Review Summary: KISS's maturity album is a definite step up from its predecessors, but much like every other ‘maturity album’ ever released by a glam rock band, it ultimately amounts to nothing but a gigantic bore
Even though they had been on a downward spiral all throughout the 80’s, 1988 was probably the
worst year in KISS’s history. Their career was pretty much over, at least in what concerned stadium-packing tours and indecent quantities of money; in an ironic but inevitable reversal of fate, the band now owed
everyone and their neighbours. Now, debt was by no means a strange concept to KISS; the difference was, before, the band actually had money to pay their creditors. Not so in the late 80’s.
In face of this situation, a change was deemed necessary by Stanley, Simmons, and their now-faithful acolytes, Carr and Kulick. The band’s long-standing art and management team was fired, and Stanley’s psychiatrist (!) was promoted to the position of financial consultant. A tour opening for Iron Maiden was accepted, unlike a similar invitation by Bon Jovi a few years previously. An interim package was released, in the form of Greatest Hits compilation Smashes, Trashes and Hits
; and Paul Stanley took some time to tour as a solo artist, in a band which also had Kulick Sr., Bob, on guitar and one Eric Singer on drums. Meanwhile, Gene was also experiencing a change in his life, after he fathered his first son in January.
This period of the band’s history came to an end in May of 1989, when the once-awesome foursome entered Fortress Studios, in Los Angeles, to record Hot In The Shade
. And although they didn’t know it at the time, this album and its tour would mark the end of yet another era for KISS.
Soundwise, Hot In The Shade
is an honest effort which showcases new influences for the band. The album opens with an unexpected, twangy blues lick which immediately recalls Cinderella’s mid-period career, a likeness which is continued through to the opening track, Rise To It
, itself. All in all, an encouraging beginning which is continued onto the second track, with its heavy metal riff helping to keep the listener’s hopes up. However, as soon as Gene Simmons opens his mouth, reality comes down like a bucket of ice-cold water: this will not be KISS’s redemption for a decade of sh*t, but rather just another sub-par album from the band’s worst phase.
Still, things aren’t so bad, and the first half of the album manages to stand head and shoulders above most of KISS’s output from the 80’s. The new-found blues influences sound honest and well-applied, and there are some genuinely entertaining tracks, as well as some good riffs. All of Hot In The Shade
’s standouts are centered in this portion of the album, and they are better than most of the singles off previous albums. Hide Your Heart
, for example, asserts itself from the first few chords, and while it may seem overtly commercial at first, it ingratiates itself with the listener on later listens. Think a much better Tears Are Falling
with some smart period lyrics (set in the 1930’s), and you’ll have a pretty good picture of this song.
Quality is kept on high with Read My Body
, a song which takes a page from Def Leppard and presents us with half-rapped verse vocals and an absolutely crushing chorus, which helps overlook the lyrical deficiencies that have always been the band’s trademark. Further on, Cadillac Dreams
is an unassuming, catchy song with well-applied horn sections highlighting its retro-blues-rock influences, a trait which is also noticeable on Silver Spoon
, this time through the use of soulful female backing vocals, a la Poison on Native Tongue
However, this is where Hot In The Shade
’s problems start. The album was not without its weak tracks up to this point, but all in all it was headed for an honourable 3.0, maybe a 3.5 with a bit of effort and benevolence. However, faceless power-ballad Forever
starts an absolutely dispiriting latter half, where uninspired choruses and excessive cheese abound. Forever
itself is not the worst offender; even though it is interchangeable with any other power-ballad of the period, by any other artist, and even though it lacks the huge, tear-inducing kind of solo which is usually the highlight of this kind of song, it at least tries to present something new in that area, with a picked, almost neo-classical solo by Bruce Kulick. By no means a good song, but somewhat charming, different, and at least not as bad as what follows (not to mention, much better than every other KISS ballad ever).
Things quickly go downhill from there, though. The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away
sounds like a rejected Cinderella outtake, much like Rise To It
before it. And if you want atrociously bad songs, look no further than King Of Hearts, You Love Me To Hate You
or – on the earlier half of the album – Prisoner Of Love
. The remaining songs are the kind of throwaway, neither-here-nor-there fare KISS have always been able to deliver in spades. Overall, this portion of the album seriously drags down everything the earlier half had been building up to, and crushes Hot In The Shade
’s potential as a whole.
However, even the earlier half of the album had not been particularly exciting. In the entirety of Hot In The Shade
, only a couple of tracks manage to really elicit the listener’s attention, with the rest merely serving as semi-pleasant background noise. All in all, it is easy to see how Hot In The Shade
could be KISS’s maturity album, and there is no doubt it represents an improvement over earlier efforts; much like every other ‘maturity album’ ever released by a glam rock band, however, it ultimately amounts to nothing but a gigantic bore.
Hide Your Heart
Read My Body