Believe it or not, Monster is the 20th studio album to be released by KISS. The 20th! This is less surprising when you consider that it’s been a whole 28 years since their first album release in 1974, but that still doesn’t leave an awful lot of breathing space in between. I think it’s safe to say though that they’ve found a formula that works for them and stuck to it throughout their music career (as proven by their number 1 position on the US Billboard Hard Rock Charts), and Monster is everything I’d expect from a KISS album.
The shiny red sticker on the front of my album case boldly proclaims “No filler, no ballads, just full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll”, with a quote from Rolling Stone describing it as “a full on aural assault”. For once a little sticker has done a pretty good job of summing up exactly what the album’s all about. Every track is a stomping gutsy rock song that wouldn’t be out of place in a packed arena, and is so typically KISS. The pace and energy of it is relentless, which makes it a bit hard to pick out any stand-out tracks because in a way they’re all so similar, but still enjoyable. My favourite has got to be Hell or Hallelujah, the first single, which peaked at number 6 on Rock, America’s Music Charts. It’s catchy, it’s bolshy, and it sounds especially good when cranked to 11. The video would suggest that it’s meant to be somewhat autobiographical, perhaps a metaphor for the band’s fame and rockstar lives, but it’s pretty hard to tell from the lyrics, which seem generally meaningless. It’s still a massive tune though, and I do enjoy giving it a good old blast from the speakers. The second single, Long Way Down, isn’t as strong but has the same vibe.
One of the things I’ve always found interesting about KISS is their switching around of vocalists, and the fact that they have more of a front-men system than a front-man. Personally, I’ve always preferred Paul Stanley’s voice to Gene Simmons’. To be honest, I’ve preferred everything about Paul Stanley to Gene Simmons, who I generally find quite dislikeable. There’s having faith in the abilities of yourself and your band, and then there’s downright arrogance and egotism, and Gene Simmons is firmly lodged on the wrong side of that divide in my opinion. But I have to say, there is always something entertaining about a person who takes themselves so seriously, and so even though I don’t particularly like him as a person, the whole persona he’s created (god I hope it’s deliberately created and he’s not really so unbearable!) does bring a certain quality to the band dynamic.
Anyway, I digress. The songs are pretty evenly divided between Gene and Paul, although guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer were also given a turn at the mic, which was refreshing. Interestingly, Eric Singer has only been given co-writing credits on one song, Back to the Stone Age, and yet sings the vocals on one of Paul Stanley’s compositions, All For the Love of Rock and Roll. I rather liked his voice, it sounds a lot smoother than Gene’s or Paul’s and made a nice change. Tommy Thayer has co-writing credits for all but three songs on the album, but was the sole writer of the track he lent his voice to, Outta This World. I think this song will turn out to be of the earworm variety, to be stuck in your head and replayed for hours and hours on end. That’s not a bad thing, as long as you overlook the rather ridiculous opening line “I was born to the human race.”
Back to the Stone Age and Freak are a couple of the more memorable songs due to their anthemic chanting choruses, while Eat Your Heart Out is a little bit different to the rest with an acapella intro and a more melodic chorus. And for pure entertainment value, there’s always the fabulously naughty and highly euphemistic Take Me Down Below. It does disturb me a little bit to hear some of the racier lyrics growled by Gene Simmons, but I’m happy to overlook that for the giggle factor.
So, for a taste of KISS’ full-throttle aural assault, check out the video for Hell or Hallelujah, and remember to crank it up!
Track listing: 1) Hell or Hallelujah, 2) Wall of Sound, 3) Freak, 4) Back to the Stone Age, 5) Shout Mercy, 6) Long Way Down, 7) Eat Your Heart Out, 8) The Devil is Me, 9) Outta This World, 10) All for the Love of Rock and Roll, 11) Take Me Down Below, 12) Last Chance.
See previous Music Monday post, featuring Music from Another Dimension! by Aerosmith.