Released: 18 February 1974 (without “Kissin’ Time”); reissued July 1974 (with “Kissin’ Time”)
Track List: Strutter; Nothin’ to Lose; Firehouse; Cold Gin; Let Me Know; Kissin’ Time; Deuce; Love Theme from Kiss; 100,000 Years; Black Diamond
Best song: “100,000 Years”
Worst song: “Kissin’ Time”, or “Let Me Know” in the original pressing
Previous album: Nope, this is their debut. But you might find some demos from when Gene and Paul were in Wicked Lester.
Next album: Hotter Than Hell
Okay. Four hairy guys from New York in clown makeup, clearly not-so-subtly referencing Meet the Beatles! in the photography. Weird. I thought those guys in drag (the New York Dolls) were bad enough a year ago in ’73. And … wait, the scary one does a firebreathing act? And spits (hopefully stage) blood? Are these guys Jewish? What would their mothers say? Have you called them lately?
Kiss is legendary now, not only for their theatricality with the blood and fire and such, but also for some of their more deceptive stunts, like putting a big wall of amplifier housings on stage with no speakers in them so you think they’re louder than they are, or announcing to a little venue in New York that they just got back from a great tour of the East Coast when they hadn’t been further than Canarsie. But we’re gonna ignore that and worry about the music and the images of the band the music presents. For example, Gene doesn’t come off in most of his songs as The Demon; he comes off as The Man-Whore. (He does get paid for this, after all.)
“Strutter” is the first song we get. Cheerful in tone; the distortion on the guitar is not excessive; steady, simple beat. The later remake (“Strutter ’78” on Double Platinum) is more interesting, but this is a good way to start the catalogue. Paul’s emotiveness gets going early with a few “ows” and “whoas”. And I do prefer when someone gives a song a proper coda instead of a fadeout. The guitar is unremarkable, but does the job.
“Nothin’ to Lose” has got handclaps, and … piano fills? yes … and Peter doing a good portion of the singing — Peter’s got a genuinely good voice for this stuff. The raspiness works. Mind you, it feels like it belongs in a musical revue or something, not a hard rock album. The listener of 2017 cringes at the lyrical content. When you have lines like “she didn’t want to do it / but she did anyway” (the it in question apparently being anal sex), I can only sigh. Kiss has enough decent love songs where coercion or outright violation don’t play a part; I don’t have to put up with this. (A lot of Kiss fans online, I’m sure, don’t regard it as something to be “put up with” but actually enjoyed. Whatever. I regard women as human beings. Sue me.)
Fortunately “Firehouse” gets us back to simplistic yet effective metaphors for love (“get the firehouse / ’cause she sets my soul on fire”) without the rapeyness. And this is more straightforward hard rock. We then have “Cold Gin”, which is great in terms of crunchy guitar, but it’s a bit weird lyrically: we will come to know in the coming decades how anti-booze Gene and Paul are, but here we sing about how hard drinking is “the only thing / that keeps us together”. It’s good on its own merits but always raises my eyebrow, especially with Straightedge Simmons over there singing it. (And unlike Gene, I like gin, but not by the quart as the narrator calls for it.) Ace wrote it, however; probably that’s why it’s there, to preserve harmony by letting him contribute to the album. I dunno. Decent song, and the instrumental bridge is kinda fun; Ace recently revealed that Gene wrote that bit (and what’s more, took no credit for doing so!)
Then we have the two forgotten songs in the middle of the album: “Let Me Know” and “Kissin’ Time.” The former is another one of those songs which belongs in a bar — maybe even a cowboy bar — rather than an arena. It’s unremarkable and may as well be in the dictionary next to the word “filler” … until shortly after two minutes in, when there is a tiny bit of a capella harmony of the word “know”, and then a strange little instrumental playout which we’ll hear again on Alive! The playout would have made a decent basis for a full instrumental song, but alas.
Side Two brings us “Kissin’ Time”, with its weird backstory. It wasn’t even on the initial release of the album, but was recorded afterwards because the record company wanted a hit. It’s a cover of a 1959 single by Bobby Rydell, you see. It’s incredibly dumb. The band themselves apparently hated doing it (Peter and Gene even sound like it in their vocals) and did not want the album reissued to include it, but they lost that argument. Well, they were new and hadn’t achieved Star Power yet. You can listen to it once, go “Yup, that was dumb”, and move on.
But then, oh thank god, we have “Deuce”. Even Gene now says he doesn’t really know what the lyrics mean. If you google for it now, you’ll find a few suggestions ranging from sexist (the man works all day to support the woman and is thus worth twice as much as she is) to sexual (he worked hard, he’s worth “a deuce”, which is whichever sex act you think Gene had on his mind that day) to just positive (he works hard, hey, you know, he’s worth “a deuce”, which is to say, more than one of whatever you measure worth in). It’s not important. All that matters is it’s got a decent, fun riff and it’s not the two songs before it. It will be on Double Platinum four years later and it gets played a lot as an encore. Don’t overthink this one.
Now we get to the instrumental: “Love Theme from Kiss”. This started out as a jam called “Acrobat”, but my best friend in high school always said it should have been called “Bar Scene from Kiss”. It’s just a simple riff with a few variations for a few minutes. It’s not the miracle that will be “Fractured Mirror” in 1978, but who cares? It’s filler.
Now what I regard as the two big finales. “100,000 Years” was for a long time my favorite Kiss song until “Do You Love Me?” and “Love Gun” overtook it in my assessments. It was the first place I remember encountering the word “bitch”, and it’s mercifully in the depersonalized usage (“it must have been a bitch when I was gone”). It starts with the famous couple of bass notes and then gets into a nicely driving guitar riff while Gene continues to provide a really enjoyable, galloping bass line, all underlying Paul’s vocals of cocksure apology for his absence: “You mind if I sit down for a while / you’ll reacquaint yourself with my style”. Huh. I like the cut of your jib, somehow, Mr. Stanley. Ace’s soloing in this song is certainly the best on the album and some of the best in the catalog: the right balance of technical skill with emotional expression. I still love this one.
And “Black Diamond”, the grim piece which pulls no punches from the first lines: “Out on the streets for a living / Picture’s only begun / Got you under their thumb.” It’s a bit unfortunate, in a song about a sex worker, that perhaps that the next thing Paul says is the direction to Peter to “hit it!“, but we’ll assume he didn’t mean it that way. It’s hard to describe this as anything but a good, solid, hard rocker with a decent beat, some great vocals by Peter and Paul, and Ace following up “100,000 Years” with some more great soloing. The slow-wind-down ending is a bit weird, but why not?
It’s a decent debut. It has a ton of filler, but there are flashes of promise (“Deuce”, “Strutter”) and some serious delivery (“100,000 Years”, “Black Diamond”). There’s at least a little substance beneath the style. Let’s see what they can do next time, shall we?