Review Summary: Paul Stanley defined these tapes as “eclectic crap”. And he was very, very right.Before The First KISS: Fourth date
Usually, when you’re dating, your first kiss with the girl or boy of your dreams is shared at around the second date. The fourth date usually signals the deadline in which you either have sex or know that you never will
have sex. At least that’s what I’ve gathered – it’s not like I’m the king of dating or anything. Anyway, in our case, the first KISS lasts a little longer, basically because it happened in the 70’s, and back then courtship was done a little differently – girls still kept their self-respect and didn’t sell themselves cheap. Either way, we’ve had three other dates, we’ve seen Bullfrog Bheer, Chelsea and Lips, but this is really the one we’ve been building up to all along – Wicked Lester, the final step before our first KISS.
Wicked Lester was formed when Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were introduced through Bullfrog Bheer guitarist Steve Coronel. After the two had turned their initial rivalry into, if not a friendship, then at least a partnership, Bullfrog Bheer welcomed Paul Stanley into their fold as a second guitarist. Thus Rainbow was formed.
With Brooke Ostrander now limiting himself to keyboards and assorted add-ons, the group’s next task was to find a drummer. After a few failed attempts, Tony Zarella solidified the first lineup of the band, who quickly changed their name to Wicked Lester due to the existence of multiple Rainbows.
However, this was not the end of the story. After the band had managed to impress Casablanca Records, the company’s first demand upon signing was that Coronel was replaced with “a more technical guitarist”. Gene Simmons was faced, for the first time, with the tough choice between friendship and business. Guess what? He chose business. Thus Ron Leejack joined the band, who entered the studio shortly afterward to record some demos for a contracted album.
It is these demos, vehemently and repeatedly rejected by Casablanca Records’ president, that make up the bootleg known as The Complete Wicked Lester Sessions
. Another one of those collectors’ items sought by every KISS fanatic, these tapes reportedly shame even Simmons and Stanley themselves, which explains why the usually mercenary Simmons refused to have them officially released. His troubles were to little avail, however, because there is nothing that can’t be obtained through piracy, and thus KISS fans were able to get their hands on not one, but several editions of this material, all with varying sound quality and tracklist order.
In fact, while it is generally accepted that Wicked Lester recorded these eleven songs, and they would make up the album, tracklists are often conflicting. The version up there is the most common online, but there are others which list She
or Love Her All I Can
as the first track. From the middle onwards, however, the order is less controversial, as there seems to be a general consensus about the last few songs.
My copy, which starts with Sweet Ophelia
, may or may not be one of the worst production-wise, but it is pretty bad. Like on Peter Criss’ Lips demos, the sound is generally muffled – giving bigger prominence to the guitar and backing vocals and neglecting the keyboard, which struggles to pipe through here and there – and there are absolutely inexcusable mistakes. The sound goes from stereo to mono and back again seemingly at random, fadeouts are often interrupted to bring the sound back up, and there are obvious instances of cut-and-paste, turning an audition of this album on headphones into a real chore. The biggest offender is undoubtedly Simple Types
, a mess of a hackjob where the cut-and-paste is more evident than ever.
But all this would be forgiven if the songs were interesting. Mostly, however, they’re not. The group seems undecided whether they want to be a soul, pop, southern-rock or blues outfit, and the songs end up mixing all these aspects at random. Most of the time, Wicked Lester invest in a pop-rock sound with slight southern and prog overtones; however, only stylistic confusion can justify the presence of a soul song like What Happens In The Darkness
back to back with a southern-rock number like When The Bell Rings
If stylistic confusion weren’t enough, the songs are also done a disservice by the poor production. However, as many excuses as we may want to make for them, one fact remains: they’re mostly not very good. There are moments of brilliance here and there, but the vast majority of these sessions is as bland and nondescript as they come.
A highlight once again is She
, which may lack the awesome drumming of the later KISS version, but makes up for it with a nice flute and keyboard input, making for an overall stronger track than the one on Hotter Than Hell
. Standing next to it on the podium is closer Long, Long Road
, which – despite the difference in production, which suddenly becomes shrill and grating – asserts itself as an amazing piece of quiet, harmonica and acoustic guitar-driven southern rock. Even Gene Simmons’ vocals don’t sound too shabby, which is more than you can say for his average performance on that chapter.
Among the rest, Sweet Ophelia, Keep Me Waiting
and parts of When The Bell Rings
are decent, while the rest veer from dull to very weak. (We Want To) Shout It Out Loud
may have influenced the latter KISS track of the same name, but if you’re expecting the same youthful energy, you’re in for a disappointment, as this one is exceedingly quiet and dull. The rest of the songs go by our ears barely registering, apart from the odd lyrical atrocity (Molly, my pal/you are my gal
) and showcasing very lacklustre performances from all involved.
In the end, then, this is another barely worthy collector’s item. As a collectible, it’s fine, but as a piece of music, it’s decidedly sub-par. No wonder Gene and Paul decided to disband this formation, citing a “lack of musical vision”, and reform as a power-trio with new drummer Peter Criss. A year later, a lead guitarist by the name of Paul Frehley would join the band and a new phase will start, but that story is well documented elsewhere. As for this, well, the best description for it was given by Paul Stanley, who defined these tapes as “eclectic crap”. And he was very, very right.
Long, Long Road