Best song: “Hotter Than Hell”
Worst song: “Mainline”
It’s 1974. Earlier that year, your debut album was released, and a few months later re-released with an extra track. You’re touring hard. You’ve got some gimmicks and theatrical stuff going. You believe in yourselves. The next Fab Four. Your record company’s distribution parent (Warner Brothers) has ended its contract. Good luck!
Hotter Than Hell did not do better than Kiss; it did worse. But how is it?
As a general note, the whole album has a very muddy mix. Vocals are harder to understand than they ought to be; the guitars and bass just kinda blur a lot. It’s not a good sound. I’m not sure why it’s such a step back from Kiss — not that the production there was stellar or something, but it was reasonable. This is unfortunate.
It starts on a weirdly dissonant chord with “Got to Choose”, a midtempo, heavily-distorted tune in which Paul informs the woman she needs to decide which guy she wants to be with. The chorus’s “oo oo oo, got to choose!” falsetto does it no favors. It could have done with a bit faster tempo and the chorus could have been on-octave. Not a good start.
Then we get “Parasite”, which starts with a great riff, much better energy, and a slightly less overdone topic: obsessive woman who won’t let the narrator go. The chorus is no silly falsetto. The song structure is a little unconventional; the long-ish instrumental section and solo plays on for a bit and then ends sorta abruptly with no further verse or chorus. On Destroyer this song would have been filler but here it’s a bit of a highlight.
I don’t know how to talk about “Goin’ Blind”. The narrator, singing to the girl, says “I’m ninety-three, you’re sixteen.” Yes, that is what I said. See, in “Christeen Sixteen”, the narrator rolls up to the schoolgirl and says “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age.” That’s creepy. Here it’s just absurd. Kiss should probably never be taken particularly seriously, but this is just head-scratchingly goofy. It’s apparently a song that Gene and his friend Steve Coronel wrote back in the Wicked Lester (pre-Kiss) days. It just sorta drones on; the music is nothing special.
The title track follows, and not a moment too soon. It’s easily the best thing on the album. It’s kinda groovy, and it’s got that catchy “Hot, hot, hotter than heeeeell!” going. How can you not smile at “You know she’s gonna leave you well-done”? This was hopefully an instant classic. And the instrumental breakdown is great.
“Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” was the single single (heh) released from the album, and it’s fun enough, upbeat, energetic. This practically has “The prototype of ‘Rock and Roll All Nite'” written all over it, but that’s hindsight of course. It’s the only thing close to the title track in quality, and I wouldn’t think you weird if you preferred it to that.
Oh dear. Side Two. “All the Way”, “Mainline”, and “Comin’ Home” (I’m skipping “Watchin’ You” for a moment) are filler. There not much else to say. They’re forgettable. They’re like “Let Me Know” from the first album, minus the interesting instrumental outro. “She’s gonna leave you well-done” in the title track is fun. “I’m hot like an oven” in “Mainline” is eyeroll-inducing. Repeated listens have failed to get me engaged in any of these three.
Okay. Let’s circle back to “Watchin’ You”. This will benefit from the live recording on Alive!, but this album’s generally muddy tone doesn’t hamper it too much; it works well with the main riff. The beat has a bit of a groove to it. Gene’s lyrics are short and to the point. It’s catchy. The “watchin’ us!” switch at the end works. This ain’t bad. Call it the third best track.
And finally “Strange Ways”. Apparently a bunch of bands have covered this, and I can’t really figure out why. To call it better than three of the other songs on this side is the epitome of damning with faint praise. The main riff is nice and “menacing”, yes, but the lyrics are nothing memorable, and Peter does not sound as well on this as on a lot of other songs he takes lead on. Whatever. It’s a respite from “Mainline” and “Comin’ Home”. Thanks. Can I go home now?
Buy it if you’re a completist. This is a difficult album. The two best songs (title track and “Let Me Go …”) are on Double Platinum; the third (“Watchin’ You”) is on Alive! if you want it. And you need to buy Alive! sooner or later, Kiss Fan. But I’d give Hotter Than Hell a miss until you had nothing left to buy. Although the manga-influenced cover art is pretty cool.