible to compare to the ‘70s extravaganzas simply because even if there are as many bombs and lights this time around, they are now spread over a much longer show. By necessity, some songs in the current show are completely pyro-less (!).
But they came back after a break, they played ‘I Want You’, and the familiar moniker rose from behind and at least began to flash before faltering. And with ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll All Nite’ cut ‘n’ thrusting, the pyro exploding overhead and the flashpots going off, it could have been 1983, 1977 or 1974.
EARLIER – SOMEWHERE mid-set – sheer exhaustion had created something of a lull among the mere mortals in the stalls.
Stanley had paused and announced: “People have been asking us why we started the tour in Lubbock. When we couldn’t even fill clubs in the rest of the country, we came to Lubbock and you treated us like kings. We’re never going to forget that”.
Showmanship maybe, but a close look at the kids who are roaring overwhelming approval shows them to be just that — kids. Here, in the American heartland, KISS aren’t old and they’re not even survivors, they just ARE.
“We defied all the laws, we defied the critics, we defied the norm, we set the standard for what a show should be… we showed an audience what they should expect and not accept less from anybody,” Paul had gushed the day before. “I think we showed there’s no reason for an audience to accept complacency or lack of respect from a band.”
Clearly, it is the unfashionable nature of KISS that is the very key to their popularity. If the whole game is about rebellion, KISS need only stay afloat and unpopular with critics to win every time.
But what more can they possibly hope to achieve in the ‘90s?
“That’s an interesting question, but one that is probably more important to you than me,” Paul answers delicately.
“What’s left is to continue.”
Filed for: KERRANG!