American hard rockers Kiss have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years; 2009’s ‘Sonic Boom‘ – which was the band’s first record of original material in over a decade, and also the debut studio release of its current line-up – recalled their glory days, right down to its comic-style cover art.
Lead single ‘Modern Day Delilah’ was immediately hailed as a classic, and they took no prisoners as they embarked on a glorious 36-date European tour.
Looking to build on that momentum (producing an album every three years might seem routine for the majority of bands, but then not many have been going strong for almost 40 years), ‘Monster‘, Kiss’ 20th studio album, is more of the same – straight-up rock and roll that pays homage to their 70s pomp and stays true to principles that have seen them rack up album sales in excess of 100 million, including 28 gold records, during a storied, globe-trotting career.
The ‘Sonic Boom’ formula is a clever one to follow. The band have once again refrained from inviting songwriters to pitch ideas as they have in the past; all tracks were written by Kiss, with emphasis on greater involvement for guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. Paul Stanley, meanwhile, has resumed co-producing duties with Greg Collins.
Just like on their last album, battles lines are drawn from the off – the lead single and best track throttles out of the speakers first thing. ‘Hell Or Hallelulah’ is vintage Kiss – a fat guitar riff, big, bolshy chorus and energy to spare. Tommy Thayer also rips a killer solo – this song has everything and doesn’t let up for a micromoment. ‘Wall of Sound’ is similarly thumping, with crunching guitars and Simmons growling through lead vocals.
The word “swagger” can be ascribed to virtually every track, and what else would you expect from a hard rock album titled ‘Monster’? ‘Freak’ has an unmistakable likeness to ‘Thief In The Night’ from 1987’s ‘Crazy Nights‘, and Thayer, who co-penned 10 of the 13 tracks, enjoys space to shred his Les Paul with abandon.
‘Back To The Stone Age’, sung by Simmons but featuring collective vocal harmonies from the whole band, demonstrates a punkier sound while remaining heavy and assured, and ‘Shout Mercy’, for its part, could’ve come straight off the ‘Revenge‘ album.
While Kiss stick to what they’re good at throughout, they have some fun on ‘Eat Your Heart Out’; the quartet singing the intro a capella. Simmons commandeers this song, with Stanley contributing to the chorus and Gene’s rumbling bass prevalent throughout. Once again, Thayer nails a rip-roaring 70s style lead solo. The guitarist really has carved out a meaningful role in the band where once he seemed little more than a convincing Ace Frehley imposter. Eric Singer, meanwhile, has always been the best drummer Kiss has ever had – a perfect composite of Peter Criss’ rhythm and Eric Carr’s raw power. It’s now about time the pair received the credit they deserve.
‘Long Way Down’ is a slightly surprising choice for second single – there are stronger candidates here – but it is nevertheless a solid song and could be a grower. It sees Stanley confront the possibility of the band falling from their throne: ‘It’s a long way when you fall from the top’ he muses at one point, but it’s difficult to be convinced. The swagger of this tune indicates Kiss will only surrender the stage when they kick the bucket which, given their longevity and popularity, will probably be ON the damn stage itself.
Simmons’ self-referential ‘The Devil Is Me’ and Thayer’s ‘Out Of This World’ are a little predictable when it comes to theme (do we really need another song extolling how demonic the Demon is, or how spaced-out the Spaceman is?), but nonetheless rock hard. ‘Take Me Down Below’, like ‘Love Gun’ and ‘Lick It Up’, is playful and oversexed (‘I raised my flag and she dropped her dress’), with the frontmen sharing vocal duties once again.
Eric Singer takes over the mic on the Stanley-penned ‘All For The Love of Rock & Roll’ and though not as epic as its name suggests, it’s a rare opportunity to hear Singer – a tragically underrated and undervalued vocalist – take centre stage. Stanley himself sounds like he has something to prove on ‘Last Chance’, which showcases a sound more like garage rock until Thayer shreds another hair-raising solo 1:45 in. Like ‘Say Yeah’ from ‘Sonic Boom’, it has the kind of chorus destined to ring around arenas. Bonus track ‘Right Here Right Now’, meanwhile, is punchy and outlandish, with each member playing their part on vocals.
And that’s what this album is all about. Even fans might find themselves wondering where the filler is but, quite honestly, there really isn’t any. This is 40 odd minutes of battle cries, of straight-up, hard-assed, flesh-and-bone rock music. “We’re a band at this point in our career where we can live up to our own legend,” said Paul Stanley recently.
If ‘Monster’ is anything to go by, he couldn’t be more right.