BY ALAN K. STOUT
102.3-FM, THE MOUNTAIN
Since KISS wrapped up the recording of its latest album earlier this year, band co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have - during various interviews - offered almost conflicting insights into the record. "Monster," said Simmons, was a back-to-basics straight ahead rock album in the tradition of some of KISS' earliest and most classic recordings. Stanley, however, said he wasn't interested in making a great KISS album, but rather just a great rock album. And he wanted it to be unlike anything the band had done before.
Turns out, both were right.
"Monster," released today to record stores across America, is aptly named. It's big, nasty and full of swagger. The guitars and the riffs are torrid, the songs are laced with gritty grooves, the melodies soar and the production booms.
It is, well ... monstrous.
The album opens with "Hell or Hallelujah" a terrific modern-rock track that some have said reminds them of classic '70s KISS, circa "Love Gun." Others, however, have said it reminds them of '80s era KISS, circa "Asylum," while others have compared it to 1992's "Revenge." You'll hear a little of all of that in the tune, plus a continuation of 2009's "Sonic Boom." But the truth is, there's very little retro about it, and as you move throughout the entire record, you realize there really is something different happening within its 12 blistering tracks. Guitarist Tommy Thayer has clearly found his footing in the band. And he is owning it. And KISS, in many ways, has never sounded bigger or better. It's a filthy good hard-rock album defined by its relentlessness.
"Freak" continues a KISS tradition that began in the '80s - a tradition of offering songs that basically tell people that if they don't like you, they can go f-ck themselves. It's a soaring and inspiring number - and in a time when the topic of bullying and the horrid effect that it can have on young people has often been in the news - it's also a timely social statement. Again, it's not a new theme for KISS, but it's a song that many teens in today's society could probably take something positive from. And it's the best track on the album.
Simmons' crushing "Wall Of Sound" combines metal with a riff rooted in funk, while Stanley's "Shout Mercy" cleverly inserts a touch of quirky pop into to its otherwise straight-ahead rock vibe. Stanley's "Long Way Down," fueled by beefy rhythms and a ton of thump, does indeed sound unlike anything KISS has done before. It's a glimpse of a band comfortably jamming in a perfect pocket, yet still pushing itself into new areas. And when Simmons' "Eat Your Heart Out" starts with some a cappella harmonizing, you know that Stanley - who produced the album - did indeed toss out some of the old KISS rulebook for this record. Good for him. And good for KISS.
"Monster" is not only a cohesive album, but also a balanced one. Thayer takes lead vocals on "Outta This World," drummer Eric Singer offers lead vocals on the soulful "All For The Love of Rock and Roll," and Simmons and Stanley share lead vocals on the stompy "Take Me Down Below." And when the band marches triumphantly to the finish line with "Last Chance," you get a sense that - despite noting its 40th anniversary next year - "Monster" won't be the last that we hear from KISS. Nor, based on its power and its punch, should it be.
Simmons and Stanley were both right. "Monster" does indeed break some new ground, but it's all done with grinding guitars, driving drums and big vocals. It's also an instant in-your-face KISS classic.