Review Summary: I would have done without (some of) the 80's monstrosities, but if you had to have only one KISS compilation, this one would be far from a bad choice.
By the end of 1988, KISS were in a rut. From arena-packing, multi-million-dollar-raking superstars, the band was now reduced to rejecting charity opening-act invitations from younger bands who had once opened for them, such as Poison or Bon Jovi. Moreover, each new album by the once-revered band was now scoffed at, and inevitably ended up buried in the tidal wave of glam/hard rock which was invading the airwaves. With disasters piling up ever higher, there was obviously only one thing to do: make a quick buck out of the old hits.
Hence, Smashes, Trashes and Hits
, one of the most faithfully and honestly-named compilations I have yet experienced. In fact, the title here tells you all you need to know about this record: you have your Smashes
(Rock And Roll All Night, Detroit Rock City
), your Trashes
(Lick It Up, Tears Are Falling
, the ever-insufferable I Was Made For Loving You
) and your hits (pretty much everything else). This compilation also boasts one of the strongest setlists in any KISS compilation; although no single (official) Greatest Hits package has been without a few mistakes and omissions, this one comes closest to achieving that goal. Apart from the two fan-baiting (and surprisingly decent) new songs, the listener gets a near-perfect selection of the finest KISS moments, although grudges against past members end up excluding a standout or two from the final product.
Concerning the new songs, they are both pleasant surprises. They are not great, but they're definitely "okay", and the first one (Let's Put The X In Sex
) might even have been a standout in any 80's KISS album, Creatures Of The Night
included. You Make Me Rock Hard
keeps up the flow of painful puns, but fails to reach its predecessor's quality; it is, nevertheless, a rather pleasant song with a good 80's rock vibe, if a tad too cheesy for its own good. Overall, while the album might not need these songs, it loses nothing from their inclusion, much to the contrary.
What follows the two new inserts is simply one of the most devastating sequences I have seen in a Greatest Hits album so far. How does a sequence of Love Gun/Detroit Rock City/I Love It Loud/Deuce
strike you" The answer is: with all the force of a well-handled mallet, and with similarly bludgeoning results.
By putting arguably their three best songs up front, KISS have chosen a dangerous path; however, the rest of the album manages to hold its own without too much of a fuss, presenting most of the group's more successful songs. Admittedly, a space could and perhaps should have been made for God Of Thunder, Cold Gin
and Hard Luck Woman
, perhaps in place of the 80's period pieces and the insufferable disco-dancing hit; but the group's estranged relationship with former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss automatically excludes the last two, leaving God Of Thunder
as the only "possible" song to have been omitted from this release.
Despite the documented gripes with Criss, however, the group wouldn't leave their biggest hit out of this compilation, and so Beth
gets a new version, now with Eric Carr (the "other" drummer) on vocals. And all I can say is it benefited from the change. Eric Carr is clearly a much, much better singer than Criss ever was, and his honeyed, layered tones fit the song perfectly. Elsewhere - and although this is a straight-out compilation and not a re-recording album - some songs seem to have had a facelift as well. I'm not saying all of them did, but Love Gun
definitely gained some new details for their inclusion on this record.
The other main surprise here is Heaven's On Fire
. The sole good song on one of KISS's worst albums - saved from being "the" worst solely because The Elder
did it a solid - it is pleasant to witness how well the track holds up against the "real" hits. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of its other 80's counterparts, who pale in comparison to the songs around them, sounding even sillier than they did on the original records. I will also take a minute to lament the exclusion of Crazy Crazy Nights
. Sure, the album was perhaps too recent to warrant a Greatest Hits spot, but every other 80's KISS album gets a song, and Crazy Crazy Nights
is infinitely better than any of them.
Still, it's hard to argue with a record that puts Detroit Rock City, Love Gun
and I Love It Loud
back-to-back. In the end, KISS compilations are much like AC/DC live albums - you always get the ultrasupermegahits surrounded by a few pleasant, but puzzling period oddities. In that regard, Smashes, Trashes and Hits
is probably the best representative of the demographic, since what it does present is rather high-quality, and what it doesn't is negligible, if reluctantly so. I would have done without (some of) the 80's monstrosities, but if you had to have only one KISS compilation, this one would be far from a bad choice.
Let's Put The X In Sex
Detroit Rock City
I Love It Loud
Heaven's On Fire