It took me awhile to decide how to deal with listing these four albums here; on the one hand they are definitely four distinct albums, very different from each other, and on the other hand they were all released under the Kiss aegis, and the commonality is emphasized by the consistent graphic design and portrait paintings.
I finally opted for the latter approach because it provides a basis for comparison and contrast of the four albums that benefits each of them differently. As a general prefatory note I would simply say that in this unique opportunity for each of the Kiss members to show what theyre musically made of, only Paul Stanley comes across as his Kiss characterthe Romanticalthough Gene Simmons does dip into his Demon persona a little bit and certainly plays up the sin angle (albeit inconsistently), while Ace and Peter make very clear that the Starchild and Cat are simply gimmicks that interfere with their actual music.
In that sense I think the solo albums were a success, although Im not sure they seemed that way at the time. Back then there was a lot of merchandising and excessive PR trying to spin these albums as being something other than the immediate prelude to a breakup of the band; while it both was and was not both of those things, my conclusion after two and a half decades of casual consideration is that it was an internal-tension-relieving exercise that worked better in the long run than in the short term. Each album is good, each has its highlights; none is perfect, none lacks a yawn or cringe. And in the end you get to hear four distinct elements of one of Rocks iconic bands in undiluted form before they issued another album that again fused their individual elements.
So: who won, if this was a contest? Each of them, Id say, but each in different ways that didnt compete with the others.
Peter Criss delivered a 1950s-rock-anchored album that included both solid material of that heritage (such as Hooked on Rock n Roll and painfully bad 1970s remnants of that stuff (Kiss the Girl Goodbye). His album also has rather too much easy-rock schmaltz, so its not something I like, but thats just me; if you do like that, his is a strong album.
At the other end of the spectrum, Ace Frehleys album was definitely the most forward-looking and best anticipates Rocks progress (although it doesnt foresee the New Wave tsunami that was about to hit). Frehleys album and Crisss effectively bookend the Kiss oeuvre and provide superb context for what the groups work resulted in: a fusion of those perhaps warring [drives?] taking place atop a more conventionally gritty rock sound as provided by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. With these albums, the mixture is slightly split apart so we get to see the ingredientss and not just the plated dish.
Crisss album honors the bands historical-Rock roots most, and Frehleys lurches forward impatiently; in between lie those of Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, but they share only a sense of dramatic fantasy using Rock as a vehicle which sets (and leaves) them solidly in the late 1970s. Personally I mostly like Stanleys album, although his flamboyant voice (what is iteffeminate Southerner? despite him being a Jewish New Yorker) handicaps my impressions a bit. His songs are rock ballads, on the whole (sometimes unabashedly so), and actually Im OK with that. But Hold Me Touch Me is pretty horrendous no matter what.
And then theres Gene Simmons album; If it didnt have some good tracks, Id call this a disaster. And yet its not one, because it does present Simmons as the creative element of Kiss he was, and thats a huge thing in its own way: without the widely varied voices this album presents, Kiss wouldnt have been Kiss as we know it. So, even though I will never again listen to the closing track (a painfully bad When You Wish Upon a Star), I appreciate whats been demonstrated overall. (And his then-girlfriend Chers bit of audio acting is pretty funny on Living in Sin.)
So my take on the overall combination of the albums is that Criss shows us their roots, Frehley shows us where they were in part driven or heading to, and Stanley and Simmons show where the general songwriting fodder lay regardless of the competing forces.
1978: Casablanca Records 826 2392
Fave tracks: tough call, surprisingly. Maybe Always Near You (but not its latter half, Nowhere to Hide), and even that one makes me wince because of its strained vocal. See You in Your Dreams I loved on Kisss Rock and Roll Over, in large part because of Aces brilliant guitar solo, but here the song just plays out and doesnt grab. Tunnel of Love is probably the track I like best here, though thats not much of an endorsement.
1978: Casablanca Records 826 915-2
1978: Casablanca Records 826 916-2
1978: Casablanca Records 826 917-2
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.