What can one say about Kiss that hasn’t already been said by at least a dozen reviewers? Only to give my personal perspective.
I got into Kiss as a little kid because I saw them on TV, and I saw their records in the music department at the fondly-remembered Troutman’s department store in downtown Greensburg, PA. My reaction? “Those guys are cool!” My family naively bought me Ace Frehley in early 1979, months after the four solo albums released, because I thought the Spaceman was the coolest of the bunch. I was all of 5 years old.
I dressed as Ace for Halloween. My family even got me my first guitar because I wanted to be Ace. (It would be years before I had anything resembling the discipline to actually sit down and learn how to play the damn thing, but that’s another story.) I had a poster of Ace on my wall. (Years later, Adult Me bought a new copy of it on eBay.) I had a jigsaw puzzle of Ace at the controls of a fake spaceship. (Haven’t replaced that. Yet.)
I don’t remember watching the infamous TV movie (Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park) when it released. I watched it in the late 1990s, and while it was terrible, I recognized that Young Me would have loved every minute. Fun fact: When I visited Iceland in 2016, there was a poster for that movie above our booth one night in Grillhusið Tryggvagata (“Tryggvi Street Grill House”) in downtown Reykjavík. Kiss is everywhere.
When Creatures of the Night released in 1982 (I was 9 …) I saw Ace’s face on the cover and was none the wiser. Why would I be? The packaging doesn’t exactly go out of its way to tell you that this “Vincent Cusano” guy has replaced the Spaceman. And at age 9, I sure didn’t know that a couple of the songs on Alive II weren’t Ace’s guitar work either, but Bob Kulick’s.
Then the next album came out (Lick It Up) and … wait, what’s this. I saw it in the record store — I think it was National Record Mart at the dearly-departed Greengate Mall. There’s the KISS logo, and that one guy has eyes and cheekbones like Paul, and that one is doing Gene’s tongue thing, but … this isn’t Kiss, surely. I flip it over, and I see the band’s names: Paul, Gene, Eric (whom I had accepted in Elder and Creatures), and … Vinnie Vincent? No Ace? No makeup? Like they say of their talismans in the aforementioned infamous movie: “Without them, no powers. Just ordinary human beings.”
I mentally went AWOL from the Kiss Army that day. But I still listened to the albums I owned, and collected the ones I was still missing, from the pre-Lick era. While I found a couple of the 80s hits catchy (the usuals: “Lick It Up,” “Heaven’s On Fire”, “Tears Are Falling”), they were just songs I thought were decent. I sure wasn’t going to follow these guys. And my interest in heavier metal (the big four: Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax) was growing. So I left these guys behind.
And yes, they reunited, and yes, I camped out for tickets, and yes, I shaved my beard and painted as Ace for the show, and yes, Ace was near enough to see my face in the crowd and he gave me a thumbs-up, which nearly caused my heart to stop. But it could never be the same. And now we know how little Ace and Peter had to do with Psycho Circus. And then the band who told us they’d never play non-Ace-and-Peter songs with Ace and Peter because they didn’t want to be a “cabaret act” proceeded to hire Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer to play other people’s characters. At least Vinnie and Eric Carr had new personae. (No slam on Eric S. and Tommy personally — if you were offered a gig in Kiss, would you turn it down in their place?)
Long story short: With the exception of a song here and there, I could care less about anything post-Creatures. So we’re not going to be reviewing anything from Lick It Up onwards.
That still leaves plenty of bombastic hard rockin’ pop for us to consider. Reviews of all to come.