Review Summary: Solid hard rock which suffers as much from identity crisis as it does from lack of choruses.
Anybody who’s been privvy with KISS for more than five minutes knows Gene Simmons is merely a flash in the pan; the best choruses and interpretations always came from his slightly more discreet partner in crime, Paul Stanley. Much more competent both vocally and musically, Stanley was the one that crafted the musical side of KISS, leaving the tween-seducing, fire-spitting antics to his towering co-leader. Therefore, it came as no surprise that his 1979 self-named effort was by far the best of the four KISS solo albums released that year. With his second solo album, 2006’s Live To Win
, Stanley may have been looking to repeat that successful formula, and while his album may not be the best of the extra-KISS releases, it is certainly the most carefully tailored.
Written, for the most part, with hitmaker Desmond Child (who wrote for Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper and Def Leppard, among others), Live To Win
presents ten perfectly-crafted hard rock songs, which walk a fine line between “modern” and “classic” brands of hard rock, and end up getting a little lost along the way. The biggest surprise comes with the first three songs, which see Stanley eschew his traditional style of hard rock in favour of an updated approach that puts him in the same ballpark with bands like Creed, 3 Doors Down or Three Days Grace.
The title track introduces this new sound, sounding like it could have been written by one of the bands on the most “uplifting” side of the spectrum (think 12 Stones), while Lift
starts out with a riff that would make Adam Gontier proud, then evolves into a chorus where soaring orchestrations and crashing guitars are set over a solid slow-tempo rhythm section. And speaking of Adam Gontier, he would also certainly approve of Wake Up Screaming
, which would have fit nicely into his band’s latest release. At this point, it seems Stanley is setting out to either teach the kids how it’s done, or just flat-out hop on their bandwagon. Either way, his output is never more than average, even by the genre’s somewhat low standards.
But then, around track four, everything changes. Everytime I See You Around
and, more significantly, Bulletproof
bring us back to the style of hard rock that made Stanley famous, sounding not far removed from what KISS were doing in the 80’s (a time when, incidentally, Paul Stanley was their main frontman). This point is abundantly proven by Second To None
, the first of two power-ballads, which sounds very much like a successor to Reason To Live
) and Forever
, off Hot In The Shade
. The new-rock influences try to resurface for a few moments on All About You
and It’s Not Me
, but for all intents and purposes, Live To Win
becomes a straight-out hard rock album from this point on.
It is also in this section that the more interesting songs are located. Standouts include Second To None
, two songs exactly as cheesy as they are well-made and appealing. The first, as mentioned, is a power-ballad, while the second is a mid-tempo rocker which sounds like it was timewarped directly from 1986. The remainder of the songs, while not exactly captivating, are listenable, at no time bordering on offensiveness.
It’s only a pity, then, that there isn’t more
to this album. Ultimately, Live To Win
has two good songs, two okay songs, and over half an album’s worth of bland, harmless, boring filler. If Stanley could have put as much effort into his hooks as he did into making sure the songs were well-tailored and didn’t overstay their welcome, this would have been an above-par album. As it is, Live To Win
will certainly charm the pants off salivating KISS fans, but for everyone else, it will be “just another” album that you listen to with half an ear, then throw away just as promptly. If you want lasting hard rock records, stick with the Ace.
Second To None