Review Summary: 'Revenge'? Try 'redemption'.
KISS’s third decade of activity was a make-or-break point for the band. That the financially bountiful 70’s were gone was a given; but the band still had the room to recover at least part of the dignity they had lost during the mainly dreadful 80’s. The last shred of that woeful decade, Hot In The Shade
had started to show signs of recovery, and left the impression that, although far from recovered, KISS were at least healing.
And then Eric Carr died.
The death of the technically proficient drummer, in 1991, left the band in a shocked daze and the projected new album on the freezer, as Carr’s bandmates went through the grief that comes with losing an associate and friend. As the last shards of his legacy, Carr left the backing vocals on a new track, where his replacement drummer made his debut, and an appearance on the video for that same song, recorded in extreme pain and wearing a dark-haired wig to emulate his unruly mane. Knowing what we do now, it is painful to see his feigned happiness and pleasure in playing, when he must have been feeling excruciating pain. Not to mention, it isn’t even really
him playing on the song.
That song, as most of you may have guessed by now, was God Gave Rock And Roll To You II
. Based off a track by another band, just like Shout It Out Loud
15 years previously, the “II” was added to differentiate KISS’s version from the original, but ends up making the title sound pretty stupid. No matter, though, because the song helped KISS recapture some of their fire, included as it was on the kickass flick Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
. If anyone remembers the very last scene of that movie, this is the song Bill and Ted are supposedly playing, and which spills out onto the credits sequence. It is a well-constructed, catchy and moving ballad, and it deserves a spot among the great representatives of this genre, despite a few flaws.
Fittingly, KISS’s upcoming album, in which this song was included, also deserves quite a bit of credit, and represented a step in the right direction for the flailing shock-rocker. Finally released in 1992, Revenge
showed KISS flirting with a new sound, but managing to sound more honest than ever, and taking their songwriting and musicianship to new levels.
This album marks the “official” debut of Eric Carr’s replacement, Eric Singer. Unlike Carr, who was mostly an unknown drummer until his KISS stint, Singer was an old, experienced hand, having played with everybody from Lita Ford to The Cult, Badlands and Alice Cooper (on the excellent Trash
marked not only a reunion with Cooper producer Bob Ezrin, in his third collaboration with the band, but also the second time this dynamic duo would revitalize a career.
For make no mistake about it: Revenge
is KISS’s Trash
. Adopting a whole new sound and image, without breaking the ties to their past, the group presents a strong set of songs that is but slightly marred by a few clunkers. In the process, they manage to recapture some of their old-time glory, and bring a bevy of new fans on board.
The band’s sound on this album is basically the dirty, edgy, slightly funky hard rock bands like Ugly Kid Joe had been taking to the mainstream for the previous couple of years. The vocals became more settled and bluesy, the riffs much heavier, and Eric Singer stakes his claim by thumping his skins much harder than any of the group’s previous drummers. Add some much improved technique by Gene Simmons and some studio wizardry by Bob Ezrin (although his bells and whistles are less noticeable here than on Destroyer
, they are nevertheless present) and we have the makings of a winner.
confirms our beliefs, being a cracker of an opening track. Based around a metallish riff and beat, the track comes crashing through our speakers and tears through its short length. No frills, no unnecessary chorus repetitions, just balls-out hard’n’heavy. By the time this track ends, our hopes are cranked away up. Unfortunately, Take It Off
kind of crushes them, falling prey to all the tropes the opener had avoided, more notably chorus repetitions. The following two tracks are also disappointing, although Spit
shines in its faster moments and in its genius usage of The Star Spangled Banner
on the solo. Overall, however, it seems this album is heading for the pits, like much of the group’s discography.
But then God Gave Rock and Roll To You
raises the bar again, and the album gets much better. Domino
is an irresistible blues-rock ditty, while the catchy Thou Shalt Not
is an AC/DC song in all but name, and could have been included on Electric
(The Cult) without that album being all the worse for it. Not to mention, it features another jaw-dropping solo from Bruce Kulick, who puts in the performance of a lifetime. Every Time I Look At You
, like God Gave Rock And Roll To You
before it, is a KISS ballad done right, and shows the group’s maturity, starting out quietly acoustic and evolving to a bombast bridge. Its structure, in fact, is very reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s Only My Heart Talkin’
, off Trash
, and when we consider Ezrin’s association to Cooper, it only comes across as unsurprising. The final standout is I Just Wanna
, which bears the hilarious chorus ”I don’t wanna romance, I don’t wanna dance/I just wanna f-, I just wanna f-/I just wanna forget you”
. KISS lyricism at its best.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this album is flawless, however. It leaves plenty of space for the boring (Paralyzed, Take It Off, Tough Love
), the unnecessary (Carr Jam 1981
may have been a heartfelt homage, but it’s basically a glorified drum solo) and the outright bad (Heart Of Chrome
, one of only two low points on this album), and the ridiculous acapella interludes almost ruin some of the best songs. However, the songwriting in the remaining tracks is so strong that it helps overlook these flaws.
And so we come to the hard part: the rating. Mathematically, the album is perhaps a 3.5; but when you can honestly say that ten out of your twelve songs are at least decent (if not always interesting), then the rating gets boosted somewhat. Plus, this is the first KISS record I genuinely like since at least Unmasked
. Sure, Creatures Of The Night
were good in context, but only because it was KISS and because those albums emerged in the middle of a troubled decade and weren’t complete dreck, unlike every other album before and after them. Not so with Revenge
. I am able to appreciate this album for what it is, and even if I didn’t know which band it belonged to, I would still have liked it. Knowing it’s by the usually dismal KISS only makes that feeling so much sweeter. A well-earned and fully deserved 4.0.
God Gave Rock And Roll To You II
Every Time I Look At You
I Just Wanna