CD Review: KISS – Monster

KISS - Monster
4 stars

KISS albums tend to get better when Gene Simmons brings everything he’s got to the table. I’m not talking about 100 songs or obscure ideas, I’m talking about bringing “it” to the table. Give it all you got until your fingers bleed type of stuff. That’s the formula that made some of the classic KISS albums so special – Creatures of the Night and Revenge for example, exude Gene at his best. More often than not, the results usually make Paul Stanley up his game a bit, but the Starchild might have been too busy producing to worry about writing something slightly better.

Add the new Gene classics in with a stellar song from drummer Eric Singer and Monster is worthy of hanging with the harder edged classics (albeit, it’s the bastard cousin of Creatures and Revenge, but at least it’s still in the same family).

Wall Of Sound immediately kicks off the series of Gene tracks worthy of attention. Crunchy, catchy and full of powerful guitars, the song could be one of his best in 20 years and finally offers an exciting solo from Tommy Thayer, who obviously has that classic KISS sound down to a tee. Gene also rocks out with Eat Your Heart Out, which is the closest he’s ever come to re-capturing the energy and vibe of 1975 KISS.

Paul’s songs are a little less worthy of living up to the classics, although they are better than most of his offerings from Sonic Boom. There’s no Love Gun or Heaven’s On Fire here. It might have something to do with Paul’s other job as producer of the album, but just like on Sonic Boom, the songs are good, but they aren’t great. When one thinks about it, Paul hasn’t had anything stunning since1998’s Psycho Circus (solo album aside). That said, Freak is something that could have been used on Creatures of the Night had it had that cannon drum sound made famous on the 1982 album. Other than that, Hell or Hallelujah comes across like the companion piece to Sonic Boom’s Modern Day Delilah and Shout Mercy feels like a valiant attempt to sound like something from Rock and Roll Over without the production of Eddie Kramer.

The best song on Monster however, goes to drummer Eric Singer, who surprisingly tackles the Paul-penned All For The Love Of Rock & Roll, which is just as good as anything on the band’s 1974 debut album. Singer sings the song like it’s his new calling card and the band would be absolutely stupid to not perform this one in concert in the future.

Guitarist Tommy Thayer contributed as a co-writer to nine of the album’s 12 songs, but only sings one – the spaceman themed Out Of This World, which sounds too much like something Ace Frehley would have recorded.  It would have been more appealing to have Tommy sing something more from his heart and less from his “job” as the band’s spaceman. Tommy would definitely benefit from a more original and personal song next time out.

The overall vibe on Monster is much better than that of Sonic Boom and the production benefitted greatly from the use of traditional analog equipment  – the actual recording process was done with 24-track tape and an old Trident mixing console giving it a bit more balls than a digital recording would have. Monster isn’t the best effort KISS has put out in its nearly 40 year career , but it’s as honest and pure as the band can be in 2012 and based on Gene Simmons’ contributions alone, the album is worthy of being considered one of the better ones and comparable on a lesser level to Revenge and Creatures Of The Night.