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 they’re musically made of, only Paul Stanley comes across as his Kiss “character”—the Romantic—although 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 I’m 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 Rock’s 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, I’d say, but each in different ways that didn’t 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 it’s not something I like, but that’s just me; if you do like that, his is a strong album.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ace Frehley’s album was definitely the most forward-looking and best anticipates Rock’s progress (although it doesn’t foresee the New Wave tsunami that was about to hit). Frehley’s album and Criss’s effectively bookend the Kiss oeuvre and provide superb context for what the group’s 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.

Criss’s album honors the band’s historical-Rock roots most, and Frehley’s 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 Stanley’s album, although his flamboyant voice (what is it—effeminate 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 I’m OK with that. But “Hold Me Touch Me” is pretty horrendous no matter what.

And then there’s Gene Simmon’s album; If it didn’t have some good tracks, I’d call this a disaster. And yet it’s not one, because it does present Simmons as the creative element of Kiss he was, and that’s a huge thing in its own way: without the widely varied voices this album presents, Kiss wouldn’t 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 what’s been demonstrated overall. (And his then-girlfriend Cher’s 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.

 

Gene Simmons

Kiss

1978: Casablanca Records 826 2392


Gene Simmons

  1. Radioactive
  2. Burning Up with Fever
  3. See You Tonite
  4. Tunnel of Love
  5. True Confessions
  6. Living in Sin
  7. Always Near You / Nowhere to Hide
  8. Man of 1000 Faces
  9. Mr Make Believe
  10. See You in Your Dreams
  11. When You Wish Upon a Star

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 Kiss’s Rock and Roll Over, in large part because of Ace’s brilliant guitar solo, but here the song just plays out and doesn’t grab. “Tunnel of Love” is probably the track I like best here, though that’s not much of an endorsement.

Paul Stanley

Kiss

1978: Casablanca Records 826 915-2


Paul Stanley

  1. Tonight You Belong To Me
  2. Move On
  3. Ain’t Quite Right
  4. Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me
  5. Take Me Away (Together as One)
  6. It’s Alright
  7. Hold Me Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)
  8. Love in Chains
  9. Goodbye

 

Ace Frehley

Kiss

1978: Casablanca Records 826 916-2


Ace Frehley

  1. Rip It Out
  2. Speedin’ Back to My Baby
  3. Snow Blind
  4. Ozone
  5. What’s On Your Mind?
  6. New York Groove
  7. I’m in Need of Love
  8. Wiped-Out
  9. Fractured Mirror

 

Peter Criss

Kiss

1978: Casablanca Records 826 917-2


Peter Criss

  1. I’m Gonna Love You
  2. You Matter to Me
  3. Tossin’ and Turnin’
  4. Don’t You Let Me Down
  5. That’s the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes
  6. Easy Thing
  7. Rock Me, Baby
  8. Kiss the Girl Goodbye
  9. Hooked on Rock ’n’ Roll
  10. I Can’t Stop the Rain


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