Love Gun


1977: Casablanca Records 824 151-2

  1. I Stole Your Love
  2. Christine Sixteen
  3. Got Love for Sale
  4. Shock Me
  5. Tomorrow and Tonight
  6. Love Gun
  7. Hooligan
  8. Almost Human
  9. Plaster Caster
  10. Then She Kissed Me

I always thought of this album as being weak because of its cover art’s objectification-of-women tackiness and the cheesy title song…but when I block those elements out of my mind and just listen to it, I find that skipping just three songs gives me a knockout Kiss listening experience which may actually be stronger/better than Rock & Roll Over. A tough call, that.

The three songs which sour this otherwise powerhouse album are of course “And Then She Kissed Me,” “Tomorrow and Tonight,” and “Love Gun.” (Please feel free to retch loudest for the one you like least…I know *I* do.) Other than those, however, this album really is mighty…I wish I’d been more aware of that quality split in years past. As it was I grooved on certain tracks and never really noticed how many of them were on the same album.

As with all Kiss albums, and most albums actually, Love Gun benefits from being played LOUD. The opening track, “I Stole Your Love,” makes you sit bolt upright at nearly any volume, however, and it stalks forward at a menacingly quick pace, stopping and starting with unblinking cockiness. “Christine Sixteen” has always been a favorite of mine, with its coy strut so sweet on top and so nasty down below; I needn’t comment on the subject matter, as it’s par for the course with Kiss. And when the smirking playfulness of that is finished, it’s time for Round Two of the opening track’s style, this time (“Got Love for Sale”) at an excellent driving speed that chugs along almost smugly and toys with call-and-response bits including stuff in the stereo panning of elements; Ace Frehley’s guitar is especially vocal and expressive here, so his solo practically counts as an extra verse (albeit scat) and a cadenza to boot. Once the track gets into its second chorus, my impression of the pace and sensation is very much that of a carnival ride: relentless, yet varied, and thrilling throughout.

“Shock Me” continues the onslaught at a more leisurely (but still beefy) pace…it has an instrumental structure unusual for Kiss songs, with verses sung over a single sustained chord and followed by a little tattoo of the opening pattern. And, of course, this being Ace’s song, his solo is correspondingly hot as well as downright lyric.

Skip “Tomorrow and Tonight,” which is obviously intended to be the stadium-rocker to add to the ranks of “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Let Me Go, Rock ’n’ Roll,” and “Shout It Out Loud,” but is a little *too* predictable after all of its ancestry. That it’s followed by “Love Gun” just means I hit the Skip button twice and then sit back to enjoy three fine rockers of different stripes (and stop the CD before the final track starts).

“Hooligan,” Peter Criss’s star turn on this album, is classic late-’50s rock, a rich tradition Kiss drew on considerably but rarely directly demonstrated even though they were amply capable of doing so; this has all the hallmarks of the cars-babes-and-bands style of rock that immediately evokes not New York but Detroit, but it retains enough of Kiss’s own brand of performance that an almost anachronistic hybrid of the two cities’ musical muscle is successfully created. It’s a tight song in terms of instrumental performance, guitar wailing notwithstanding (because it’s so cleanly executed, never more than it should be), but above it all we get an almost-screamed vocal from Criss that is just one step back from being artless: if you want to see the step just past this one, watch the concert performance of this song on the Kiss My A** video, in which his drumming’s as deft as ever but his screamed vocals leave the melody a matter of conjecture.

You can also get Ace doing “Shock Me” in the same setting on that video, but his is a more Good-News/Bad-News scenario in which the Good News is that we get some AMAZING guitar work in an amazingly long solo, complete with smoke pouring from it near the end, but the Bad News is that it looks like Ace either had just been taught the staging (walk over here, play a bit, walk back to mike to sing first line, play back from mike a little, get back to mike in time for next line, etc.—the theatre term is “blocking”) or was completely high that night. Considering the dazzling guitar work he slams out when he’s not singing, I’d say it’s not the latter case…and I’ll just assume that he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag.

Following “Hooligan” we get the twisted dark nightmare of “Almost Human,” which is a Gene Simmons showcase that also lets Ace rip out a guitar solo that’s maybe what Punk would have sounded like if Kiss had invented it—almost industrial noise as expressed by an electric guitar, a sound that at the time was virtually unknown (at least in the U.S.). The song itself isn’t structurally much different from some of the B-side tracks from Hotter Than Hell, really, until just before the guitar solo (when things get intentionally uneven and disorienting), but the melody, harmonies, and pacing of the various elements are just wild by comparison.

Finally (assuming that you skip the actual closing track as I do) there’s the delightfully ’50s/late-’70s love-child “Plaster Caster,” which musically is like a tighter “Christine Sixtine” (no dirty overtones meant, there). The idea behind the lyrics, about the groupies who took plaster casts of their idols (well, of PART of their idols anyway), is kicky as well as implausible, but what really matters on this track is that it ROCKS and does so with a groovy concision that keeps my shoulders and hips moving in counterpoint to each other even when I’m listening to it while seated. It pops and zings and struts and swaggers excellently. There’s not a smidgen of filler on this puppy, it’s all exactly what needs to be there and keeps it bopping along at a perfect clip.

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that Love Gun might be stronger/better than its immediate predecessor, Rock and Roll Over. That issue may remain unresolved in my mind, but the importance of the indecision is clear to me: both of those albums are what I wish Kiss always produced, except of course that I don’t really wish that, I’m glad that the group has changed and developed over the years, it’s theirs after all, not mine. What I mean by that is that these two albums felt to me like a kind of perfection had been achieved, and the expectation after that is that things should sustain exactly that perfection. In reality, perfection is, paradoxically, NOT absolute, and what was perfect Then might not be perfect even a few years later, at least in the world of human perception. I go through this internal debate often in the case of Eurythmics, among others, sometimes thinking the perfect balance had been struck with their work on Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), but then acknowledging that *another* perfect balance had been struck—differently—with Be Yourself Tonight, and yet again on Savage….

And while I haven’t continued to follow Kiss in their post-makeup days, as my tastes and their styles diverged, I’m still a solid fan of the bulk of their work, and I love knowing that they still are in action and are still developing their sound. Love Gun is a mostly-great album that didn’t seem nearly so solid at the time it came out (to me, anyway), so I’m glad that I’ve gotten to hear it again with more experienced ears and find it to be better than ever even 25 years later.