“Flaming youth will set the world on fire”, they once sang, but their youth is gone and the flame is but a flicker.
For those Metalholics that have been following the magazine for some time, you’re likely aware of my passion for all things KISS. Since March 1974 I have been on the KISS bandwagon, and through the last 37 years have ridden the highs and lows, always supporting of the leather clad boys in facepaint.
This year the band gets ready to release another studio album, and I am both excited and melancholy. Surprising or not, there is not a KISS album I dislike. Purists will say their legend began to erode with the disco tinged Dynasty in 1979, and almost certainly with 1980’s Unmasked debacle, and the folly of The Elder a year later. Perhaps if KISS did not have such a charged image they might have been granted greater leeway by critics for adapting to the changing musical landscape. For many fans, myself included, all three of those albums were musically appealing, they simply did not fit the KISS image.
With 1982’s Creatures of the Night the band returned to making hard rock and metal again, without half of the band’s legandary line-up, proving that KISS are bigger than the sum of their parts. While many felt, and still feel that KISS without Ace Frehley and Peter Criss is no KISS at all, the KISS Army has proven they still believe.
There can be no question that drummer Peter Criss was always the band’s weakest link, both in terms of talent at his instrument and chemistry with the band’s sound. He began pulling away from the band early, and his 1978 solo effort was so far away from KISS sonically that the die was cast. Don’t get me wrong, Criss is a good drummer, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Eric Carr or Eric Singer. Both skin pounders rejuvinated the band’s sound.
Ace Frehley is a different story. He is a guitar legend and has inspired more great young musicians than I can count. Including young Tommy Thayer (Black n Blue) who revered and emulated his hero. And now these many years later he has equaled his hero in skill. When the original line-up reunited, it was Tommy who had to help Ace relearn all his licks…including the ones other guitarists played for him when he was too out of it to record. Unfortunately between his alcohol and drug issues and care free attitude, he frequently locked horns with Paul and Gene, who have always been the band’s leaders and principal songwriters.
So why rehash all of this now you might ask? Well, there has been talk for a few years, fueled mostly by Gene’s mouth and ego, that KISS is bigger than even he and Paul, and the band should continue on even after they decide to retire themselves. With 2009’s Sonic Boom the band proved to most that they are still capable of creating strong new material and they remain relevent as a live act.
Over the last few tours it’s becoming more apparent that Paul Stanley is struggling with his voice to hit certain notes or even remain vocally consistent. I’ve seen video clips where at times it’s been so bad as to be embarrasing and even sad. That’s a bitter pill to swallow for a fan who grew up idolizing the Starchild. I think age is stealing his performance magic, and there’s simply no Viagra for loss of vocal range.
Then there’s Gene $immons, the man, the myth, the legend in his own mind. It’s time for Gene to hang up the dragon boots as well. He’s long since lost the passion for creating great music and has completely given himself over to ego and greed. If you were willing to pay for it, he’d bronze his feces on a Ritz cracker and sell it to you. He is the Donald Trump of rock and roll, bad hair and all. Still you can’t help but like the guy, massive ego, flawed character traits and all.
After this new record, it’s time for KISS to lower the curtain and call it an era. The idea of KISS without Paul and Gene is inane at best, and here’s why…
We can readily replace Gene’s bass playing, as he’s certainly no Steve Harris or Billy Sheehan. We could probably even replace his singing, and even his firebreathing antics, but there is simply no way to replace his presence. There is an aura the demon possesses that seems unlikely any mortal could replicate. At least that’s what Gene would tell you. And it is that massive ego of his that is part of his stage presence. He is larger than life because he so completely believes it.
Lastly, there is simply no way to adequately replace Paul’s voice, his stage presence, his songwriting, etc. Even perhaps more than Gene, Paul is KISS. But truthfully, they are a yin yang set that make up the engine that KISS is. While you can put two other perhaps even more talented people in their seven-inch heels, it won’t be KISS. Merely a tribute band in KISS clothing.
And let’s be honest here, Paul and Gene, especially Gene, could never give over the reigns to someone else, and Simmons controlling nature would lead to more terminations than an episode of The Apprentice. In fact I wouldn’t put it past Gene to create a show of similar fashion to follow the process of replacing he and Paul.
It is now, nearly 40 years into their legacy, that time and pride are starting to erode their icon status. It’s time to stop touring and perhaps record one last album, say with Destroyer producer Bob Ezrin (who just produced Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare), and enjoy the impact they’ve made.
Those are the thoughts of a lifetime fan. What are your thoughts? Sound off below.